This is probably going to really surprise a lot of you, but believe it or not, I am a huge geek. Seriously, it’s true. The reason I’m willing to disclose such an awful shocking truth is to explain how I was exposed to my first transgender comic character. No it wasn’t Jimmy Olson in one of his wacky psychedelic adventures from the 60’s; I’m talking about the 90’s when our favorite ginger lad was back to being as dull as corduroy slacks. I’m talking about Wanda from The Sandman story arc, “A Game of You”. To me, this made Neil Gaiman the best comic book author ever. (BTW, Annie, don’t read this until you finished the book. Jodi, Annie is reading a comic book and is a total geek as well.)
I see that blank look on your face and yes, I am just a little bit pissed. OK, just in case you were still trying to pull off a “cool guy” or “girly girl” façade back in ’91, I’ll explain a little bit. The Sandman was an edgy 90’s era comic book published by DC comics under the Vertigo imprint. The main protagonist was Dream of the Endless; one of seven eternal embodied concepts who all had names that began with a ‘D’ for some reason. This particular story line was about a shattered divorcee getting hassled by some dream adventures she had in the past. If you are interested in knowing more, you should pick up the trade paperback available on Amazon. What I liked about this story were the supporting characters: Thessaly, an extremely old but hot witch; Hazel and Foxglove, two butch looking lesbians; and Wanda, a trans woman too poor to get any medical intervention.
The role Wanda played in this story was that of Barbie’s, the aforementioned divorcee, best friend and confidant. It was a very positive portrayal, although I do have a few nitpicky issues. In one scene Wanda appears in her underwear, and naive neighbor Hazel notices and points out that Wanda has “a thingie”, to which she replies that it isn’t nice to point out a girls shortcomings. Clearly Wanda, or more likely the author, was not well versed in the art of the tuck.
The only part that genuinely irritated me was a scene in which the ancient witch Thessaly barred Wanda from participating in a moon ritual to take them to dreamland and rescue Barbie. Thessaly explained that Wanda wasn’t really a real woman as would be recognized by the elder powers that be. Grrr. It would be one thing if the words came from some doofus of a character with an opinion, but by having this one declare it, it was akin to saying that is truly the way it is. Many of us, self included, get a little bit prickly about such statements. It was, however, 20 years ago and hopefully the author has come around to recognizing a more enlightened status of things.
Toward the end of the story, Wanda, having been declared a phony-baloney girl, is left behind to watch the coats and purses as the “real” women traipse off to dreamland. This is doubly unfortunate as soon thereafter the building collapses, ending Wanda’s brief tragic existence. The epilogue deals with Barbie, grateful for not being crushed to death, traveling down south for the funeral of her friend. To her dismay she finds that Wanda came from holy roller caricature stock, and that the extended family considered “the boy” to have been living in sin. For the funeral, they cut her hair, dressed her in a suit, and insist on referring to her as her original name, ironically ‘Alvin Mann’. The family is mortified by Barbie’s wacky goth ways (she draws a black veil on her face using an eyebrow pencil) and shoo her off. Her last act is to use a cherry poppin red lipstick to cross out “Alvin” on the tombstone and write in Wanda.
The very, very end does have a redeeming scene in which the ghost of Wanda appears, and looks like a gorgeous cisgender woman. Why the moon goddess couldn’t see that and left her behind to cool her heels in a remarkably unstable building I’m not sure, but I was happy that it was made clear that her soul was female and no longer had to worry about displaying a package in her panties. For 1991, I have to say I was impressed at the decent treatment, even if there was a bit of misguided opinion thrown in.
As an addendum, I want to add that my other favorite part about this story line was that the positive portrayal of LGBT characters prompted the Concerned Mother’s of America to send in a pissy prissy boycott letter. What made me cheer was that the publisher saw fit to include the letter in the letter column of a follow on issue, and made great fun of it. The country having just emerged from the Regan Moral Majority era, was still a bit skittish about ruffling feathers, so it was a pleasure to see DC crank the mighty bird up in response.