Why Did Marvel Create Sera, The Transgender Superhero?
It’s not easy being Sera, one of the newest characters in the Marvel comic universe and companion to the star and namesake of Marvel’s new title Angela: Asgard’s Assassin. You’re constantly on the move, hopping dimensions and realms of existence like they were bus stops. You’ve got to keep your wits about you when an angry assault of Asgardians (including Thor and Loki) comes calling. There are cosmic conspiracies, battles with hordes of enemies, having to share space with the Guardians of the Galaxy, and the fact that you’re Marvel’s first real transgender character in its long and storied history. You know. The little things.
Marvel’s journey into queer territory has been long and occasionally difficult. The X-Men, being heroes whose powers where inborn as opposed to gifted by a random attack of radiation, have long been seen as a metaphor for queer discrimination. It wasn’t until 1992, however, that Marvel had an openly queer character in Alpha Flight’s Northstar. The character was technically gay from his introduction in 1983, but due to both the Comics Code Authority and then editor-in-chief Jim Shooter’s policies against queer characters, Northstar’s sexuality remained completely subtextual. By 2012, Northstar’s marriage to his boyfriend made the cover of Astonishing X-Men #51.
A few queer characters have popped up since Northstar, but they are few and far between. The most famous in queer fanboy circles are likely Hulking and Wiccan from the Young Avengers. X-Factor’s Shatterstar was revealed to be bisexual in 2009. Then there’s Mystique. You know her. She’s the blue-skinned one that Rebecca Romijn and then Jennifer Lawrence played in the movies. The mutant antiheroine has had a long-time relationship with the female character Destiny.
Still, there has never been an out transgender hero in Marvel Comics that is not, like Mystique, a shape-shifter who can change genders at will. Sera is unique in that she was biologically born male and began a conscious transition towards a female identity. As she herself says in Angela: Asgard’s Assassin #3, in which reveals her origins, “I was always Sera.” It’s even implied that Angela (Thor and Loki’s long-lost sister) prefers Sera in her female identity.
“So what’s the big deal?” you might ask. You might not care if a character is queer or straight or male or female or whatever. But it is important for a number of reasons. More queer people than you might think read comics, and many of those that do rarely see reflections of themselves in the stories they read. It’s one thing to look at a character and extrapolate their story to make it relatable to your own life. It’s quite another to see a character who is in some ways just like you. A song sounds different than intended when it’s transposed, and the same is true of characters in literature or comics.
This also works both ways. Marvel itself is acknowledging the possibility of trans people reading their comic and providing them with a character they can relate to. It’s sort of how the most recent edition of Dungeons and Dragons finally acknowledged that hey, maybe queer people consume this product too, and they shouldn’t feel left out. Sera isn’t defined by her trans status or her Xena-and-Gabrielle relationship to Angela but by her deeds and her promises. The fact that the reveal of Sera’s transgender status takes only three issues and delivered with a very matter-of-fact narration means that huge progress has been made at Marvel since Northstar’s angry, dramatic 1992 coming-out story.
Sera’s future has yet to be written. The Angela series is a limited-run, six-issue title that ends in July of this year (Marvel is essentially rebooting their entire universe with the Secret Wars crossover shortly after that). But Sera’s warm reception from comic audiences and the good reviews for the dynamic, thrilling, and often witty title she stars in point to good things both for her and for the continued visibility of queer characters in comics. So, maybe it’s not that hard to be Sera after all.