If you have been spending any time on Tumblr recently, you have probably seen this page of a Wonder Woman comic that not only implies that the Amazons accept trans women, but that Wonder Woman herself is a trans woman. It’s beautiful and makes you happy to be alive just reading it, but, sadly, it’s not real (here is the real picture). As of right now, DC Comics only has one trans character, Alysia Yeoh, Barbara Gordon’s roommate in Batgirl. DC has never really been great when it comes to minority representation. For a while they did have more female-led comics than Marvel, but it was debatable whether those comics actually portrayed their female characters with respect. DC did, however, beat out Marvel when it came to trans representation, and though Alysia is not a trans superhero it is nice to finally see a well done and respectful portrayal of a trans character in a comic book. The inclusion of one character is not enough to really be authentic representation, though, and with transgender rights finally gaining more visibility, fans are now turning critical eyes on to Wonder Woman and the often transphobic portrayal of the Amazons.
Thanks to wonderful women like Laverne Cox and Carmen Carrera, trans rights and representation are starting to gain more visibility. Feminism, though historically not always supportive of trans rights, has attempted in recent years to be inclusive of trans women and men. Wonder Woman, as a major comic book character and feminist icon, is the first to come under scrutiny for the lack of trans representation.
The biggest issue seems to be with the Amazons. The Amazons live on an island called Themyscira which is only populated by women. Depending on the version of Wonder Woman that you read, men may or may not be forbidden to even set foot on the island. How do the Amazons judge who is a man and who is a woman? Well, it seems to come down largely to physical appearance. The Amazons don’t ever seem to ask someone like Flash what his gender identity is. They just look at him, assume he is male, and forbid him from coming on the island. Obviously, this is highly problematic. The Amazons live in an extremely gender binarist world, and for all their critique of Man’s World (basically everything outside of Themyscira), at least in Man’s World some people are starting to recognize that gender is not binary and not determined by one’s genitals. Furthermore, I’m not even sure how the Amazons would view people who are agender, nongender, genderfluid or genderqueer. I think their heads might explode.
Now granted, Wonder Woman was written long before trans rights gained more visibility; so much of the transphobic strict gender binary displayed in Wonder Woman comics is because of that. That is not an excuse for the Amazons’ transphobic mindset to continue, though.
There has been at least one attempt by DC Comics to make Wonder Woman seem more accepting of non-binary genders, but this attempt fell pretty flat. In Justice League: War, Wonder Woman uses her lasso of truth on one of the men protesting against her. It’s revealed that in his spare time he likes to wear a Wonder Woman costume because it makes him feel powerful. Wonder Woman approves, saying that her costume makes her feel powerful too. But while I think the scene is an attempt to show Wonder Woman accepting people who don’t strictly follow the gender binary, the scene actually comes off as pretty transphobic. MadameAce explains:
My problem here is that in some ways, I felt that the movie itself wanted the audience to judge the protester in question negatively because he wears women’s clothing. It’s nice that Wonder Woman offsets this with her acceptance, but the scene could still be borderline offensive.
The scene, while a possible attempt at showing more trans acceptance, is really more played off as a joke within the context of the movie. And of course, we have another major issue that crops up here. Forcing people to state their gender identity either through the lasso of truth or by having the Amazons assume or demanding to know someone’s gender before the can enter the island is invasive and incredibly offensive to anyone who isn’t cisgender.
Yes, Wonder Woman is definitely transphobic, but I think comic book writers have a lot of opportunities to make things right. One, they could simply rewrite the Amazons and Wonder Woman to accept all people who identify as women, which I don’t think should be too difficult as it would just be a matter of changing how the Amazons view gender. I do think it would be much more difficult to rewrite the Amazons to accept all non-binary people. It’s more than likely that those who do not identify as female would be treated in the same way as those who identify as men. Two, (and this is one I find most appealing) the writers could introduce several non-binary and trans superheroes to the Justice League, and those characters could then challenge and critique Wonder Woman’s and the other superheroes’ narrow view of gender. I don’t have much faith that DC Comics will do this, but I can always dream.