‘What is it, being a man? Do stars have a gender?’ Call Me Nathan from Catherine Castro and Quentin Zuttion follows Nathan’s journey through self-discovery and gender identity from a confused teenage girl to a confident man. Will this be another stellar read about serious issues from SelfMadeHero? Let’s find out!
Writer: Catherine Castro
Artist: Quentin Zuttion
Price: Pre-order from Amazon for £14.99
Based on a true story, Call Me Nathan takes a retrospective look at Nathan’s life from a young child to a man. Nathan was born a female, named Lila, and now identifies as a trans male. Throughout this graphic novel, we are given glimpses into Nathan’s past, what formed his identity and how he became the man he is today.
Our first glimpse into Nathan’s childhood highlights early issues he faces in his gender identity. At first glance, these may seem minuscule – like not liking the Hello Kitty bag he gets for Christmas or disliking wearing a dress. But as the graphic novel continues, we see that it’s not necessarily just the stereotypes of being a girl that Nathan struggles with (liking pink, wearing girly clothes, etc.); it’s the actual biology of being female that he finds uncomfortable, even as a child. But it is when he hits puberty that he really begins to struggle with his body. Nathan recalls an instance in his early teenage years in which he first feels self-conscious about having developed breasts. ‘You disgust me’, Nathan says into the mirror, as he looks at his own developing body.
Nathan’s inner battle further manifests at school and home: at school he becomes fascinated with finding out more about the process of male puberty, and at home he begins to wear his brothers’ clothes rather than his own (a point of contention). Nathan finds himself dreading school swimming lessons as he is so self-conscious of his own body, looking enviably at the boys who can effortlessly show off their muscles, leg hair and armpit hair. Quentin Zuttion does a stellar job here of depicting how overwhelmed and alien Nathan feels in his own body. Drawing on the setting of the swimming pool, Zuttion constructs a motif for drowning, and how Nathan is drowning in his own body. In a startling image, Nathan appears to be suffocating beneath a huge mass of breasts, which eventually overcome him, and he is lost.
No one likes getting their period, but for Nathan it’s a lot more complex than pain and inconvenience. Nathan getting his period sickens him to the core. He tries to hide it from those around him, including his parents, and is disgusted when his mother sees the transition as a good thing, as part of ‘becoming a woman’. The thing is, Nathan isn’t disgusted by the female body. In fact, he finds himself hugely attracted to females sexually, especially his girlfriend Faustine. It is Faustine who first suggests that Nathan may be transgender, as he questions if he is a lesbian: ‘you like girls, but really you’re a guy’.
The art by Quentin Zuttion is truly exceptional. Each panel is detailed, colourful and visually stunning. The facial expressions, particularly those of Nathan, are done with great care and consideration, and visually tell his story without even needing to read the accompanying words. They appeared almost anime-esque at times due to their detail. The beautiful backgrounds were another highlight, especially those including nature, with swooping curls of watercolor and pastel.
The graphic novel does feature some graphic imagery, including (trigger warning) self-harm to the wrists, some bloody panels of Nathan literally ripping his breasts from his chest, and a graphic depiction of the body parts removed in gender reassignment surgery. While this may be too gory for some, it really drives home the point that Catherine Castro is trying to make about struggling with gender identity; I think that this is a wake-up call for most people to how traumatic wrestling with your identity and hating your own body can be. This all comes to a climax in which Nathan’s parents confront him, and question whether he wants to be a boy. His response? ‘I am a boy. Call me Nathan’.
From then, we follow Nathan’s journey through therapy, taking testosterone and eventually surgery. It was fascinating to find out so much about the hugely long and painful process trans people must go through before having any surgery; I was particularly shocked by the cost of the surgery alone, which was £35,000, without other expenses being considered. This read was an illuminating look into the mind of someone suffering with gender dysphoria and makes a truly thorough and detailed resource for anyone interested in learning more about the subject. Bravo!