Queer representation is often left out of comics, despite its importance. That being said, some comics do stand out in how well they present the struggles of the LGBT+ community. An early example of this is THE SANDMAN. Written by Neil Gaiman, THE SANDMAN gives us some exceptionally realistic LGBT+ characters, even if they do fall into a few negative tropes.

The Reign of Dream

THE SANDMAN follows the humanized representation of Dream throughout the ages and rather dark adventures. Dream does not always have control over what happens within his realm of the unconscious. While maintaining his rule, he often faces problems from other entities attempting to wreak havoc. The chaos of these beings is what drives the story arc. This havoc also allows for the presentation of human LGBT+ characters; they are messy and imperfect, as all people are.

This particular arc at first follows a young girl, Barbie, and her dream state. However, it becomes apparent that the arc is also about the aforementioned chaos. Barbie lives in an apartment building with a few queer figures. She lives near a trans woman named Wanda, as well as lesbian lovers Hazel and Foxglove. While Barbie is the focus of the story arc, these LGBT+ characters step up to the plate to save her.

They do what they can, as mere humans, to help Barbie. Wanda brings her to a safe place. Together they travel to the dream world, with some magical help to save Barbie. As they are humans, they can’t do as much as say Dream can, but they make the effort nonetheless. This effort, however does not receive the full focus it deserves.

During this rescue mission, of sorts, we really get to see how fully realized these characters are. They are complex and dynamic. Unfortunately, they do fall into some common tropes of queer characters in media. Nevertheless, their presentation is realistic and human.

Wanda in THE SANDMAN

THE SANDMAN
Image Courtesy of DC Entertainment

Wanda is arguably the most complex character in this arc of SANDMAN. She presents real problems that go beyond the struggle of one choice over another. Wanda becomes so human that it’s hard not to sympathize with her experiences as a trans woman. We see her struggle with her body, both in terms of image and physical presentation. It is this difficulty that makes her more than just “that trans character.” It makes her a person, a fully realized character, and a trans character.

In the comic, Wanda experiences a nightmare. She dreams of forced sexual reassignment surgery. Wanda screams out her fear of the surgery and how she doesn’t wish to undergo it. She screams that despite surgery she is still a woman. This reflects Wanda’s reality of being trans, and the problems of existing as such. This feeling that she must have surgery to prove her womanhood, despite her fear and desire not to have the surgery, shows her complexity. Often in media, trans characters are either post-operations, or determined to have operations. To see a character struggling with such a big decision shows how real both the character and the choice are.

After the nightmare, Wanda has more control and expresses her identity with great conviction. When accused of being a fake woman, she responds “Inside I’m a woman.” She also expresses what she has done to make her expression match her gender identity. She takes hormones and had electrolysis. She says that the “lump of flesh” doesn’t matter. Thus despite her insecurities, Wanda knows she is a woman. We don’t often see characters struggling with identity like this. To find a character that has these problems and the ability to overcome them is huge step in the right direction.

Hazel and Foxglove

Hazel and Foxglove, are also very complex characters. They present us with a lesbian relationship that seems neither perfect nor terrible. In fact, the relationship is simply real. We see them struggle at some points, and we see them come together at others. The couple is a testament to the how a lesbian relationship is still a normal relationship.

THE SANDMAN
Image courtesy of DC Entertainment

Hazel struggles with infidelity and her love for Foxglove. She knows she loves Foxglove, but she had sex with a man from work. When it appears she might be pregnant, she panics. Her feelings for Foxglove are still apparent, for her nightmare begins as a good dream. She and Foxglove are happily raising the baby. Hazel’s imperfections make her a believable character. It is not a dangerous or abusive lesbian relationship, as we sometimes see portrayed in media, nor is it completely perfect. Hazel’s infidelity and remaining love for Foxglove adds depth and prove that she more than a background piece.

Foxglove also has her own struggles that make her real to readers. In a previous issue, a young woman died in a shooting. We learn in this arc that Foxglove was the young woman’s girlfriend at the time. This past relationship haunts her dreams. In her dream, Foxglove even reveals that she does not find Hazel as attractive as her previous girlfriend. This duality of guilt gives Foxglove a quality that can only be described as human.

Tricky Tropes

Despite the great work that THE SANDMAN does at creating well-rounded queer characters, this comic falls prey to some negative tropes. The heroics of the queer characters go somewhat unnoticed in comparison to what Barbie does to help herself, for example. They do what they can, but Barbie ultimately must save herself, and that becomes the focus. Furthermore, Foxglove is somewhat over-sexualized, as lesbian characters often are. Additionally, Wanda’s features are highly masculinized, drawing attention to her sex. These tropes, while tricky to avoid for people who are not LGBT+, especially at the time of the comic’s creation, should still be avoided.

THE SANDMAN
Image courtesy of DC Entertainment

Foxglove’s portrayal as an extremely sexual being is not a bad thing in and of itself, but the comic could have done better. There are several scenes, one after another, where we see foxglove naked in bed. Her nudity isn’t necessarily a negative trope. It becomes negative when we see her nudity far more often than other characters in the arc and the series, thus sexualizing her.

The illustrations of Wanda are also problematic. The artwork shows her with highly masculinized features emphasizing her sex rather than her expression. While a character that doesn’t necessarily “pass” as a cis woman could have great benefits to the queer community, Wanda’s portrayal is not done in a way to reflect these qualities. We see this problem proven in Barbie’s dream about Wanda. She sees Wanda and says that in her dream Wanda appears “perfect” while portrayed as passing. Therefore, by overemphasizing Wanda’s masculine features and how they may not necessarily fit a feminine presentation, the art portrays her as just another trans character.

THE SANDMAN and Queer Culture Overall

In spite of the negative tropes, this arc of THE SANDMAN contains realistic queer characters and some very positive realities of the LGBT+ experiences. Wanda is a very realistic portrayal of a trans woman. In addition, the relationship between Hazel and Foxglove shows the reader a healthy, if not perfect, relationship between two women. In sum, THE SANDMAN thoughtfully demonstrates queer representation in comics.

2 Comments

  1. AmusedByAbsurdity

    September 24, 2018 at 11:39 pm

    @Jack Storm
    I… What? I can’t even begin to comprehend your position. Did we read the same comic books? There were absolutely gay characters in Sandman. At the very least, in The Wake, which included -every single person in the entire freaking universe-, which had to include at least, one, maybe even two whole gay people.

    Reply

  2. Jack Storm

    September 21, 2018 at 3:28 pm

    Cancel Sandman Universe and all the other faggotry you have made out of it. NONE of these characters were ever GAY. You’ve yet again raided another good comic and DESTROYED it. Just cancel it while your ahead before you lose money from NO sales. Cut out the FAGGOTRY DC, Marvel. Before we Normal people BURY YOU.

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