It’s common knowledge that fanfiction is positively lousy with gay relationships, and with an almost entirely queer cast of hopelessly attractive young adults, Marvel’s Young Avengers is grade-A shippable material. With two gay men, one lesbian, two bisexuals, and a genderfluid trickster god, the two presumed cishets are outnumbered three to one. I say presumed cishets, because it’s not as though we know everything about Kate Bishop or Tommy Shepherd, which leaves plenty of room to extrapolate.
The eponymously titled Transitions by Zethsaire on AO3 explores the idea that speedster Tommy Shepherd was assigned female at birth and is physically transitioning to male. Set in a slightly alternate version of the Marvel comics universe, it follows the relationship between Tommy Shepherd and Noh-Varr, two members of the Young Avengers, and details how Tommy’s gender identity and transition process affects both of their lives. It also deals briefly with different cultural perceptions of gender, since Noh-varr is also a Kree, and his perspective on the matter is different from the average human.
In this AU, Tommy and Noh-varr meet in a club, where Tommy is underage, awkward, and cruising to get laid, and Noh-varr is a bouncer slash pit fighter. There’s no shortage of sex throughout, but the story is mostly a slice-of-life style romance, dealing with the social difficulties both partners face as an alien and a mutant, their cultural differences, and with Tommy’s friends and family disapproving of his relationship. Because the author writes Kree as having a very relaxed concept of the gender binary, Tommy’s body issues actually don’t have much of an impact on their physical relationship.
“Wait, wait.” Tommy gasped, pulling himself away. “We need to – I wanted to tell you before – uh. I’m trans.”
Noh-varr looked at him for a moment, but didn’t pull away. “I’m sorry. I don’t really know what that means.”
Alien. Right. You’d think he’d have run into this by now. “Um…it means I wasn’t born biologically male.”
“Oh.” Noh-varr said. Then, “I’m sorry. Again. I don’t know how that works for humans. Can you still fuck me or…?”
Tommy thought he was seriously gong to lose his shit. Noh-varr was taking this really well. Disturbingly well. He was more than a little afraid of what the Kree thought constituted normal sex now. Were they gonna have to do some weird, kinky alien thing?
The specific subject matter of this fic was what compelled me to give it a shot. It’s a rare thing to find a fic with a trans character, and even rarer to find one written by an author who identifies themselves as trans. That said, the story itself isn’t my cup of tea. Both the writing and the technical aspects of body dysphoria and transition feel clunky, and it seems that the writer is new to the trans community, making certain subjects difficult for them to articulate. The writer tends to address Tommy’s feelings in ways that seem a bit discordant and awkward, and while the dialogue is clever and snappy overall, some of the dialogue about being trans specifically feels unnatural. The author does indicate in the notes that they are writing Tommy with different body issues and at a different stage in transition than themselves. Far be it from me to criticize someone’s means of self-expression, but I would have loved to see the writer explore their own experiences with being trans using Tommy as a proxy, rather than writing Tommy as an abstract idea of what they assume other trans people are like.
There are also some character dynamics amongst the Young Avengers that I would have been interested to see re-imagined in light of Tommy being trans. For example, Tommy is one of a set of twins, but he did not realize this until he was a teenager. How would it have affected him to meet what is effectively the cis male version of himself? Does this have an impact on his body image? The author did expand on Kree culture a bit as it pertained to sexual expectations. Their version of the Kree concept of gender was great for Noh-varr and Tommy’s relationship, in that it helped normalize Tommy’s feelings, but such a lax view of gender was a little difficult to reconcile with the fact that the Kree are effectively an endangered species and reproduction is culturally very important to them. It would have been interesting to explore that angle further. Is Noh-varr’s perspective really the norm amongst his species or is he—as an outcast himself—willfully shirking a cultural standard he finds oppressive?
The story itself, however, isn’t as important for its narrative as it is for its intent. Trans issues can be very difficult to address in real life, especially with friends or family who are new to the concept, and writing fiction about a favorite character facing similar struggles can be both very cathartic and a useful tool for understanding one’s own feelings. Even though this fic didn’t speak much to my personal struggle with gender identity, I was elated to see that someone had written it and then had the courage to post it for others to see. Reading such works can certainly be therapeutic for many people struggling with gender identity. Not every fanfiction can be a work of academic genius, but casual day-to-day reminders that no one is alone in their struggle are incredibly important. You can read Transitions here on AO3!