5 Marvel Transgender & Gender-Fluid Superheroes
Happy World Pride everyone!
Comic books have often been slow to reflect societal change, preferring instead to use allegories such as mutants and aliens to reflect marginalized groups, and transgender characters are no exception. But it’s equally as important to use fully fleshed characters with grounding in our world, to reflect our own lives, in order to connect readers with realities that they themselves might not experience, or have and feel comforted by seeing their heroes go through it as well. Transgendered characters are still incredibly rare in comic books, though gender-bending as a plot device has been present since the beginning of comic book’s history. It’s the heroes’ dismay at being in a gender role that they did not choose and doesn’t reflect who they are that mirrors a transgender experience. It is when they are ‘returned’ to their true form that they experience relief. Some of the following characters have went through this experience and others have a fluid view of gender expression.
Cloud was a member of the Defenders, a supergroup made up of various B list heroes. She had the power to switch between human and a cloud mist at will, giving her powers somewhat similar to Kitty Pryde’s phasing abilities. She soon found herself attracted to the aloof superheroine Moondragon, battling with her ‘forbidden urges’ until her subconscious changed her into the form of a man.
Not that that would have helped at all, as Moondragon is one of the most badass lesbian characters ever.
Her team-mate Iceman took this badly, becoming kind of a transphobic douche. Though still wanting to bang Cloud when she was in her female form.
Eventually they have the talk and Cloud explains that both male and female forms are part of her, and neither is the dominant, in a surprisingly tactful conversation for a comic book.
Later, it’s revealed that Cloud is actually a cloud nebula that took human form, and resuming her rightful place in the cosmos, she left for cosmic adventures and was only seen in a handful of Marvel adventures since.
Sasquatch (Alpha Flight)
Walter Langkowski was your every day scientist jock turned giant Sasquatch when he was unfortunately killed in battle. Luckily (?) he transferred his consciousness into a robot, then into the dead body of his team-mate, the shapeshifter Snowbird. Unfortunately this had the side-effect of when he turned into his human form, he defaulted to a sexy new female body. Though confused at the time, Walter (now Wanda) attempted to make the best of it, slowly becoming more comfortable in her new form, though she herself didn’t know whether she was man, woman, or beast anymore. Attempting to fit in, Wanda became comfortable enough in her new body and sexuality to make a play for her teammate Northstar, only to find out that he definitely preferred her as a man. Living as Wanda in the pages of Alpha Flight for 23 issues, she became an integral member of the team, before being restored to her male form by the resurrected Snowbird.
While the prior two characters were embroiled in gender identity crises, Mystique has always been very comfortable in who she is – which is anyone she wants to be. Living life usually as a blue-skinned female mutant, doesn’t stop her from being comfortable with taking on the skin of a man whenever she pleases. In fact, for some time, it was originally planned that Mystique would be the father of the superhero Nightcrawler with his mother being Mystique’s long-time lover Destiny. Unfortunately, they decided instead to go the route of making a C-list minor Satan knock-off be his father.
Tong (Fantastic Four)
A recent introduction to the Fantastic Four universe is a community of moloid children learning under the tutelage of the Future Foundation. One character, Tong, comes out as transgender and is immediately loved and accepted by her family members, a far cry from the confusion and identity crises in previous depictions of transgender characters in comic books. If you don’t issue at least one happy tear while reading this issue, you my friend, are completely made of stone.
By the way, want to show your support for this storyline? Consider purchasing a Tong fan shirt with proceeds going to charity at Welovefine:
At first, Xavin is introduced as an arrogant would-be suitor to the Runaways resident hippy alien princess Karolina Dean. But soon, it’s revealed that Skrull gender identity is much more fluid than ever thought, with Xavin switching easily into the form of a female in order to woo his girlfriend. In issues since, Xavin appears as a male or female depending on the situation, though usually preferring his female form, especially around his girlfriend. In later issues, Xavin begins to express discomfort that Karolina is uncomfortable with his male form.
Unfortunately there was little time to develop this particular plot-line as Xavin sacrificed herself into interspatial police custody to save her girlfriend from jail, and possible execution. True love, indeed.
You live in two worlds? Is that a hint? 😉
Xavin and Mystique can’t be transgender. They’re shapeshifters. They can change their sex with ease. When someone can change their sex at will, they’re not transgender.
Cloud is technically sexless.
And Walter was literally a man in a woman’s body, like Ultrahumanite. Walter was restored to his actual body.. but I guess for a bit.. sorta.
So.. the only transgender on the whole list is Tong.
True – transgenderism is the feeling that your physicality does not match your identity. This is simply an example of clunky terminology by an author who could maybe do a bit more reading on the subject.
In your opinion, are Xavin & Mystique more accurately a literal representation of ‘gender fluid’? ‘Orientation fluid’? Some other term? ‘Shapeshifter’ doesn’t seem to cover all the bases; e.g. some shapeshifters are male humans who turn into male animals.
I always found it interesting that Langowski was straight as a man, & also straight as a woman, as if the cis-binary orientation changed with the physicality.
Still, a great idea for an article that just maybe needs some fine-tuning.
I fully agree that Tong is the only literal transgender character in the article. I attempted to explain in the introduction that comic books use allegories of shapeshifting to substitute for transgender experiences (as mutants are often substitutes for queer/racial experiences), but maybe that didn’t come across well. I wish we had more common terms for gender-fluidity so I could use a less ambigious title, but I decided to go with the term that most casual readers would be familiar with and hope that I would be able to explain the range of gender representation within. If I didn’t succeed I apologize!