A Guy’s Guy: Fandom and Reading Guy Gardner as a Transgender Man

  • An essay on queer reading Guy Gardner as a transgender man
  • This was written for a sociology class so there are some sociology terms explained that I had to do for the paper’s requirements.
  • In the sources, those interviewed who are not academic sources have their names changed to Initial-Anon to protect their privacy. My own name has been changed for the same reason.
  • Comics referenced in this essay will be linked to on DCU, if they are on the service. Other sources I had to scrap will be listed at the end.
  • This essay is not spoiler free.
    Happy Reading - C

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Part 1: The Boring Sociology Stuff

Superhero fandom is one of the most extensive, due to the large and varied amount and types of texts produced. At their core, Superhero comics are polyvocal and multivalent . They have many voices comics together to create one story. Through the superhero’s eighty-year history, there have been thousands of people involved in writing and drawing them- even hundreds for one character. Each creator brings their interpretation and meaning to the characters and worlds they work with, making it near impossible for there to be one “correct” interpretation of any piece of superhero work. There are standards, yes. There are characteristics and core concepts that have to stay, in order for the characters and concepts to stay those characters and those concepts. Superman must stand for truth and justice. The Green Lantern Corps must run on willpower. The interpretation of what truth and justice and willpower all mean is up to the interpretation of both the various creators and the readers.

It isn’t just the concepts behind the heroes that are subject to interpretation, but the heroes as well. Fandom allows these interpretations to be spread. A small but increasingly growing part of the Green Lantern (a subset of the larger DC Comics) fandom interpret the second Green Lantern of Earth, Guy Gardner, as a transgender man. This headcanon, or personal belief held about a character or universe, is based heavily in the subtext of works including Gardner, as well as fans’ own experiences. The majority of the fans who read Guy Gardner as a transgender man are themselves either binary trans men or nonbinary. In a sampling of eleven fans between 16 and 24 who headcanon Gardner as a trans man and agreed to be interviewed about the subject, all but two said they identified with him, with one of those two saying he identified more with another Green Lantern that he also read as transgender (M-anon, Z. (2018, December 8). Online interview with C. Lupin). By queer reading Guy Gardner, his fans are allowed to create their own representation which mainstream media, and especially mainstream superhero media lacks, making it more relevant to them. “I haven’t connected with the very small cast of canon trans characters who are only supporting cast or are rarely seen or heard from,” explains Mayson B-anon, one of the Guy Gardner fans interviewed. “Guy in center screen, it’s who he is. And having him be trans, still being a superhero, still fighting and beating the bad guys, never being ignored… is great. It makes me feel connected. I don’t want to be the supporting cast, I want to be a main character” (B-anon, M. (2018, December 8). Online interview with C. Lupin). Reading Gardner as trans makes the representation fans want to see and are lacking. As explained by Dan Vera, fandom rereads and creates narratives that redefine the original text to suit the needs and wants of the readers (Vera, 2017). This is not uncommon in queer fandom, as mass media often doesn’t suit the representative needs of fans- young fans especially, who are still discovering and coming into their identities. Identifying with characters allows for a more involved interest and relationship with the text and in turn with themselves.

It can be argued this reading is a form of poaching , as it does not follow the “correct” interpretation of the original authors. The original authors clearly meant to make a guy’s guy of a character and it is impossible dispute this was how Guy Gardner was written- the fact he gets interrupted as a different type of guy’s Guy notwithstanding. However, in comic books fans of the works are the ones who end up working in the professional field and make new, company sponsored comics (Costello, 2013). Therefore, all comic book creators are in a way poaching unless they are the original creators of a character or concept, making it near impossible to misread comics. Misreading is the popular interpretation of the text as opposed to the academic ways a text can be read (Jenkins, 1992, p. 33). When fans are the creators, the objectiveness that scholars who “correctly” read a work falls to the wayside as the creators themselves are nonobjective. Poaching in the traditional academic sense is commonplace in the comic book industry, it becomes trivial to consider creating fanwork a serious form of poaching. It also makes misreading a moot point, as the creators themselves “misread” their source content. While a queer reading of Guy Gardner may be poaching, it is no more poaching than the Man of Steel movie compared to Joe Schuster and Jerry Siegal’s first issue of Action Comics where Superman was first introduced to the world. What makes the company sanctioned misreading more valuable or correct than the fan misreading?

If the answer is one is in the published text and one isn’t, there is plenty of subtextual and textual evidence that supports fans’ belief. It is easily arguable that Guy Gardner’s character arc even makes more sense and fans have said it makes Gardner a more sympathetic character when he is read as a transgender man (S-anon, R. (2018, December 8). Online interview with C. Lupin). In fact Andy J-anon, fan of the trans man headcanon who was interviewed, ventured to say “if handled right, DC’s got a perfect character to confirm as trans” due to all the implications in the text” (J-anon, A. (2018, December 8). Online interview with C. Lupin). Whether or not it was the authors’ intent, they were the ones to create the subtext that Guy Gardner being trans can be read from. Matthew J. Costello (2013) argues that the way comics are divided on the page demands the fan is directly involved and have to read between the lines. According to Costello’s argument, the fans produce the meaning by doing the reading. This makes fans producers just as much as the authors are as they consume . Since the fans have to read between the lines, they rely on subtext to fill in the blank spots. How they fill in these blanks and what subtext they use produces their full image of the comic. With Guy Gardner being a transgender man, the amount of subtext in support of that reading is large.

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Part Two: The Fun Comics Stuff
Guy Gardner’s signature vested look itself supports the theory (fig. 1). Originally appearing in Green Lantern (1960) #195 in December of 1985, the costume was designed by penciller Joe Staton and colorist Tony Tollin and has remained largely unchanged since then, minus a few modernizations (Englehart, 1985). The parts of the costume that support the reading of Gardner as a transgender man, however, remain. First, Gardner’s suit looks like no one else in the Green Lantern Corps’. While the suits of the Green Lanterns have some variation, every suit other than Gardner’s is skintight. Even the many, many aliens in the Corps wear a tight jumpsuit. In contrast, Gardner wears pants and a turtleneck with his iconic vest emblazoned with the Green Lantern Corp symbol over it. This is a much looser, less revealing look than the average Green Lantern uniform. Gardner’s costume is baggier in the chest due to his vest and draws more attention to his shoulders and arms with the collar and sleeveless quality of the vest, as opposed to other Green Lantern suits which draw attention right to the Green Lantern symbol on the chest. It also serves to give Gardner a squarer shape, as opposed to triangular. This can easily be seen as a way to hide any breasts or a more feminine body shape a transgender man who has not undergone top surgery may have. His turtleneck is also a strange, bulky choice in comparison to the normally sleek Lantern uniform designs. It could easily be to hide Gardner’s lack of an Adam’s apple. “For trans boys, their female physiology acts as the primary marker of their illegitimacy,” explains Dan Vera (2017). For Gardner the ability the hide these biological through his costume would ease some of these feelings of illegitimacy and hide it from both civilians and his fellow Corpsmen alike. It’s a tactic transgender men in real life utilize as well. Gardner’s look is so different than any other Green Lantern’s, and it makes more sense why when considering Gardner as a transgender man. Gardner’s lack of femininity in his figure is cited as a reason why transgender fans are drawn to him, as he isn’t the average waifish figure both mainstream media and fandom favors for transgender men characters- he’s a character who is able to go toe to toe with vicious aliens without his Green Lantern ring (Venditti, 2017). Despite this, it’s still both possible and plausible for him for him to be transgender.

Many of the interviewees also cite Guy Gardner’s backstory as it’s portrayed in the four part “Yesterday’s Sins” arc of Guy Gardner: Warrior by Chuck Dixon. The first part of this arc begins in issue #11 and shows Gardner being physically beaten by his father while being constantly compared to his perfect, “All-American” older brother. Gardner is also shown to the have thought of himself as worthless as a child. Despite seeming like a perfectly normal little boy, there is clear favoritism to his brother and Guy is abused while his brother is not (Dixon, Aug. 1993). This theme continues in the second part of this arc, in issue #12. Gardner’s older brother Mace can do no wrong in their father’s eyes, while nothing Gardner does can please his father. There isn’t a clear reason for the favoritism other than the fact Gardner is the younger brother, but the issue does have Gardner say he had “no chance of being like Mace” (Dixon, Sep. 1993). If Gardner was a transgender boy it would explain his father’s, who is shown to be bigoted, hatred of him while his older brother is set up on pedestal, possibly for being the “proper” son. While exact percentage of how many transgender youths are abused is unknown, 32% of homeless LGBT youth face abuse at home (Seaton, 2017). This could explain why Guy was the only son in the Gardner house facing physical abuse. Gardner being transgender would also explain the line that Gardner would never be able to be like his brother, if being like his brother was being cisgender, or assigned male at birth. In issue #13, “Yesterday’s Sins ¾”, Gardner is shown getting involved with crime as a teenager before his brother, who is now a police officer, beats him and tells him to get his life together (Dixon, Oct. 1993). The crime is of course to be everything his brother isn’t, but as interviewee Cas L-anon pointed out this, as well as various other actions Gardner takes throughout his life, feel “like a trans man who wanted to fit someone’s definition of manly”, which can sometimes be toxic (L-anon, C. (2018, December 8). Online interview with C. Lupin.) It isn’t rare for transgender men to struggle with toxic masculinity, especially in their youth. In fact, Gardner’s various struggles with toxic masculinity is one reason why interviewee Lance P-anon, who also struggles with leaning into toxic masculinity, identifies with him (P-anon, L. (2018, December 8). Online interview with C. Lupin). The “Yesterday’s Sins” arc concludes in issue #14 of Guy Gardner: Warrior, showing Gardner’s college years and time before becoming a Green Lantern. After separating himself from his family and being shown happier for it, Gardner graduates with degrees in psychology and education and becomes a prison counselor and then special education teacher (Dixon, Nov. 1993), which seem strange choices for Gardner, but make more sense when reading him as a transgender man, as he is working with other marginalized groups, which as a transgender man he may be more inclined to do. During this issue he also fights a clone of himself who has his memories. During the fight Gardner comments in his internal monologue that while he isn’t vain, he “take[s] a lot of care with [his] looks” and says “I do a lot of body work” (Dixon, Nov. 1993). In the context of fighting his own clone, this is meant to acknowledging that Gardner works out, but the choice of language could also imply that Gardner takes a lot of care with his appearance in order to pass as male. Gardner’s backstory is something that solidifies the reading of Gardner as a transgender man in the minds of many fans because it is similar to experiences either they or another transgender friend had. Reading Gardner as a transgender man also makes his backstory more cohesive.

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Part 3: Guy’s History with Gender Bending

Gardner has been subject to the transphobic trope of a man being transformed into a woman against his will not once, but twice in his comic book history. The first time was in 1996 for the one issue story called “A Gender Bender in the Blender” by Beau Smith in issue #42 of the series Guy Gardner: Warrior. In Warrior #42, Guy was transformed into a woman’s body as a revenge and amusement plot by his nemesis Dementor. Guy’s look of shock at horror at the realization he has been trapped in a woman’s body also holds a look of betrayal as he looks down at his new breasts (Smith, 1996). It mirrors the feeling of dysphoria transgender people experience in their pre-transitioned bodies. Gardner looks nearly on the verge of tears (fig. 2). Previously, Gardner had been shirtless for the entirety of the series after gaining the ability to shapeshift due to having alien blood in his veins (the 90s were a strange time for comics) in contrast to the bulkier jackets and vests he wore previously. With the ability to shapeshift, Gardner would no longer have to hide his chest. Suddenly having a chest to hide again would throw him into a large bout of dysphoria. It would also explain Gardner’s annoyance and anger at his breasts that he expresses in the issue, as opposed to the trope’s normally having the male character be fascinated by breasts, particularly large ones. Gardner also states that Dementor has gone “way too far” this time, despite Dementor messing with Gardner’s life in various other ways throughout the series (Smith, 1996). Gardner is also forced to wear sexual outfits for Dementor’s amusement at the threat of the lives of various civilians (Smith, 1996). This mirrors the experience many transgender men have of being sexualized and fetishized. The transformation gets cleared up by the end of the issue but Gardner is still furious and distressed by the experience.

The second instance of Guy Gardner becoming a woman is in the 2015 series Justice League 3001 by J.M. DeMatteis and Keith Griffen is more blatantly transphobic. In fact, one of the fans interviewed stated that reading it gave him such a wave of dysphoria that it made him physically sick (P-anon, T. (2018, December 9). Online interview with C. Lupin). In the storyline the year was 3001 and the Justice League was cloned. Gardner’s clone was a woman. In text, the explanation for this was that the Justice League’s DNA and brainwaves were grafted over already living humans (Griffen & DeMatteis, Aug. 2015), but the choice to have Gardner cloned onto a woman was a strange one, and one DeMatteis and Griffen handled with all the grace of a cannonball. Gardner is shown in a much more sexualized version of his Green Lantern outfit, showing both his cleavage and his stomach as the pants are much lower on his hips. Gardner is sexualized by his teammates, particularly the Superman of the team, who responds to “You do realize she’s a man—” with “Not with those buns” when he speaks sexually about Guy behind his back (fig. 3). He goes on to say “once a man starts using feminine hygiene products he’s not a man anymore ” a few pages later (Griffen & DeMatteis, Aug. 2015). Despite this bigoted language throughout the comics, it is clear that Gardner still sees himself as a man. In issue #3 when asked if he used to be a male, Gardner responds with “Not “ formerly” ! I was a man… I am a man… and always will be a man!” which reads as an incredibly transgender response to the question of gender identity with the affirmations that he always was and always will be male, no matter what body he is in (fig. 4). Later in the issue, Gardner seeks assurance that his body will be fixed into one more correct for him (Griffen & DeMattheis, Oct. 2015), mirroring how the majority of transgender men surgically transition.

These are just the tip of the iceberg of textual and subtextual content published by DC Comics that inadvertently supports Gardner being a transgender man and that fans pull from when queer reading Gardner or creating fanworks about him being transgender. Other works referenced by those interviewed included Convergence: Green Lantern Corps, Gardner’s time in Red Lanterns, Guy Gardner: Reborn, issue #18 of Green Lantern (1991) “One Angry Guy”, Green Lantern Corps (2011), the “Emerald Dawn” storyline, the “Brightest Day” storyline, among many others. Once fans start queer reading Gardner, it’s incredibly easy to find the subtext to support it.

Despite the “man to woman” stories’ poor handling, these storylines and the fact the same transphobic trope happened to the same character twice can easily be used as textual or subtextual evidence of Guy Gardner being transgender. These storylines are often part of the reason fans read Gardner as trans. “Guy has had a lot of transphobic tropes put on him in the comics (see Justice League 3001 ) and part of [reading him as transgender] I think is reclaiming him,” interviewee Bart T-anon explained when going into some of the reasons why he saw Gardner as a transgender man (T-anon, B. (2018, December 8). Online interview with C. Lupin). There are many transphobic and other bigoted representation or tropes in media when it comes to transgender and other queer identities, so the reclamation of bigoted tropes and storylines can feel powerful and subversive. Instead of fans allowing these tropes to upset them, they are able to say “f— you, he’s extra trans now” (P-anon, T. (2018, December 8). Online interview with C. Lupin).

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Part 4: Conclusion and References
This subverts this cisnormative agenda of dominant culture in order to create more underground queer art, similar to how C.A. Siebert argued using dominant culture to create art that challenged the patriarchy in the past (Jenkins, 1992, p. 31). By subverting the tropes, the fans create their own meanings, therefore becoming producers in their own right. New meaning isn’t the only things fans produce out of the queer reading of Guy Gardner as a transgender man. Just as Siebert argued, fans use Gardner as a muse. There have been art pieces made, such as Lance P-anon’s “im on a roll” which shows Gardner wearing his Warrior symbol in the colors of the Transgender flag (fig. 5), Cas L-anon’s various works which show Gardner comfortable with body and having top surgery scars (figs. 6 and 7), and Bart T-anon’s “love these trans boyfriends” which shows Gardner with top surgery scars alongside fellow Green Lantern Kyle Rayner (fig. 8). On the popular fanfiction website Archive Of Our Own, or AO3, there are 17 works for the search “trans guy gardner” (Organization for Transformative Works). This may seem small, but according to interviewee Zero M-anon, “it’s just a great circle of supporting each other’s works” (M-anon, Z. (2018, December 8). Online interview with C. Lupin). These fans become creators and producers, taking the media into their own hands when creating their fan works. These works are subversive and more relevant to them.

Queer Reading Guy Gardner is an act of poaching, perhaps, but it is also a textually supporting act of self exploration and expression through the means of a character. Gardner helps young trans people discover and identify themselves. To quote Mayson B-anon, “His name is Guy , he forced people to at least partially accept him, if even just in a name” (B-anon, M. (2018, December 8). Online interview with C. Lupin). It’s almost hard not to read Guy Gardner as a transgender man.

Figures/Images


Figure 1


Figure 2


Figure 3


Figure 4

Figure 5-8 won’t be shown out of respect for the fanartists’ wishes

References

B-anon, M. (2018, December 8). Online interview.

Costello, M. J. (2013). The super politics of comic book fandom. Transformative Works and Cultures,13 . doi:10.3983/twc.2013.0528

Dixon, C. (1993, August). Yesterday’s Sins 1/4 [Cartoon]. Guy Gardner , (11).

Dixon, C. (1993, September). Yesterday’s Sins 2/4 [Cartoon]. Guy Gardner , (12).

Dixon, C. (1993, October). Yesterday’s Sins 3/4 [Cartoon]. Guy Gardner , (13).

Dixon, C. (1993, November). Yesterday’s Sins 4/4 [Cartoon]. Guy Gardner , (14).

Doe, T. (2018, December 8). Online interview.

Englehart, S. (1985, December). [Cartoon]. Green Lantern , 2 (195).

Griffen, K., & DeMatteis, J. M. (2015, August). Catching a Falling Starro [Cartoon]. Justice League 3001 , (1).

Griffen, K., & DeMatteis, J. M. (2015, October). Night of the Turtle! [Cartoon]. Justice League 3001 , (3).

H-anon, H. (2018, December 8). Online interview.

J-anon, A. (2018, December 8). Online interview.

Jenkins, H. (1992). Textual Poachers: Television Fans & Participatory Culture. 9-49.

L-anon, C. (2018, December 8). Online interview.

M-anon, P. (2018, December 8). Online interview.

M-anon, Z. (2018, December 8). Online interview.

Organization for Transformative Works. (n.d.). Archive of Our Own beta. Retrieved December 12, 2018, from https://archiveofourown.org/works/search?utf8=✓&work_search[query]=trans guy gardner

P-anon, L. (2018, December 8). Online interview.

P-anon, T. (2018, December 9). Online interview.

Seaton, J. (2017, March 29). Homeless rates for LGBT teens are alarming, but parents can make a difference. The Washington Post . Retrieved December 12, 2018, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2017/03/29/homeless-rates-for-lgbt-teens-are-alarming-heres-how-parents-can-change-that/?utm_term=.0596bbc86263

S-anon, R. (2018, December 8). Online interview.

Smith, B. (1996, May). A Gender Bender in the Blender [Cartoon]. Guy Gardner: Warrior , (42).

T-anon, B. (2018, December 8). Online interview.

Vena, D. (2017). Rereading Superman as a trans f/man. Transformative Works and Cultures,25 . doi:10.3983/twc.2017.01063

Venditti, R. (2017, May). Quest for Hope Part 3: High Noon [Cartoon]. Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps , (16).

Additional Comic Source Material. (This section may be updated)
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Great job. Honestly, I’m quite impressed with the amount of effort and attention to detail. I’m one of those nutty, almost religious, fans who hate to see their favorite fictional heroes appropriated. Things like, “James Bond should be a woman,” ring utterly false to my ears.
James Bond should not be a woman! But in the -fictional world of comics, there are a large number of literary devices for a character to change gender, race, or any other attribute. I’m also a huge fan of Guy Gardner. I think he’s an under-appreciated character whose original backstory belied a wide array of emotional issues.
And I think your paper speaks to these topics (and quite a few more). With Guy, the writers found mechanisms to change a character without changing the underlying personality. This isn’t a new character who acts just like Guy. It literally is Guy. His outer, ultra-machoism can easily be seen as a cry for help. He never backs down; but why is that?! (It doesn’t have to be transgenderism, but what if…?)
Great paper!

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Some very compelling work! And honestly, it makes a lot of sense that a trans person would become a Green Lantern. That amount of courage, will, and dedication to self-expression is absolutely ring worthy.

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NOW THIS IS THE KIND OF CONTENT I WANT TO SEE.

Thanks so much for sharing this with us! Your essay is very persuasive; Guy Gardner is a very good candidate for being a trans man.

I’ll admit I don’t know much about the Green Lanterns, especially Guy Gardner. One thing I wish you had addressed more is the context of cissexism that appears in comics and how that relates to the dynamic of a transgender Guy. (More of a personal preference than anything)

This is one thing I didn’t understand, and I wanted to ask for clarification. Why would these be strange choices? This might need some more explanation, especially for people unfamiliar with Guy Gardner as a character.

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@harley.333 Thank you!

@HubCityQuestion I didn’t address that in the essay, but I was totally thinking it while writing it.

@Versias It seems a strange choice for guy considering how abrasive and almost self centered he is, especially at the time those issues were written. He’s extremely hyper masculine, and not always the best with other people. Not to mention those are traditionally female fields. Hope that explains it!

-C

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What did the professor think of this?

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She really liked it. I got a 97 on the final.
-C

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thank you for being the smartest person alive and putting this into words better than i ever could

That was REALLY great work. I was thinking about your comments with guy and was thinking about all the decades of subtle moments that have a lot of subtext in comics. Parker and Johnny Storm sleeping together half naked, Tim Drake going to a pride parade with Conner, etc. I never thought to look at guy with a queer lens, but it makes a lot of sense. VERY well done!