Page 45 Review by Stephen
"My face has exploded in zits. I haven't been this zitty since I was thirteen."
"Let's play connect the dots! At least let me drawn some constellations. I think I see Orion on your cheek."
Helpfully, that playful observation came from the creator's cat.
Erin Nations is a very funny guy!
He also has that knack for recalling absurd interactions which can only leave you scratching your head. Sometimes he's stopped in the middle of the street by complete randos who appear compelled to draw him into the sort of conversations you never asked for, debates you don't want, and a barrage of personal questions you most certainly didn't invite. Against all odds, Erin answers with a degree of bemused courtesy and restraint that they don't deserve.
"The devil knows where you are going."
"What are you implying?"
"The devil... he knows... prayer helps..."
"Good to know."
Often they're with customers at the grocery store where he's worked in for 16 years.
"Can I get 24 balloons?"
"Yeah, what colours would you like?"
"Primary colours. Don't forget orange and green."
As Erin slightly more wryly observes, the customer always know best. 16 years of 40-hours-a-week experience does not make you an expert - or even 25+. I remember a media student kindly informing me that Marjane Satrapi's PERSEPOLIS wasn't a comic.
"Umm, it honestly is."
"No, it's autobiography."
"I think you're confused the medium with the genre."
"Well, I'm studying it, so I should know."
Peppered with fictional, speculative portraits of people posting personal ads, and the equally fictional poor, gay Tobias attempting to strike up conversations with dreamboats (badly - his proposed pick-up methods / messages are hilarious!), these are mostly autobiographical musings with clean, sharp lines, invitingly cool, bright, breezy colours and remarkably square jaws. Some of the memories are about being born a triplet (invited to a birthday party, they're expected to each give a gift; when inviting a friend themselves, they only receive one present between the three of them), others are daily cycling journeys round Portland or trips further afield.
Mostly, however, they're about anxieties in general like the crippling paralysis before picking up a phone and social awkwardness in a crowd (so into Page 45's ever-expanding Mental Health Section this so usefully goes; no one need think they're alone), and about so many of the all-too-real additional difficulties involved in being trans and the process of transitioning itself.
As such, it's an invaluable eye-opener about so much that so many of us take for granted including restrooms, obviously, but far less obviously when the best time is to come out to your colleagues when you've worked with the same company for so many years. Before you begin? Before they notice? After they've noticed? It's equally invaluable reference for those who've yet to begin this process, for in additional Erin is commendably candid about what to expect physically and mentally during Hormone Replacement Therapy, taking you through the first seven weeks, then later the first seven months. Without removing his clothes ("It's just not gonna happen").
"How do you feel?"
"I feel like I'm going through menopause and puberty at the same time."
Ooooh, you get to do spots twice in your life - lovely! Hey, no pain, no gain, and there is everything to gain here, especially decreasing dysphoria. Responsibly, Erin considers the potential long-term effects testosterone could have on his health, but there are enormous benefits too including an almost immediate energy boost and an increased sex drive as well as a gradual surge in self-confidence. I'll leave all the details to Erin: he'd probably like you to buy his book.
Some people are going to be dicks about it - haters gonna hate - but there's a glorious short story called 'Dive Bar' in a dinner where an old lady with hunched shoulders, serving Erin and his mate, asks for ID. Erin's is a driving licence still categorically classifying him "sex: F".
"You cut your hair," the old lady observes.
"So, what can I get you gentlemen?"
She totally got it, but in other instances, not so much: a woman on a bus is just plain weird and spoiling for a fight, while someone wizened, on a walking stick, begins thus:
"You're not a guy, are you?"
"Why do you ask?"
"That guy was calling you sir."
"I guess it's none of my business."
Hmmm.... Maybe you should have had that last thought first.
Other tales include failing to fit in at a comicbook convention simply because you've never having seen Star Wars (a fellow comics creator: "You should leave." "I made sure to not tell them that I've never read Harry Potter, I'm clueless about anime, and I'm not a fan of superhero comics."), plus childhood recollections about the triplets fighting (I had entirely forgotten about carpet burns!) and a seemingly haunted board game called Mall Madness (you'd be pretty spooked too).
There is, understandably, an awful lot of terrible, pained handwringing about using gender-specific public restrooms and indeed workplace restrooms when you've yet to come out, and if you've not considered how profoundly that would impact on your life, think about how often you urinate every day! Imagine, then, all the worry you'd experience, daily, in anticipation, during and after.
I want to emphasise, however, that this is no heavy read full of targeted anger but an honest-to-god entertainment along with astute behavioural observations which are seriously worth contemplating. Plus I adore any work which opens windows onto other people's lives for the greater empathy through understanding they afford me. Lord knows, we need more of that in this world. But also, I'm instinctively curious which is why conversation is right up there for me with the best things on earth.
I won't lie to you, though: 'Breakroom' hit home. As Erin later notes, "I try to call people out when they treat women (or anyone marginalised) as inferior. It's not easy because it's uncomfortable, but being silent is just as bad as being compliant". No, it's not always easy, especially when you risk compromising yourself in a battle you're not yet quite fit to fight, so 'Breakroom' - when Erin fails to stand up and be counted after a co-worker proves deeply insensitive, not knowing that Erin's transitioning - will give you much pause for hopefully compassionate thought.