In Q & A, a weekly feature of Fantastic Fangirls, we ask our staff to tackle a simple question — then open the floor to comments. This week, a little bit of explanation to go with our question. Fans of characters sometimes ponder what that character would be like if they were a sex or gender other than what they are in canon. Who would you pick? What would that character be like if they were a different sex?
Who would you genderswap?
“Today I was pompous and my sister was crazy.” As Jen mentioned a few Q&As back, this is reoccurring theme in stories about a brother and sister. And I love those stories. I love that dynamic. I love reading it and analyzing it and playing with it. So it’s very interesting to consider how the characters and the relationship would change if it was “Today I was pompous and my brother was crazy.”
There are different expectations. Girls are allowed to be a little crazy the way boys are allowed to be a little violent. An older brother with a younger sister is a protector, an older sister with a younger brother is a caretaker. They might take exactly the same actions, but those actions will be read differently and cause different reactions which will in turn create different consequences. That’s interesting. It’s worth exploring.
When I got Jennifer interested in my favorite manga/anime series, Fullmetal Alchemist, one of our first conversations was about how well Edward Elric, the hot-tempered, smart-mouthed protagonist, would have worked as a girl character.
The conclusion we came to was that if you changed “Ed” to “Emily,” the story wouldn’t have changed that much. The fictional universe created by Hiromu Arakawa is pretty low on gender essentialism; women appear as soldiers and mechanical geniuses, men as nurturing parents and adoring spouses, as often as the other way around. Change Alphonse Elric’s frequently uttered “big brother” to “big sister,” and you could basically tell the same story. Besides, as another friend noted, it’s hard to come up with a male actor who could play a live action Ed, but there’s no doubt Chloe Moretz could knock a Rule 63 version out of the park.
My only condition is that, if you change Ed’s gender, you probably have to swap out his hotheaded mentor/rival/sometime-commanding-officer Roy Mustang.
That’s not a obstacle for Roy, who would relish another reason to poise himself as a political outsider to his country’s (still mostly male) militiary establishment. Besides, Roy’s pretty and knows it, and he’d appreciate a socially sanctioned excuse to indulge in it. Basically, if Roy woke up female, he’d go to work as usual. He’d just go shoe-shopping first.
It’s possible I’ve given this issue too much thought.
While I’m sure there are plenty of characters who could be rebooted as always being another gender, I think it would be more interesting to increase the overall diversity of comics and reveal a character (or characters) to be transgender. This would work especially well with the X-Men, since so many of the X-Men’s key themes — your body becoming something you don’t want it to be at puberty, having to cover up your “mutation” with baggy clothing or makeup — are easy parallels and metaphors for the trans experience. Maybe there’s a reason Warren Worthington wouldn’t take off his clothing in intimate situations — not just because of the wings, but because of the evidence of his female-assigned genitalia. Or perhaps Alex Summers is privately struggling with how to tell Scott that he has a sister, not a brother. Ultimately I wouldn’t care who was used; I just think my trans friends deserve the kind of representation that other identity groups have slowly and steadily gained, in so many different kinds of media.
In terms of politics — the politics of comics and comic fandoms — I would want Batman to canonically have always been a woman. I am the vengeance, I am the night, I am the goddamn Batman, yadda yadda yadda. However, I don’t really like Batman.
In terms of a story I actually want to read I want Magneto to have always been a woman. I want Erika Lehnsherr to have survived the Nazis, led a resistance movement, been best friends and possible lovers with Charles Xavier, borne two children and given them away for safekeeping, become a terrorist … Yep. I want that story. I want that character.
So what about you? Who would you genderswap?