Airboy flew high and then crashed in just two issues. The series by James Robinson and artist Greg Hinkle is a meta take on reviving a golden age hero comic. Instead of just rebooting the character Airboy, Robinson and Hinkle have injected themselves into the story discussing their plan to revive the character and then meeting a “real” version of the character. Except these versions of Robinson and Hinkle are drug fueled ids bad mouthing other publishers and having no issues ingesting whatever drug they find, and having sex with whomever will let them.
The second issue finds Robinson and Hinkle at a bar with Airboy, who has noticed the women around them, and taking a liking. What Airboy does not realize is that these women are transgender, though Robinson and Hinkle are well aware. As if dreamt up by a frat boy trying to be edgy and funny, the next scene involves Airboy in one stall and Hinkle in the other both receiving oral sex. Airboy explodes in anger over the fact that the woman he hooked up with was a “lady with a penis” after he was asked to reciprocate oral sex. A debate ensues about the “men” they hooked-up with, Airboy storming off complaining about the “degenerate” world.
For those that might not understand what all of this is, there’s biological sex (think chromosomes and what the doctor announced upon your birth), gender (whether you identify as a man, a woman, both or neither) and orientation (who you’re attracted to). In this case while the women in the comic likely defined themselves as women, some of them have outwardly male looking genitalia (it’s drawn on panel).
The first issue is the reference to, and debate as if, these individuals are men. They are not. They identify as women, they are women. No ifs. No ands. No buts. Sex, gender, and orientation are three different things. So, to call them men is to belittle them, and deny them who they are. It is offensive. A women is not defined by what’s between her legs.
The next issue is as if the men were being “tricked” by men posing as women. First, transwomen are not guys, they are women, so even defining it as tricking is problematic. But, what is the obligation of one individual to inform the other? There are ethical questions about that and one that this sort of thinking sets a different standard for different types of individuals. Is it standard of hetero individuals to disclose every detail of their sex/gender/orientation before engaging in sexual acts? We know that’s not the case. I think Skepchick does an excellent job at addressing these issues, much better than I as a cis male could:
But this one goes a lot deeper, a lot nastier, a lot more demeaning, and a lot more dangerous.
Dangerous in that a great many trans women have lost their lives to sexual partners who felt they were “tricked”.
The concept of “deception” is a tricky one, and it can be very complicated to unpack the various ethical dimensions of disclosure and where a trans person’s responsibility lies in terms of informing her partner. That’s far too big a subject to tackle here, but Zinnia Jones provides a fantastic explanation in this YouTube video. I’d just like to say that I really don’t think it’s our responsibility to give you the opportunity to inflict your bigotry and hang-ups on us; it’s your responsibility to ask (if it’s that big a deal to you). And if a woman was attractive to you one moment and a repulsive, lying whore the next, when all that has changed is that you now know a largely irrelevant detail of her history, the problem is with your perceptions, not her body.
The problematic implications of us being “traps” are a bit too numerous to name them all. A few that come to mind are the basic assumption that we’re “really” men, believing that our decisions all revolve around you and we’re doing this for your sake, not our own (kind of like the earlier example about how men may interpret how a woman dresses), the issues of conflating gender expression with sexual motivations, the concept that femaleness and femininity are artifice and fake, etc.
But I guess the one that I’d most like to unpack is how, like the thoroughly debunked theory of “autogynophilia”, it looks at trans women’s sexuality and motives through a lens of male sexuality and motives. A hypothetical cis male sits on his couch and is absent-mindedly flipping through a porn magazine. He comes across an ad for “shemale” porn. He wonders, “why would anyone ever do that? Why would a man want to become a woman? That’s crazy!” (yeah, let’s put aside the implicit misogyny there… we can talk about that some other time) and rather than think about it in terms of why a woman would want a female body and not a male one, he thinks about it in terms of why a man would want a female body. The conclusions he draws, based upon the assumption that a man is fundamentally a sexual agent and a woman is fundamentally a sexual object, are that the “shemale” is doing it to get laid, to attract men to him with his new hot, curvy, sexual-object of a body. Either that or, as in “autogynophilia”, doing it to have himself as his very own personal sex object.
Never mind what happens to a trans woman’s libido during HRT. Never mind that for very many trans women, that period of time, exactly when the libido starts diminishing, happens to be when commitment often deepens, and any remaining doubts and questions are resolved. Forget that. It MUST be about sex. Because that’s all the female body is good for: sex.
But here’s an easier way to sum it up. There’s no conspiracy among transwomen to “trick straight men” because, guess what guys? It’s not all about us. Transwomen want dignity and to be treated and accepted as the women as they are. Not to be a sexual object in a joke or fetish.
The issue’s humor relies on stereotypes. While I thought the first issue toed the line, sticking to jokes about the creators themselves, this issue now turns the jokes towards individuals who already face a difficult road when it comes to acceptance. This report by GLAAD lays out many issues transgender people face such as employment, housing, and education discrimination. Protections that are sometimes afforded to gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals are not extended to those who identify as transgender. As reported by Vocativ “41 percent of trans or gender non-conforming people surveyed have attempted suicide.” compared to “4.6 percent of the overall U.S. population.” The Office for Victims of Crime has more sobering facts like “One in two transgender individuals are sexually abused or assaulted at some point in their lives.”
While the creators of Airboy might have thought this was a simple joke, the reality is no joke. There are other ways they could have found to shock their character about the modern world. There is no reason to repeat dangerous myths to do it.
Our friend (and frequent guest on our radio show) Emma has a fantastic take over on The Rainbow Hub with these two poignant comments.
There’s no voice, no agency, no humanity to any of the trans women in this comic. Just an open mouth to fuck or a penis to gawk at.
It’s legal in every state, except California, to murder a trans woman for being surprised by her genitals by citing “trans panic” as a defence in court. Yet, somehow, Robinson and Hinkle think that this is something to laugh about and Image Comics thinks it’s worthy of printing. I deserve better. We all deserve better. It’s a shame that Image Comics, with all of their rainbow-colored boasting, fails to agree that we deserve this basic level of decency and dignity.