In a recent interview in Empire, Tatiana Maslany, the future She-Hulk, said of an inspirational force behind her turn playing the cousin of Hulk (He-Hulk?), “I always come back to Sophie, who’s this amazing trans artist who unfortunately died last year… What I love about Sophie’s music is this combo of organic and electrical, industrial-type sounds that felt connected to She-Hulk.”
The Empire profile ends before this can be unpacked any further, letting “I was inspired by a trans woman to play this giant monster character” dangle in the still of the air, like a shopping bag stuck to a tree. Maslany, to her credit, is the first MCU-aligned actor to acknowledge the roots of queer and trans-coding running deep through the super hero epic, even if she isn’t fully able to grasp or explain why.
The superhero genre of comic books is rife with characters that, by some act of god or science or in some cases god science, are granted powers and abilities beyond the capabilities of the average normie. These new powers create a pivot point on the lifeline of the individuals inflicted. Bodies shift, morph and change with the influx of a newfound power — and in that change they find themselves, discovering the spirit and desire to embrace the version of themselves that can fit into an exceptionally well-tailored spandex costume and continue on wholly new.
You know, cisgender stuff.
In the comics, She-Hulk, the gigantic green cousin of Bruce Banner, aka The Incredible Hulk, is a woman brought to new life by way of an emergency blood transfusion. When her cousin comes to inform her of his new monstrous transformation, she is inadvertently shot by an eager and militarized police force. Seeing no other option Banner, The He-Hulk, gives of his own blood. The infusion of his gamma-radiated blood into her veins triggers her transformation and the formerly demure Jennifer Walters becomes the She-Hulk.
As She-Hulk, she becomes larger than life; growing exponentially to standing 6’7” tall and so too does her temperament. While initially presented as aggressive, brash and swift to anger, it was quickly decided that no one wanted to see what was essentially the other version of the Hulk (He-Hulk) with a different pronoun. She-Hulk went from variations of angry to being a complete character of her own; playful, fun, freewheeling, horny. (seriously, She-Hulk fucks). She is more widely considered as a human and given to a broad array of emotions. She can also switch at will between her normie state and her hulk variant, giving her the option to pull some fear of God shit if anyone fucks with her.
She-Hulk, it must be said, rules.
In her daily life, she is a civil litigant, fighting for justice for those justice so often ignores. Despite her celebrity status she chooses to swing away in the trenches of social justice, choosing to see the people the legal system is all too happy to turn away from. She nurtures and loves and cares for those who have felt the kick to the curb that society has given them as she feels herself counted among that number. While big in size and strength, she still so often feels herself to be vulnerable, understanding vulnerability to be something deeply personal and not a matter of whether or not bullets bounce away from your skin.
That same vulnerability informs her and her place in a society that will fear her, that amorphous fear that stems from the dark void of the unknown. The fear of someone who has found a happiness that was heretofore unknown to them when they embraced themselves fully as a woman that exists outside the trappings of classic femininity. The fear that is a reaction to her desire to be perceived as she is and not as far too many would want her to be.
The transformation between Walters and She-Hulk is a two way dysphoria street, while in human form she was considered shy, small and timid and as a hulk she is gigantic, with broad shoulders, strong jawline and muscles teeming from every available corner. But may I remind you that She-Hulk fucks, and over time in her new body she takes it upon herself to find a way to develop comfort in the way her body is larger than most. In the Marvel universe there is no size restriction on affirming clothing that fit with your internal sense of gender, and as such she allows herself to retain her size, reveling in the strength and beauty in being one so large, while still wearing a pantsuit to work.
In the trailer for She-Hulk, the upcoming streaming series on Disney+ starring Maslany, we see her go on a round of speed dates, at one point carrying a man in her arms to what is presumably the bedroom. We know that She-Hulk fucks because she does not hide the fact that she would like to. The fact that while she can switch at will between her smaller form and the larger variant, and chooses to stay in her more powerful form, feels all too real if you’ve ever had to develop a connection to feeling feminine, beautiful and desired in a body that exists outside what a western colonial society will tell you is classic feminine beauty. As trans femmes, our shoulders might be broader than most, our jaws sharper or our feet bigger. But we still contain a mastery of our own connection to femininity, and we have a unique connection to our own need to be desired. As She-Hulk fucks, so do we.
Deeper in the She-Hulk trailer, she emerges from a limousine for the first time in a form fitting pant suit as a gaggle of onlooking cis women fall over themselves to employ buzzwords stolen from the pages of every gay best friend in a Hallmark original movie to compliment her on her beauty, drawing attention to her size but finding the compliment in it. Telling her that her ass looks amazing. Personally, I have never felt more seen as a trans woman in the audience than watching these cis women set themselves ablaze in an effort to prove they see a woman as big as She-Hulk as a paragon of beauty still.
She-Hulk was the first character I ever connected to as a young comics reader, it felt coded to my own understanding of transness. Through her I was able to understand that even if I grew to have broad shoulders, definable muscle structure and impossible height — I could still attain my desire to be feminine. That being a woman is not so easily defined and that She-Hulk proves that womanhood is for all who claim it, she does so boldly, ensuring her pronoun is part of her call-sign. Not content to simply be a hulk, her femininity is intrinsically tied to her strength, and her understanding of strength as more than simple musculature.
The Marvel universe, the most visible of comic book medias, owes much to the idea of trans and queer identity. Transness is tied to so many superheroes by way of embracing the unknown and monstrous in ourselves, and finding beauty and our own desire by way of connecting to the power that far too many would otherwise fear. Spider-Man is given new life by way of a spider bite, going so far as to experience a second puberty which gives him new confidence in himself the more he embraces the changes within. The X-Men are hated and feared by a world that chooses to misunderstand them and their intentions and desires. These stories are deeply queer, deeply trans. And yet, to look through the pages and in the hours of cinematic options, the representation is lacking. Maslany’s idea of Sophie’s influence is mirrored by Marvel’s misunderstanding of what it owes to the trans and queer people these stories truly belong to.
Tatiana Maslany was right to say that her portrayal of She-Hulk is rooted in her love and appreciation of a beloved trans icon (Marvel Put “It’s Okay To Cry” in She-Hulk Challenge 2022), it’s just that her appreciation of transness is surface level, unexplored down below the surface where it runs long and untamed and free.
Hmm. Insightful article but I feel like this piece may be boiling all of Tatianna’s allyship down to one comment in an interview. She has historically been very sensitive to LGBT+ issues, both in shows like Orphan Black and in her personal life.
Oh, I am in no way diminishing Maslany here, rather using her quote as a jumping off point for a deeper conversation
Just want to voice a little support for Tatiana here – I don’t think it’s at all fair to say she hasn’t fully considered how this character relates to trans culture at all, based on like 2 sentences in a very very short article. Throughout the run of Orphan Black, she always seemed to be exceptionally attuned to the thoughts of the show’s queer fans, what the show was saying about identity & bodily autonomy… she portrayed a trans character in the show briefly & even though said she ultimately felt in retrospect that it had been a mistake, she’s been super open about why she thought it had been a good idea and how her thinking evolved (as lots of perspectives on these things have also changed in a relatively short amount of time). I’d bet if given the opportunity by the interviewer that she in fact has a whole dissertation on her thinking on all of it and how Sophie relates. She just seems like a super thoughtful person on these things & it feels a bit unfair to assume she doesn’t grasp a point she’s making just because there’s not a chance here to expand on it.
Hi, I was simply using her quote as a jumping off point for a deeper conversation! I mean no disrespect to Maslany at all
Hm ok… I still think it’s not a fair take but I get it. Just having followed her for years now, I feel like she’s about the best kind of ally we’ve got so I feel protective of that :)
it’s not really a take, i’m just voicing my opinion and feelings on the character of she-hulk as a trans woman! I totally understand feeling protective of allies, especially good ones (I know Maslany has a long history of of allyship). I am not presenting a take on Maslany, I am using a quote from her to jump off to a separate conversation about transness and identity. I appreciate you voicing your concerns here, trust that I am just a trans woman having a conversation about transness as I see it in media! The quote in the piece was just the spark that got me thinking about it. That’s all!
loved this, and also loved the re-qualifying of Bruce Banner as the He-Hulk, lol
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Thanks for this article :)
I love this and am now excited to watch this show through this lens!
i remember first finding out about jennifer walters and being so annoyed that we’ve been inundated with he-hulk stories when she exists! ‘hulk smash’ this and ‘jekyll hyde dichotomy’ that, i want the sitcom of jennifer walters, esq. doing lawyer things in her 6’7″ hulk persona!
Just butting in to say Crystal Frasier canonised what Jennifer Walters means to the trans community in a short in Marvel Voices: Pride #1 where Titania attacks She-Hulk at a subway station only to realise that it is in fact a trans femme cosplayer instead of the real deal. She then invites the cosplayer, Jennifer Harris, out for an apology lunch where Harris tells Titania about her transition and how, after finishing her costume, she wanted to wear it out and feel “super”. It’s a very touching short and perfectly encapsulates how beloved She-Hulk is, but also how, when push often comes to shove, Titania is really quite decent and nice.
I love seeing comics-related analyses like this on Autostraddle. 💜 I’ve been a genderqueer person reading Marvel comics for roughly 3 decades at this point, but I feel like it’s only relatively recently that I’ve been exposed to people talking/writing about them from a trans/queer perspective,and it makes me feel seen and part of a community (in a different, but complimentary, way than the MCU-specific focus of posts about the incredible hotness of Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie and frustration about the downplaying of her bisexuality or posts about indie comics with more explicit representation).
I loved this article!! As someone who wasn’t really exposed to these characters until the studios started putting out big-budget movies, I’ve really appreciated queer commentators over the years ensuring that everyone knows where the roots of these influential comics lay. Thank you!
HUGE SAME! I really appreciated learning about the trans and queer roots in these comics from Niko’s piece — and honestly I wouldn’t have known otherwise!