I’m forced to admit, my initial reaction to the historic announcement of the comic book industry’s first lesbian engagement was “Aww, ****!” Obviously, I’m not disappointed there is going to be a lesbian wedding within DC Comics — this is, in fact, a watershed moment in the history of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) visibility in print — but I’ll always see Detective Renee Montoya (also known as the Question) as Batwoman’s one true love. Detective Maggie Sawyer has never enthralled me as a character, so for Kane to propose marriage to her made my heart sink a bit. However, my reaction in and of itself is a testament to just how far LGBT visibility has come. The fact that I can actually lament about Batwoman ending up with the “wrong” woman, relays the fact that we don’t simply have to settle for a single, token, one-dimensional lesbian for representation within the comic books we read; between Kate Kane, Maggie Sawyer, Holly Robinson and Renee Montoya, we have four well-rounded, three-dimensional characters that all have not only been well written over the years, but have been warmly received by readership as well. This makes the absence of latter two in DC Comics’ New 52 that much more concerning.
Although Detective Montoya originated with Batman: The Animated Series, like Harley Quinn, she proved popular enough to be introduced into the comic book medium. Montoya’s narrative describes the essence of intersectionality; She is Dominican, the child of immigrants, a woman (in law enforcement no less) and a lesbian. Through the pages of Gotham Central, we saw her progression out of the closet. It is a saga of pain, humiliation, reconciliation and triumph, the realities of which are not unknown to LGBT readership. Similarly, while Holly Robinson is reflexive of white privilege, her narrative as an adolescent sex worker and recovering drug addict also reflect the very harsh realities many LGBT youth face if they are abandoned by their families or choose to leave home due to the emotional, psychological or physical abuse inflicted upon them due to their sexuality, gender identity or presentation. Even as a trans woman who is exclusively attracted both physically and romantically to men, all of these women matter to me because I know the real world biases and persecution that have shaped their characterization.
Although Montoya is referenced in Batwoman #1, her subsequent absence from the series because of her possible/implied death gave me cause for panic. Then, the announcement that Robinson has been written out of continuity entirely sparked unbridled fury. I wanted to scream, “WHERE HAVE ALL THE LESBIANS GONE!?” Yet, as comical as that might sound, it is a question I ask with the utmost seriousness. It’s as if the editorial staff at DC Comics came to the conclusion they had “enough” representation with Batwoman and Detective Sawyer and that these two characters fulfilled some sort of lesbian quotient to regard themselves as not only diverse, but overwhelmingly progressive. Granted, there is an equal possibility that this was the last thing on their minds, but that’s also part of the problem. Before removing characters from continuity—particularly those who represent minority groups—consideration should always be given to the far-reaching consequences regarding the potential lack of diversity afterwards.
There are many who would say, “well, at least we still have Batwoman and Detective Sawyer.” This is true, but I must emphasize that complacence can be a very dangerous thing. There is this idea that we might have too many LGBT characters, which is equally absurd as the notion that there might be too many women or too many ethnic minorities in print. It’s a bigoted, heteronormative mind-frame that can infect even the most innocent of readership through the institutionalized rationale that minorities should be grateful for any representation they get and not make waves. On her Tumblr account, Gail Simone responded to a reader who asked in all seriousness if LGBT characters were suddenly being “thrown everywhere,” now that sexual orientation and gender identity no longer carry the stigma they once did under the Comics Code Authority (CCA). Her response was as follows:
Taking a quick look at PREVIEWS, most mainstream books still don’t have a canonical lgbtq character of note in a major role. There’s a grand total of ONE gay character [BATWOMAN] at DC and Marvel combined with her own book, out of well over a hundred ongoing titles. How many gay male couples can you name in current continuity in ongoing, non-adult books at the major companies? How many trans people have an ongoing role in mainstream comics? … I guess I just don’t see how ONE book with an lgbtq lead (someone correct me if I’m wrong here, I would LOVE to be wrong, I know Drakken was bi, but that book is canceled) between both companies is real representation, let alone ‘thrown everywhere’. There ARE some wonderful, positive steps forward, but there’s a long way to go yet.
I’m in agreement with Simone, because while it is true that both of the major publishers have gone to great lengths to include diversity in sexual orientation and gender identity, those efforts are still quite limited and the active removal of two well developed characters only hinders those efforts further. Understand this: unless DC and Marvel Entertainment suddenly decided to recreate every single character in their entire catalog as a transgender, lesbian or bisexual woman of color, there will never, ever be any such thing as too many minorities in comic books, LGBT or otherwise. When it comes to diversity in gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity, too much of a good thing, is always a good thing.