- Trans Representations and Superhero Comics:A Conversation with Mey Rude, J. Skyler, and Rachel Stevens
The year 2014 was a landmark one for discussions surrounding the (in)visibility of trans characters in comics, from the first transgender panel at San Diego Comic-Con International to the celebrations and controversy surrounding the introduction of trans characters in mainstream superhero comics like Batgirl (DC Comics, 2011–).1 To address the state of trans representations in superhero comics, we convened a roundtable of noted bloggers on this topic to discuss the past, present, and future(s) of trans comics characters. Mey Rude is a trans lesbian Latina, the trans editor at Autostraddle, and author of the weekly column “Drawn to Comics.” J. Skyler is a black trans woman and the LGBT visibility columnist for Comicosity. Rachel Stevens is a staff writer for Women Write about Comics and a white transgender lesbian. They can all be found on Twitter at @lunchinthepark, @jskylerinc, and @positronicwoman, respectively. [End Page 160]
Let’s begin with a little history: To your mind, what are some of the most important representative moments for trans characters in superhero comics? What do you make of the predominance of male-to-female (MtF) transitions in popular representations?
Starting with the last question there first, media portrayals love to objectify the bodies of trans women, to make them seem exotic and strange. “They had the perks of being a man and now look at what they’re doing to themselves, how bizarre,” seems to be the mindset of cis creators who focus on trans women transitioning, as far as I can tell. Regarding important representative moments, can we count Wanda from Sandman (Vertigo, 1989–1996)?
Yes, Sandman was released under DC’s Vertigo publishing label directed at more mature readers instead of receiving a release as a standard DC comic, but the comic did cross over with the rest of the DC Universe in important ways. Either way, she was one of the first trans women I’ve seen in comics, if not the first. I don’t know if I’d say that her portrayal holds up as positive, but I did remember Gaiman talking about her being based on trans women he knew and how he was trying to make her a sympathetic character. She was reassuring for me at the time, even if I didn’t relate to her entirely. I’m going to admit that I came to Sandman in the midto late 2000s in high school, so I could have easily missed other portrayals, but she’s the first and most prominent example in my mind.
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Sandman was also my first experience with trans characters in “superhero” comics (I think for the sake of this discussion, we’re going to have to expand what we consider superhero comics to be, as most of the representation comes in fringe titles). However, I think it’s important to mention the trans women that are shown as murder victims in the “Serial Convention” story line in those same comics.2 Those were the ones I read first, and they frightened me. One of the serial killers at this convention is talking about how he only kills “preoperative transexuals” because something about them made him “uncomfortable.” So this is how I was introduced to trans women [End Page 161] in comics—lying dead on the bed of her murderer. Later, when Gaiman introduced Wanda in the series, I had a mixed reaction to her treatment as well. I was raised Catholic, and so the scene where Wanda is told “it’s like uh gender isn’t something you can pick and choose as uh far as gods are concerned” really shook me.3 Even though Wanda tells the gods to go and shove their opinion of her, she’s still...