By Olive Dausinas
As August skims away into September, so does the summer inevitably fade. With vacations ending and people heading back to school, perhaps it would make sense to look at a recently released graphic novel about school. And with a social climate not so conducive to the rights of transgender people, Crystal Frasier’s Cheer Up! is a tale about gender identity, sexuality, and how cisgender people can look at trans people.
Annie is the smartest girl in the senior class at her high school, with no one coming close to her grades. The only problem is her anti-social nature, brought upon by years of bullying, which has caused physical altercations between her and her classmates. At the request of her mother and the principal, Annie decides to try out for the cheerleading team where she meets a former friend named Bebe. The latter is a transgirl. She is a people pleaser to the point of harming her own emotional needs, all in order to keep her parents appeased to her transition. Annie and Bebe’s story is one of bonding, learning. We see how Annie is just very socially anxious while Bebe feels she is forced to be one of the “good ones” or fear retribution for being a “bad” trans person. And they wonder if their relationship is strong enough to withstand Bebe’s fears.
Cheer Up! has its roots in the bonds of different relationships: familial, platonic, and romantic. In addition, it also focuses on the attention that being trans can push onto a person who simply wants to exist. Bebe would love nothing more than to just be treated like any other girl, but instead her classmates and the state at large “others” her. This othering results in Bebe becoming extremely uncomfortable and forcibly becoming a people pleaser. Moments where she does get angry results in mockery of her putting on her “man voice” or being constantly sexually harassed by a popular male student. It’s only through changing relationships that she is able to finally begin changing for herself. From Annie, a lesbian, seeing her romantically as a woman to her parents slowly accepting their daughter to the rest of the cheerleaders realizing they were objectifying her by referring their team as the one with a trans cheer captain.
Authors similar to Crystal Fraiser include Lilah Sturges and Kay O’Neil, prolific trans authors for the short story medium. One of Sturges’ most recent releases, Girl Haven, also has heavy focus on trans themes and those of gender identity. Extremely important in a time where trans people seem to be constantly under attack. O’Neil has written plenty of queer-related graphic novels, most notably the Dragon Tea Society trilogy and Princess Princess Ever After, a seemingly common fairy tale that turns tropes on their heads.
Cheer Up! is relatively short compared to contemporary graphic novels, but that just means that it accomplishes what it needs to without going on for too long. The main relationship is between Annie and Bebe, and it is very believable to see them slowly reconnect, as if they had never lost their friendship in the first place. The way that Bebe’s cis classmates react to her vary, in ways that do entirely make sense to trans people. Not everyone is targeting her, but the attention she has received magnifies her fears of everyone waiting to harass her. Her fellow cheerleaders are seemingly supportive, but they also face their own inner biases against Bebe, to the point of purposefully leaving her out from non-school activities that they all participate in. And they do all this toward a girl who does nothing but attempt to placate them solely so she can feel like it is okay for her to exist as a human.
I highly recommend this story for anyone, genuinely. The importance of humanizing trans people, specifically transwomen, has never been more critical than now. One may believe they are being an ally, but inherent biases can reflect how they may actually act to a trans person. Even Annie, who lovingly supports Bebe, steps over the line in her attempts to defend Bebe from anti-trans rhetoric. It does go to lengths to show how this negatively affects trans people, who at the end of the day are people and worthy of respect from others with no caveats.
While short, the tale of Annie and Bebe is the perfect way to start off the school year and the fall. After all, they are commencing their own senior year at the beginning of the story. Even outside of its own romance, there is much more to grasp from it than just the base story. It’s another excellent release from Oni Press that seems to always knock it out with what they publish.