As should be obvious by now, trans rights are a subject that is Very Important to me, and not in an abstract way either – I have several trans friends who are terrified of the tenor of debate that has taken hold in the UK and remaining silent on the matter would be an act of cowardice on my part. I’ve tried my hardest with characters like Lewis and Trixie to have trans characters who aren’t defined by their transness or by the trauma that being trans often metes upon people. Trixie is tough and resourceful and her encyclopaedic knowledge of how the tube operates – though a consequence of being made homeless as a disproportionate number of trans youth often are – nevertheless provides the key to escaping the moebius strip our heroes found themselves in during the last chapter. And Lewis – as amply demonstrated in the previous chapter – is A Goddamned Cop, with all the moral failings that role implies no matter how chipper and upbeat he often presents himself as. But if my tiny inconsequential comic is to have any claim towards being contemporary and incisive then pretending that the relentless assault against trans rights in the UK isn’t happening just isn’t sustainable.

In Joan Berkeley I wanted to present Lewis with younger version of himself, albeit in the opposite direction. As much as this ties into the Deep Lore behind Lewis’s character that will become a lot clearer in future chapters (and if you’ve been paying attention you might be able to piece together his backstory from clues already present in the comic), it’s also a reality check for myself as much as for you the reader that being a trans kid in the UK is Really Hard right now. A recent court decision preventing under-16s from receiving puberty blockers makes the UK an outlier in the western world in terms of trans rights, as trans-positive voices are being suppressed by opponents who control the commanding heights of British media across the entire political spectrum, prominent children’s authors and comedians are using their platforms to make the lives of a fragile minority miserable and cry abuse when people with far smaller digital footprints have the temerity to call them jerks, and a sitting government minister likens trans people using the bathroom that they have a right to use to paedophilia.

Joan here is one of the kids caught in the middle, trapped in a body she doesn’t want because the entire political establishment has decided – against the advice of best scientific practice – that this is the body she’s supposed to have and she just has to lump it. There are real kids like Joan – you might have been or be a kid like Joan – and they need our help. Write to a newspaper, write to your MP, back a charity supporting trans children like Mermaids, raise a fuss however you can because things cannot go on like this and should not go on like this.