Readers found out in this week's issue of Batgirl that Barbara Gordon has a roommate named Alysia who is transgender. And according to a DC Comics statement to Wired, it's the "first openly transgender character in a mainstream superhero comic."
According to Batgirl writer Gail Simone's statements to Wired, several characters have achieved gender-fluidity through fantastical means like magic, shape-shifting, brain-swapping, and cloning. “Those characters exist [and] that’s great, but I wanted to have trans characters who aren’t fantasy-based. And I feel like there’s a lot there yet to do," she said.
While DC refers to her as the first transgender character, Newsarama pointed out in November 2012 that the heroic DC character Shining Knight was outed as transgender in Demon Knights #14.
However, the Demon Knights issue was published without any fanfare about the character's admission of being transgender. In fact, the hero's "outing" was so accepted and unremarkable to comic book fans that the issue's writer Paul Cornell stated, "It's great that a DC character can come out as transgender and it not excite much comment. Very refreshing."
In fact, DC Comics' history with transgender characters goes much farther back, to July 1992's Legion of Super-Heroes vol 4 #31. In that issue, Shvaugn Erin, the one-time Science Police liason to the Legion reveals that she was born male and takes a drug to appear female, which is how she identifies. Her ex-boyfriend Element Lad is very understanding and accepting of her, even as he watches the drug wear off and sees her physical form revert to male. The issue was co-written by Keith Giffen and Tom & Mary Bierbaum.
Nonetheless, Simone's addition of a transgender character to Batgirl is the latest in a growing list of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender characters in comic books. Most notable recently were the additions of a gay Green Lantern in Earth-2 and the marriage of Northstar and his partner in Astonishing X-Men, which both received significant mainstream media attention. The announcement of Batgirl's transgender character has also prompted DC to point out some mainstream coverage for Batgirl.
Simone said she feels like comics "have a ways to go" to incorporate enough diversity. "There’ve been some wonderful steps forward lately, even in mainstream comics like Batwoman and Runaways, all of whom have LGBTQ characters in starring roles. But it wasn’t that long ago that any mention of sexuality was outright forbidden in mainstream comics at all.
"We have some catching up to do," she said. "But there’s a large LGBTQ readership in comics, the audience is hugely diverse. It’s wonderful. Our common language is nerdhood. I love that. We may come from different continents, but dammit, we can recite the Green Lantern Oath! It’s pretty great to see LGBTQ characters being accepted widely, it shows that this stuff is way, way overdue."