I don’t like Matthew Rosenberg’s work. I’m just gonna go ahead and say that up front: I don’t think it’s good, I don’t think he understands the characters he’s working with, or if he does, I think he’s sloppy in how he handles them. But he gets a lot of praise, a lot of folk seem to like where he’s going with the X-Men, so I pretty much just quietly dislike him from a distance. There are other comics to read, after all. I was content to leave it there. Then Uncanny X-Men #17 happened.
Content warning ahead for transmisogyny and violence. Spoilers too, I guess, if you care about that.
If you haven’t been reading it, #16 closed with Dani Moonstar declaring that Rahne Sinclair–Wolfsbane of the New Mutants–was dead. In #17 we’re shown how it happened. We see Rahne, sitting in a park at night, as she’s approached by four men. This is in itself a dangerous situation for any woman alone, and it’s heightened for Rahne by her being a mutant in a time when, in Marvel’s fictional world, anti-mutant hysteria is at a peak. Maybe that’s why Rosenberg felt justified in using a mode of violence against the character that is used specifically to target trans individuals in real life.
When these men discover that Rahne is a mutant, they begin to attack her, claiming, as you can see above, that she is trying to “trap” normal people. Rahne partially transforms once by instinct, delivering a cut to one of the men’s faces; she is immediately portrayed as apologetic and horrified at what she’s done, even though these men intend to kill her. She does not fight back beyond that, despite her mutant abilities, her combat training; none of it comes in to play. She is beaten to death.
The language, the method of violence in this comic, is specific in its targeting. It’s what’s said of trans women by men after those women are murdered; it is known, nation- and world-wide as the trans panic defense. The essential crux of the argument as it’s used in court is that when men are confronted with the fact that a woman is trans, they become unaccountable for their panicked reactions, often murdering these women as a means of hiding their own insecurity or shame, or because they’re “not gay.” It is a widely-practiced defense; in fact, thus far it has only been banned in three states in the U.S. — California, Rhode Island, and Illinois. In forty-seven other states, it’s a valid and legal reason to murder a trans woman, established by precedent.
Later, Wolverine tracks down the men who have done this to her; when he goes for vengeance, he is interrupted by armed troops intent on stopping him. We later see him in a suit full of bullet holes; we understand that he has beaten these troops, but we are not told what happens to the men. Again, the violence against Rahne is depicted in detail, but we are denied the retributive catharsis of her victimizers receiving violence in turn. The structure of the story itself protects these men, in the same way our justice system protects men like Brock Turner. I have deliberately used the word ‘men’ in describing the group who killed Rahne, because that is what they are; they are approximately college age adults, of drinking age and responsible for their actions. Like Turner in real life, these fictional men are not children, and if the narrative depicts them as committing crimes, they are responsible for those crimes. They are not boys, they are not children. So why does the story protect them? Even assuming that Wolverine exacted revenge for Rahne’s death, why are we, the readers, denied this?
Look, I’m sure that Rosenberg means well here. The argument could be made that in drawing the comparison, he’s highlighting the fact that legal defenses for trans people are at a distinct deficit, and that violence against trans people runs rampant. Frankly, I appreciate the comparison present in that; but here’s where what I was saying about Rosenberg’s sloppiness comes in to play. “Trap” as it’s used here is a particularly charged word; it is specifically a slur in trans communities, as it relates to the same panic defense discussed earlier. “Trap” is defined as a man pretending to be a woman for purposes of enticing other men, for a community that views trans women as delusional men, you can see how such a thing might be weaponized against us.
There are no trans X-Men. There has been one trans character adjacent to the X-Men; a young mutant named Jessie Drake (no relation to Bobby Drake, the Iceman). Jessie appeared in two issues of Marvel Comics Presents penned by Ann Nocenti before disappearing into “therapy” and never being seen again. She was the first on-panel depiction of a trans character in Marvel; while Loki was certainly created first, the depiction of Loki as trans came decades later. There are, on the whole, only a half-dozen trans characters in the Marvel universe. Of them, only Loki appears regularly.
When cisgender writers co-opt the experiences of trans folk, when they depict the violence that occurs against us without bothering to depict us, we are not helped. We are not aided by this choice; the violence against us becomes normalized, but our presence does not. If anything that hurts us in the long run, because when we are seen, the first association with that sight becomes the violence. The message to trans readers specifically is even worse: it says we are not welcome here.
This kind of scenario is more than just that, though; it’s symptomatic of the systemic campaign of violence that trans people are forced to endure; we cannot even have art about us. When I call it systemic, I mean that; as described above, not only does the violence exist and occur regularly, it is protected by the very law of the land in forty-seven out of fifty states in the U.S. The trans community doesn’t need another display of coded violence against us; we do not need to be victimized by one of the very pieces of media we consume in an effort to feel understood. To read this, to see it, when we can’t see ourselves represented is more than injury; it’s disrespect on top of it. We deserve better.