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The Creators of Y: The Last Man on Evolving Concepts of Sex and Gender

Showrunner Eliza Clark and FX chairman John Landgraf reimagine the gender binary-themed graphic novel series.

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After years stuck in development hell, the critically acclaimed graphic novel series Y: The Last Man is finally coming to television. The series, adapted from the Vertigo graphic novel created by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra, follows the aftermath of a mysterious, cataclysmic event in which all men and mammals with Y chromosomes suddenly die. All except for one man: escape artist Yorick (Warcraft‘s Ben Schnetzer) and his pet Capuchin monkey Ampersand.

The graphic novel series, which ran from 2002-2008, focuses heavily on the gender binary. But as society moves towards a more inclusive and expansive understanding of sex and gender, the television series is adapting how it treats its trans and non-binary characters. Jezebel writer Harron Walker wrote an essay questioning how Y: The Last Man will treat trans people. And the series has at least one trans writer on staff in genre author and io9 co-founder Charlie Jane Anders.

Showrunner Eliza Clark and FX chairman John Landgraf discuss how they updated the graphic novel’s concepts of gender and the binary during FX’s Television Critics Association Press Tour session. “A lot has changed since the graphic novel,” said Landgraf. “One of the things the show will make clear is that there are women with two X chromosomes and men with an X and Y chromosome — but there are also women with two Y chromosomes and men with two X chromosomes. So what happened was all the mammals with a Y chromosome — with the exception of this one man and this one monkey — died in one event. But there are numerous men in the show that had two X chromosomes, and they’re important characters. It’s also made clear that a number of women died that day who had a Y chromosome and probably didn’t even know it.”

Clark added, “What was exciting about the book was it takes this kind of idea that a world filled with mostly women … is not necessarily a paradise. Because women uphold systems of oppression — like patriarchy and white supremacy and capitalism. And that can be explored within that. Because gender is diverse and chromosomes are not equal to gender. So in our world of the show, every living mammal with a Y chromosome dies. Tragically, that includes many women. It includes nonbinary people and includes intersex people. But that’s also true of the survivors. I think every single person who is working on the show — from the writers to the directors to the cast and the crew — are making a show that affirms that trans women are women, trans men are men, nonbinary people are nonbinary, and that is part of the sort of richness of the world we get to play with.”

Landgraf added that the series worked with GLAAD and other organizations to accurately explore the nuances of gender. There is so much to unpack and relearn in conversations around sex and gender, and it’s refreshing to see the showrunners directly addressing these changes. We’ll have to wait and see how it all turns out.

Y: The Last Man premieres September 13 on FX on Hulu.

(via THR, image: screencap)

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Chelsea Steiner
Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.