Recently there has been some major news in the mainstream comic book world when it comes to gay suphereos. In the DC Universe, Alan Scott, one of the Green Lanterns, has recently been rebooted as gay. Also the current Batwoman (Kate Kane) has also been rebooted as lesbian. And in the Marvel Universe superhero has just married his longtime partner Kyle (influenced by the recent real-life decision to institute legalized gay marriage in the state of New York). These are reflective of the growing trend of inclusion of gays and lesbians in US society.
It got me thinking about how I think the next edge of social inclusion will be around transgendered individuals. (For some background on that, see this great post by Abbie Kopf on transgendered, questioning, and bisexuals entitled Not Gay Enough). So I wanted to look into the question of whether there have been any transgendered characters in the comic book pantheon. There are two very helpful wikis in this regard. This one on LBGT themes in comics and this one on LBGT themes in manistream comics.
There are a number of shapeshifters in the comic world, e.g. Mystique, who can temporarily take on the identity/form of male or female gender but that doesn't particularly seem to be truly transgendered. Characters like Mystique don't seem to have any sense that they have a tension between their felt sense of their gender and their sex. There are other characters whose identity is changed by magical spell or alien/superhero powers. But again not clear that these really qualify as legitimate transgendered cases.
Then there is the story of Mindmeld who (according to her Wiki) "had the ability to displace the brain wave patterns of herself and others, allowing her to swap bodies with others." She ends up displacing her consciousness into the body of Clear-Cut (a male). She then knocked herself out in this new body (and later awoke). This is a less clear cut case (bad pun not intended). I think it's fair to say Mindmeld is technically at that point transgendered insofar as she is a woman in a male body. She has not temporarily shape shifted her outer form but actually placed her consciousness (her inner self) into a different sexed body. And intriguingly she has done so by choice (though again not based on a sense of wanting to become a man). So I think this one is somewhat ambiguous.
A not ambiguous case is that involves author Neil Gaiman who purposefully wrote in a transgendered character in his 1993 The Sandman: A Game of You (Wanda, the pre-op trans-woman roommate of the main character Barbie) because he felt there was a distinct lack of realistically drawn transgendered characters in the comic book world. But Wanda wasn't really a superhero.
Perhaps the most interesting case is that of Tristan (of Tristan and Isolde fame) from the Camelot 3000 series. The story reimagines King Arthur, Merlin, and all the Knights of the Roundtable reincarnated in the year 3000 to battle their arch-nemesis Morgan LeFaye who has set in motion an alien invasion.
In Camelot 3000, Sir Tristan, originally a male in the medieval tales, reincarntes as a woman--to "his" (her?) deep surprise and shock. The comic develops the theme of Tristan's difficulty coming to grips with his/her identity in this new body. This subtle exploration is further explored in relation to Tristan still loving Isolde (also reincarnated as a woman). Is Tristan transgendered? Is Tristan now a lesbian? However we think of Tristan (I think transgendered is the correct understanding), the two do reunite as lovers, promising hope that there will be greater inclusion of transgendered people in society (hopefully we won't have to wait until the year 3000 however!).