"Loki" and the opportunity for trans representation in Marvel

The second episode seems to hint that the show could offer something promising ... or sorely disappoint us

Published June 19, 2021 11:00AM (EDT)

Tom Hiddleston in "Loki" (Marvel Studios/Disney+)
Tom Hiddleston in "Loki" (Marvel Studios/Disney+)

One of the first mysteries in "Loki" has been revealed . . .  but what does it all mean?

At the end of the second episode of the Disney+ detective/adventure series, the identity of the cloaked time-traveling figure who's been wiping out Time Variant Authority (TVA) officers is revealed to be Lady Loki (Sophia Di Martino). Loki (Tom Hiddleston) had been helping the TVA hunt that person down because they were supposed to be a variant – a multiverse version of a person from a branched timeline – of himself.

Already we've seen other Loki variants, including a Tour de France Loki and a President Loki. But it was still a surprise to meet Lady Loki because first of all, she appears female and is also blonde, a departure from all the other dark-haired and male-presenting variants of the God of Mischief. Now viewers are debating whether Lady Loki is a female variant of Loki, an entirely separate character from Loki – like She-Hulk (soon to be played by Tatiana Maslany) is to the Hulk – or whether this character is actually another Asgardian comic book character called Enchantress.

Theories abound, as the MCU in many ways wades into uncharted territory with "Loki," revealing the existence of a mysterious entity called the Time Keepers, as well as the Sacred Timeline upon which everything in the history of the world is predetermined, and seeming to set up for an existential conflict over whether free will even exist. But ever since the Easter egg-like confirmation that Loki is canonically gender-fluid, affirming what many Marvel comic book readers and Norse mythology followers have known for years, MCU fans have been wondering whether and how this will actually be explored in "Loki."

Beyond the unmasking of Lady Loki, many questions about Loki's gender identity remain unanswered as of the second episode. And while Marvel has always been happy to leave fans guessing and theorizing, actual answers about Loki's identity are so important because of the absolute dearth of queer and particularly transgender and gender-fluid representation — not just in the MCU, as Digital Spy has highlighted, but also in superhero, science fiction and epic fantasy genres, in general. 

The episode seems to hint this show could, potentially, mark a turning point in this lack of representation, but we're still waiting to see.

What does Lady Loki bring to the conversation on queer and trans representation? 

It is to be hoped that Lady Loki is who she appears to be – a Loki variant who shapeshifted to female and has remained in this form indefinitely — instead of separate character. Several "lady" versions of the Avengers exist in the Marvel comics, from She-Hulk, to Lady Hawkeye, to Jane Foster as Lady Thor. But there's a key difference between a variant of the actual Loki choosing to live as a woman, and another separate character who is his female counterpart. Frankly, the latter would be disappointing.

Queer fans are the lifeblood of the MCU's expansive and diverse fanbase, and have been waiting far too long to see themselves reflected in Marvel projects, or represented as superheroes. Without actual exploration of Loki's fluid gender identity as a meaningful part of his story, the confirmation of his gender fluid identity isn't actually the victory that show creators and Hiddleston himself have encouraged fans to celebrate — it would be just another Easter egg – a hollow one. 

Whether Lady Loki is onscreen proof of Loki's gender fluidity or not, there is some hope for trans and gender fluid representation in the series, although we ultimately won't know until the show continues to progress. One report from early last year showed Marvel Studios had released a casting call for a transgender actor to play a supporting character named Sera for this first season of "Loki," and reportedly "with options for the second season as well," although it's to be confirmed whether "Loki" will even have a second season. Sera is described as a member of the Anchorites, a group of wingless male angels. 

Furthermore, last year Kevin Feige confirmed a transgender character would be coming to the MCU "very soon" — specifically, he said, "in a movie we're shooting right now," which fans at the time speculated to be "Eternals." It's confirmed at the very least that "Eternals" will portray the MCU's first openly gay superhero, which is exciting, but isn't the same as trans representation. In 2019's "Spider-Man: Far From Home," trans actor Zach Barack played one of Peter Parker's (Tom Holland) friends, Zach, as the first out trans actor to be cast in a big-budget superhero film.

Where are all the trans characters in sci-fi?

As plenty of queer and trans writers have pointed out, the lack of representation of trans people in sci-fi and fantasy genres is baffling, considering there's almost nothing more magical than transgender identity and existence. 

"A growing movement of trans and queer people in the U.S. engaging with paganism and magic makes sense on its face: queer and trans people are often pushed out of our communities of origin, and even the more progressive wings of Christianity are only barely starting to engage with trans issues," Lewis Wallace wrote in Them in 2017. "Magic and witchery are easy to claim, and they are also associated with a resistance to Christian hegemony."

While big-name superhero studios like Marvel and DC have yet to represent transgender characters and storylines, other, smaller sci-fi and fantasy franchises and stories have stepped up to the plate. "Magic" the card game features the beloved, canonically trans character Alesha. Trans author April Daniels' book "Dreadnought" tells the story of a trans, teenage superhero named Danny Tozer, who is tasked with saving her city. Rich Larson's book "Annex" is the coming-of-age story of a transgender girl named Violet, who's able to escape social expectations and live as her true self following an apocalyptic alien invasion. Singaporean non-binary author Jy Yang brings to life a fantasy world where children aren't assigned gender at birth, telling a tale rife with anti-war commentary, magic, and monsters, in their book "The Black Tides of Heaven." 

And while not written as specifically transgender or gender fluid, older projects could be construed as such, once again letting fans head-canon as they will.

As far back as 1969, classic sci-fi author Ursula K. LeGuin published "The Left Hand of Darkness," which explored a race of people who are by default androgynous until they are revealed to be also ambisexual, shifting genders from either male of female depending on environmental conditions. Trans artist Tuesday Smillie has based  their art on this Hugo and Nebula Award-winning novel.

Plus, on the long-running British science fiction series "Doctor Who," it's taken until the 13th incarnation of the Time Lord to regenerate as female with Jodie Whittaker playing the Gallifreyen. Her counterpart, a rogue Time Lord know as the Master, had also once appeared in her female form known as Missy (Michelle Gomez).

It's clear that there's far more to be done when it comes to trans or genderqueer pop culture visibility. The introduction of Lady Loki presents the MCU with a vital opportunity to represent genderqueer identity and experiences, and explore Loki's gender fluidity on a deeper level. Here's to hoping Marvel has taken the opportunity.

New episodes of "Loki" stream Wednesdays on Disney+.

By Kylie Cheung

Kylie Cheung is a staff writer at Salon covering culture. She is also the author of "A Woman's Place," a collection of feminist essays. You can follow her work on Twitter @kylietcheung.

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