‘Batwoman’ Is Using Secret Identities for a Potent Metaphor About Coming Out
Over the past century, comic books have used superheroes to depict a variety of metaphors, usually pinned to the idea of “other.” Whether you’re Superman feeling isolated as the last survivor of your planet, or Spider-Man dealing the deathly weight of responsibility, they are often isolated and alone. That’s what Batwoman used to great effect this week by tying Kate Kane’s (Ruby Rose) ascendence as the titular hero to a metaphor to her sexuality, and depicting what it’s like for some members of the LGBTQ+ community when they’re forced to put their sexual preference back in the closet.
First of all, sorry Rotten Tomatoes audience review bomb haters, the hit show isn’t ignoring her lesbianism — they’re diving into it, head first. When we first see Kate and her new romantic interest Reagan (Brianne Howey), they’re pretty far along from the “asking out” stage they were at last episode. The CW doesn’t necessarily shy away from sex scenes, but most of them are of the tumble into bed, fade to black variety; or often, involve the always weird shirts on, post-coitally. Not Batwoman, though. Reagan and Kate are naked in bed after the throes of passion, kissing and stroking each other as Kate makes up excuses for leaving to go to her “job” (read: Batwoman business).
That scene isn’t just there for titillation, though… It’s to emphasize that Kate is out and proud, something she definitively stated in the series premiere’s flashback, when she chose to ask and tell, leaving the army instead of having to give up on her sexuality. Her girlfriend Sophie (Meagan Tandy) made the opposite choice, and in the present is married to a man who doesn’t even know her real sexual preference, or past with Kate.
It also drives home the central concept of the episode: Kate is out, she worked hard to get there, to be accepted in a society that’s often still waffly when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community. So how, then, does she justify constantly lying about being Batwoman? Since Kate is already out, becoming a superhero with a secret identity takes her sexuality’s place in the metaphor, and it’s an easy fit. She has to lie about who she truly is, hide a part of herself from her loved ones in order to keep them safe.
But does she? As she discovers this episode from Luke Fox (Camrus Johnson), having a dual identity destroyed her cousin Bruce Wayne. We know from the comics that the playboy persona Bruce puts before the press is the mask, and Batman is his true face. Kate has to decide if that’s what she wants to become, in order to inspire Gotham City. Kate Kane, professional screw-up probably can’t do that. But Batwoman, the new hero who has enamored everyone in Gotham, including radio host Vesper Fairchild (Rachel Maddow), can inspire — and does, as she saves a young girl from a bomb late in the episode.
It’s to the show’s credit that she doesn’t find an easy solution for any of this. Coming out of the closet isn’t a one time thing, it’s a lifelong process of consistently professing your sexuality or clarifying it in nearly every new situation. Add in that your relationship to your sexuality, whether you’re straight, queer, or somewhere in between changes over the course of your life, and the idea of “coming out of the closet” isn’t as accurate as spending 70, 80, 90 years constantly walking through a hall of doorways.
That’s what Kate is uneasy about at the end of the episode, as she breaks up with Reagan. She likes her, she’s funny, she enjoys her company; but she’s not in a place to have an honest, open relationship right now. She makes what she thinks is the right decision, to dive further into her Batwoman persona, even if it’s at the cost of the honesty and openness she’s cultivated. Is it the right decision? It certainly wasn’t for Bruce Wayne’s humanity. But will it work for her?
Like figuring out your sexuality, it’s not an open and shut case; it’s a process.
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