Comicsgate, the comics activist group that’s recently promoted a number of crowdfunded comic books, had an early history in making transphobic comments against creators like Mags Visaggio, Tamra Bonvillain, Lilah Sturges and Michelle Perez. The motivation seemed to come from the idea that some people weren’t getting jobs in comics while these people were, and that they were only getting those jobs because they’re trans. Added to this was the allegation that certain creators weren’t ‘really’ trans, and it was all just an act to get work from a comics industry that was so politically correct it would hire people without talent as ‘token’ hires, or supporting liberal, left-wing, even socialist comic book storylines, while denying work to straight, white, cis, conservative men. Richard Meyer‘s ‘Dark Roast‘ concentrated a lot of that sentiment, it gained momentum with a very vocal group and never really went away.
Personally, I believe that the comics industry has lots of problems, from a mainstream monoculture of superhero content, which is now being catered to far more efficiently and with higher production values by film, gaming and TV in a way it never was before, prices increasing beyond the impulse-buy market that comics used to appeal to, and a devaluing effect on print of greater digital takeup, reducing further economies of scale.
I do also believe that the comics industry doesn’t cater as much as it could to overtly conservative audiences but that this is a decades-old problem, and it’s more an issue of the comics audience being older now than it used to be, and now realising that the superhero comic books they read, classically a conservative genre written by liberal writers, often have liberal, progressive and inclusive values, both in material and in the voices they try to represent. When they were kids, they just never noticed.
Whether or not that means Mags Visaggio gets to write Eternity Girl and is lauded for it, or Squirrel Girl and Moon Girl are drawn in a way intended to appeal to younger kids, or Jane Foster becomes Thor and Sam Wilson becomes Captain America for a couple of years, or Iceman is now gay, seems an irrelevant issue. But these kinds of events have been blown up by those creating a fanbase for their own work, monetized by YouTube channels and creating a far more divisive echo chamber in the process.
A number of comic creators have been ostracised by certain comic book publishers, generally for their attitude towards said publisher, its executives, employees or fellow freelancers, including the likes of Ales Kot, Chris Roberson, Alex De Campi and Mark Waid, but somehow when that’s happened to conservative comics creators like Ethan Van Sciver, that’s suddenly seen as political targeting.
And so the success of a number of trans creators in the comics industry seems to have been a constant thorn in the side of many of those allied with Comicsgate. Which is why the latest social media battle is both hurtful and, frankly, pretty evil.
Twitter has a number of guidelines for acceptable content, and hate speech, and this has seen a number of Comicsgate individuals reported, suspended or banned from social media, with transphobic comments being a repeated hot button topic.
So what have a number of Comicsgaters done? Some have systematically removed any previous transphobic comments they may have posted, editing their profiles so that they now appear to identify as non-binary, changing their pronoun preference to they/them or similar – and then reporting any anti-Comicsgater who has referred to them as he or him (and it usually is he or him) for hate speech. And getting them suspended or banned off Twitter. It’s a deliberate misunderstanding and mocking of the common trans refrain of “to be trans you only have to say you’re trans,” which is meant to encourage people who don’t have the access or desire to medically or physically transition and reassure them that their gender is still valid and self-identification is more than enough.
And this is where it gets cruel and Comicsgate really shows its mean streak. Transitioning can be a traumatic process, the result of many years of build-up, self-examination and coming to terms who you are. The decision to go public, can alienate friends, family and colleagues and is the first step on a long and arduous journey. As a result, it can be an intensely personal and stressful event. For Comicsgaters to mock this, to belittle this form of self-identification and to instead portray it as a meaningless joke just to score some social media points and get people banned, is deeply hurtful.
On the other hand, it also reveals a little of what a lot of Comicsgate is all about. It’s not about who you choose to support but who you choose to hate, mock or attack. For anyone on the fence, who see good people on both sides, this might, if nothing else, provide some clarity.
Because now, more than ever, Comicsgate is Cartman.
And for Twitter’s social media team, maybe it might be worth looking at timelines when making such banning decisions, whoever it is…