All the Marvel’s Hero Project inductees are chosen because of their impact on the real world and their communities. ‘Mighty Rebekah’ does have that characteristic transformational influence with her work with LGBTQ activism… but unlike the other heroes, she’s also changed Marvel itself. Rebekah’s superhero alter ego is now one of only a small handful of trans superheroes under the Marvel comics umbrella and the first to be openly portrayed on-screen in a Marvel show.
After watching ‘Mighty Rebekah’ I wanted to make a collage of transgender Marvel superheroes with Rebekah standing among them. You might have guessed it was a struggle to get enough characters to fill even a small graphic. There just aren’t many out there. The MCU has zero so far, though Marvel is reportedly casting a trans superhero for Thor: Love and Thunder. If we turn to the comics we’ve got:
- Sera from Angela
- Ken Shiga from Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (seriously! we even see him in a binder!)
- A quick appearance by Jessie Drake (she’s been in Marvel Comics Presents twice)
That’s where even hardcore comics fans start to find ourselves Googling to see if there’s anyone else. We should count Loki, especially after Odin refers to him as “my Child who is nether my Son nor my Daughter”. Do we also count Skrulls, like Karolina Dean’s love interest Xavin, who consider gender almost meaningless? Does Mystique consider herself gender fluid?
However we break it down, there’s no getting around the distinct lack of trans rep within the Marvel universe.
Now there’s just a little more. Like all the Hero Project comics ‘Mighty Rebekah’ is official Marvel canon. However some people might want to qualify that with “well, technically but…”, the whole point of Marvel’s Hero Project is that Marvel is putting these fictionalized versions of the Heroes into their canon body of characters. That means we have one more trans lady out there living her best life in the Marvel-verse. She’s actually the first to be shown on screen, too, though I’m not sure how intentional that was as a statement.
Is it weird that I find that kind of awesome? I mean, there definitely should be more LGBT representation in the MCU and I’m salty it hasn’t happened before now. I’m not minimizing the work Marvel still has to do there. But it feels like there’s something significant about an actual, living, breathing girl having her comic alter ego become the first on-screen transgender female hero.
Maybe this is a place Rebekah’s example can change hearts and minds as much as she does in her everyday life.
Okay, enough about the Marvel history being made here. Let’s get into the details of ‘Mighty Rebekah’ as an episode.
Many of the Hero Project episodes revolve around kids working in areas that, while they’re personal to the Hero, are also huge and sometimes divisive issue. I’m always a little nervous about how these will play out on screen. As you probably know by now, I get a little emotionally invested in this show. I want the Heroes’ episodes to hit that sweet spot between “empowering celebration” and “fawning condescension” if that makes sense.
My fear with ‘Mighty Rebekah’ was that Marvel might make one of the many mistakes people make when talking about transgender kids. You know the ones- dead-naming them, dwelling melodramatically on the darkest parts of their stories, romanticizing their family’s struggle to find or accept their truth. My younger brother is trans, and I’ve seen the ways people react when they don’t understand.
I think this episode does a pretty good job of side-stepping trouble using their trademark method: “What does this Hero and her family want to share? What parts of the story are important to them?” It’s basically the only way to talk about this in a genuine manner, and I appreciate Marvel’s dedication to the technique. Five episodes in, I think we can start taking that as a given.
What struck me hard was how incredibly supportive Rebekah’s parents were as she grew into herself. Before she’d even heard the word “transgender” she was struggling hard with the criticism people gave her for doing and liking “girl things”. Parents Chris and Jaime encouraged her to be whatever kind of boy she wanted to be, to like whatever she liked regardless of whether it was “boy stuff” or “girl stuff”.
They found out she was trans almost by accident. Jamie was helping her search for gender non-specific swimwear and realized Rebekah didn’t know what LGBT stood for. She explained- and when she got to the T suddenly Rebekah understood what her situation was.
Her story highlights a very common situation: trans folks not having the language for what they are and being stressed by that even when their family is otherwise supportive. I’ve read some incredible stories of people coming out as trans in their fifties and sixties because only now can they put a name to who they are inside. It’s such a powerful reminder of why we need to include inclusive history and language into our public school curriculum (which happens to be a special issue of Rebekah’s).
I love, love, love the opening where Rebekah is talking about scoring her first game-winning goal. She’s sitting there in her room, happy and confident and talking about this moment that one action she took made a big difference. It sets the tone for her whole episode. One of her church members mentions how she opened up after transitioning, and while I wanted to roll my eyes (of COURSE she was more joyful when she was allowed to be herself) it also made me smile. These religious folks who maybe didn’t understand before are getting it, because Rebekah is there to show them the way with her love of life and self.
Judging only from the show, Rebekah’s church seems like a model for other Christian families who aren’t sure what their religion says about transgender people and how to accept them. Rebekah says she was “heartbroken” when she heard about other people who are shut out of their faith for being trans. That speaks pretty strongly for how her home church has made her feel accepted and supported in her role as an acolyte.
‘Mighty Rebekah’ makes me want to sit every transphobe on the planet down and make them watch. Not out of spite, but because I think she and her family tell her story in a way that makes it relatable. Rebekah talks about being put into a different group at her faith-based art program because other parents were uncomfortable with what they saw as a boy in girl’s clothing. She doesn’t rip into them for excluding her. She just shares how she felt when it happened.
Sometimes people get so caught up in their political beliefs that they forget these issues are about real people who are being caused actual pain.
Chris says something which I hope could inspire others: “It’s hard to work through the emotional pieces of it. The scariness, the sense of loss, the worry about, ‘What else is this going to mean?’ Those were the hard conversations. It was never a hard conversation, ‘Do we do this?'” In other words: go ahead and process your reactions, feel what you gotta feel, but at the end of the day this is your family member’s truth and it’s what needs to happen.
Rebekah’s list of achievements- it’s just so long, you guys. She’s 11 years old and besides dance and school she does a huge amount to teach others about transgender issues. She’s active with Garden State Equality trying to get protections for transgender school kids. She spoke at the Evangelical Lutheran Church In America Youth Gathering. She hosts meetups for transgender kids who are sometimes meeting others like them for the first time. She does donation drives to gather trans-friendly books for libraries. She pushes for LGBTQ-inclusive education in schools.
It’s not just empty words, either- her work added to the others involved inspired new guidelines calling for inclusive curriculum by 2021.
The Big Presentation for Rebekah is lower key than I expected, but seems about right for her. She got a video chat with Jazz Jennings which sent her into total fangirl mode. (I feel her there- every time I’ve met Gail Simone in person I feel like my brain shut down.) After that she was given a low-key presentation of her jacket and comic with her family.
If I have ONE quibble it’s this: Rebekah doesn’t get a traditional superpower when she’s translated into her comic. I don’t know if that was important to her, but I know if I were a kid I might be a little disappointed.
When I brought this up to a trans friend of mine, though, he had another perspective. It might be insensitive to change a transgender kid’s body, even to add a superpower. Her right to decide who she is and how she lives is something people haven’t always respected, and Marvel chose to keep her as she is because she is perfect as she is. (He also said he was afraid they’d give her the power to shapeshift others into their “real bodies” so I guess we dodged a huge cringe bullet there.)
Overall, ‘Mighty Rebekah’ is a candid, sometimes bittersweet, always inspiring look at a girl who’s not only trying to live her best life. She’s also trying to make life better for other kids, whether it’s just helping them to understand their trans peers or showing them how to be themselves.
If you haven’t caught ‘Mighty Rebekah’ yet, take 25 minutes and treat yourself. At the very least, maybe it’ll soothe the anxiety left by YET ANOTHER Mandalorian episode without a name for The Child.
Khai is a writer, anthropologist, and game enthusiast. She can talk fandom in five languages, and her proudest nerd moment so far was presenting original research titled “Gender, Sex, and Werewolves” at an international anthropological conference. Her first game, None For Me, is due out from Calico Games early next year.
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