When we can't get the representation we deserve — or the representation we need right now — we sometimes find solace in that personal, idiosyncratic interpretation of canon known by fans everywhere as head canon.
For fans who only follow creator-approved storylines and characterizations, that means some of us create our own backstory of a character, and continue to follow their story with our interpretation in mind, as though our interpretation is just as valid as the canonical information creators give us. Transgender geeks Aria Baci and Eli Knight compiled a list of 10 characters whose gender identities they head-canon as transgender or otherwise gender nonconforming.
Eli's inspiration started with a question: What if your favorite hero told you that they're transgender? For a guy like me, that fact alone might be life-saving. But would the cisgender world still accept them as a hero? For Aria, the question was — if these fictions that mean so much to us are more than just entertainment, but also meaningful art that resonates with us throughout our lives, and all art is open to interpretation — why not?
Clark Kent and Lois Lane
Let's be honest, an individual from another planet who's uncomfortable in his own skin and who goes out in eyeglasses for fear of being recognized, since his debut in 1938 all the way into the late 90s? Not to mention wearing spandex, and having Superpowers to boot? All of that makes this Kryptonian wonder my perfect representation of a transgender guy. Hell, Clark isn't a stereotypically masculine guy. He's a rarity. He's rare in the fact that he subverts a default, stereotypical masculinity by being allowed to cry, feel, listen, and understand all while having the ability to poke a car and move it 10 blocks from where it had been parked. He's kind and comforting, while Lois is blunt and honest. He cries when he feels his impact being made upon another person, and most of all, sees the hope within all of us to move forward and do good.
OK, OK. Given the fact that he's an alien toes the line of too many tropes I've seen with transgender folks as aliens or shape shifters, in general. But, hey, if he's invulnerable, he's an icon to us transgender folks who may not be able to have the surgeries we need to feel complete as who we are.
Now, onto Clark's better half, Lois Lane. What can I say about a badass character that has been around for 70+ years and still kicking? Not enough, really. I imagine Lois and Clark not only being trans but also giving a voice to the black, brown, Asian, indigenous, mixed, genderfluid, trans, and non-binary journalists who need their voices heard too.
Lois and Clark are icons to me, as a writer, because not only are they journalists in their own rights, but Lois loves the man inside the hero, and Clark loves her for that. After all, to paraphrase an episode of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Superman is what he can do, Clark is who he is. Whether or not he feels it, he inspires hope day in and day out.
Alarma (Love and Rockets)
Alarma Kraktovilova is a lesser known character in the vivid-despite-being-rendered-mostly-in-black-and-white Love and Rockets comics by the Hernández Brothers. She first appears at the point in the Locas storyline (by Jamie Hernández) at which Maggie Chascarrillo is managing the Capri Apartments in the San Fernando Valley. Alarma is a massive, imposing, and disarmingly attractive woman who comes and goes at odd hours, and sometimes arrives in the middle of the night wearing what is obviously a superheroine's costume (with matching glam rock eye make-up). As soon as I saw this character, I thought: Finally! I was not at all surprised that the Hernández Brothers would include a trans woman in their multiethnic, yet mostly latinx, and often queer cast of almost 200 characters. She wears distinctive eyeglasses, and her long, straight hair frames a well-defined jawline. In fact, she reminds me of a comic book rendering of a real-life trans woman: writer and musician Our Lady J.
¡Ay! On closer inspection, Alarma is more than seven feet tall, and has fang-like bicuspids, which makes her seem somehow other than human. Her gender identity is never disclosed, or even clearly suggested, and it's likely that her entire characterization is one of many magical realist elements in the series. ¡Aunque! Los Bros. Hernández have been full of surprises for more than 30 years. Alarma turns out to be a principal character in the Ti Girls storyline (also by Jaime Hernández), in which she is revealed to be not a T-for-transsexual T-Girl, but a member of the superheroine team called the Feenomenons. Whether the Ti Girls actually exist in the story space is ambiguous. Their whole narrative might just be one of Maggie's many dream sequences.
Alarma is taller than other women, confident in a sometimes intimidating way, and mysterious because very little is known about her personal history. But none of that is why I see her as trans. I see her as trans because something about her might be magical, and because I see trans people as magical. So whether or not her entire narrative is just a dream, the most striking member of the Feenoms being a trans woman still works perfectly for me.
The Brand (Saga)
One of many characters created by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples in their astronomically popular comic Saga, The Brand is a freelance bounty hunter hired by Landfall Coalition secret intelligence to silence the two journalists researching star-crossed lovers, protagonists (and parents of the narrator) Alana and Marko. The Brand is accompanied by Sweet Boy, a creature that looks like a crimson red St. Bernard with some burly alien details, and helps show The Brand for who they are. Yes, I use the singular they for The Brand, because it makes more sense to me than the feminine pronouns everyone else uses, including Brian K. Vaughan himself. Masculine pronouns might also work, but might end up just as constricting for this character as feminine pronouns.
In their first appearance, in issue 17 (collected in volume 3), I immediately saw The Brand as an assigned female at birth (AFAB) androgyne presenting as andro-butch. I assumed this character would use singular they to refer to themselves, and imagined them living, socially, as a dyke. The wide-leg pantsuit, the slicked back hair, and the lack of conspicuous make-up (except for the deep burgundy lipstick that makes their lips appear thinner, not plumper, like bright lipstick does) all show elements of David Bowie, Annie Lennox, Tilda Swinton, and cisgender-female-turned-male-model Elliott Sailors. But it's not just their fashion sense — it's their posture, their mannerisms, their chosen profession, and their confidence. The Brand is as comfortable wielding a magical switchblade as they are roasting marshmallows, and they’re not fazed in the least by collecting dragon semen.
The Brand does at one point claim to be the sister of The Will, but that can be easily explained: the task at hand is more important than explaining their queer identity, especially to strangers encountered throughout the course of an interplanetary hunt. The Will must have known his own sibling well enough to know they were trans, but was obviously too self-absorbed to try to understand the way in which his sibling was trans (transgender is an umbrella term, because there are many ways to be trans), or to use anything but the pronouns to which he was already accustomed. So this character is canonically referred to as she. But to me, The Brand is trans, The Brand is an AFAB androgyne, The Brand is a they, and to anyone who says otherwise: Lying Cat will call you out.
Quick-witted, science-loving, and kind-hearted, this shy geek was bitten by a radioactive spider that gave him a second puberty. And a lot of transgender people describe their transition as a kind of second puberty. But ultimately, it's not his body that matters. It's the man within. The man within feels better when he sees himself as the man that he had only ever dreamed of becoming. It makes his life more comforting to know that he "passes" as a man, because he had wanted be seen as one when he was scrawny. As soon as he's bitten by the spider, he's elated, because he knows he'll finally be able to realize the person he knows he had been all along (with some superpowers to boot). And I head-canon that man as trans.
Alphonse Elric (Fullmetal Alchemist)
The only canonically queer character the 27-volume manga series Full Metal Alchemist and its anime adaptations (two television series and a film) is Garfiel, an automail engineer who is stereotypically gay (although Major General Olivier Mira Armstrong could be interpreted as non-stereotypically lesbian). But the character easiest to head-canon as trans is one of the two most prominent characters in the series: Alphonse Elric, younger brother of Edward.
When their mother dies of the plague, Alphonse and Edward perform the forbidden alchemic technique of human transmutation in an attempt to resurrect her. The transmutation backfires horrifically, and in accordance with the law of equivalent exchange (the first law of alchemy, hello?), Edward's left leg and Alphonse's entire body are destroyed. Edward immediately sacrifices his right arm to seal Alphonse's soul into a suit of armor, which preserves him indefinitely. Alphonse's intimidatingly enormous body is literally a container for his true essence, and throughout the series, he waits to be made corporeal again. This painful longing for substance and visibility makes it easy for me to imagine Edward as a transgender male, AFAB and still developing, but whose physical form was destroyed before he finished puberty, and before he could complete a physiological transition. His most authentic self is encapsulated in a simulacrum of a body that isn't really his own, and he worries that it might never be. He lives with insecurity about his appearance and his place in the world, as well as a permeating dread that he's somehow less than human. But Alphonse Elric is not a tragic character. He's tranquil and patient and kind, and despite his age, he's more mature than his older brother. And he's more of a man than many of the men he encounters.
A member of the X-men who has a love/hate relationship with the wolf within, has noticeably, in recent years, tried covering up their body to hide it, and has had many romantic flings with a stereotypically masculine guy. Wolfsbane is just trying to find their place in the world, and what their life means in it. Why not take that a step further and have Wolfsbane identify as trans?
Bazine Netal (Star Wars: The Force Awakens)
Played by English fashion model Anna Brewster in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the mercenary Bazine Netal leaped off the screen in her only scene, as formidably feminine, wily, and stylish. If you looked down into your bag of M&M's to make sure you got a green one next, you might have missed her as the spy who informs the First Order of the location of BB-8, shortly after Han Solo arrives at Maz Kanata's hideout with Rey and Finn and the highly sought-after droid. This small-breasted, narrow-hipped woman is lithe and alluring, with a distinctive fashion sense, and in my personal canon, she's an out and proud trans woman. And based on her deconstructed Venetian Carnival style make-up, she might also perform drag or burlesque. While transgender women are not drag queens (because beyond the idea that all gender is performative, one is a gender identity and one is performance style), transgender women can and do perform as drag queens — or technically, as bio queens, which is what cisgender women who perform drag are called. Max Kanata's hideout was probably a great place for a pop-up drag show, and when Bazine Netal wasn't giving make-up tips to girls on Coruscant, or spying for the First Order hither and yon, she might have slayed the house down on Takodana.
From her first appearance in All Star Comics issue 8 published in December 1941, to the cover of the first issue (and two anniversary issues) of Ms. magazine, to her long-running television series, to her first live action film appearance in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, this is the character I can most easily imagine as transgender. Because whether known as Princess Diana of Themyscira or Diana Prince — and whether she originated as a clay figure brought to life by the magic of the gods of Paradise Island (the longer running-canon) or the goddess daughter of Queen Hippolyta and the King of the gods Zeus (the New 52 and subsequent film canon) — Wonder Woman embodies everything about queer womanhood that is beautiful and powerful and resilient and wise. Yet in many ways, she exists on a level above sex and beyond gender. She's adaptable yet unflinching, fierce yet graceful. And she looks good in spangled shorty shorts! So however she was brought to life, and however she developed into the strong-willed, long-haired, peace-maker she has become, for me, she embodies everything it means to be trans.
"I think Wonder Woman is, in political or philosophical terms, the perfect representation of 'The Other,' not one's self and somehow different … I actually call her the perfect queer character (and I use 'queer' in the larger, cultural sense here, not simply gay) … she's not made for straight men. She's anti-assimilationist, anti-patriarchy, and definitely just not normal."
—Phil Jimenez, former Wonder Woman writer and artist
Because, hey, why not?