[UPDATED] Image Comics’ Airboy #2 Has Stupid Transmisogynistic Jokes
We shouldn’t have to explain this. We’ve been through this before. Hell, that time we didn’t even have to deal with an actual printed slur. But we have to go over this again, because this stuff keeps somehow coming up like it’s weeds what the hell is going on oh my gosh people.
Quick rundown: Airboy #2, a new Image comic by James Robinson and Greg Hinkle has their main protagonists sitting in a bar that happens to be filled with transgender women. In a brilliant stroke of comedic “genius,” the characters (who are, coincidentally, self-inserts for the creators) begin to throw around the T-word as well as some incredibly disparaging comments about trans women in general. Oh right, and sight gags abound as well. Because of course they do.
‘What?!’ I hear you say. ‘A slur thrown around casually in [insert media here]? Objectification and use of incredibly lazy tropes? In this day and age?’ Yes, friend. Yes. I can hardly believe it, either.
Emma Houxbois, comics editor for The Rainbow Hub, points out exactly what’s wrong with this entire mess.
… one of their writers himself is drawn mercilessly and repeatedly using a transmisogynist slur, degrading trans women by portraying us both as sex objects and a carnival sideshow to be gawked at, and then topping it off by completely ungendering us.
To what end? To use us as a symbol of the fall of western civilization to drive Airboy into a furious rage? To give Robinson the world weary asshole street cred he’s so desperate to peddle as an excuse for not having anything interesting to say? There’s no voice, no agency, no humanity to any of the trans women in this comic. Just an open mouth to fuck or a penis to gawk at.
Houxbois’ entire takedown of the comic and explanation of how it’s a sign of a deeper problem in comics pulls absolutely no punches. Nor should it have to.
The real irony is that in a keynote at Image Expo 2014, CEO Eric Stephenson emphasized the importance of gender equality and how Image Comics strives to do better than just treat said importance as a gimmick. Hmm. And now here at Image Expo 2015, he says, “We imagine comics not as they were, not as they always have been, but we imagine comics as they can be, comics as they should be.”
Is this kind of transmisogyny what comics should be?
A great many comics fans don’t think so, as there’s now a campaign to have the issue pulled from store shelves. In a post on Graphic Policy, Brett Schenker calls for people to take to Twitter and tweet their dissatisfaction with the comic by demanding to have it removed from store shelves. The campaign was scheduled to launch at the same time Stephenson would be delivering his keynote for Image Expo 2015. From my place in the seats at the time, I don’t think he saw the tweets.
But the rest of the internet did.
So let’s run down the checklist:
How to Really Muck it Up
1.) Use the T-word like it’s nothing.
2.) Objectify trans women.
It’s a pretty simple list, isn’t it?
To his credit, Robinson tweeted a comment about the issues at hand (see what I did there), and it’s maybe-kinda-sorta-could-be-might-be positive… perhaps?
My lack of response to opinions on Airboy #2 is not from indifference. In contact with GLAAD. Will issue statement tomorrow. Night night.
— James Robinson (@JamesDRobinson) July 3, 2015
We’ll be updating this story with his statement as it is released and one of our contributors will be delving into the issue a bit more later today.
Look, to be completely frank, not only are jokes like this hurtful, they’re incredibly lazy. Good comedy punches up, not down. In this current cultural climate, representation for trans women is still abysmally low. So it must be understandable then why something like this would garner such a backlash. For us, every little bit counts, even the negative ones. Since we don’t have too many positive things coming our way, things like this sting so much more.
Times and issues like these show us why it’s so important to not only call out the things going wrong, but we should also remember to celebrate and support comics and creators doing it right.
Jeph Jacques has been handling the introduction of a trans woman as a romantic interest for Marten in Questionable Content incredibly well. A trans character features heavily in Marvel’s Angela: Asgard’s Assassin. Plus who can forget Alysia freakin’ Yeoh? Or how about [redacted, spoiler] from The Wicked + The Divine, another Image title which seems to be handling representation just fine.
Representation is ticking up ever, ever, ever so slowly. But it’s always just so disappointing to see dumb jokes like these in a medium we love so much.
[UPDATE]: Writer James Robinson issued an apology through GLAAD.com. He wrote:
This is a work of deliberately ugly satirical fiction. One part of me believes a creator has the right to tell the story he feels the need to tell. There’s a part of me that feels that it’s acceptable for a work of fiction to hurt or offend. That at the very least the work elicits feelings.
Then there’s the other part of me — the major part, I might add — that is truly saddened that the transgender community, comprising men and women who carry the burden of an ever-hostile society, should have me adding to their load.
Check out the GLAAD.com link for the full apology.
Again, representation matters, folks. When you compare the vast number of negative trans portrayals with the sadly too few positive ones, it’s a clear reflection on how society at large views trans lives. Let’s focus on getting more positive representation out there before we try to decide just how to play with words like these. Fair?
(image via Twitter/@greg_hinkle)
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