CULTURE

My Darkest Secret Crush: Street Sharks

The ideal male body has a dorsal fin.

Mattel

As a young boy growing up in the mid-90s, I spent many an afternoon preoccupied with the fantasy of transforming into an anthropomorphic shark.

While Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles might have been the era's predominant "group of teenage animal-man crime fighters" cartoon, turtles aren't nearly as cool as sharks. Why would any kid want to mutate into a slow, boring turtle wearing a bandanna when they could mutate into a powerful, vascular shark oozing sex appeal in skin-tight pants?

These are the thoughts that 6-year-old me didn't possess the language to express but undoubtedly understood on a primal level.

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FILM

Marvel To Feature Its First Transgender Superhero

Fans think the character will be an angel.

Here's some good news to start your new year off right: A trans superhero is coming to Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Kevin Feige confirmed the news in a Q&A at New York Film Academy. When asked if the studio would ever have a transgender character, the Marvel Studios president said, "Yes, absolutely. Yes," adding that a trans character is appearing "very soon, in a movie that we're shooting right now" and clarifying that more trans and LGBTQ+ characters would be making an appearance.

It seems that Feige and Marvel are finally understanding that representation matters—and pays. "You look at the success of 'Captain Marvel' and 'Black Panther.' We want the movies to reflect the audience and we want every member of our global audience to see themselves reflected on the screen," he said.

While it's unfortunate (although expected) that Marvel's decision to increase diversity in its casting is connected to whether or not these choices will make a profit, the decision to create a trans superhero is an important step in normalizing the trans identity.

Most likely, Marvel's trans character will appear in Thor: Love and Thunder, as last summer the film's cast list included a trans woman. Fans believe that the character will be the angel Sera, who "descends from a group of all-male angels but who has transitioned to a female identity," according to MSN.

Marvel's History of Transgender Representation

Regardless, Marvel's new trans characters won't technically be the franchise's first trans superhero. That honor belongs to Rebekah, a child transgender activist who was the subject of a recent Marvel documentary, which aired on Disney Plus as part of their Hero Project series. They turned Rebekah, a Christian and a transgender girl, into a hero named "Mightly Rebekah."

Marvel's Hero Project Clip: Mighty Rebekah www.youtube.com

Whoever plays Marvel's first big-screen trans character also won't be their first trans actor. In 2019's Spider-Man: Far From Home, trans actor Zach Barack played one of Peter Parker's friends, though his gender identity didn't feature into the plot.

In an interview, Barack emphasized the importance of trans representation onscreen. He explained that superhero movies, in particular, always "felt like [trans stories] because [they're] talking about identity." Superhero films, he explained, are "about separating what people know about you and what they don't. And I think that's something I kind of live with every day. And on top of that, I don't see a lot of trans-masculine people on television or trans men specifically, and getting to be part of that is beyond unreal."

What Is Your Origin Story? | Zach Barack | TEDxBoulder www.youtube.com


Ramping Up Representation: The Eternals and Representation Firsts

The MCU's first trans character is just the latest in a series of firsts for the company in terms of LGBTQ+ representation. The franchise will also feature its first gay character in the film The Eternals, which will star Richard Madden as Ikaris, "a levitating immortal with teleporting and vaporising powers and abundance of cosmic energy," who also happens to be in a committed and loving gay marriage.

Marvel's Eternals (2020) Teaser www.youtube.com

Among other upcoming firsts: The Eternals will also feature the MCU's first deaf character, and Marvel's first Asian-American star will feature in the film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, set to debut in 2021.

The MCU character Valkyrie is apparently bisexual, according to actress Tessa Thompson, who stated, "In the canon, [Valkyrie] is bisexual. You see her with women and men, so that was my intention in playing her," she told Variety. "Obviously, at the forefront of most of these stories is not typically their romantic life. They have big stakes, like saving the world, so that tends to sort of trump." Even so, the film Thor: Ragnarok received some criticism for erasing Valkyrie's bisexuality.

In most superhero movies, in order to save the world, heroes have to learn to embrace their inner strength and the powers that make them special and exceptional. Maybe the parallels between trans narratives and superhero stories aren't exact—but they're certainly not mutually exclusive, and combining the two will likely only strengthen them both.

Let's hope that they continue this tradition and hire more diverse representation across all their teams, including their writing staff and managerial board. Marvel is incredibly influential in shaping ideas about masculinity, heroism, and cultural norms at large, and therefore their decision to question and challenge archetypal gender roles will likely ripple across culture in the way that no number of tweets or academic papers about transgender identities could.

CULTURE

"They" Is Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year, So Stop Being a Dick About It

This is a big deal for recognizing nonbinary folks.

"They" is Merriam-Webster's 2019 Word of the Year.

As a singular pronoun, "they" has exponentially risen in popularity over the last few years to refer to nonbinary people—folks who feel neither entirely male nor female. Other neutral pronouns like "ze" and "hir" can also be used, although "they/them" is most widely used among English-speaking communities.

Though so-called grammar purists have dismissed the use of the singular "they" on the basis of clarity, Merriam-Webster (as well as the Oxford English Dictionary) insists that it's totally OK. In September, Merriam-Webster officially added the singular "they," stating: "People have used singular 'they' to describe someone whose gender is unknown for a long time, but the nonbinary use of 'they' is relatively new."


According to Merriam-Webster, lookups for "they" increased by 313 percent in 2019 over the last year. Sure, everyone knows what "they" means in a pretty simple sense, but we still use dictionaries to look up different usages of words and how definitions change over time. A few events in the news this year likely spurred the sharp increase in lookups: Singer Sam Smith and Atypical star Brigette Lundy-Paine both announced they were using they/them pronouns. The American Psychological Association recommended that "writers should use the singular 'they' in two main cases: (a) when referring to a generic person whose gender is unknown or irrelevant to the context and (b) when referring to a specific, known person who uses 'they' as their pronoun." During a House Judiciary meeting in April, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal stated that her child is gender-nonconforming and uses they/them pronouns.

While there's still plenty of work left to do in recognizing and accepting trans and nonbinary folks, "they" being the Word of the Year is a huge start. Though recognizing gender identity outside of the male-female binary might seem a little odd to some—and our current administration continues to pretend like transgender people don't exist—it's crucial that they/them pronouns become normalized, and it's possible to adapt. If "they" can be one of Merriam-Webster's most looked-up words of the past 12 months, it appears that, thankfully, more and more people are getting on board.