Return of the Fanboy

As a kid, I loved comic books. Every month, I spent my entire allowance on titles such as The New Teen Titans, X-Men, and The Huntress (who is, of course, Batman’s daughter in a parallel universe – I kid you not).

My parents discouraged this habit and counseled me on financial responsibility. But secretly, I think they were happy about it. After all, I showed no interest in sports or trucks or toy soldiers – my obsession with comics and superheroes was so stereotypically boyish that it must have provided them with some small degree of comfort.

And they’re not the only ones. A decade ago, a friend invited me to dinner with her new husband. When I arrived, she was clearly nervous, but hopeful that these two very different men in her lives would find something, anything to talk about for an hour or two. She needn’t have worried. The first X-Men film had just been released, and we were both dying to see it. We spent the entirety of the meal discussing our favorite characters and storylines, and went straight from the restaurant to the theatre, where we revisited the sense of wonder we had known as children. My friend sat between us, relieved yet befuddled at being surrounded by two such incredible geeks. I didn’t much notice; when I wasn’t lost in nostalgic reverie, I was concentrating on Hugh Jackman’s chest hair.

Looking back, it’s hard to say why characters like Superman, Spider-Man, and Green Lantern were so exciting to me as a child. It’s too easy to suggest that I loved them simply because I could see every bicep and deltoid bulging beneath their skintight outfits (though I have to admit that I can still remember the day I discovered that Peter Parker slept in the nude on page 17).

Perhaps it was their altruism. No, really – I remember carrying on long debates in my head about what differentiated super-heroes from super-villains, and why anyone blessed with unique gifts such as flight, x-ray vision, or an invisible plane would use them so selflessly. At the end of the day, what attracted me to my masked crusaders for truth and justice might have been their innate sense of decency. Because at their core, these were good, good people … who just happened to have all those biceps and deltoids.

And yet, I know there’s something else that fascinated me about these muscle-bound do-gooders. There were similarities that extended beyond self-sacrifice and a lovely silhouette. Obviously, most were blessed with superpowers that mere mortals do not enjoy (I wasn’t one of those comic fans who liked Batman best because he had no superpowers; in fact, I thought it showed a real lack of imagination on his part). Also, most had not asked for these abilities, usually attained either by freak accident or alien birth. Finally, most of my heroes employed the use of a secret identity, in an attempt to obtain a halfway normal life, as if such a thing were possible. And I wonder: could it be that my sexually repressed 11-year old self was subconsciously seeing parallels between my closeted existence and theirs?

Whatever the reason, I loved them.  Unlike my fellow fanboys, I had a special affinity for female superheroes, like Supergirl, Batgirl, and Spider-Woman (at the time, I convinced myself that this attraction was evidence of heterosexuality, but now I think it was just another form of diva worship), but like most of them, I didn't continue to buy comics once I reached high school.  Comics provided an escape that was socially acceptable for someone in junior high, but not something I could even pretend was "cool" once I entered the ninth grade.  Just before high school began, I sold my entire stash of comic books for about a hundred dollars.  It seemed like a lot of money at the time, but it was probably a fraction of what those books were worth.  That was almost thirty years ago.

Two years ago, I met a charming fellow I'll call Shorebird, who would later become my boyfriend and then my live-in boyfriend.  Shorebird is a fantastic guy, with a variety of interests.  Among other things, he enjoys "So You Think You Can Dance," The New York Yankees, and ... Wonder Woman.  Not Wonder Woman comics, per se, but the iconography of Wonder Woman fascinates him.  And since he moved into the house, we've been collecting various Wonder Woman merchandise which we've been displaying in the kitchen.  Shorebird even went so far as to have an image of Wonder Woman tattooed on his arm.  That's commitment, people.

And I suppose that inviting Wonder Woman back into my life - or at least my home - has opened an old door for me.  Recently, I was on a business trip and looking for something interesting to read, and I came across The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines, a wonderful book by Mike Madrid that recounts the history of women in comic books against the context of the changing role of women in society.  It sounds really academic when I say it that way, but the book itself was funny, provocative, and greatly entertaining.  Like me, Mike always had a special place in his heart for kick-ass superheroines, and I read the entire thing over the course of four airplane trips in two days.

And, as luck would have it, this rekindling of my love of comic books is coinciding with a much-hyped "relaunch" of the entire DC Comics line: 52 series, all starting back at Issue #1.  What's more, these days I can buy a comic book for two bucks via the Apple store on my iPad.  Need you ask if I've made any purchases lately?  Is Superman a space alien?  (For those who live in a cave, the answer is yes.)  Last week, I purchased the first of the relaunched titles, Justice League #1 (no sightings of Wonder Woman yet, but she's on the cover, so I hope to see her next month) and this week, I bought both Batwing #1 (a new colleague of Batman, based in the Congo) and Batgirl #1 (my favorite of the bunch so far, but also the most controversial, for reasons I might explore at a later date).  As the month progresses, I imagine I'll be purchasing Wonder Woman #1 (naturally), Teen Titans #1 (a favorite from my youth), Catwoman #1 (meow), and perhaps even a few others.

It would seem that I'm a fanboy again.


We Are All Transgender

When I was a much younger gay activist, just out of the closet as a matter of fact, I was asked if I would join the Employee Resource Group at my company for Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Employees. My head still spinning with the new identity I had just adopted, I was nonetheless eager to jump right in and start making a difference, and I enthusiastically signed up.

At my very first meeting, I asked what I honestly thought was an innocent question: why weren’t we including transgender people in our name and mission? The looks on the faces around the room immediately told a story: this group had been down this road before, and wasn’t eager to repeat the journey.

“We don’t have any transgender employees at this company,” I was told.

“That we know of,” I responded.

And then the conversation continued, with neither side saying anything that hadn’t been said before. “Sexual orientation and gender identity are two totally separate things,” one person said. Another chimed in with, “people already think that we’re gender-confused. I don’t think we should add to that perception.”

But, a number in my group – a smaller number – agreed with my stance, and so the debate was reborn, for an hour or so. The leader of the group eventually shut the conversation down, then gazed at me with a withering look, clearly wishing she could rescind her invitation. Sadly, the things I heard in that hour have become all too familiar to me over the years.

This is an open letter to my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, particularly those who wish that the “LGBT” acronym could be forever abbreviated to “LG,” full stop. I have something to say to you.

You might think that the reason you’re hated by the haters is because deep in your hearts, you harbor a physical desire for persons of the same sex. You are wrong. They couldn’t care less about what you’re feeling. They hate you because you act upon those feelings. If you are true to yourself, you date, flirt with, sleep with, and often settle down and buy property with persons of the same sex. Some gay men walk with a supermodel’s swagger, and use words like “fierce” and “fabulous.” Some lesbians cut their hair short, and haven’t worn a skirt since high school. And this is why they hate you. They hate you because you break their rules of what a man or a woman is supposed to be. You violate gender norms they hold dear, you cross a line they don’t ever want crossed. They hate you because you’re transgender.

Maybe you don’t want to change your anatomy; most of us don’t. But in the minds of those who hate us, you have betrayed your anatomy as surely as those who do. In this way, “queer” might as well be a synonym for “transgender.” Brothers and sisters, we are all transgender. Deal with it.

And if those who hate us make up stories about us, such as we all wish we could undergo Sex Reassignment Surgery, let them. It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve told lies about us. They lie about us all the time – and I know it hurts to hear those lies. But we can’t let their lies dictate our battle for civil rights, or how we plan to fight. We can’t allow their bigotry to draw boundaries around our humanity. Supporting those in our families, our workplaces, our neighborhoods, and our schools who are transgender is the right thing to do – not just because we’re gay or lesbian, but because we’re human. And if we limit our capacity for compassion and kindness because of what Pat Robertson or Tony Perkins might say about us on the television, then we don’t deserve to be free. I, for one, refuse to take marching orders from those who want me dead.

When you were born, it’s likely that the first words spoken were either “it’s a girl” or “it’s a boy!” And with those simple words, a limitless number of expectations were piled upon you, when you were only minutes old. Whoever spoke those words could only see what was between your legs; they had no way of knowing what was inside your heart. And if you’re a lesbian or a gay man, it’s likely that you disappointed someone along the way, someone who expected you to be someone that you’re not. In that way, our lives aren’t always easy. In that way, we are all transgender. In that way, we owe it to ourselves to look out for our own.