Get ready for a big surprise Batgirl fans, as in today's newly released "Batgirl #19" we learn that Barbara Gordon's roommate, Alysia Yeoh, is transgender.
Comics have, of course, always been incredibly LGBTQ-friendly, and there are many major gay characters, but Alysia will be the first (reality based) transgender character in a mainstream comic. We took some time to talk about this all with the comic's writer, Gail Simone, exclusively for NewNowNext.
NewNowNext: First off, in writing the character of Alysia, did you always know she would be transgender?
Gail Simone: Absolutely, she was created as a trans character, she’s hinted at a part of her life she hadn’t yet shared with her roomie, Barbara Gordon, since issue early in the series. But they’ve had emergency after emergency (it’s hell being Batgirl’s secret identity!), and this is the first chance for her to actually tell Barbara.
NNN: Do you find it daunting writing a transgender character, especially as they are not only not represented in other comics but really any writing of any kind?
GS: Well, yeah, I want to do this right, representation is important. No one wants stereotypes or tokens. We want believable characters we can care about, that we want to know more about.
The nice thing is, with Alysia, she’s been in the book since issue one, readers already know her and care about her. They’ve been asking for more of her story, so I think they are already rooting for her.
It makes me happy—I have met so many trans readers over the years. I hope they love Alysia as much as we do.
NNN: Will we be getting more of Alysia's backstory moving forward?
GS: Oh, yeah, she’s been an important part of the book, and will only become more important as the issues continue. Alysia is a young girl from Singapore, her dream is to be a master chef, but like a lot of smart, young people, she’s underemployed.
She’s also a serious skeptic regarding Gotham City vigilantes, including the Bat-family, which may cause some troubles, since her own roomie wears the bat!
NNN: Will other characters be finding out any time soon? If so, will their responses not be as positive as Barbara's?
GS: Sadly, there’s a lot of transphobia out there. I can’t say she’ll NEVER face someone who is ignorant or bigoted. But Alysia is very confident in herself, and I think it’d be lovely for her story to be a positive one.
NNN: Why do you think comics tend to be so progressive, especially in their treatment and acceptance of LGBTQ characters?
GS: I actually feel like we have a ways to go. There’ve been some wonderful steps forward lately, even in mainstream comics like "Batwoman" and "Runaways," all of whom have LGBTQ characters in starring roles. But it wasn’t that long ago that any mention of sexuality was outright forbidden in mainstream comics at all.
We have some catching up to do.
But there’s a large LGBTQ readership in comics, the audience is hugely diverse. It’s wonderful. Our common language is nerdhood. I love that. We may come from different continents, but dammit, we can recite the Green Lantern Oath!
It’s pretty great to see LGBTQ characters being accepted widely, it shows that this stuff is way, way overdue.
NNN: Did you speak with any transgender persons before writing Alysia?
GS: Absolutely, I have been speaking with trans writers and bloggers and friends about this for quite some time, and they’ve been keeping it confidential, for which I’m eternally grateful. I can’t thank them enough for their generosity and kindness and insight, particularly blogger Natalie Reed, who is a hardcore comics fan and a wonderful writer, who gave endlessly of her time to help us get this right.
I don’t claim any magical insight, there’s no way we could do this right without the help of all these wonderful people.
I hope people give the book a chance…it’s a very interesting concept. Barbara Gordon was injured in a brutal home invasion a few years back, and is only now, in her early twenties, putting the cape and cowl back on after that horrific trauma.
She’s a woman of compassion and intelligence, but a series of horrible encounters with the worst of Gotham’s underworld have left her shaken, and as we see in issue #19, she may in fact be pushed beyond her limit…and she does something no member of the bat-family should ever do.
It’s gripping stuff. Thank god Alysia is there to add some spunk and brightness!