Film and TV

Opinion: Yes, Gwen Can Be Trans in Across the Spider-Verse

Note the "Protect Trans Kids" flag in the upper right.
Note the "Protect Trans Kids" flag in the upper right. Screenshot from Across the Spider-Verse
Since the release of Across the Spider-Verse, there’s been buzz online that Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) might be trans. Fans of the theory point to the “Protect Trans Kids” flag in her room, a similar pin on her dad’s police uniform, some color cues in various scenes, and changes to her character’s facial model. If true, it’s actually a marvelous way of establishing a trans character that celebrates her gender in a perfectly normal, everyday way.

Unsurprisingly, this has brought out the usual bigots to complain. These fall into two categories. One, your standard orcs using words like “transanity” and calling anyone who isn’t cis mentally ill. And two, the ones who say they are just trying to uphold the sanctity of the source material, you guys.

And here I thought you were smart enough to look up a decades worth of source material to educate yourself and not make a fool of yourself but yet… here we are. Take your L and move on. Gwen isn’t trans.

— Psycho-Froggy (@PsychoFroggy) June 11, 2023
Screencap from Facebook

True true… but she’s still a biological female character. Source: Spider-Gwen #0 (November 2015)

— BlackoutZlast (@BlackoutZlast) June 11, 2023
Screencap from Facebook

Though people want here to be trans in which I do respect there belief in that possibility it is sadly not True. the comic Writer Jason Latour never put any ounce of foreshadowing that she was Trans or ever has been. Please READ THE COMICS.

I swear you new marvel fans are Crazy

— iceHatake (@iceHatakeRBLX) June 11, 2023
And so on.

Let’s be as clear as a seltzer addict’s urine stream here: these people do not give a lonely fuck about the source material except that is supports their transphobia. This is an old bigot’s trick to avoid talking about their specific hatred in a way that might come with social repercussions.

The goal is to move the conversation from the sociological (“is Gwen trans and is that cool?”) into the pedantic (“was Gwen trans in a previous stories?”). The second question is handy because it has a pretty definitive answer. It is highly unlikely that previous versions of Gwen were conceived of or portrayed as trans.

Counterpoint: so?

Source material is not holy scripture. Merely changing something is morally neutral. Some changes are good, some are bad, but just doing it is no inherent sin. Fellowship of the Ring was made a better film by replacing Glorfindel with Arwen. Sandman was made worse by putting clothes on Despair and turning her into an introverted lackey to her sibling. Zack Snyder’s Watchmen is slavishly faithful to the source material until the end, and both parts have their problems.

By focusing on whether there was a change and automatically coloring the alteration as bad, the whole conversation gutterballs into a pointless wankfest of issue numbers and assumed authorial intent. Frankly, it doesn’t matter if Stan Lee thought we shouldn’t swap a character’s race or gender. It is ultimately irrelevant to “should we make a trans character in this popular film in 2023?”

Stan Lee got to tell his Gwen story. Now, the makers of Spider-Verse get to. If you don’t like that story, fine, but acting like change itself is the problem is ridiculous.

The very existence of Spider-Gwen is testament to the power of alternative takes on an established character. She isn’t real, and she can be molded into whatever form someone wants to take her story. God knows that I would rather see her trans than the mother of Norman Osborne’s children.

The whole thing is desperately pathetic because it’s all to avoid a simple fact: these people don’t want Gwen to be trans and they don’t have a good reason why because that is how bigotry works. There are a million changes to the Spider-Verse films, from time periods to Aunt May running a hero lair to Peter B. Parker having a Jewish wedding.

Stories are not static, and everyone is allowed to put their own spin on them. It’s why there’s no such thing as the “real” King Arthur because no historical figure perfectly matches the tales. They can’t because even the most authoritative surviving texts disagree on major points like who his father was, whether he was married, and what battles he fought in.

Gwen’s story isn’t nearly as old as Arthur, but it’s already impossible to reconcile a “real” Gwen Stacy. She’s dead in 1994 in Amazing Spider-Man 2, and again in 1973 in Amazing Spider-Man #121. She’s a living teenager who was bitten by a radioactive spider when she debuted in comics in 2014, but she was bitten in 2016 in Into the Spider-Verse. She’s Peter Parker’s girlfriend, his best friend, a clone, a spider-themed superhero, the mother of goblin twins, Donald Blake’s bodyguard, a drummer, and even bloody Wolverine in one fun timeline.

Every single one of these Gwens appeared in a properly licensed Marvel production. Gwen being trans in Across the Spider-Verse is as possible or canon as any other version. There is simply no logical way to argue she is not.

The people who are upset aren’t using logic, though. They’re just wrapping their bigotry in it like the world’s shittiest kolache. They desperately want there to be an ironclad argument Gwen can’t be trans, and there just isn’t one.

Gwen’s story has been changed time and time again across media for more than half a century. It will continue to change in the future. All we are arguing is the form that change will take, no matter how many bigots insist that change alone is the problem. They’re only doing that to lend themselves unearned authority as gatekeepers of the One True Fandom. There is no reason to allow them this pretension.
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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner