Hello and welcome to the latest Representation and Health Black History Spectacular! Those of you familiar with Milestone Comics may have heard of the character I’m going to focus on today. He is one of very few transgender characters in comics, and may be the only Black trans man. Masquerade was an obvious choice in discussing Black characters this month, so I found out what I could about him in preparation for this column. With that in consideration, let’s get to discussin’!
Masquerade is a trans man who first appeared in Blood Syndicate #1 as part of Milestone Comics. He was assigned female at birth and began to identify as male in childhood. While affiliated with the gang Paris Bloods, Masquerade presented himself as a man until the Big Bang. After being caught in the mutagenetic explosion in Dakota, Masquerade developed the ability to shapeshift, thus also giving him an opportunity to change his body to match his identity.
As a member of the Syndicate, Masquerade was ruthless and held few qualms about taking out his opposition. Tension was ever present between Masquerade and his teammates for a host of reasons, at times culminating in fights. Masquerade feared the responses of his teammates regarding his trans identity, and thus went to great length to keep it a secret.
When he left the team, he attempted to return, only to be cast away. In response, impersonated one of his team members, Tech 9, thought to be dead, and functioned as team leader until the rest of the Syndicate became privy. Before long, Masquerade decided he was better off leaving, and thus we have not seen him in the pages of a comic since.
While I was familiar with Milestone, I had no idea about even the existence of Masquerade. I was floored to find out he may be the only Black trans character in comics, at least within the proximity of the Big Two, though honestly not that surprised. There was no way I couldn’t include him on the list of characters I wanted to cover this month. His presence and status as potentially the only Black trans man is worth highlighting. While his framing has some potentially problematic aspects, it’s great to see that there was at one point a prominent Black trans man in comics who was in the spotlight.
Masquerade’s presence adds an integral intersection to Blackness that is very rarely seen in comics and other media. Trans characters are nearly non-existent (Praise Moses for Alysia Yeoh), and Black trans characters? *crickets* Queer identities are often examined through the lens of Whiteness in media, especially comics, so to have someone whose race intersects with his gender identity challenges common understanding of trans and queer narratives.
Particularly in some parts of Black culture, queer identities of all sorts are referred to as a ‘White’ thing, further reinforcing barriers that queer people of color face in their racial or ethnic communities. In terms of visibility Masquerade moves us one step closer to having more real and dynamic trans characters of color, though we must address how his representation has some pros and cons.
Marcy Cook (@marcyjcook on Twitter) wrote an awesome guide for creating trans superheroes that was super helpful in framing this article. Masquerade’s narrative hits some of these rules, while breaking others. For one, Masquerade’s ability to shapeshift is independent of his gender. As Marcy points out, shapeshifting is a power creators use to discuss or create trans narratives. If cis people are going to ‘continue’ to craft these narratives, having things like Marcy’s 10 Rules helps keep us accountable and reduces the likelihood of us creating a more problematic narrative around trans characters.
Marcy also points to the need to change trans representation to be more positive. Creating trans characters as villains can and does perpetuate negative implicit messages. Media shapes much of our perception, and thus it is vital that we look at how we craft the narrative of marginalized people and what that means in the context of our society. Such portrayals are also sometimes exaggerated or used for comedy, which adds to the problem.
Masquerade as a villain has a more nuanced narrative, an important benefit of his major presence throughout the publication of Blood Syndicate. Many of these stories do address his gender to varying degrees, as well as Masquerade’s navigation of the criminal world. This is not to say that trans characters should never be villains, but instead to say they should not ALWAYS or MORE OFTEN be evil.
Just as Masquerade’s narrative was likely framed by cis people based on their understanding of transgender men, so is my analysis. I believe Masquerade has value because he was ever an ever present trans man during the Blood Syndicate run, which gives an increased chance of handling his story with nuance. We got to see him being human, including how gender influenced his interactions with others. I can definitely relate to him as a queer man of color, especially how Blackness interacts with queer identities, but must also respect that as a cis man I cannot wholly speak to Masquerade’s importance in relation to trans representation.
That being said, there are people who can more fully discuss characters like Masquerade. There are many trans nerds who regularly discuss trans representation in media. In particular, the brilliant J. Skyler (@jskylerinc on Twitter) has written some awesome pieces here on Comicosity regarding LGBT Visibility. I highly recommend following her, as she has some excellent critiques of comics and media regarding race and gender, among many other axes.
J. also highlights the importance of recognizing that no one person can speak for an entire group, just as Masquerade does not fully capture a broad trans narrative or even that of all trans men. Thus, it’s also vital that we not hinge our understanding of trans characters on one person or character’s experiences. We need more vast representation, in terms of trans identities and those that intersect with them, but also the varied experiences of trans nerds and creators to enhance these stories.
Mad props to World of Black Heroes. Their excellent breakdown of Masquerade’s history made this article way easier, and I appreciate that someone took the time to summarize his history.
What else do you think Masquerade adds to the representation of Black and trans characters? What else should be discussed in Masquerade’s narrative? Let me know on Twitter at @80Grey and refresh your memory on the past week of the Representation and Health Black History Spectacular!