John Byrne’s Transgender Controversy (UPDATED)
John Byrne is a legend in the comic book industry and has maintained a large fan base, although the limit of his artwork in recent years has been private commissions, with his last published work being a Star Trek photomosaic story for IDW. He has maintained an Internet presence solely on his own forums, Byrne Robotics, where this controversy started. Notice that I haven’t included a link there. There’s a reason for that at the end of this article.
It was in discussion about Caitlyn Jenner, and a recent op-ed in the NY Times. Byrne made some broad statements apparently confusing transvestism with transgender, the latter of which is where Caitlyn Jenner falls in such a discussion. Byrne also apparently accepted that men and women have different “brains,” but the discussion was apparently using the term “brain” to be synonymous with “psychology,” oversimplifying a complicated area. Byrne went on to postulate that in the future, science may in fact determine that being transgender is a mental illness, on par with pedophilia.
I am oversimplifying this exchange and not quoting it verbatim, as other outlets like The Mary Sue and The Outhousers have already covered this in greater detail than I can dedicate to it on my schedule. However, the fan that runs the Twitter account John Byrne Says and the John Byrne Draws Tumblr, has come out firmly that what John Byrne espoused hate speech, based on other statement the artist has made over the years. While he will continue both accounts, he has stated clearly that he will not buy or promote any future work John Byrne does.
Speaking solely for myself, I have to now read John Byrne’s work with greater scrutiny now, but I do understand that the writer is not his characters, and it should not be considered in the opposite. However, I also will not promote anything he does in the future, and that includes not linking to his forum in this article, until I see a serious mea culpa, which based on past behavior, I do not expect to come at all. Recently, John Byrne has stated that he has not interest in producing anything new for publication, and his career has been such that to the best of my knowledge, he can probably retire at this point, although perhaps a dwindling interest in private commissions may prompt a desire to revisit his opinions. However, I will not tolerate hate speech from anyone in the comics community, especially when there are people in the comics community that are the indirect crossfire from these comments. John Byrne’s comments affect a great number of people that deserve respect.
Featured image for this article taken from thatsmyskull.blogspot.com.
UPDATE: Based on the controversy surrounding James Robinson’s portrayal of transgender people in Airboy #2, I revisited this article and John Byrne’s forum topic in question, as well as a topic on the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality, in which John Byrne expresses an opinion nowhere near as controversial. I wondered, based on the stance that I was taking on James Robinson, and the stance I took above on John Byrne, was I being fair to both men and treating them equally?
In reviewing John Byrne’s comments throughout the entire thread, I believe that he spoke in analogies that were entirely false and are based upon an incomplete knowledge of what it means to be transgender. Whereas James Robinson saw fit to apologize when faced with those critics, John Byrne saw fit to bounce back with accusations that he was misquoted and taken out of context. I don’t believe that he was. Robinson also saw fit to engage with people that he harmed and Byrne has remained in his own forum that he has control over.
John Byrne did make a horrible analogy. John Byrne was insensitive, but do I still consider it hate speech? No. So please do not infer from my article above, which remains unedited from it’s original publication, that I consider his comments hate speech. They are hurtful, especially to people in the transgender community.
Rather than dwell on this any further, go explore what it means to be transgender in this society, and the trouble that transgender people have just trying to exist in the same way that people who identify as the gender that they were born with do as they go about their daily lives.
UPDATE: As society has progressed, or perhaps regressed in the rise of visible hate speech, my ban on promoting past work from which John Byrne receives royalties has been lifted. The artist does not equal his work, but his words in 2015 are still ignorant and his behavior following was abhorrent. In light of things others have said about the transgender community, his words do not rise to the level of hate speech we see consistently regurgitated towards minorities. I will follow the example of the John Byrne Draws Tumblr and not promote any future work of John Byrne, but the embargo on past work he may receive royalties on does no one service. However, I would urge anyone to look into a person’s character before actively patronizing him or her.