Batgirl #37 is transphobic. I wish that I could leave it at that. I wish I could make my feelings come across with those simple words and get people to understand. I wish that people wouldn’t defend it as unintentional, focusing on the possibility that there wasn’t malevolence in the creation and distribution of the issue. It remains transphobic regardless.
The antagonist of the issue is a mentally ill male artist named Dagger Type, who disguises themselves as Batgirl, engages in flamboyant criminal acts, appears in social media, and then attempts to kill and replace the real Batgirl under orders from somebody else. When Dagger is unmasked during a fight with Barbara, he is, of course, shown with smudged makeup and depicted as looking extremely unstable. His costume is otherwise perfect; he is as curvy and feminine as Barbara Gordon herself is, and he passes for a woman while masked. The disguised Dagger is actually the one who shows up on the cover of the comic. It’s his gold, sparkly costume.
Barbara is startled by her impostor being male, but is cut off before she can explicitly say that. Dagger is later arrested by the police at a show after revealing that he’s Batgirl and the crowd laughs at him, prompting him to pull out a gun and start firing wildly. As he’s being taken away, he says that he’ll have to tell Kanye (presumably the one and only Mister West) that they won’t be able to collaborate like they planned — the punchline to a setup earlier in the issue.
This comic book is targeted towards a younger audience than the rest of DC’s books. The book is filled with people in their twenties, pop culture references, the use of modern technology and social media. This comic book supposedly has a transgender woman, Alysia Yeoh, in Batgirl‘s supporting cast — one of Barbara’s roommates — but she’s rarely been around since the creative team changeover, and doesn’t feature prominently. You can’t tell me that this comic won’t leave a mark on any young, questioning trans women who read it. You can’t tell me that this comic can’t do any harm.
Murderous or deceptive men disguising themselves as women has been a trope in fiction long before the creation of cinema, and it’s shown up too many times to list or even count. The trope isn’t even subverted here, which is the hell of it. Batgirl has been praised for being a breath of fresh air compared to the rest of DC’s material, both visually and in its writing. It’s been celebrated as feminist and gotten plenty of people interested in comics. The fact that it used a tired transphobic trope in the new creative team’s third issue shows that it isn’t nearly as groundbreaking as many hoped and believed. Its fans are going to miss that or defend the book anyway.
A transphobic comic book was scripted, drawn, colored, lettered, printed, and distributed. Honestly, it’s business as usual, all things considered. Something that’s half joke, half rule of thumb: trans women look for art and media that’s less transphobic than others, not content that isn’t transphobic. You might as well be talking about petting a fucking unicorn in the latter case.
I’ve had people get grumpy at me for dropping television shows or criticizing media for their transphobia (Arrested Development, Community, Chew), as if not wanting to surround yourself with material that’s actively hateful to you or at least apathetic to you as a person is an unreasonable desire. I do have to wonder if they’d begrudge racial minorities if they stopped reading a book with stereotypical portrayals, if they’d side-eye a gay man who protested homophobic tropes in cinema, if they’d expect cisgender women to not have anything negative to say about period jokes. If you understand the reasoning for being upset about those, and don’t understand why a transgender woman would be sick and tired of “crazy,” murderous deceivers pretending to be women in media, or other transphobia, I want you to ask yourself why.
I’m disappointed and disgusted that I have to criticize a comic for being transphobic less than a month after I wrote a plea begging for better portrayals of trans women in media, let alone a comic I referenced in the very same piece. The kicker to it is, Gail Simone at least tried to have a decent example in the case of Alysia Yeoh. I’ve been fuming all day since I read Batgirl #37.
Educate yourself on transgender issues. Listen to transgender people. Critique transphobia in media. Yell from the goddamn rafters that you’re not going to accept transphobic characters or events in media. Make inclusive art. I try to read comics to escape from how awful the world is around me, and have since I was a little kid. I don’t need to be constantly reminded that I’m feared, hated, and mocked for who I am. I don’t need to be reminded that people who cross gender lines are considered crazy and not to be trusted. I need something more.