The Case for Superman’s Transgender Pal, Jenny Olsen [Pride Week]
There’s a term in the transgender community called “eggmode”; parlance for transgender or nonbinary people who haven’t figured it out yet. A while back on social media, #eggmode trended with tales of behaviors that in retrospect seem like giant neon signs. They include thinking constantly about what it would be like as a gender other than the one we think we are; undergoing experimental living as said gender; or reading and writing stories about characters who have transitioned (even if those stories get just enough wrong to put some warped ideas in our heads.)
… actually, yeah, I am saying it: Jimmy is totally an egg. Jimmy’s next startling metamorphosis could be into an actual egg, and it wouldn't make the character any more of an egg than they are now.
Now, this is all Silver Age/Bronze Age Jimmy, or pastiches thereof, but in comics, stuff comes back. This is all part of the character of Jimmy Olsen. So when it comes back, having Jimmy Olsen realize she’s transgender, and having her say, “Everyone, my name’s Jenny Olsen now” (or words to that effect) would be an outstandingly good idea, for a host of reasons.
First, Jimmy is an important character. You can’t really do a decent take on Superman that doesn’t at least account for where Jimmy is. Jimmy’s baked in now. So there’s little chance of pulling the old, “Whoops, we forgot to do anything with this queer character for a few years now” bait-and-switch, where representation that is off the page is treated as valid just because it’s still in continuity. Jenny Olsen wouldn’t just be a transgender character in the DC universe, but a constantly present transgender character, which is the important part.
Secondly, Jimmy hasn’t had a lot to do for a while now, because many of Jimmy’s traits are difficult to reconcile with modern storytelling. There’s only so many years that Jimmy can stay inexperienced and fresh-eyed before the character starts to look not so much inexperienced as incompetent, and as gone into here, Jimmy’s "just a normal person in Superman’s world" story beat is done better by the modern take on Lois Lane. Even the role of “Superman’s best male friend” is occupied by either Pete Ross or Batman, depending on whether Batman’s beating Superman up this week or not.
Jimmy could use a few new traits and a niche to excel in, and “the resident queer transgender lady of the cast” is a great one. There is stuff that a Jenny Olsen would have a perspective on that no one else in the cast would have; that they wouldn’t even think of. That gives her value as a character for story purposes. She’ll see things others won’t.
Thirdly, for a series about acceptance and optimism, and with a main character with a lot of queer subtext, the Superman books don’t have a lot of queer people actually in them. Maggie Sawyer did originate as a Superman cast character, and was confirmed as queer long before Renee Montoya was revealed to be a lesbian --- but Maggie Sawyer is essentially a Batman supporting character now. The Superman books could use a few queer characters to ensure that drawing parallels between the Superman/Supergirl origin and coming out of the closet doesn’t read as appropriation of the latter by the former.
Finally, of the things Jimmy does excel at, Jenny can do just as well. Jenny Olsen can accidentally wander into a parallel universe or travel back in time just as readily as Jimmy does. Jenny can be infected by lycanthropy and turned into a genie and date a space princess. She just needs to change the name on her jetpack license and she’s good. She can hang out with Clark Kent and play video games, and she can work with Lois and ask her for advice (advice that can now incorporate things a woman wouldn’t tell a man.) Nothing of great import is taken off the table by this, and so much is added.
Usually when Jimmy Olsen puts on a dress, it’s a joke --- and it shouldn’t be. But with one change to the character, it doesn’t need to be a joke --- just what she decided to wear that day.
Special thanks to Chance Brown, who illustrated the above take on Jenny Olsen. Visit his website at cargocollective.com/chance_second.