The second and final episode of All Your Faves Are Trans! Once again featuring comics expert Murphy Leigh.
This episode goes into the reading of Lex Luthor as a trans man particularly in the Smallville television series and his portrayal in the 2016 Batman V. Superman film.
[ Opens with an excerpt from True Trans Soul Rebel by Against Me! ]
THOMAS: Hello, and welcome to episode two of All Your Faves are Trans, a podcast by trans people, for trans people, about their favorite fictional characters as trans. Today’s character, Superman’s arch-nemesis Lex Luthor, in particular the Smallville and Dawn of Justice iterations of him and how they differ and are similar in respect to Lex being trans. Once again my guest is expert in queer coding in the superhero genre, Murphy Leigh. Fair warning, in discussing the Dawn of Justice version of Lex Luthor there will likely be some spoilers for the movie.
[ Transition with excerpt from Waiting for Superman by Daughtry ]
THOMAS: So, Lex Luthor is trans.
THOMAS: Alright, so, let’s start with Smallville. What do we see in the Smallville depiction of Lex Luthor that, you know, you think contributes to the queer coding and/or transness of Lex?
MURPHY: Oh, there’s many things. To start with just the queer coding, um, first of all he wears a lot of like, light purple. Especially in like the really early seasons and yeah purple makes sense because he’s like, sort of the modern equivalent of royalty and it sort of makes sense for it to be light because he’s not evil yet, but when you combine light and purple you get lavender and lavender is sort of like the classic queer color in cinema. So like, I always pay attention to that shit. And then of course, aside from the preponderance of light purple in his wardrobe there’s the fact that Lex is never seen with his shirt off all the way or, you know, like actually seeing his chest in all of its glory, except when he is hallucinating on an island.
THOMAS: And we can’t trust a hallucination.
MURPHY: Indeed. And so there’s, there’s that. Honestly, I’m starting to find the ‘Lex’s shirt is never off’ bit kind of hilarious, because there’s a scene where him and Jensen Ackles [actor name not character] are being tortured. Jensen Ackles’ shirt is long gone, it is pining for the fjords, it is not here, and yet we see Lex Luthor’s shirt artfully torn, but still manfully hanging on. And so, there’s the shirt thing. There’s also, regarding the way Lex is sort of characterized via the acting that reads to me as familiar and I tend to translate familiar as, yeah, probably queer also probably trans, because with Lex in Smallville there is a certain, I hesitate to say femininity, but there is an aspect to his behavior that is coded more with the fem fatale than with any sort of masculine character and I think that non holding to traditional gender roles for male villains kind of plays into the way that he can easily be read as trans.
THOMAS: One note that I have is, I remember in a past conversation we talked about Lex and fencing in that regard.
MURPHY: Yes, because fencing is just about the- As much like, strength and physical fitness you need to be a fencer, it’s not the most masculine sport in the world. It very much stands in contrast to like, Smallville High’s football team or even like the other like hoity toity rich people sports like rugby. Like you associate rugby with rich people in America, but what does Lex play? He fences. He fences and he fights, which we don’t get to see him do much, because he’s generally damselled.
THOMAS: So, moving on to Dawn of Justice Lex. The one thing like, for me, that stuck out was the baggy clothing, cause that’s, at least in my experience, is something that trans men do, is you know, wear clothing that’s too big for them to hide, you know, thighs that are too big, the bulge from the binder cause you never get completely flat. I mean, baggy clothing is a staple of my wardrobe.
MURPHY: Yeah, and I think- I think that’s a really good point to make regarding Dawn of Justice Lex, especially considering, I think that given his upbringing he probably would not have started his transition until after his father was dead, because the way in which this Lex Luthor’s father was abusive really does not lend to the sort of physical safety necessary to start like hormones or get surgery.
THOMAS: Absolutely. Speaking of that, you wrote an excellent post about Lex Luthor and abomination.
MURPHY: Yes, yes. Um, the abomination thing. I very much was fascinated in this movie by the way that it used the concept of a verbal trigger and the way that characters will respond to certain verbal triggers that bring them back to moments of intense trauma. Of course, the most obvious example of this in Dawn of Justice is Bruce Wayne’s response to the name “Martha,” but in Lex’s case it seems to be words like “abomination” and “deformity” that really get him into a frenzied state. And we see this first in the Genesis Chamber when the AI says to him that “the deformity is the desecration without name” and he responds to that in a very emotive way that like, doesn’t make sense if there isn’t something deeper there. And I think you could go in two directions with that, or both directions. Either he knows more about Krypton than he let’s on or there is some sort of emotional significance to being called an abomination or a deformity or a desecration that is relevant to Lex’s backstory, because he says specifically “abomination” when he’s talking to Clark and so much of his um, so much of his like, relationship to trauma manifests itself in the metaphors he uses for so much of the movie. He uses a lot of religious metaphors, a lot of mythological metaphors, but when he talks about his father he specifically says that “no man from the sky came to save [him] from daddy’s fists and abominations” and I think that that really sort of would touch a chord, because so many of us as queer and trans people have had horrible experiences with people who use religion to try and tell us that we’re something terrible and evil that should no exist. And I think seeing Lex’s reaction to those kinds of terms and the way that religiosity has sort of infused his character, it would not surprise me to find that he was trans and that his father had abused him particularly severely for it.
THOMAS: That does make an incredible amount of sense. Well, that is all the time we have, thank you again for joining us, Murphy Leigh, it was great talking to you again.
[ Transition with excerpt from Waiting for Superman by Daughtry ]
THOMAS: That’s all we have for today. Tune in next week when our topic of conversation will be Enjolras from the Victor Hugo novel and hit Broadway show Les Miserables. Murphy Leigh is a nonbinary artist and writer based out of New York. Their pronouns are they/them/theirs. They can be found on Twitter at twitter.com/m_leigh_media, that is twitter dot com slash m underscore l-e-i-g-h underscore media, and on Tumblr at nomoremetaphors.tumblr.com. The music in today’s podcast was True Trans Soul Rebel by Against Me! and Waiting for Superman by Daughtry. See you next week.
[ Closes with an excerpt from True Trans Soul Rebel by Against Me! ]