By David T. Valentin
For years, comic books have been a force of media used to push the boundaries of discussions of politics and identity. From the X-Men allegory to represent the experience of marginalized groups in the world to Superman’s backstory as an immigrant of Earth, comics discuss it all and without holding back. It comes as no surprise then that DC has added its first use of the word “TERF” within the pages of the comic Green Lantern Season Two #12 written by nonbinary famous comic book writer Grant Morrison.
In the context of the comic, the term is used to exaggerate the division and hatred that boils to the surface in times of political strife. For those unfamiliar with the term, it is used to describe any feminist who excludes the rights of transgender women from their advocacy of women’s rights.
In some context the discussion of certain politics can come off as disingenuous, or lacking nuance. Take for instance the new Marvel heroes Snowflake and Safespace created by comic book writer Daniel Kibblesmith. The twins were the first nonbinary superheroes introduced into Marvel comics. Kibblesmith explained in interviews when the characters came out that they were created to show “teens fighting against labels that have been put on them.” But many fans reacted negatively to the new superheroes, believing that the move was a strange way to include inclusivity. It is also important to note that if Marvel wanted their first ever nonbinary superheroes to be a genuine attempt at recognizing nonbinary experiences, perhaps they should have hired a nonbinary writer.
But this is not the case with Grant Morrison. Back in November 2020, they came out as nonbinary and discussed at length how that has shaped their writing and perspective on things throughout their writing career. In the same interview where Morrison discussed their identity as nonbinary growing up, Morrison said, “When I was a kid there were no words to describe certain aspects of my own experience. I’ve been non-binary, cross-dressing, ‘gender queer’ since I was 10 years old, but the available terms for what I was doing and how I felt were few and far between.”
Morrison’s work throughout their career has repeatedly explored gender nonconforming queer characters. In Morrison’s run of the Doom Patrol, Danny The Street was referred as gender queer and was called by they/them pronouns.
In the same interview Morrison discusses how the significance of gender shapes the way in which they tell stories and which kind of stories they write.
Morrison says, “In the Wonder Woman book I’m doing, for instance, I’ve actively avoided writing the boy hero story that’s ubiquitous as to seem inescapable – the familiar story of the One, the champion, the Joseph Campbell monomyth thing that drives so many Hollywood movies and YA stories. We’ve seen it. The Lion King. The callow youth loses mom or dad, or his comfortable place in the tribe, and he has to fight his way back to save the kingdom from its corrupt old leader, before claiming the captive princess and becoming the new king and… ad infinitum. The Circle of Life if it only applied to boys. I thought, where is the mythic heroine’s story? In Ishtar Rising, Wilson talks about the myth of Inanna, and how she goes down into Hell and has to give up everything of herself to gain the wisdom and experience she can bring back to her tribe. Privileging the network rather than the sovereign individual.
“And so, as I thought about the differences between the hero’s and the heroine’s journey, it gave me a bunch of different modes to work in. Finding ways to avoid telling the boy hero story again was quite liberating. It just gave me a bunch of new ideas, an interesting new way of telling stories that didn’t rely on the framework of the hero’s journey that Campbell talks about.”
While a few naysaying fans took to the internet to protest their dissatisfaction for Morrison coming out as nonbinary, with comments like, “the private life of a writer should be kept just that: private: so long as they write good comics, I don’t care what they do in their private times.”
But to ignore Morrison, and other writer’s, personal lives, is to ignore the way in which the writer’s experiences shape the way they shape their art. So, to ignore Morrison’s experience is to ignore how their experience as a nonbinary person informs the revolutionary approach they take to writing comics. In other words, what makes Morrison’s work so great is what makes their comics so revolutionary and new.