“I need you to fix his suit.”
“The suit is literal perfection.”
“It will be…when it fits a woman.”
This dialogue is from CW’s newest and most badass production till date, Batwoman, whose first look trailer is out now. Starring Orange is the New Black fame Ruby Rose, Batwoman is set in a post-Batman world, the residents of which are standing face up to an evil without their bat saviour to count on for rescue. The 3 minute first look leaps us front and back to the origin story of Kate Kane’s military past forsaken for being outed, along with her girlfriend Sophie Moore, as a lesbian couple. Moore now works for CROWS Security in charge of ridding Gotham of evil gangs but gets kidnapped on a rescue mission. Enters Kate Kane aka Batman’s cousin aka Moore’s past girlfriend aka the hero we all need, the hero we always needed. Battling her benevolently patriarchal father who first dissuades her help as a “bad idea” and later calls her female Bruce Wayne (excuse me!), she, with her cousin’s Batman’s suit and fighting gear, is seen fighting off the villains for her love.
For someone who remembers her childhood in flashbacks of Shaktimaan TV reruns, my father’s imported DVD collection of Superman and X-Men, and copies of Chacha Chadhury and Nagraj picked up for their chamakte illustrations, the reality of a lesbian Batwoman who isn’t overtly sexualized like every female character in comic universes is something. I crawl from my bachpan ka hatte-katte superheroes nostalgia to tell you how content I feel to see the face of power change. I might be living in some parallel Earth, you Flash fans might tell me for writing this Gender 101 piece on sex role reversal of a fictional character who also happens to wear her sexuality as her driving force for change. How does a Kate Kane, who happens to be a woman, a lesbian woman, change anything in the DC universe or the real universe of its audience whose face has always been a cis-het white male flaunting hard muscles? Haven’t we gone beyond, way beyond, mere representations of diversity that culminate into an entry into the woke club and die out? Recognitions without active efforts of actualising them, of realising your past ignorance are not much, you know?
Agreed. I am not denying any of this. We have come so far in our discourses around gender and sexuality that we now have both the emotion and vocabulary to ask for more, for better. It is because of years of activism and fight for LGBTQ+ rights that the archaic section 377 was read down last year, it is because of an angry population demanding better from granters of rights that Brunei has backed down from imposing a death penalty on gay sex. And still somehow there are men in Alabama basking in their ignorant whiteness to decide for women’s right to abortion. We are seeing the world clashed between pros and antis. The reality is conflicted, kaleidoscopic and don’t tell me the black and white of TV is my escape from its noise. Because I want my TV to represent more starkly, more confidently the clashes, the conflicts, the myriad shades of our times.
Yes, Batwoman might just be another gender role reversal where the protagonist also identifies as lesbian for DC to score well on the woke scale, so what? We might disagree with the superimposition of Batman’s characteristics and expectations (although the latter will always remain the same for every superhero) on Batwoman and the simplistic reduction of all of it, but can we mark this as a point where we finally get to see even a speck of recognition through representation of queerness by a giant comic book publisher. I am not arguing for the success of Batwoman for its diverse cast, which in itself is new for DC as it has shied away behind a Harlequin flagging queerness, but the trailer suggests one, a break in the traditional holders of power and harbingers of peace and security (aka your very safed, bulky male heroes), and two a recognition (although super late I admit) of the extremely varied identities we inhabit.
Dekho, your white cis-her outside chaddi wearing men are outdated now. They have fled, like Batman here, to bask in their parallel universes where they are still valued for doing nothing but flying across to save cities which are in trouble because of them only. Now is the time for queer people to take centre stage as heroes of our time. Heroes who we always wanted, heroes we were never given, heroes we might see ourselves in. When we are identifying ourselves in all colours rainbow, why can’t we ask for the same in our faraway superhero universes? Which is why we need a Kate Kane. We need a Kate Kane to acknowledge how men have appropriated women’s work and legitimised it as the order of things as she will not “let a man take credit for a woman’s work”. We need a Kate Kane who identifies as lesbian as against a heterosexual character, like Marvel’s female Captain Marvel or even DC’s Wonder Woman (the hetero bus has passed already, you both) because it’s time the spectrum of identities we all move in and out gets its fair television space. We need a Kate Kane because all of us need a break from gender roles being replayed even today on our screens and lives. We need a Kate Kane because we want to know what it takes to fight for love before our heroes take on the world. We need a Kate Kane for young boys and girls to love and aspire to be like.
The first look suggests so much, I hope the series takes it only further. But more than that, I hope our desi superhero universes take a cue and let us have a gaysi hero of our own.