Why Wonder Woman has become an enduring gay icon
By Renee Sylvestre-Williams
It’s a good thing Wonder Woman is powerful: she has a lot of expectations riding on her shoulders this summer when her solo movie hits theatres. She means many things to many people. To some she’s an Amazon, warrior, superhero and part of the Justice League triumvirate. She’s also a feminist, ambassador and lesbian, according to psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, who wrote Seduction of the Innocent, and a gay icon to others. Wonder Woman has always been a character who has reflected the socio-politics of the time.
Phil Jimenez, the comic book artist and writer who worked on Wonder Woman from 2000 to 2003, has said in a Newsarama article that the character is “the perfect representation of ‘The Other’” and called her the “the perfect queer character.” He also said she was more progressive during her early decades.
“Comics served as an outlet for sexuality. It was just generally not discussed in public, so when we look at queer ideas within that, we’re looking at this very loaded text,” says Brian M. Peters, an English professor at Montreal’s Champlain College. In 2003, Peters published Qu(e)erying Comic Book Culture and Representation of Sexuality in Wonder Woman, which analyzed Wonder Woman through queer theory.
Both men have been Wonder Woman fans for decades, reading the comics and watching the TV show. They agree that her twirl—which changed her from Diane Prince to Diana, Wonder Woman—is iconic. So when Peters began his research, it was a natural fit to look at Wonder Woman through queer theory.
“My vision was very particular,” he says. “I was coming fresh out of my Ph.D., which was primarily looking at very heavy comparative literature from French philosophy to American expatriate writers in Europe, so I went into Wonder Woman understanding it through queer theory.”
Her appeal as a queer icon, says Peters, is due to the multiple nuances of her narrative. “There are three different nuances that take place, and I think that’s also what makes Wonder Woman unique. You’ve got that heterosexual storyline of the empowered straight woman who could attract this wonderful alpha male. There are the lesbian parts, which [The Challenge of Artemis series] really crystallizes in the contemporary readings, and the queer parts. Reading Wonder Woman as drag queen, as gay boy wanting to have some power in a very straight world, I think with the three of them spinning—and I’m using that word on purpose—I think that’s what makes the narrative queer and less timeless.”
Jimenez says Wonder Woman’s position as a queer icon is because the character has always been anti-traditional, anti-patriarchal and anti-assimilationist, political actions that have helped shape queer culture.
Wonder Woman’s story has been a strange narrative. She was created by the American psychologist and writer William Moulton Marston and throughout her run, she’s been seen in a number of personas: super-powered, rescued by Steve Trevor, depowered, a detective wearing an Emma Peel-inspired white outfit and doing martial arts, and regained her powers. Jimenez says a lot of that is due to her writers. Many of them were men and, says Jimenez, they were writing for the comic industry’s main audience of boys and young men. As a result, Wonder Woman moved away from her diplomatic and ambassadorial role and became more militant. The current writer, Greg Rucka (Queen and Country, Lazarus, Gotham Central) confirmed to Comicosity last fall that Wonder Woman has had relationships with women.
While we may not see those relationships flowering on screen (nothing in the current movie’s trailer suggests that), the current comic run has Wonder Woman back to her early years and has become inclusive once again.
Wonder Woman will be released on June 2, 2017.
RENEE SYLVESTRE-WILLIAMS is a Toronto-based writer. When she’s not writing, she’s collecting and reading Greg Rucka’s run on Wonder Woman.