“I feel deeply that until Black trans women are free I will not be. They are among society’s most vulnerable,” states Sharon Lee de la Cruz in the introduction to her first non-fiction and memoir graphic novel hybrid, I’m a Wild Seed: My Graphic Memoir on Queerness and Decolonizing the World. A vivid journey into exploration of identity mixed with essential gender and queer theory, it’s a primer for readers who might be questioning their sexuality and/or gender but don’t know where to start.
To celebrate the release of Sharon’s book, I talked to the author and illustrator about the creation of this memoir, the art, activism, and what community means to her. (This post includes affiliate links to Indiebound)
What urged you to write and create I’m a Wild Seed?
“I’m a Wild Seed” was inspired by a question my friend Jessica asked me over dinner. She asked, “What does freedom look like to you as a queer BIPOC woman?” and although no one had ever asked me that question before, I knew the answer. I immediately shouted, “When Black trans women are safe.” Because the answer is so layered, I knew I wanted to attempt to write a book about it, and the more I thought about the book, the more I realized that the answer was a memoir of my life. I take for granted the connection that lives in my mind, and what’s so powerful about comics is that you can visualize those connections and share them with others through story.
I’m a Wild Seed isn’t just a memoir, but it traces your journey into coming to terms with your identity and all the layers that come with it. Do you think this memoir marks the end of that journey or does it help you keep discovering things about yourself?
Not an end. “I’m a Wild Seed” is simply a memoir of my life up to this point. Writing this book was a way to organize my experiences, and hopefully, it can act as a tool for others to grow. It certainly helped me grow!
In the process of creating I’m a Wild Seed, did you research other graphic memoirs? You mention in the acknowledgments that it began as a zine, so what made you want to expand it?
“I’m a Wild Seed” is short but packs a punch. For my first memoir story, I wanted to give you a glimpse of what my brain looks like and the connections I make daily. The format was inspired by Sandra Cisneros’ “The House on Mango Street.” I loved how she used vignettes and the unspoken to build her world. I hope to get other folks to make connections and pay attention to how history informs and has normalized our daily practices. Honestly, this still feels like a zine, and I hope to expand on these stories and others as I make more books.
Who do you hope picks up your book?
Weird BIPOC queer babies ❤
In the book, you highlight the importance of community in learning more not just about yourself but about the world that we inhabit. During this time of physical isolation, how has your community helped you? What are you doing to keep in touch with them?
Over the past year, I’ve stayed connected through many comics events; not the same, but it’s fantastic to see people come out. Beyond comics, I’ve joined an exercise group with friends, which has helped since most of my work is on the computer. I’ve been on social media A LOT, but I’ve had to slow down because it is a time killer and not the best for my self-esteem!
One of the themes your book touches on is the legacy of trauma, be it in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, or sexuality and the insidiousness of it when it all bundles up together. Why was it important to highlight these topics?
It was vital for me to present this book through an intersectional lens. The reality of my life is that all of my identities are in conversation with each other. Our trauma informs those conversations, and it was essential for me to make that clear. One of my biggest take-a-ways of the book is realizing that my memories didn’t necessarily have to be traumatic to be impactful; it’s about accumulating minor and significant memories.
Your art style mixes “traditional” and even “graffiti” at times. How do you decide which style best conveys what you’re trying to say in a specific moment?
I love that you picked that up. My background is in graffiti, and I love the art form so much. There are points in the book where I felt like there was no other way to present this memory or energy without scratching and drawing messier and outside the panels. I love graffiti because of its lack of permission to exist. It feels like a collective consciousness artform; someone NEEDED to say something. When I travel, the first thing I look for is the country’s graffiti; it says a lot about the culture.
At the beginning of your book, you express that freedom to you means Black trans women being able to live safely. What urged you to promote that vision and what can the rest of us do to fulfill that mission?
I drew out the “Toxic Masculinity” poster (on page 13 of the book) to illustrate the point. I wanted to convey the connection between toxic masculinity and the growing and disproportionate attack on Black trans women. It is a concoction of toxic desires and expectations of race, sexuality, and gender. Black trans women do not follow those harmful expectations and hence are the very obvious targets and our most vulnerable population. When they are safe, we are all safe. Until then, we will continue to be under the scrutiny of colonial constructs of race, sex, gender, and sexuality.
Is your hope to keep creating books like I’m a Wild Seed or are you exploring other modes of creation?
I NEED to make more memoir-inspired books, but lately, I’ve been experimenting with more magical realism. I love Octavia Butler and want to challenge myself to tell more fictional stories.
Is identity formation and discovery its own form of creativity and art?
FOR SURE, there is so much that goes into identity formation that is visual. I went through many outward-facing identity formations, including but not limited to not ironing my clothing, not combing my hair, not wearing matching clothes, and shaving my head, which sounds ridiculous. Still, even those little things helped me step into myself. There were many forced norms growing up, so when I started making conscious decisions about my outward appearance, I didn’t care if anyone could tell because I could!
Sharon Lee De La Cruz is a multi-disciplinary artist and activist from New York City. Her thought-provoking pieces address a range of issues related to tech, social justice, sexuality, and race. De La Cruz’s work ranges from comics, graffiti, and public-art murals to more recent explorations in interactive sculptures, animation, and coding. She graduated with a BFA from Cooper Union and a MPS from NYU-ITP. She is the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, Processing Foundation Fellowship, and a Tin House Summer Workshop participant.
(I was reached out to by a publicist and was sent a free review copy in exchange of promo. Thank you to Sharon and her team for the opportunity!)