Chrissie’s inclusion in the story was meaningful to us on several levels, as it turned out. Like Xan and Shanna (and no other characters in Guilded Age), she had first appeared in another project I’d written. Unlike Xan’s Sketchies and Shanna’s Fans, it was not a project that I felt particularly good about.

QUILTBAG was a spinoff from Penny and Aggie, following its popular supporting characters Sara and Lisa into college. The premise was that they, having come out as lesbian and bisexual but still seeking identity, would discover how wide the world of human sexuality really was and how complicated things could get. The title refers to a variation on LGBTQIA which adds U for “unsure” or sometimes “undeclared” and gives some other letters double duty. The full list, as I heard it goes “queer and questioning, unsure/undeclared, intersex, lesbian, trans and two-spirit, bisexual, asexual and aromantic [maybe also agender], and gay and genderqueer.” (There are variations.) Of course, declaring you’ve got all the sexualities figured out, labeled, and filed away is asking for trouble… what about pansexuality? Demisexuality? Should straightness be in here too, since otherwise it becomes the “default” to everything else’s “alternate,” or should we just agree that it’s had plenty of attention and doesn’t need to steal any thunder from the rest of the list?

I could go on. But I still found something intriguing in the attempt, and thought I’d do an eight-part series themed around each letter and what it signified, eventually exploring the limitations as much as the categories. The audience and I had been largely happy with Penny and Aggie‘s queer portrayals, so it wasn’t the worst idea, on paper.

Unfortunately, I was very much in the wrong headspace to be starting a new series. Overall, it’s my worst work, and it got worse until I mercy-killed it at the conclusion of Chapter Two. The dialogue was hit or miss. The arcs were barely sketched. Some of the freeform visuals were cute and fun (thanks to Jason Waltrip, who never wavered in his helpfulness), but sometimes it wasn’t remotely clear what I was trying to express with them. And most of the non-legacy characters were underdeveloped, when they needed to be bursting with life to offset the hubris of the concept.

Chrissie, however, always had some life in her, at least as I saw her. She mostly suffered from issues of presentation and lack of follow-up.

Chrissie and Lisa hooked up after knowing each other about the length of a stroll, which turned out to be quite the mistake. At this point, Chrissie was identifying as female but had not accepted her attraction to women as compatible with her gender identity. (“I’m not normal,” she warns Lisa in a way that still breaks my heart a little.) So her self-hatred leaked into the sexual encounter, making it brief and somewhat brutal. This left Lisa a bit traumatized, a state of mind Lisa guiltily denied… she didn’t feel entitled to any trauma in the face of Chrissie’s obvious issues. This started to establish the ups and downs of Lisa’s collegiate sex life, and it would have been the first step in a larger journey for Chrissie, who’d eventually come to terms with all of herself. Down the line, the two would’ve met again, more than once.

I may’ve been trying to subvert old, bad stereotypes by having Lisa know and be into Chrissie’s trans identity but get a surprise in bed anyway. I was definitely trying to stir interest in Chrissie by having us only see her through Sara and Lisa’s imperfect perspectives. But for all that intent, she still came across as a somewhat abusive figure, arguably toxic, and more an “experience” for Lisa than a person with a story in her own right. And while I think most readers understood that I wasn’t trying to say “trans people be crazy”… it’s still not great for that to be basically your only sequence with a trans character. I never meant for it to be, but QUILTBAG just had too many other problems for me to continue it. And then we suddenly needed characters to serve as players for the newer Peacemakers and… click.

So you can see why I was strongly motivated to do better by Chrissie here, even if we had to compress the original plan for her journey into the panel’s worth of reflections she gets on this page. “I wasn’t a lot of fun to be around till I noodled that one out,” she says, with the dogged positivity of someone who’s had to fight to find happiness. And it’s true she’s much healthier now, although much like Bandit, she’s still a little concerned about being “fun to be around.” But as seen in the clips here, so was Lisa. And aren’t we all, a little bit?

Looking this back over, I do wonder if Guilded Age should’ve spelled out Chrissie’s attraction to women more plainly than we do here (it’ll be clear enough that she likes men). And there’s the issue of oversubtlety I mentioned two pages earlier. But what regrets I have don’t change the fact that this presentation is vastly, vastly superior, and I’ll continue to be mostly happy with it through her other GA appearances.

I had no idea Flo would come out as trans years after the series wrapped up. But that just goes to show one reason why representation matters: members of underserved groups can be closer to your stage than you think. It can be intimidating, even after research, to write a character who is a thing you are not. But it needs to be done, even if a prior failure is staring you in the face.