What a Trans Sensitivity Reader Would Have Said to the Writers of New Warriors
When I saw that a non-binary character was being introduced by Marvel in the upcoming New Warriors I was elated. When I saw that they were panderingly color-swapped with their sibling, playing on conservative gender coding between pink and blue, I was trepidatiously excited. Sure, they meant well. They didn’t realize that by engaging in the semiotics of gender and color; boy=blue and pink=girl that their subsequent inversion of these semiotics may implicitly unravel the work being done in representing a non-binary character. Then I got to their names and assumed that it was all some kind of fever dream.
I think it’s admirable that a cis white writer wanted to create a trans character, specifically a trans person of color. So much of our current comics status quo is cisnormative. Especially House of X, Powers of X, and Dawn of X; runs known for incorporating big status quo shifts and radical ideation. On that note, it’s admirable again to not consistently force writers like Leah Williams and Vita Ayala to become these monolithic creators, tasked with making up for the lack of trans representation that has gone on for over 30 years. Daniel Kibblesmith’s attempt to take on some of this responsibility is definitely commendable, though ultimately doesn’t deliver on the promise.
The characters’ names and their origin in New Warriors fails to hit the mark in so many ways. But it’s also important to recognize that they’re really the first to give us a character who is canonically trans at launch, rather than making it subtext or speculative, or read it post facto. Largely trans representation in comics has been within margins of magical transitions, post-facto applications, shapeshifters, fan theory, and subtext. It’s commendable for a writer to come out of the gate with a character who is unquestionably trans before the first issue even drops.
To write characters with names like Snowflake and Safespace is being pitched to us as attempts at reclamation. That’s definitely ground to stand on, but more akin to a thin layer of ice, in early April; destabilizing by the second. The trouble here is that it’s not reclamation really. Reclamation is a matter of an autonomous and informed contingent or individual who sets about to take a slur used against them and to recontextualize it. A common use example is “queer”, which has risen to occlude terms like ” gay” “lesbian” and “bi”, for a variety of equally complex and valid reasons. But these characters [ Snowflake and Safespace] are not autonomous individuals. They are specifically constructed characters, that serve as an extension of the writer’s biases and ideas. They can’t reclaim anything, because they are not autonomous. They are in a sense puppets for the creative team. A puppet cannot reclaim a slur. Nor is that slur one that the creators own and hold. From the use of the two terms as names, in the context that they’re used, it’s also clear they don’t understand the terms and their impact. So the reclamation just falls apart on contact with any level of scrutiny. Constructed characters cannot make autonomous decisions, therefore they cannot reclaim anything.
In confluence with all of this, I put my sensitivity reader hat on and ask the litmus test question,
If this was the first time a person heard of “non-binary” as a gender experience, is this what you would want them to see. The reason that I ask this question of writers, is because in a drought of positive representation (specifically in a conservative proving grounds like marvel comics ) it very well may be. It takes so much contextualization for even Marvel insiders and long time fans to even give those name choices the benefit of the doubt, so imagine what outsiders will think about it.
There is something to be observed that nearly all the NB folks I know think this was a bad idea.
And then there’s the Comicsgate crew, who will absolutely use this as ammunition in their campaign of regressive and oppressive ideology through comics and comic adjacent spaces.
It ultimately could go wrong in thousands of ways, and really does not good. So with no benefits to the community, it really comes down to the writer thought it would be cool, and either didn’t hire a sensitivity reader or did, and ignored their feedback.
When taking these two names “ Snowflake” and “Safespace” on their own, it’s an incredibly insensitive and insulting decision. When you combine these names tertiary issues like their peer, Screentime’s power coming from “internet gas, it sounds as if Vox Day or EVS wrote the characters, not “a progressive” comics writer. Trans folks already are constantly having their immersion in social media and online communities by conservatives a way to “explain “ their trans identity. Gen Z and Millennials in particular face the invalidating and bigoted idea that “the internet made them trans”. So, what good does “ experimental internet gas” do for the trans community that Snowflake should represent?
And that’s the big question, what good does this do? As a sensitivity reader, a question I always ask of writers in this position; “What good does this do?” especially in contrast to potential harm. In this case, I see no potential for good, but plenty of potential for harm.
For those watching, this not how you create positive and empowering representation. Creators who want to represent underserved communities should know better than to try to “reclaim” harmful terms that have been used against those very communities. I think it’s important to celebrate the attempt being made but to also have an honest conversation about the missteps. It does no good for us to excuse this by saying that since “Kibblesmith is a progressive and an ally” we should just appreciate the attempt. We have to recognize that future creators will follow the example set here, and this will continue to be used against trans and non-binary folks, rather than making us feel seen.
I wish I could feel optimistic. I wish that a new non-binary character in a Marvel book was something I was eagerly writing about in joy, rather than trying to channel my disappointment and rage.