April 15, 2013

Mainstream comics’ first transgender character


DC Comics’ latest Batgirl features the first transgender character in mainstream comics.

As Christopher King wrote here on Moby Lives a couple months ago, DC Comics has taken a lot of criticism recently for its decision to hire Orson Scott Card, homophobic nutbar and author of Ender’s Game, to write the latest Superman comic. LGBTQ rights group All Out posted a petition asking DC to pull Card from the project, and to date, it’s gathered some 17,000 signatures. While it seems that Card is still officially involved, illustrator Chris Sprouse left the project last month, and All Out reports that “the comic is now on hold—possibly forever.”

While the relaunch of the Adventures of Superman is mired in controversy, DC is making strides into the 21st century with some other characters, including the openly gay Green Lantern and Batwoman, who proposed to her girlfriend in a recent issue. As of last week, they reached another milestone, revealing in Batgirl #19 that the titular character’s roommate, Alysia Yeoh, is transexual in a tearful scene.

Laura Hudson writes for Wired that Yeoh is the first transexual character in mainstream comics, although they have been a presence in independent comics, and DC and Marvel Comics characters have shifted genders through magic and science fiction in the past. Batgirl writer Gail Simone told Hudson, “Those characters exist [and] that’s great, but I wanted to have trans characters who aren’t fantasy-based. And I feel like there’s a lot there yet to do.” She also commented on the importance diversity in comics:

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. 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.

Simone reported getting an unexpectedly positive response from DC co-publisher Dan DiDio when she approached him about the story, expecting to have to make an impassioned argument on behalf of her character. Instead, he asked about how the Batgirl story would be affected and quickly gave her the green light. In addition to Yeoh, Simone plans to introduce a trans character into another comic that she can’t yet reveal. Throwing caution to the wind, she told Wired, “I’m sure it’s controversial on some level to some people, but honest to God, I just could not care less about that. If someone gets upset, so be it.”

It really is excellent to see somebody taking a principled stance like this, especially since Simone promises that Yeoh will be “a character, not a public service announcement.” Now, let the punny suggestions for a transgendered superhero’s name begin. I will refrain from sharing mine, which are all in terrible taste.


Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.