Author Rachel Gold on queerness and transness in comic books

When I was a teen, many of my ideas about being queer and trans came from comic books. I read X-Men, New Mutants and Teen Titans, plus (if you can ever find a copy) the eight-issue mini-series Sisterhood of Steel that had an Actual Lesbian(tm) in the mid-80s! As a teen in Ohio, I was reading the subtext and blatantly making up some of the queerness/transness.

These days I don’t even have to read subtext to get awesome queer & trans characters. Below are two of my current favorites, plus two classic 80s characters you’ll see in the new edition of Being Emily (available May 15).

 

Marvel Comics

Angela & Sera

Read: “Angela: Asgard’s Assassin” and “Angela: Queen of Hel”

The first series is fun, the second (Queen of Hel) is about these two women who love each other so much that when Sera dies, Angela literally goes to Hel to get her back. Sera is a clever, artistic, magical and very funny trans woman. (Sera’s transness is clear on the page but not used in stupid ways in the plot.) Angela is badass cis woman goddess. They love each other immensely and are shown kissing many times, cuddling in bed, and talking openly about their love.

 

Actual quotes from “Angela: Queen of Hel”:

Sera [in bed, cuddling Angela]: “… mmph … Angelaaa, your feet are ice cubes. Here put ‘em ‘tween my feet … ‘s better.”

Sera [talking about a magical ring]: “By the by, did you ever get the ring?”

Angela: “You want a ring?!”

Sera [speaking to the reader]: “I’m Sera. I’m sure you recall I’m the Gabrielle to her Xena, except we make out more. (On screen anyway.)”

 

 

Marvel Comics

Aneka & Ayo

Read: “Black Panther” (2016)

Aneka is the leader of the Dora Milaje, the all-women royal guard of the ruler of Wakanda (current ruler: T’Challa/Black Panther), until she kills a village chief who’s abusing the local girls. She’s condemned to be executed (based on a variety of political factors). Her beloved, Ayo, steals two suits of superpowered armor and breaks Aneka out of prison. The two of them then proceed to take over a territory in the north of Wakanda and start creating an egalitarian state that takes care of all its women and girls.

 

Actual quotes:
Ayo: “They were going to kill us both anyway. When they condemned you, dear heart, they condemned me.”

Aneka: “I assumed you had a plan.”

Ayo: “Yes, a plan … “

Aneka: “You did not think past the prison, did you?”

Ayo: “I though past the prison, but only of you. … What is this?”

Aneka: “This, Beloved, is a plan.”

 

 

Based on my passion for comic books, superhero characters made it into Being Emily’s first edition, mostly in the hands of Emily’s little brother Mikey. In editing and creating the new edition, I was surprised at how subconsciously trans my choices had been and so I amped that up in this new edition.

First, let’s agree that at least half the time an alien character in comic books (and most other media) is trans, queer or neurodiverse—likely all three, because:

 

  • The people around me aren’t like me.
  • I don’t understand these strange customs (esp. about gender/dating/relationships).
  • If they know what/who I am, I might be in danger.
  • I shouldn’t let them know (all of) what I am.
  • I can do/perceive things the people around me can’t.

 

That said, here are my top two pics for heroes of the 80s and today who are super trans:

 

DC Comics

Starfire

I didn’t see this at 13 when I was reading Teen Titans (because I didn’t know then trans women were possible), but Starfire is very much a the archetype of trans women heroes of the 90s and on who transitioned after puberty and learned to be badasses:

  • She’s not ashamed of her body.
  • She’s tall and super strong.
  • She has great hair.
  • She’s unapologetically emotional.
  • She doesn’t understand why you’re being so weird.

And she’s literally an alien, which means she did not grow up with the human gender “woman,” so no matter what her anatomical setup looks like, she had to transition to woman—a process that’s pretty obvious in the early TT issues when she does a lot of “I don’t understand this, but okay.”

 

Source: Marvel

Warlock

Since my friend Stephanie Burt, who teaches comic books, talked me into adding Warlock in this edition of Being Emily, I went to her for the epic transness of him. She explains:

 

“The Marvel Comics character Warlock, who appears in X-Men and New Mutants comics, takes he/him/his for pronouns, but he is not easily read as biologically, or chromosomally, or even culturally, male or female, because he is clearly not human; he’s a living machine, part of an alien species …

“What makes Warlock trans? For one thing, his very being is technological, chosen, mediated and modern; his ‘natural’ form is nothing at all, or else is it everything, a pile of wires and gears from outer spaces that has to decide on a shape. Many trans humans, too, resist the idea of natural; what we are supposedly born to be, destined to be, is just not what we are. In order to become what we ought to be, we may require modern technology, and we surely require good friends.

“For another thing, he’s a shape-changer: he’s not the same thing all the time. He can be, if you want him to be, a very good metaphor for nonbinary people, who don’t fit the categories we already know. Finally, many trans people nowadays, especially young ones, figure out who we are, who we want to be, and how we can get that way, not at first through medical technology (hormones and pills are of no use to Warlock) but through wires and wireless communications: we find our communities of mutants and friends and like-minded gender-divergent people on the Internet, a mysterious realm of technology that extends farther than most baseline humans will ever understand.”
Fair warning if you run into me and/or Stephanie at a convention: given enough time we will turn 75% of all the Marvel mutants into some combination of queer & trans people. And of course, I want to know who your fave queer/trans heroes are (including indie comics!)–leave comments or tweet me!

 

Raised on world mythology, fantasy novels, comic books and magic, Rachel is well suited for her careers in marketing and writing. She is the award-winning author of Just Girls (Bella Books 2014) and Being Emily (Bella Books 2012), the first young adult novel to tell the story of a trans girl from her perspective. She has a B.A. in English and Religious Studies from Macalester College and an MFA in Writing from Hamline University.

The Anniversary edition of Being Emily comes out on May 15th, and will include

  • Updated language
  • Expanded and additional scenes
  • A new note from the author
  • A new introduction
  • Emily & Claire ten years later
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