LGBT characters were once banned from appearing in mainstream comics by the Comics Code Authority, but now they’ve been given a stronger presence. For example, Batwoman is now a lesbian in the reboot of the popular comic, Northstar and Green Lantern Alan Scott openly declared they were gay — and even got married.
DC Comics has introduced a LGBT character: Alysia Yeoh, the transgender roommate of Batgirl.
Alysia Yeoh appeares in “Batgirl” #19, which hit shelves last week.. She is the first transgender character in mainstream comics, and she reveals that she is trans during a conversation with Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) in the pages of the new issue. The character is also bisexual.
Simone attributed the inspiration for the character to a conversation she had with fellow comic book writer Greg Rucka several years ago at the Wondercon convention, 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, replied 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?”
Simone suggested the story to DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan DiDio at lunch one day, 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.”
Still, Simone 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 of The Andy Griffith Show for all eternity.”
She added that she thinks most superhero comics readers don’t have a problem with increased diversity, but rather with stories that promote sermonizing over storytelling. Alysia will be “a character, not a public service announcement … 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.”
Alysia Yeoh may be the first ongoing transgender character in a mainstream superhero book, Batgirl’s writer also notes that there have been transgender characters before in independent comics and mature readers titles and those characters in mainstream comics that were able to achieve gender-fluidity through magic, shape-shifting, brain-swapping, and cloning. “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.”