In Batgirl#19, DC has revealed that Alysia (Batgirl’s roomate) is actually transgendered – DUN! DUN! DUN!
While you’d think a revelation of this nature would be a huge turning point, or at least the focal point of the issue, Alysia’s revelation is somewhat… minimalistic. In an unremarkable episode of the comic, Alysia has a little chat with her flatmate Barbara (Batgirl) and the nitty gritty of her dating Babs’ evil brother (#drama). In amidst this conversation, Alysia casual drops in that she’s transgendered. The revelation takes up two panels and is neatly tucked away with a quick declaration of friendship between the girls, a hug, and a quick cry. And that’s the end of that.
Considering her confession makes her the first trans character in mainstream comics, you might be surprised by DC’s decision to keep things easy breezy. I mean, there’s not even an emotional flashback to a confusing childhood or anything. It’s just: ‘Hey babes, I’m trans, don’t forget the milk!’
This approach to the subject has certainly split the readership and the LGBT community.
Matt Mallison from Vada Magazine argues that the casual nature of her coming out shows a positive approach to the subject from DC. He writes:
It truly shows how far the comic book community has come that a character can out themselves without it being a full on event. It’s just a fact of life, why should it be any different in comics?
Other comic book enthusiasts are not so thrilled. Looking at just one thread of a comic forum, we see that many are not happy about how Alysia has turned out.
One user called Melanieshaman (a trans woman) bemoans that Alysia’s coming out just isn’t very realistic and if anything, it comes across as forced and unnatural. She writes:
Let me tell you, it’s NOT that easy to come out… no matter who it is you are coming out to.
Another user called The Duke criticises the issue for using trans orientation as just another gimmick to pull in readers.
Gay characters are very old hat now so in order to seem relevant and socially conscious, the writer has gone to another variant of alternate sexuality.
I’m not fussed about the character’s orientation, as I believe in live and let live. I am, however, fussed about the need to have a hook for people to read a creator’s comic. Are comics that bad that every comic has to have a “shock” to it?
You have to admit that having the first trans character be nothing more than a secondary character in a spin-off comic is somewhat disappointing. It was always going to be a tricky topic to straddle, to get the balance right between portraying transgender as something casual and normal AND also weighing up the realistic emotions that often come with the big ‘reveal’.
The fact that they ponied off this storyline somewhere in the DC universe that is relatively low-key, a handing it off onto the little guy rather than a big name, makes it feel like DC has just used the term ‘trans’ to gather some publicity without actually having to commit to a strong representation.
For me, until we see Batman rip off his lycra and reveal a fetching pair of stockings and for that to be done as more than just a gimmick, then the comic book world still has a long way to go before it can truly call itself diverse.