There was a time in comic book history where LGBT characters were banned from the world of mainstream comics by the Comics Code Authority. But the times are a changing-slowly in some areas and faster in others-as there is a stronger presence of LGBT characters in superhero comics than there has ever been before. Heroes like Batwoman, Northstar, and Earth 2’s Green Lantern who are not only openly gay but are even getting married.
In recent years, DC Comics has been attempting to diversify their universe. Sometimes their attempts haven’t been too good but other times it has gone very well and I hope that today’s news will encourage them to do more and often. In order to better represent the LGBT community on the page, DC has taken one more step forward with a character created by Gail Simone.
Batgirl #19 is on sale today in both print and digital formats, and in the book Barbara Gordon’s (aka Batgirl) roommate Alysia Yeoh will reveal that she is a transwoman in a conversation with Barbara. Simone also took care to distinguish Yeoh’s sexual orientation from her gender identity, as Simone noted that the character is also bisexual.
In an interview with New Now Next, Simone said, “She was created as a trans character, she’s hinted at a part of her life she hadn’t yet shared with her roomie, Barbara Gordon, since issue early in the series.”
In a separate interview with Wired, Simone explained the origins of the character. Alysia came out of discussions she had years previous with former “Batwoman” writer Greg Rucka about diversifying superhero comics. Simone attributed the inspiration for Alysia to a conversation that she had with fellow comic book writer Greg Rucka several years ago at the Wondercon convention where after a fan asked why there were fewer gay male superheroes than lesbian ones, Rucka (who co-created (and rebooted) Batwoman as a lesbian character), responded that it would be a real sign of change for a gay male character to appear on a comic book cover — and an even bigger step for a transgender character to do the same.
“I looked out into the audience, saw dozens of faces I knew well — LGBTQ folks, mostly — all avid comics readers and superhero fans and DC supporters,” said Simone. “And it just hit me: Why was this so impossible? Why in the world can we not do a better job of representation of not just humanity, but also our own loyal audience?”
At lunch one day, Simone suggested the story to DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan DiDio and was prepared to offer a passionate defense for the idea of a transgender character. ”I thought I might have to sell it, so to speak,” said Simone. “But he just paused for a moment, asked how this would affect Barbara’s story, and immediately approved it. And we went back to our excellent nachos.”
And that was how DC’s third transgender character overall (first mainstream) came into being.Simone also notes that there have been transgender characters before in independent comics and mature readers titles. Examples are two transgender characters from DC which made their debut in the ’90s: Lord Fanny from Grant Morrison’s “The Invisibles” and Wanda Mann from Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” are both easily identified as transgender, though their debuts didn’t garner the attention like Yeoh is doing due to their removal from big time movie and toy franchise characters. Even in the Marvel and DC superhero universes, several characters have achieved gender-fluidity through fantastical means like magic (Loki), shape-shifting (Loki again, Mystique), brain-swapping, and cloning. Simone said, “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.”
Fans should not expect Yoeh to be a public service announcement as Simone is looking to make Yoeh’s story as honest as possible even if it turns off some readers. She added that she thinks that though most superhero comics readers don’t have a problem with increased diversity, they have a problem with stories that promote sermonizing over storytelling. Simone stated that Yoeh would be “a character … being trans is just part of her story. If someone loved her before, and doesn’t love her after, well — that’s a shame, but we can’t let that kind of thinking keep comics in the 1950s forever.”
Simone expressed confidence in the comics community to support the move. “There’s a large LGBTQ readership in comics, the audience is hugely diverse. It’s wonderful. Our common language is nerdhood. I love that. We may come from different continents, but dammit, we can recite the Green Lantern Oath!”
Simone also believes that diversity isn’t just a continuing issue for superhero 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 ofThe Andy Griffith Show for all eternity.”
Fans can look forward to another transgender character from Simone as she will add another transgender character to a different comic that she’s writing — though she can’t talk about which one. “It’s time for a trans hero in a mainstream comic. I think it’s time to make that thing happen that Greg [Rucka] mentioned years ago. And it’s going to happen … 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; there are a thousand other comics out there for those people.”
Amen to that. That’s why I love you Gail, you’re an awesome person. What are your thoughts on this news? Take a look at the interviews with New Now Next and Wired.