You're twelve years old, and you have a secret identity. Sitting crouched under the covers on your bed, flashlight in hand, you read Superman comics and let yourself imagine. You could be Superman, saving the world with a well-placed punch and a dashing smile. Wonder Woman would fight by your side, and Lois Lane would kiss you at the end.
But you have to get out of bed sometime and unmask. Superman didn't start off the weakest player on a girls soccer team like you, and Lois Lane and Wonder Woman don't worry their bottom lip over hot-faced crushes on older girls on their bus. Only straight people are superheroes.
That was my life not that long ago, and it's the same for many LGBT young people. If you keep an eye on pop culture it's hard to ignore the influence superhero comics have on the entertainment industry, but it's easier to dismiss the impact their heroes have on us. The Superhero is a pillar of modern myth, and we hold on to it because it helps us imagine ourselves heroic. Superman, Iron Man, Professor X, Wonder Woman, each and every one of them invites us to put on our masks and see ourselves how we might feel when it's our turn to save the day. That fantasy is empowering, and right now? It's terribly exclusive.
I'm nineteen now, and like a lot of queer creators my age and older I've taken my secret identity public. My name is Audrey Redpath, and superheroes have always been a big part of my life; the wall around my desk features almost every Anarky comic ever published, and I saw my first superhero movie when I was five years old, watching the X-Men duke it out for the first time perched on my dad's lap. I love them, and more LGBT characters have been appearing over time. But for every character that 'came out' for the first time this year, more have disappeared from major books or had their canon straightened out.
(Panel from Just A Sidekick by Sara Goetter)
In a genre so full of secret identities, alter egos, and societal pressure, and one so committed to a narrative that empowers characters in distress, it's hard to believe that straight characters in these worlds have a near exclusive claim to heroism. It doesn't make sense, and that exclusion is not benign.
Readers of all ages notice when fiction lags behind reality, and they'll find meaning in these choices whether you want them to or not. Characters like Constantine and Deadpool both drop previously established identities in their tv and film adaptions, reminding queer readers that they're not fit for wide audiences. That message is hard to miss, and will be even harder to forget, even when publishers celebrate their efforts with LGBT content.
Outside of capes, comics in general have a strong queer voice; lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans creators are present in most every other genre, and you can find them conquering online indie publishing in spades. It's past time to bring those creative voices to the superhero genre.
I've teamed up with a roster of skilled LGBT creators to create and pitch an anthology for print. In the Oath Anthology of New Heroes, we'll showcase the work of queer creators and comics featuring brand new LGBT superheroes.
Along with producing a big book of comics, the goal of our crowd sourcing campaign is to spread these new heroes to as many people possible, and to create resources that inspire and support young queer creators interested in creating comics like ours. Readers of every age shouldn't feel like the characters and stories they love aren't meant for them, or like they need a secret identity to enjoy them.