I said that I’d had Society Squad kicking around in my head for a while, but it took a specific catalyst to turn it into something I could write.

A while ago, I was talking to one of my friends who is nonbinary, and I misgendered them. And beyond feeling bad for doing so (I apologised), I felt weird. I’d known this person for ages, and I truly didn’t associate them with either gender, so why had I said it? It was like being in primary school and accidentally calling the teacher “mum.” You have no idea why you did it, you’re instantly embarrassed, and you wish you could just hit an “undo stupid mistake” button, but you can’t and now it’s out there.

So, as is my wont, I got solipsistic about it. And I figured it out.

Society, as an amorphous whole, is a highly gender-normative place. It trained me from birth that men have male-secondary-sexual-characteristics (eg. adam’s apple, stubble, etc) and women have female-secondary-sexual-characteristics (eg. breasts, round hips, etc). Even though I saw no useful reason for those distinctions, I still grew up having them drilled into me, so I absorbed them like a tabula rasa sponge. And, of course, nonbinary people weren’t even acknowledged as existing.

As an adult, I’ve since realised how arbitrary and largely unhelpful those distinctions are. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t still nesting deep inside me, even if I don’t understand or agree with them, from how deeply those (often toxic) seeds were sown. I mostly talked to my nonbinary-friend-in-question online at first, so in my head, they automatically looked like a drawing of a bird-person. (That was their icon; I’m not just mad.) In person, though, they’ve got the secondary sexual characteristics of the gender they were born into. And I realised, that one random time, that’s what triggered that deeply-learned and inaccurate response. Like calling the teacher “mum,” my mouth moved in a way my conscious brain hadn’t meant it to.

Which is not an excuse, by the way. It just means I have to try harder to override what was marinaded into me.

I realised something else: at least in the media I’ve seen, the (very few) times nonbinary people are depicted, they’re visually depicted as having neither male nor female secondary-sexual-characteristics, or ambiguously so. And in a way, maybe that’s a good thing – it certainly helps normalise the idea that nonbinary people aren’t ”actually” male or female. But it also doesn’t represent all nonbinary people. And that’s why I’ve drawn Emperor Moth the way I’ve drawn them.

I wanted to deliberately give them either male or female secondary sexual characteristics, and noticeably so. I went with female ones, for the very selfish reason that I don’t often get to draw curvy female bodies, the characters I usually draw for Zunfa Comics being two cis men and a skinny cis woman. Emperor Moth is nonbinary, but they have the body they were born into, and they like the way they look. That’s why I gave their costume a lower neckline. Emperor Moth likes their body! And that doesn’t make them any less nonbinary, in the same way that gynecomastia doesn’t make a man any less male or facial hair makes a woman less female.

I think if I’d had more exposure to that representation of nonbinary people as well, my brain probably wouldn’t have slipped into those old and erroneous ways. While it’s not the only conceit I’ve written into Society Squad, that was the catalyst which started the whole thing falling into place. At least as a cartoonist, I can leave something behind, to help do my bit in transforming society into the place I wish I’d grown up in.