DC Comics, Batgirl and That Transphobic Issue

Not the great issue they were hoping it would be.

I’ve liked Batgirl for a long time, since first getting into comics years and years ago I’ve been a fan of the younger legacy characters such as the Teen Titans, Nightwing, Batgirl, Wally West, Donna Troy and the like.  I’ve particularly liked Barbara Gordon in the role of Oracle, a role that I think was more important and a vital piece of the DC Universe then her time as Batgirl ever was.

So when DC rebooted their universe and Barbara was cured of her injuries and once again in the cape and cowl I was a little upset with this, thinking that she was a character that had moved beyond the costumed sidekick role into something so much better.  But at least the fantastic Gail Simone was writing the book.  The book was okay, not brilliant but kept my attention.

Then Simone did something brilliant, something that I genuinely never saw coming and made me fall in love with the book, the characters and Simone as a writer all over again.  Alysia Yeoh, Barbara’s room mate, came out to her as transgender.

No matter the circumstances, coming out takes incredible bravery.

No matter the circumstances, coming out takes incredible bravery.

In a medium with very little positive trans representation this could have been something terrible, but staying true to the character of Barbara Gordon, and just frankly being a decent human being, Simone made it into a beautiful scene where Barbara accepted her friend wholeheartedly and told her she loved her.

And that is how decent human beings should react.

And that is how decent human beings should react.

In a book where my interest had begun to wane and I wasconsidering dropping I was given one of the best pieces of comic writing in years.  I know most of you will read that sentence and disagree, and don’t get me wrong, I like the big epic superhero stuff too, but this was just brilliant writing.  For a subject that the media more often than not handle extremely poorly it was a breath of fresh air to read a very real, touching and subtle approach to the subject.

Fast forward a few months and we find a creative change on Bagirl, with Simone being replaced by Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher.  I was upset to hear Simone was leaving, but when I saw the new art for the revamped series, by the brilliant Babs Tarr, I was once again interested.  Gone was the high tech armour, replaced with something a lot more real, a costume that any girl could make, and that just looked pretty damn cool.

I adore the new Batgirl costume.

I adore the new Batgirl costume.

So, here we have a book with a trans character as one of the leads best friends, positive trans representation and a kick arse look.  So what’s exactly gone wrong?  Well, in a frankly stupid and clearly not full thought through move the new creative team have undone all of Simone’s previous work and upset the majority of trans readers of the book.  A fairly large trans audience thanks to the great work that Simone did on the book.

Issue 37 of the book saw Barbara fighting against the Batgirl of Burnside, a gold bedazzled costume wearing imposter that’s been helping criminals in Gotham steal from celebrities.  Okay, so far so good, nothing bad here, but, when Barbara confronts the new Batgirl things suddenly go down hill.  During the confrontation the fake Batgirl has her mask and wig removed, revealing artist and photographer Dagger Type.

The thing is, Dagger Type has been represented as a man up to this point.  It’s worth noting though that until this point Barbara has never met Dagger, only seen a photograph of them and read their bio.  The most interaction she has had with Dagger has been as the Batgirl of Burnside.

Now, you might be thinking ‘so what?  What’s the big issue here?’  Well, the issues is more than one problem to address here, but the first to talk about is Barbara’s reaction to this reveal.  Once the reveal has been made she freezes, her jaw drops and she yells out ‘Dagger Type?  But you’re a – ‘clearly just about to say man before having to dodge a gunshot from the villain.

And this undoes all of the previous good work.

And this undoes all of the previous good work.

Barbara has never met Dagger, has only interacted with ‘him’ as a female, so why is her immediate reaction ‘that’s a man’ rather than ‘Dagger’s trans’?  Here’s some honesty on my part, I started going bald in my teens, I have to wear a wig.  As a trans woman if someone were to pull my hair off and immediately react with shock and yell ‘but you’re a man’ it would be horribly destructive and hurtful.  To assume that someone is a man dressed up rather than trans when you have no evidence of either is a massive assumption, and one that can do a lot of damage.  Especially for a character that is supposed to be such a big ally to the trans community through her close friendship with Alysia.

At best this makes Barbara look massively ignorant and unintentionally hurtful, at worst it makes her look like a transphobe acting like an ally, something that I myself have had experience with.  A supposed friend, well acquaintance who was a partner of a friend really, chose to go on the attack one day stating that because I wasn’t full time in my transition at that point that I was ashamed of who I was, that if I wasn’t ashamed I’d not be pretending to be male at work.  Add on to this the horrid comment of ‘women’s clothes at night and pictures on Facebook do not a transgender make’ and you’ve go the worst kind of hypocrite who claims to believe in trans rights and support those going through transition, but will immediately attack you if you do not conform with their very narrow minded view on what a trans person is.  This is definitely not who Barbara Gordon should be.

The other main problem with this issue is that comics are once again uses the villainous trans woman stereotype so often used by the media.  It seems like there are only a handful of roles TV, film and comics let trans women play, liars and villains, sex workers, victims of violence and very, very occasionaly real trans people.  I could write an entire article just on the subject of how misrepresented trans people are, how we’re used as the butts of jokes when characters throw up when they realise a character is trans or call us ‘its’, but I really want to stick to this one issue of Batgirl for now.

Now, there is no clear evidence that Dagger is trans, there’s no evidence their not though either.  Dagger could be trans, and a villain and it’s a bad representation of trans people that uses the trans = bad guy trope.  Dagger could just be a guy who is dressing up as a woman, but this is bad because it’s saying cross-dressers = bad guy.  Whoever Dagger really is Barbara’s reaction is still unacceptable.  I know as a trans person that is Alysia had been there during that exchange she’d be having some very harsh words with Barbara, just as I would with any friend of mine I’d found having a negative reaction to someone who could be trans.  You can’t be an ally to one and act like that towards another.

Now, the creative team has appologised for the issue on twitter, and Cameron Stewart has even addressed those naysayers who have spoken out to say there was no need to appologise, tweeting ‘If you didn’t think an apology was needed, the apology wasn’t for you’.

Cameron Stewart issues an apology to those offended.

Cameron Stewart issues an apology to those offended.

Okay, so they’ve acknowledged that they cocked up, that they’ve upset people and held their hands up and accepted that, which I respect as they could have taken a very different approach here.  But the damage is already done.  We now have yet another poor representation of trans people in the world, we have a book that attracted a trans audience that has upset its readers, we have a beloved comic book character that has acted out of character and gone against fans expectations.

I’m not saying that I’m never reading Batgirl again, or that you shouldn’t either, but this has certainly shaken my faith in the book and DC in general.


I’m on twitter @Amazing_Amy_W, I blog at Trans Girl Writer and check me out on Facebook too!

Amy is a journalist and editor contributing the websites Planet Transgender, Gay News Network, The Bottle Episode, The Retro Box and Claire Channel. Amy is also a published comic book writer and letterer.

In addition to her writing Amy has also worked with the Centre For Hate Crime Studies in Leicester and has worked in the capacity of an advisor to the United Nations Entity For Gender Equality and The Empowerment of Women.

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