DC’s New Transgender Hero is Not Their First
image of Alysia Yeoh, all images via ComicVine
By Caitlin E Bridges
In the most recent issue of a Batgirl #19, outgoing painter-slash-bartender Alysia Yeoh comes out to her roomie Barbara Gordon (aka Batgirl) as trans. News spreads like wildfire on the internet, and everybody pats DC Comics on the back for introducing the first openly transgender character in superhero comics.
Wait, hold up–the first?
See, DC Comics has had a number of trans and non-binary characters showing up, kicking ass, and taking names since the 80s and 90s. A most excellent example would be Coagula, the world’s first transgender lesbian superhero, so let’s talk about her for a minute.
First appearing in 1993 in Doom Patrol #70, Kate Godwin is a sex worker who gains the power to dissolve solids after a sexual encounter with a radioactive bi-gender being known as Rebis. Deciding to become a superhero, she gives herself the name Coagula and applies for the Justice League, but is turned away. “I suspect they liked my powers, but couldn’t handle me,” she says to her friend over a beer.
Kate Godwin, Transgender Superhero Coagula
Inevitably, a newly-fashioned villain calling himself Codpiece shows up on a rampage that Coagula quickly shuts down by casually dissolving his rocket-spewing, er, codpiece. The Bandage People, Marion and George, are impressed and invite her to join their team, The Doom Patrol.
If you’re not familiar with Doom Patrol, they’re a team of outcasts that were basically X-Men before the X-Men came along and made outcasts cool. This particular run of the newer, updated series was written by Rachel Pollack, herself a transgender woman. Coagula a.k.a. Kate Godwin is even named after the amazing transgender activist Kate Bornstein, a friend of Pollack. Doom Patrol is chock-full of issues about fitting into society, gender-defying characters, use of “hir” pronouns, and other themes that were not common to the rest of the “funny books” hitting the shelves at the time. This series was being published under the Vertigo imprint and specifically marketed for Mature Readers.
A year later, a 4-issue miniseries called Deathwish was put out under a different imprint, Milestone, which focused on bigger representation of minorities in comics. Deathwish was penned by another transgender writer, Madeleine Blaustein, and the series featured “non-op” protagonists Marisa Rahm and Dini Torres. Rahm is a respected cop working on a case against the villain Boot, who rapes and murders transsexual prostitutes in the city of Dakota. Sadly it leads to tragedy and some more shoot-em-up gritty violence, which was pretty typical in comics at this time in the ’90s.
Marisa Rahm, Non-op superhero
So what’s the difference between the trans characters of the ’90s and today? And why is Alysia Yeoh such a big deal after all? They’re all characters from DC Comics titles about superheroes, right?
The thing is, Vertigo and Milestone are both imprints specifically made to separate their universes from the main DC universe–you know, the one where Batman and Superman and Wonder Woman can all run around fighting baddies and saving the day. While some crossovers did happen, the individual titles were never intended to be part of the “mainstream.” The Milestone universe had its own separate continuity and was created by a separate company, and was only published and distributed by DC. Its “comics for blacks” reputation also led to poor sales as many retailers assumed it would be of no interest to most white readers. Milestone comics were eventually integrated into the DC Universe in 2008, over ten years after the company’s demise in 1996.
Vertigo debuted in 1993 as a way to market comic books to a more sophisticated audience. Covers for titles published under the Vertigo imprint advised “Suggested For Mature Readers” and the stories usually contained graphic scenes of sex, violence, drug use, as well as controversial themes and social satire. Chances are if you were a kid just getting into comics, your mom wouldn’t let you pick up one of those issues. LGBT themes in the regular, kid-friendly books were locked firmly in the closet.
Which brings us back to Alysia Yeoh. Finally, we have a trans character in the OFFICIAL mainstream DC universe, and it doesn’t slap a “mature’” rating on to the cover. She’s a regular ol’ human being with no super powers, no spandex, no magical shape-shifting alien abilities. Sex and violence don’t seem to be part of her back story. She’s Batgirl’s terrific roommate, a transgender woman, and a painter with a night job as a bartender.
While we are all different, there are parts of our identities, our shared experiences, that make us all the same.September 21, 2016
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