- 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
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.