Today, Wired and Comics Alliance ran with the headlines "DC Introduces First Transgender Character in Mainstream Comics" and "'Batgirl' #19 Features First Openly Transgender Character In Mainstream Superhero Comics" to announce the revelation of Alysia Yeoh in Batgirl #19 as transgender, a character first introduced in 2011's Batgirl #1.
But there has been some questioning whether that is true or not. The articles do contain some equivocation.
Although Alysia Yeoh may be the first ongoing transgender character in a mainstream superhero book, Simone notes that there have been transgender characters before in independent comics and mature readers titles; and even in the Marvel and DC superhero universes, several characters have achieved gender-fluidity through fantastical means like 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."
But how does it stand up? Even just sticking to DC Comics, there is Ystin of Demon Knights, who was introduced years ago in Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers in 2005. However the character was disguised rather than transgendered initially, and was rebooted as a transfluid character in Demon Knights. Although far more of an issue in the comic, Ystin's gender identity has, deliberately, never been tied down.
There's Suzie Su of Red Hood And The Outlaws, but she was only introduced in issue 2, a month after Alysia, and her gender identity was only confirmed by writer Scott Lobdell outside of the comic.
There's the likes of Lord Fanny in Invisibles, Wanda in Sandman, Rebus, Danny The Street and Coagula in Doom Patrol, but they are considered either non-superhero or non-mainstream because they are mature readers comics. Though you did get conversations like this.
But someone who might deserve the title more is Masquerade, one of the Blood Syndicate dating from 1993, published by DC Comics and Milestone, who was born female but used his shapeshifting powers to appear male. This wasn't revealed until sometime into the book's run. And although his transgender nature was achieved through powers, he was a proper superhero… He even got trading cards.
It may also be worth pointing out that Marisa Rahm was also a transgender character at DC/Milestone and starred in the book Death Wish, written by transgender author Maddie Blaustein. But then that was just a mini series and labelled for Mature Readers, so it may not count under the strict rules above.
But could the winner be Shvaughn Erin of the Legion Of Superheroes of the Legion Of Superheroes? A female regular character, she was revealed in 1992 to have been born male and had taken regular drugs, Profem, to maintain a female body. Medical drugs, even ones that haven't been invented yet, don't seem to fit Gail's fantasy exceptions, it's portrayed as a proper medical procedure.
Maybe DC Introduces Their First Ongoing Self-Described Transgender Character Achieved Without Super Powers, Science Fiction Or Magic in Non-Mature Reader Superhero Comics might have been a more accurate title. But it may not have been quite so snappy.
Not denigrating Batgirl of course, and that the comic has helped create much needed diversity with today's issue. And, yes, it's nice to do it without being a Skrull. Just thought it was worth acknowledging further what came before…
And no, Jimmy Olsen doesn't count.
And talking of acknowledgements, thanks to Tom Spurgeon and Jason Tippitt for help with this piece.