In an industry that’s currently pushing for as much diversity in its characters as it seemingly can, there’s one… little gap. It’s not a secret that transgender characters have had a lot of difficulty being represented in any medium, much less comics – but this is a comics site, right?
You’re damn right it is.
Now, while I’m sure there are a few more characters representin’ in independent comics, for this I’m sticking with the big two – Marvel and DC. Now, while there may be a few that I’m missing, these two companies have so few trans characters they can be counted on one hand – Vertigo’s Lord Fanny (whose name makes me want to throw up, for the record); Marvel’s side-character Xavin; and DC’s brand-new unpowered support character, Alysia Yeoh. None of these characters have ever had or will ever have their own title.
But, wait – there’s one more, isn’t there? One that, despite being a great character, seems to have eluded being lumped in together with the other transgender characters of comics, despite being in twenty issues of an excellent comic by DC. Who is this character, you ask?
Shining Knight, better known as “Sir Ystin” to differentiate him from the pre-Flashpoint version of the character, had his gender left vague for some time before more and more was eventually revealed about him through the course of the storyline. This was a pleasant mystery that impacted the story but didn’t dominate it, lending itself to the colorful character interaction that made Demon Knights such a good read.
So, why is he left out of the mix? Furthermore, why does he deserve it so much? Let’s take a look with a few short points.
Non-Trans-Identifying: The two biggest reasons I believe Ystin’s left out of the loop actually tie together somewhat, but have two distinct facets, both of which I’ll take a look at. Both of these reasons stem from a single source – Ystin, as of Demon Knights, came from a time when “transgender” was literally not a word. He had nobody to identify with and no label to give himself. Hence, despite his gender conflict, he did not actually identify as a transman. While this doesn’t mean he wasn’t one, the total lack of mention of the actual buzzword made it so that no boom was created – the opposite of what happened when Gail Simone dropped this bombshell on us regarding Alysia Yeoh, Batgirl’s trans-identifying roommate.
Vagueness in Phrasing: The opposite edge of the sword is that, once again due to Ystin not having an actual word for the way he felt, the reveal of his gender identification was… vague, at best. Several theories sprang up that he may have been transgender, intersex, or something else altogether.
By the time readers more or less came around to the idea that he was, indeed, a transman, the initial shock of the revelation had passed. This, on top of Demon Knights‘ bewilderingly low readership, led to the information not really getting around as urgently as it could have.
FtM: For the uninitiated, FtM stands for “Female-to-Male,” a self-explanatory descriptor for a transgender person designated female at birth. FtM transpeople (better known as “transmen”) have, for some reason, never had the same exposure as their opposites, and the majority of people don’t even seem to know that they exist. While this may stem in part from the fact that they’re not as common (hah) as transwomen, it nonetheless may very well be one of the reasons that Sir Ystin didn’t create much of a stir when he popped up on the radar.
Between these three factors, on top of Demon Knights‘ tight-knit readership, it’s no wonder Sir Ystin didn’t create more waves. The poor guy never had a chance.
HE’S AWESOME: Seriously, he’s just a great character. Throughout the run he had a lot of development, he showed great strength of will (enough to outright resist a vampire’s bite), and he was a flat-out, consistentbadass. Ystin was a colorful character with both moments of snarkiness and purity, and perhaps the most important thing is that he had star power. Not a ton of star power, but enough that the idea of him helming his own title is actually not that far-fetched. It’s a lot more than we’re ever going to get from Xavin, Alysia, or, God help me, Lord Fanny.
Romance: For the majority of the run of Demon Knights, Sir Ystin carried on a romance with the amazon, Exoristos. While this doesn’t sound as important as it is, let me try to clarify on why this is a big deal.
This romance was not steeped in any kind of fetishism. Right off the bat, this is big. Exoristos had no specific desire for a man with Ystin’s unique attributes, but rather accepted him as he was for who he presented himself to be. Their relationship was never in any way influenced by Ystin’s gender. While they did have a falling out and later reunion, it was due to outside influences. And while his gender identification did come up as a point of interest (this leading to Ystin’s “big reveal”), it was never a problem. In a world where being fetishized is the best chance at love for transpeople, this is an important factor and sets a great example.
Acceptance: When he originally joined the Demon Knights, Ystin was mocked briefly for not passing particularly well (he still appeared very feminine, due in part to the artist insisting he wear lipstick… for some reason). However, it faded when the rest of the team came to understand that Ystin wasn’t using any sort of disguise or trying to trick them. He was a man, and as he bonded with the rest of the team they started to treat him like one. While this isn’t that far a stretch from other transgender characters like Alysia, it still sets a strong example – that even a team comprised of mostly villains can find it in their hearts to accept and appreciate someone regardless of their gender identity.
I think that about wraps up my feelings on the matter. Thing is, Ystin shouldn’t just be lumped in with the few other trans characters in comics, he should be at the helm – an exemplar of how to tackle this kind of character. Like his namesake, he should be a Shining Knight for writers to look up to. Writing transgender characters doesn’t have to be hard – they’re people, just like everyone else, and the best way to make them stand out as great characters is to treat them like any other great character.