“If There Is No Struggle, There Is No Progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will”. – Frederick Douglass*
Activism gets results. Graphic Policy and The Rainbow Hub were criticized by people in the comics community when we took action against the extremely transphobic second issue of Airboy. But because we raised hell we made progress. That’s the lesson people should be taking away from this.
On June 30th Graphic Policy and The Rainbow Hub‘s Emma Houxbois published stories calling attention to the rampant transphobia in the second issue of the Airboy comic. I’d lavished praise over the comic’s first issue. We knew the context the story took place in and it was the story itself that was transphobic, not just words that characters said while “behaving badly”. Our sites’ explained how the comic’s narrative repeats the dangerous myth that trans women are out there trying to “trick” men into sex with them. We explained that this myth endangers trans people and in a world in which “trans panic” still gets used as an excuse to murder trans people we need to react as strongly as possible when it is repeated.
And we heard crickets in response.
On July 2nd I emailed GLAAD, the most powerful media watchdog for LGBTQ people. We know that when GLAAD speaks out they can’t be ignored and the comics world knows it too– since GLAAD’s known for giving awards to comics that have positive portrayals of LGBTQ characters. GLAAD sprung into action. They issued a statement. And between their clout and the outcry we organized, we forced the comics community to pay attention to the problems in the comic.
And then James Robinson apologized. Robinson heard what we said, and he listened and explained that he now realizes that he “fucked-up” (his words) . I’m not trans but his apology seemed earnest and thoughtful to me. Some trans people were not impressed but others have responded favorably to his apology.
Only July 6, artist Greg Hinkle went so far as to THANK people who spoke up on Twitter and offer to continue the conversation at Comic-Con.
Meanwhile, what about all those defenders of Airboy #2? They continue to promote bigotry. Robinson acknowledged the problems with his comic. He wants to do better. When the artists who created the comic are saying that they now see the problem in what they made, their defenders should probably take a minute and use their hearts and their heads to listen. More importantly, they need to stop and listen to transwomen like Emma Houxbois who’s written powerfully about the problems in this comic and in comics at large.
In the end, the defenders of Airboy want to marginalize comics as an medium because they want to perpetuate a comics industry that excludes people who aren’t like them. They are bringing comics down. Also, to all of the “serious comics journalists” who were willing to acknowledge that there “may be problems with Airboy 2″ but criticized Graphic Policy and Emma for demanding the book be pulled? Guess what. We got results. If we had played it quiet and POLITE we wouldn’t have brought the attention we brought to the problem.
Remember, we started out by just writing reviews that explained the comic’s transphobia and no one was talking. As soon as we demanded the book be pulled the conversation exploded. This chart Brett made illustrates the silence around Airboy until we made our demands. GLAAD has made it very clear: activism is key to creating change. They said:
“GLAAD is very grateful that the Rainbow Hub and Graphic Policy brought ‘Airboy’ #2 to our attention, and used their social media reach to spark an online discussion about the transphobia in the issue. GLAAD was happy to use our platform to boost their signal, and then to work with James Robinson to distribute his response.” – Nick Adams, Director of Programs for Transgender Media at GLAAD.
If you value politeness over creating change then you don’t really care about making change.
As Katie Schenkel aka @JustPlainTweets tweeted “People who care more about the idea and purity of ART than about marginalized people’s humanity being chipped away bum me the hell out.”
And From @sarahnmoon: ” If your gentleness is tone-policing and silencing anger, it’s not truly gentle because it doesn’t care about what others are hurt by”
Oh, and what of Image comics – who had their twitter icon wrapped in the rainbow flag while publishing a transphobic comic? Image is still silent. But they took down the flag….
To everyone who tried to change the conversation into a debate over censorship, I recommend Brett’s blog post that explains the difference between our demands and actual censorship (which we oppose). Meanwhile, you can buy two Image Comics that are trans positive right away: The Wicked + The Divine and the new Arclight. You should also buy Sophie Campbell and Kelly Thompson’s hilarious, youth-friendly and suspenseful Jem and the Holograms which has a trans character and is by a trans artist.
But using your comics buying dollars to support positive portrayals of trans people isn’t enough. We can’t just leave it at that. Not when comics are repeating dangerous tropes that their audience can’t even identify as a problem. Not when people are making money off of transphobia.
So yes, we took action.
And no we don’t apologize.
* Note on that Frederick Douglas quote: I’m not comparing what we’re doing to the scale of Frederick Douglas’s work. I use his quote to illustrate the point we are making and to show the theory behind activism.