Noah Grigni: Confronting Trans Culture Through Art

Underneath the irreverence and compositional complexity of Noah Grigni’s illustrations one will find something more involuted: beauty, simplicity, and truth. Noah tells stories of trans, non-binary expression that are often not accessible to the transgender community – images of the bigger picture.

Noah Grigni

Noah Grigni (they/them pronouns), a nonbinary trans boy, is an illustrator, comic artist, writer, and the Boston Pride Guide cover artist. A graduate from Lesley University in Boston, Massachusetts with a BFA in illustration, Noah creates space for trans queer representation through their art – telling their own story on their own terms via trans and queer representation in children’s books and comics; in the hopes of helping community heal and empowering trans kids.

When I spoke with Noah, they were living in France with their partner, Braden. Noah told me that as a kid growing up in Georgia, trans representation was hard to find. It wasn’t until high school that Noah came to understand what the word transgender meant and realized that it described them. Noah’s advantage of growing up in the Atlanta area gave them more access to a trans community and trans resources than most Georgia youths were privileged.

Steps along Noah’s path included coming out as a lesbian in 8th grade to realizing the next year that they are trans. Noah explains, “my experience of dysphoria is more social than it is physical. I don’t relate to the typical narrative of being ‘born in the wrong body’.” Noah experienced gender rather than body dysphoria and medically transitioned during high school by beginning HRT and having top surgery.

They began creating as a method of healing and art became a way to channel their body dysphoria into something visual.  “I feel like I am most fully myself when I’m making art. If I go more than a day without making art,” shares Noah, “I don’t feel like myself. It’s something I love doing, but also something I need to do every day to feel normal.”

As an influencer with intentions of creating space on the page for the trans community, it is no surprise that outside the inspiration of everyday life, Noah has several their own influences. Favorite comic artists and illustrators include Craig Thompson, Kelly Bastow, Tillie Walden, Marjane Satrapi, Carson Ellis, and Loveis Wise. Esdras Parra, Nikki Giovanni, James Baldwin, Ryka Aoki, Salvador Plascencia, and adrienne maree brown make the list of writers who have shaped Noah’s work.

Heavily influenced by tattoo art, music, magical realism, nightlife, queer history, current events, and pop culture; their art comes from their own need to process and heal from trauma. Noah is constantly inspired by their partner Braden, friends, and travel; but mostly by the resilience and creativity of their community. Noah subscribes to Neil Gaiman’s metaphor of keeping a creative compost pile. They collect stray ideas and thoughts whenever they come; and let them gel together over time and nourish the creative practice. This speaks to Noah’s departure from sculpting and exhibiting their fine art in galleries to focus on illustration and comics – where they can incorporate their writing into visual storytelling.

Noah Grigni, Artist

A genderqueer artist, Noah – despite being told that the art they wanted to make was too radical or “too much” to have mainstream appeal – finds that they’re moving between the queer and straight worlds, as well as the trans and cis worlds, now more than ever. Noah approaches the sudden interest in their art from straight and cisgender people with caution; but believes it’s a positive change and indicates a genuine shift in public awareness of trans rights

As they emerge as an illustrator and the more their work gets published, Noah remains cautious about the praise from the significant increase in attention. Noah clarifies, “I know my work will be taken out of context, reinterpreted, and diluted by straight and queer people alike, to fit the status quo of lukewarm acceptance for trans people without real solidarity or action towards our liberation. I know this because mainstream media has sensationalized and tokenized trans narratives for decades and continues to do so. Cis media has repeatedly taken trans stories away from trans people, filtered those stories through a cis lens, and sold them back to us for profit. Now, celebrities and corporations are coopting trans and queer aesthetics to seem progressive, but most of these campaigns are actually about their public image and their profit margins, not our rights. I am constantly critical of performative allyship, rainbow capitalism, and the wave of surface-level acceptance that seems to be happening across the country, especially when it’s unaccompanied by tangible change. I’m glad my art is getting mainstream attention, and I am truly grateful that it’s reaching the general public, because we always need more trans representation in the mainstream. But at the end of the day, I don’t really care what straight and cis people think about my art because I’m not making it for them.”

Noah Grigni, Artist

Fortunately, Noah is a very stubborn person and continues their call to action to make art for trans and queer people – whether cis and straight people like it or not, whether it’s profitable or not. I discovered Noah’s art when their illustrations were first published in The Gender Identity Workbook for Kids: A Guide to Exploring Who You Are, by Kelly Storck, LCSW. Noah continued to bring words to life in the recently released It Feels Good To Be Yourself – A Book About Gender Identity, written by Theresa Thorn; and is currently illustrating Rachel Simon’s educational children’s book about puberty, called The Big Talk, to be released in 2020 by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Noah has signed a book deal with Macmillan and will be launching their career as a graphic novelist in 2021 with their published release of Cloudland. Cloudland, the first graphic novel for Noah, is about a young trans boy growing up and falling in love in Georgia, based loosely on Noah’s own life experiences; and has been an independent, part-time project for the past three years. Now, back in the states, Noah is grateful and excited to finally be creating comics full time, and to be putting their writing into the world.

Noah believes trans stories should be told. You can see more of Noah’s art at the links below.

Terry Willits

Trans Speak's Editor-in-Chief is an international mixed media artist, writer, LGBTQ advocate, coffee snob, dog dad, and FTM transgender - but not necessarily in that order, who practices what he posts. A native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa; he now does the writing thing from St. Louis, Missouri. You should check out his work - it's recommended by 4 out of 5 people that recommend stuff.

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