Popular panels at Comic-Con in recent years have focused more and more on LGBTQ issues, and this year was no exception.
In the “Entertainment is LGBTQ” panel, moderator Joshua Yehl asked panelists why it matters to show LGBTQ characters in film and books.
Lilah Sturges, a transgender woman and author of the Lumberjanes books, said it’s critical for youth questioning their identity to have role models.
“If I had had a book like that when I was 13, it would have changed my life,” she said.
Zach Barack, a transgender man, said, “You don’t know there’s space for you until you see representations in the media.”
Barack was the first transgender actor to appear in a Marvel Studios movie, “Spider-Man: Far From Home.”
Sturges, whose reading appearance to a youth group at a Texas library was canceled at the last minute because of transphobia, said, “This is the kind of insidious bigotry that goes on all the time.”
Yehl said everyone needs to see others unlike themselves. “People tend to hate and fear what they don’t understand,” he said.
GLAAD, an LGBT media advocacy organization, was represented by panelist Megan Townsend who said television is ahead of film in portraying LGBTQ characters.
Although Townsend said there have been record-breaking high points in many ways, she noted that more than 215 attacks on LGBTQ rights and individuals have been reported to GLAAD since Donald Trump was elected president.
Seeing yourself in the media
The “Take PRIDE in Comics” panel, sponsored by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, included comics creator William O. Tyler who said characters are generally created for three reasons: they must be interesting, they might reflect issues the authors themselves are dealing with, and/or the characters present issues missing in our culture that need to be brought to light and discussed.
Siena Fallon, who runs a comics shop in North Carolina, said she wants to offer comics to buyers that she would have wanted to read when she was younger.
“Seeing yourself in the media can be life-changing,” she said. “It takes away some of the isolation that kids can face” and means you’re not alone.
Spanish-American artist and teacher Jose Villarrubia was born in Madrid and has done considerable work as a colorist in the comic book industry.
He said he grew up in Spain during fascism when no gay content was allowed. He told the audience never to take for granted the freedom of expression America guarantees.
These are “highly-charged times politically,” he said, urging people to be more pro-active. “We need to make an effort to preserve what we have.”
An audience question on how to deal with resistance to LGBTQ rights led to a short discussion of TERFs. TERF stands for trans exclusionary radical feminist, feminists who oppose transgender rights.
The right-wing, panelist Dylan Edwards said, is trying to align with TERFs “to divide and conquer.”
Edwards, creator of queer and trans comics, introduced himself as a queer trans man and defined trans as his gender identity and queer as his sexual identity.
Terms can be confusing. Transgender, or trans, is an adjective that refers to someone whose gender differs from the one they were assigned at birth. Queer, a term those of us born in the ’50s and ’60s recognized as a slur, has been reclaimed by most members of the LGBTQ community and usually refers to sexual orientation. Generally, one can be queer but not trans, and one can be trans but not queer.
The term cis-het describes someone who is cisgender, meaning they identify with their assigned gender at birth, and are heterosexual. Also, the word “they” can now be singular.
Edwards referred me to the Radical Copy Editor website, an extremely helpful resource for those of us wanting to be sensitive to proper LGBTQ terms. It’s primarily aimed at journalists but is useful for everyone.
As society has become more accepting of gay and lesbian rights, the transgender community has not yet received the same degree of acceptance.
Change comes slowly, but it will come, as more public figures begin to identify as transgender and more groups recognize the need to include transgender issues in their missions.
GLAAD, for example, originally stood for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. But it dropped the acronym and is now known simply as GLAAD, an LGBT media advocacy organization. The need to broaden its mission to include support for equality for transgender individuals is the reason for the change.
At the “LGBTQ, Mental Health and Comics” panel, clinical psychologist Janina Scarlet said people who are reluctant to speak about traumatic incidents and can’t find their own words to describe their pain can use stories as a metaphor to express themselves.
Her website, www.Superhero-Therapy.com, incorporates characters from geek culture into evidence-based therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy, she said.
These characters can be superheroes or other characters from comics or movies, as well as characters from fantasy, science fiction and video games.
Therapist Justine Mastin [blueboxcounseling.com] explained social constructionism and how it relates to LGBTQ mental health issues.
Social constructionism is a theory that questions what is defined by humans and society to be reality. Therefore, social constructs can be different based on the society and the events surrounding the time period in which they exist.
She urged people to be micro-activists, saying every act we do can have a positive impact. To emphasize her point, Mastin quoted from Audre Lorde, a queer woman of color, in a slide titled “Self-Care is Activism.”
The Lorde quote read, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation. And that is an act of political warfare.”
Therapist Lara Taylor Kester, who started the public forum Geek Therapy Library, said the reason why representation in the media matters is because “you can give a book to someone and say, this is who I am, without having to try to describe it on your own.”
This makes LGBTQ individuals “feel like the world sees you” which she said improves self-esteem, something commonly missing from LGBTQ and other marginalized people.
Tara Madison Avery, of stackeddeckpress.com, said comics challenge people’s assumptions about the real world.
She said the X-Men began in the 1960s as a metaphor for civil rights and then in the 1970s morphed into a metaphor for LGBTQ rights.
Today, she said, there’s a growing lack of transgender characters in comics.
Anthony Zuiker said his Zuiker Press [zuikerpress.com] features young authors who write about such topics as divorce, cyberbullying, racism, and body image, among others.
Zuiker said they raise private funding “from people, companies, and foundations who care about children.” These donations provide the funding to purchase graphic novels at a discount for classrooms at no charge to the schools.
LGBTQ concerns include bigotry, estrangement, a search for community, bullying and suicide ideation.
Based on recommendations from various Comic-Con panelists, below is an incomplete list of comics, graphic novels, books and websites for children, young adults, educators, parents and others interested in exploring the issues and learning more about the LGBTQ community and its needs and concerns.
Comics, graphic novels and books:
Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag, by Rob Sanders
Iceman, by Sina Grace
Lumberjanes, by Lilah Sturges
Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
Love is Love, by Michael Genhart
Valley of the Silk Sky series, by Dylan Edwards
Transposes, by Dylan Edwards
Princess Princess Ever After, by Katie O’Neill
Gender Queer, by Maia Kobabe
Websites and other resources:
TransLifeline – 877-565-8860
Radical Copy Editor
Geek Therapy Library
— Opinion columnist and Sr. Education Writer Marsha Sutton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org