DC Comics’ Batgirl number 19 has a little bit more in store for its readers than just crime fighting. This month readers also get a bit of controversy with their womp-slam-bang as a character introduced in 2011 comes out as both transgender and bi-sexual.
After DC rebooted its franchise in 2011 in an attempt to reconcile its decades of loose character arcs and confusing back histories, Batgirl’s alter ego (Barbara Gordon) moved out of her father’s home (Batman’s Commissioner James Gordon) and moved in with a roommate named Alysia Yeoh.
Yeoh was presented as an Occupy Wall Street-styled female activist, bartender, and fine artist. She was of Singaporean descent and sported an undisclosed secret. This month’s issue reveals that secret. In a face-to-face discussion, Barbara Gordon and her roommate have a serious chat in which roommate Yeoh reveals that she is really a he and bi-sexual as well.
So, Batgirl number 19 marks the debut as the very first “real-world” transgendered character in all of mainstream comics. By “Real-world” that means a character that is merely transgendered in the “real-world” sense, not changed via some sort of superhero-styled transformation.
Over the last few years, the LGBTQ community has been favored with a plethora of gay characters in mainstream comics, of course. There are also a whole raft of gay and transgendered characters in comics from smaller, independent comics publishers as well as adult-oriented titles. But this marks as the first transgendered character to come to mainstream, superhero comics.
In interviews, Batgirl writer and the transgender character’s creator, Gail Simone, has admitted that the Yeoh character was written as a transgender character from the very beginning and said that DC Comics executives have been supportive of the move since the beginning.
Writer Simone said that her inspiration came from a conversation she had with fellow comics writer Greg Rucka. It was Rucka who re-wrote the Batwoman character to be portrayed as a lesbian back in 2006.
Simone also said that when she attended comics conventions and saw what she felt were transgendered comics fans in attendance and wanted to give them a character to root for.
“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 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?” Simone said.
Simone also points out that the comics industry is awash with “diversity” and not by accident. Insinuating sex-based characters into comic books isn’t just an idea, it’s “the 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 of The Andy Griffith Show for all eternity.”
Simone isn’t alone in an entertainment industry filled with people that feel that traditional characters are “a problem” that must be overcome. Batgirl number 19 is just one more step down the road to correct that “problem.”
*”Cis-gendered” means a person who identifies sexually with the same sex he was born with (i.e a person born male identifies as a heterosexual male, etc.). This word is another one of those terms invented in universities aimed at eliminating the word “normal” when discussing sexual preferences.