Sunday, 14 December 2014

Trans Representation and Batgirl #37: The End of Progress?

Right so last Wednesday Batgirl #37 arrived on our comic store shelves. Now, although I had my reservations about the new team, as I outlined in a previous post, overall I have been enjoying the new direction for the character as it was different from everything we were reading and such a turn-away from the other Bat books because it wasn’t so freaking dark. But then this happened. I’m sure a lot of you have already seen this, it seems to be everywhere but in case you missed it, here’s what happened.

Discloser: In fairness, the creative team has apologised for what happened and how the issue panned out, but at the same time, a creative decision has to go through a huge amount of people before it gets green-lighted to print, and no one stepped up to stop it, it is not the first time problems with representation has been an issue, nor will it be the last. And if anything positive comes from this, at least the issue is being highlighted and addressed.


So for the last couple of weeks Babs has been trying to find out who has been impersonating her online and the comic opens to a group of girls dressed in bat-garb and robbing celebrities houses with someone who they think is Batgirl, but with a very bedazzled costume. Their bubble is soon burst when the real Batgirl shows up and arrests them while the impostor gets away. It later transpires that the impostor is an artist, Dagger-Type, who has been commissioned to create an exhibit of insightful photos documenting the “real” batgirl while he works towards killing Babs so he can take her place. Right, so here’s where we get problematic.

If you cast your minds back to Gail Simone’s run on the series you will remember the introduction of Alysia Yeoh, Barbra’s Transgender room mate. As one of the first Trans character in a mainstream (read mainstream) comic, it was really refreshing to see her portrayed as a person. That’s all, so simple but so effective, to see a character who was going to have such relevance to so many people just living their lives. Yes, they have gone through the hardship of coming out, of having to fight to live the way they want but they have come out the other side and are not defined by that label. In the same way that Babs has a life outside of being Batgirl, Alysia is a person outside of her gender and how she expresses it. Barbra has developed as a character through her interaction with Alysia too but not because she suddenly came to understand how she should accept people no matter how different they are, she was already there. I remember smiling to myself when Babs responded to the news.

So in issue #37 we had the first reappearance of Alysia since Babs moved out in the new team’s first issue, something which I'm sure loads of people were looking forward to. We all hoped she would have survived the switch but it wasn't to be. And it seems Barbra’s character development was to follow as she responded to the realisation that the photographer Dagger-Type was cross-dressing as her.

The question has to come into it: what did the fact that Dagger-Type was a man dressing as a woman add to the mystery of the reveal of the impostor? We could have introduced a female character in the exact same situation and I know I wouldn’t have been suspicious! It could have been the art dealer from mid-way though the issue, at least she got more page space than the one fleeting picture Dagger-Type got. When the reveal happened, the only thing we noticed was that he was cross-dressing, and was not presenting as the gender we thought they were. Because there was no character-development at any point in the issue, I didn’t even recognise who it was! How is that helpful? What we have here is using someone’s identity as shock value and employing the “man in a dress” trope that people have been working so hard to get away from when it comes to the representation of trans-people. All of this for the development of a plot point, the opposite of what we had for Alysia.  

For me, the icing on the disappointed cake was the line which was chosen for Babs to say to an officer after they arrested Dagger-Type. “My friends call me Babs”; the exact line that told Alysia that the fact that she was trans did not alter how Babs saw her, that it was not going to be an issue at all, I think that is the definition of irony. 

What do you guys think? Make sure to let me know!

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