Comic books as a reflection of the world today

Andrew Wheeler is a writer for Comics Alliance, and he also has his own Tumblr. I came across his answer to a question posed by one of his followers:

gpack3 said: What do you think would be the best way to introduce a trans superhero? Introduce them first and then reveal they’re trans after the audience is used to them? Introduce them as trans from the beginning? Have them transition on panel? Take a preexisting character whose past is something of a blank slate (eg. Eye-Boy) and make them trans?
I’d love to hear from trans people about what they’d like to see in a trans superhero, because I’m sure they have sensitivities that I don’t have, and I’m sure they’re aware of cliches and pitfalls that I’m not aware of.


To answer from my perspective as a gay man who does not identify as trans, I would tentatively draw a parallel to what I always want to see in gay heroes. Namely; I don’t want to always have to see gay people struggling and suffering with their identities. I want to see gay heroes who are at peace with their identities, and who face the same problems as other heroes, because that’s a much more hopeful and inclusive message.

So I’d most like to see a trans superhero who is totally at peace with their identity, and whose identity is very quickly and unambiguously established to the audience. That seems like the most positive way to represent trans people in superhero fiction.

That said, coming out stories and self-acceptance stories are hugely important – especially if they come from people who can make those stories personal. I’d love to read a story about a superhero transitioning, but I’d like to read it from a trans writer.

Either way, I think establishing or reintroducing an established character as trans would be most useful given how difficult it is to establish new characters in superhero comics. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, my personal choice would be to reintroduce Christian Frost as a trans woman whose transition allows her to access her mutant powers for the first time – and whose transition is celebrated by her sister Emma.

Christian was previously written as a gay man with severe depression. I don’t think it would be implausible to re-imagine the character as a trans woman. But I may be stepping into cliches that I’m not aware of.

(As a final note, I should acknowledge that when I say I don’t want to always have to see gay people struggling and suffering with their identities in fiction, my own Sacha Valentin in Valentin & The Widow is exactly that sort of character. But I am at least a gay man writing from personal experience, and Sacha also gets to travel the world punching evildoers.)

I worry that a non trans writer would wind up doing some stupid or offensive shit, so perhaps, as Wheeler says, it would be better for a trans writer to create such a story.
But then I’m reminded that Gail Simone created a trans character as Barbara Gordon’s roommate in Batgirl and that character has been, IIRC, well received. Her name is Alysia Yeoh:

States like Arizona are currently spending taxpayer’s money trying to legalize trans discrimination, and others like Idaho are arresting and citing trans patrons from using public restrooms that don’t match their birth sex.

As this kind of discrimination continues to reach bizarre new heights, there’s one place where trans acceptance seems ready to take hold—in the hallowed halls of geekdom known as DC Comics. This week, the comic book giant published Batgirl #19, featuring a storyline involving the first ongoing, trans-identifying character in a mainstream superhero book.
Wired reports that in the latest Batgirl edition, the character Alysia Yeoh reveals to her roommate, Barbara Gordon (aka Batgirl), that she is a trans woman. In addition, Alysia is also bisexual.

Author Gail Simone tells Wired that the impetus to include a trans character came from a pretty obvious source of inspiration—her fans. And building out a world as diverse as they are is her ultimate goal.

“It’s the issue for superhero comics. Look, we have a problem most media don’t have, which is that almost all the tentpoles we build our industry upon were created over a half century ago…at a time where the characters were almost without exception white, cis-gendered, straight, on and on,” she said.

“It’s fine—it’s great that people love those characters. But if we only build around them, then we look like an episode of The Andy Griffith Show for all eternity.”

I really like that last line from Simone. She wants to help build fictional worlds that reflect the world we live in today, rather than the world of 75 years ago.

Comic books as a reflection of the world today
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