For the past two years, Montreal-based artist Sophie Labelle has published Assigned Male, a webcomic about an 11-year-old transgender girl named Stephanie who is in earliest stages of transitioning and coming out to the people around her. While Labelle’s work has been noted in the queer webcomics community for its frank and powerful portrayals of everyday life for trans youth, the artist has recently become a victim of a targeted attack from online trolls who’ve sent her death threats and doxxed her personal information like her address in an attempt to scare her.
Last week, Labelle was slated to host a launch event for the release of her new book Dating Tips for Trans and Queer Weirdos. After receiving thousands of threats of violence from people who said they planned on crashing the launch, though, Labelle chose to cancel it for the protection of the guests.
“We had to discuss as a staff how we felt about posting the event, whether we should continue hosting the event, and given the threats of violence how, or if, we could keep people safe,” Marshall Haywood, owner of the store for the event, told CBC News. “And because it did escalate quickly, we felt that on such short notice, we couldn’t really guarantee people’s safety.”
Following the cancelation of her book launch, Labelle continued to receive abuse from online trolls who eventually managed to gain access to her Facebook page for Assigned Male and delete nearly three years of her work. After the page became inundated with transphobic slurs, it was temporarily shut down by Facebook’s moderators before being restored to her, but at that point, Labelle had already preemptively moved to shut down some of her other sites for the comic.
“Their goal is explicitly to raise the suicide rate in trans communities,” Labelle told the Toronto Star. “They want us to despair and that’s why they attack support groups and pages like mine.”
While Labelle initially considered calling the police, she ended up refraining because she was unsure as to whether or not the authorities would take the harassment seriously and how they might attempt to handle the situation. Labelle has returned to posting comics and is now moved out of her old apartment.
“They think they are saving civilisation by posting some memes about how I should get killed. And when they start feeling bad about how violent and abusive they are, they say it’s just a joke. They accuse their victims of being ‘triggered,’” Labelle posted to Facebook yesterday. “That’s weird, because from my point of view, you’re definitely the ones being “triggered” by my existence.”