Supergirl #19 was released this last Wednesday. The Rebirth version of Supergirl has incorporated a few elements of the CW show (Catco, National City, Kara’s adoptive parents) while avoiding others (no Jimmy at Catco, no Alex, Wynn or J’onn at this DEO, let alone Mon-El) and progressing at a steady clip thanks to solid storytelling for a little over a year and a half. Still, you might not have heard much at all about it, at least until the past couple of days.
The writer who’s helmed the series for the most part is Steve Orlando. Jody Houser has co-written several issues and Vita Ayala is welcomed as cowriter for this story. Houser is an Eisner nominated writer whose credits include Star Wars, Mother Panic, Orphan Black and other titles. Ayala is the relative newcomer to comics writing, having participated in DC Writer’s Workshop 2016 and scripted several stories for DC including Wonder Woman. Her other current projects include The Wilds mini published by Black Mask and a story in the Puerto Rico Strong benefit anthology published by Lion Forge.
Each of these writers has a body of work with a record of representing queer characters. Considering Orlando’s own projects (Namesake, Virgil, Justice League, Midnighter and the followup Midnighter & Apollo) I awaited someone in the Supergirl comic to be queer as well and suspected it might be Catco reporter and emancipated teen Ben Rubel. Maybe my suspicion will be confirmed in the next issue after my gaydar was set off again this issue.
I digress a bit. Rubel is not the reason why you may’ve heard about this Supergirl issue. Another teen character named Lee Serrano is because Lee, like Lee’s creator Ayala, is non binary. You may see “NB” and “enby” used in place of “non binary” or “genderqueer” as well. Now you may not know what this means and you may roll your eyes thinking what letters get added to the LGBTQ acronym now and please, just don’t. The folks at Trans Media Watch offer the following description: “Non-binary is an umbrella term used to describe people who do not feel male or female. They may feel that they embody elements of both, that they are somewhere in between or that they are something different.” Their full guide can be read here. Sure, that may be a lot to take in all at once. Your mom probably felt the same way when you came out to her. And if you rolled your eyes at any of that let me say that non binary people are equally deserving of respect, dignity, and happiness just as you and the people you hold close to your heart (and those you don’t) are.
This message was in large part Ayala’s reason for telling Lee’s story. In his role as a Catco reporter, Rubel meets with Lee to learn Lee’s story about meeting and becoming friends with Supergirl who the public has come to distrust mostly during the Reign of the Cyborg Superman arc. As Lee recounts to Ben, it was during an especially stressful day that Lee bolted out of the house just hoping to release some of the emotional pressure when they’re almost maimed or killed after accidentally wandering into an all out fight between several villains and Supergirl. Supergirl rescues Lee and the pair develop a friendship. Lee feels safe enough with Supergirl to confide they’ve been grappling with trying to understand what being non binary means to them and being afraid of coming out to their parents for fear of being rejected. Lee also shares how they’ve been subjected to bullying and harassment at school by a pair of jocks. Thanks to her calm and loving support, Lee comes out to their parents and learns any fears were unwarranted. Lee even develops the confidence to stand up to Chuck, the jock who’s the bigger aggressor of the pair. Even better is that Lee uses empathy to dismantle Chuck’s threats. Ayala seems to have anticipated the backlash from the DnC crowd (and there has been one with all the predictable comments) when writing Lee’s speech confronting Chuck: “It sucks your parents are getting a divorce but making me miserable won’t fix that. You have a problem with your dad being out? That’s your business. Don’t take it out on me. You’re the one with the problems here, man. Maybe stop fronting and try to fix yourself.”
In case it isn’t clear, the other point in telling Lee’s story is that representation matters. Ayala stated this is the story they’d have loved to have had as a teen. So while this story is neither about or for me, its themes resonated with many of my experiences of coming to terms with and issues of coming out to family and friends and various sorts of school bullying. The Comics Code Authority had its tight grip on the comics industry when I began reading comics many years ago and so any depictions of LGBT characters were strictly forbidden though a few coded ones slipped by now and then. When I was 22 and living in the big city I spotted a comic on a spinner rack on my way home from work one day. That comic was a copy of Howard Cruse’s Gay Comix #1. My mind was opened wide by experiencing the power of representation in a medium that had (and has) such strong grips on my heart and imagination. In read that comic from cover to cover so many times I found validation, support, encouragment and even consolation after a break up with Cruse’s message about love.
Representation is a powerful and transformative thing and I hope Lee and their story will be just that for all non binary people who read this comic.
Art by Jamal Campbell.
Here are a few sites you can turn to for more information. Please get in touch to suggest another resource.
Non Binary Resources at Transgender Care Listings
Links to numerous relevant sites listed at Genderqueer & Non Binary Identities