She-Hulk: Attorney at Law Asked Queer Questions, and Empowered Us to Use FanFic to Answer Them; or, My “Date” With She-Hulk


SHE-HULK sits alone at a table after a series of failed dates… 

Okay, I’m going to use these stage directions to level with you. They canceled She-Hulk: Attorney at Law right when it was making my queer, non-binary heart happiest. Whatever. It’s fine. I’m used to it. As is often the case, the internet has bent over backwards to hot take the economics of cancellation, and while I appreciate the “Marvel’s Paul Krugman” approach, I also don’t care. I’m not crying into my fanfic because a media production powerhouse didn’t ask me before hanging the small screen Walters jersey from the rafters. Instead, I’m left with the question of my queer joy. Jennifer Walters’ arc so clearly shows us how patriarchal societies both create and shame angry women, and, while I cheer that clapback loudly, I am not an angry woman. I’m a masculine they/them who, yes, frequently finds themself angry, but the anger of my experience has to be different from, though allied with, Walters’ and She-Hulk’s. Still, though, I saw something of myself layered into the nine episodes of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law… but what? What about this show landed so firmly in my living room? To find out, I reflected on She-Hulk’s meta-fanfic, her own ponderings about the Marvel universe, and I knew exactly what to do: go on a date with She-Hulk. All right, it doesn’t have to be a date. She went through plenty of those on TV, and I’m not here to retraumatize anyone, much less someone six-foot-seven and green. But I have to talk to her, and the only way I can do that is through the lines of the kind of fanfic she herself might use to unpack the super-world she never asked for. Thus, we find ourselves somewhere in Season 1, Episode 4:

SHE-HULK sits alone at a table after a series of failed dates. The bar in the distance looks like a leftover set piece from a high school adaptation of The Shining, except with more cigarette smoke. The dining area, where she finds herself, has all the energy of a dead mall with none of the charm. The sepia tone dousing the entire establishment beckons it into the past, but, for She-Hulk, it is all too present. It isn’t the type of place one might expect to have a server, but, out of the smoke, appears JONATHYN, who asks as if it’s a Miranda warning:

JONATHYN
Are you all done?

SHE-HULK
Oh. So done.

JONATHYN picks up the only one of SHE-HULK’s three glasses that still contains liquid and downs its contents.

SHE-HULK 
Can you, uh… can you do that?

JONATHYN
Absolutely not, no, under no circumstances.

SHE-HULK
I get the sense I’m not the only one who’s done.

JONATHYN
Maybe…

SHE-HULK
But that was just my—

JONATHYN
Your water glass. Yeah. I figured it was at least 50/50 that it could have been straight Vodka.

SHE-HULK
(kicking out a chair that JONATHYN grabs before it hits the next table)
Sit.

JONATHYN does. SHE-HULK leaves the table for a moment. In her absence, JONATHYN looks around for their manager, who is mid-shots with an increasingly uncomfortable customer. JONATHYN shudders. Then, it dawns on them that they might be making a version of the same mistake. SHE-HULK returns with two pint glasses of straight Vodka.

SHE-HULK 
This isn’t water.

JONATHYN
Hey listen I think I might have approached this… not great.

SHE-HULK
As a server? You approached it horribly. As someone who is loud-quitting? It was pretty epic.

But, what’s with the Dolly Parton energy?

JONATHYN
Okay so before this I worked at a Boba tea place at the mall, and they let you pick your sweetness on a scale of, like, one to ten, with one being an Evangelical Halloween, a five being probably a day’s worth of sugar, and a ten being Keanu Reeves building a cancer hospital for children while giving you a Harley. So I guess what I’m asking is: what level of emotion dump would you like?

SHE-HULK
Gimme the Keanu.

JONATHYN
All right: I’m non-binary and I work at a place that is somehow oblivious to health inspections and OSHA violations and vigilant about rigid binary dress codes. And I don’t feel comfortable about that.

SHE-HULK
Yeah I am questioning my decision to order the wings now.

JONATHYN
I mean the dress code.

SHE-HULK
Right. Yes. That is permeated with suck.

JONATHYN
And like: it doesn’t always bother me, personally, but some days, the days where I really am not shirt-and-tie, it feels like I’m trapped inside an opposing pole, pushing me inward.

SHE-HULK
Well, I mean, yeah, like, hey: can I give you the Keanu for a sec?

JONATHYN
(a la Keanu)
“Excellent!”

SHE-HULK
I’m supposed to go to my friend Lulu’s wedding, and I kind of think she doesn’t want me to come like… this? And I told her, sure, yeah, whatever, but I don’t really want to show up as just… Jen. Like, it’s a big event, everyone is on-display, and “Just Jen” is not on-display, “Just Jen” is Target clearance – sometimes comfortable, but seemingly forgettable.

JONATHYN
But always “just”! …because you’re a lawyer. A just one. Due to justice.

SHE-HULK
Okay, no more of this for you…

SHE-HULK slides the vodka cup away from JONATHYN.

JONATHYN
But hey seriously that’s why I don’t even go to most straight weddings anymore. I mean, something like that. Everything but, I guess, the crippling Jen insecurity.

SHE-HULK
Thanks…

This is probably as good a time as any to talk about the wedding in Episode 6, as it hit me in so many feels. First of all, Lulu is played by Patti Harrison, a trans woman who absolutely steals her scenes. Additionally, we don’t quite know if Harrison is playing a trans or cis character—because it doesn’t matter! The details of her gender don’t need to be the point of her existence. She’s a woman, playing a woman. Full stop. On top of that, her name, Lulu, calls back to Little Lulu, the comic strip character who debuted in 1935 trashing a different wedding as a flower girl who litters the aisle with not flower petals but banana peels. Little Lulu then inspired the name for Friends of Lulu in the 1990s which was an advocacy organization for female fans of comics. In many ways, Friends of Lulu’s push for the inclusion of women who read comics in the fandom aligns with She-Hulk: Attorney at Law’s consideration of female superhero TV viewers, with both arguing for the importance of the demographic. Though the character of Lulu in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is no one to idolize, my revulsion of her is tempered by her cartoonish camp, a trope that layers an element of queerness over all of the above. Therefore, because I don’t see Harrison’s Lulu as the “Big Bad” of the show, I’m able to dwell on the Lulu legacy and delight in the fact that a trans woman is the face of all of it, especially in a world where representatives of general feminism beyond the trans community tend to be cis. But of course, as JONATHYN hints above, something else about Lulu’s insistence that She-Hulk attend the wedding as Jennifer Walters cut even deeper…

JONATHYN
I just mean that weddings can sometimes feel so binary! I skipped a relative’s because the invite mandated that men wear tuxedos and women wear dresses, so where would I even fit?

SHE-HULK
Maybe they would have let you do your own thing?

JONATHYN
Would Lulu? Trust me, I know the crowd. Me at the door going, “Well, uh, you see, I was aiming for sort of a Billy-Porter-Meets-Divine-at-a-Disco sort of thing, and anyway gender is sort of like this spectrum, right; have you read any Judith Butler?” would not go over well. Plus it was in New Jersey.

SHE-HULK
Oh! Gah! Say no more.

JONATHYN
Too often weddings feel like they double down on binaries. Man. Woman. Bride. Groom. His family. Her family. Fish. Steak. Which is ironic because the whole ceremony is about blending! Still, there is no third, fourth, fifth option. No non-binary. No buff-and-green.

SHE-HULK
Not all of them are like that.

JONATHYN
Not the gay ones, no.

SHE-HULK
Yeah. A gay wedding would be sweet. Maybe I’ll just show up as She-Hulk anyway.

JONATHYN
Which you can do! Your alt mode is literally all armor. Mine is, well, closer to Just Jen.

SHE-HULK
If it’s all armor, why can’t it protect me from half an hour with a guy who wanted to deadlift me? And another hour with a superhero fetishist? He called me a specimen!

JONATHYN
No, you’re right, that was unfair of me.

SHE-HULK
Armor is bullshit!

JONATHYN
I know. I mean, I don’t know like you know. But like, nat steele wrote that the trans closet can offer “the joy of armor, protection, distance. It is the false freedom of remaining unseen and untouched” (steele 1641). Steele uses this to talk about the character of Master Chief in Halo, and how his armor keeps him unexposed, but it is also static. It won’t grow or change, even if the person inside it does. The massive, baggy sweaters I wore in high school could only be insufficient at best, suffocating at worst. Stuff like that, tuxedoes included, was my armor. My non-binary self cut up against it as it begged for authenticity. After I took it off, I knew I wouldn’t be able to put it on until I could define the terms it, or something like it, could fit me. In other words, “armor is bullshit.” And I should have clocked that sooner. I’m sorry. 

SHE-HULK
Did you just use an in-text citation in a conversation?

JONATHYN
She should get credit!

SHE-HULK
Yeah, I just didn’t know we were speaking in MLA.

JONATHYN
You might not have read the book it’s in!

SHE-HULK
Personally, I go back to the way Charlie Jane Anders talks about the 2019 movie Serenity, where Matthew McConaughey plays Baker Dill, a guy who spends a lot of time naked in a game he doesn’t know he’s stuck in. Anders says, “Even as the movie invites us to fetishize Baker’s nude body, it keeps reminding us that his physicality is part of the prison he’s trapped in.” That’s because Dill has to use his conventionally attractive avatar body to make money in order to accomplish his in-game objectives, but that comes at the expense of his free will, and where that might lead him instead. The body becomes a “prison” when society prescribes your use for it. I relate. Oh, and that’s (Anders 712). Yeah, I’ve read it.  

The joy of writing fanfic is that you and your favorite characters can read the same books.

JONATHYN
Damn… and do you ever feel like those societies want to publicly adore those bodies, but interpersonally, one-on-one, reject them?

SHE-HULK
I’m sitting here after rounds and rounds of dud dates, so – what do you think?

JONATHYN
Yeah. 

SHE-HULK
We have to figure out how to take up space. Hulking out is one way, but let’s face it: it’s kind of a limited edition experience.

JONATHYN
I don’t think being smaller and slighter means someone can’t take up space. Some of the smallest units out there take up the most space. Quotes we live by. Short stories and poems we re-read and memorize. Pennies in couch cushions! 

For the record, JONATHYN is referencing a great article, here. They don’t want to overuse their in-convo citations, though, so I’ll drop it here. It’s a piece of flash non-fiction that Krys Malcolm Belc wrote for Brevity titled “Why Trans Flash?” In it, Krys argues that trans and non-binary folks can use the “flash,” or super-short, writing form to make our work accessible, re-readable, and memorable to all, a powerful tool when too many insist on erasure, starting with books. He writes, “We can take up so much space in so few words. We can be free” (Belc3).

SHE-HULK
Do you think any penny has ever awoken from uneasy dreams to find itself transformed into a Buick?

JONATHYN
I think if any penny has, I’d call it “Gregor Cent-sa.”

SHE-HULK
Okay…

JONATHYN
I think more than one form or another it’s the way we glitch the cis-tems that counts. The little unexpected errors that wedge between the cracks of heteronormativity and grow boundless queer joy.

SHE-HULK
Glitch Feminism! Legacy Russell! When queerness is the glitch, it adapts, moves, survives, and exists fluidly. The glitch is “anti-body,” non-rigid and resistant to singular form (Russell4).

JONATHYN
Bodies change.

SHE-HULK
The world should, too.

JONATHYN
Hear, hear.

They “cheers” their pint glasses of vodka. SHE-HULK chugs hers. JONATHYN hesitantly sips theirs as briefly as possible. After they do, we hear a woman yell, “Back off!” from the bar.

SHE-HULK
Oh no. That’s my Bat-signal.

JONATHYN
Wait you know Batman?

SHE-HULK
Yeah, really minor superhero. He popped up in 1981 to fight my cousin and then we only saw him a handful of times after that. (to us) A little comics history from a Friend of Lulu.

SHE-HULK gets up to assist, but, just as she stands up, JONATHYN’s manager goes flying past them both into an empty table. “Told ya,” we hear the same voice say from the bar. JONATHYN and SHE-HULK take a moment to process.

SHE-HULK
Ooookay well, perfect timing because I was kind of thinking of calling it a night as Jen.

SHE-HULK reverts to JENNIFER WALTERS.

MANAGER
(drunk, from the former table)
You’re fired! You’re all fired! Even the customers! Can you fire customers? I can do whatever I want! I manage the bar!

JONATHYN
(to JENNIFER WALTERS)
Quick: what’s the best way to dramatically tell him I quit?

JENNIFER WALTERS
No don’t! Get fired and then collect your unemployment.

JONATHYN
Not all heroes wear capes.

JENNIFER WALTERS
Need a ride home?

JONATHYN
I’m good. I practically live on top of this place.

JENNIFER WALTERS
Suit yourself.

JENNIFER WALTERS exits and, as she does, dumps JONATHYN’s remaining vodka on MANAGER.

MANAGER
Gaahhh! There’s a bajillion dollars of vodka seeping into my splinters!

JONATHYN bounds up out of the lines of dialogue and glitches into their reality of residence. 

In many ways, the entirety of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law felt like a glitch. She-Hulk even resolves the entire show in its finale by causing a glitch. In “Whose Show Is This?,” She-Hulk hops out of the Disney+ streaming platform into a Marvel Studios behind-the-scenes documentary in order to go out on her own terms. That moment felt like the culmination of hints dropped – breaking the fourth wall (as in the comics), an awareness of showrunner jargon and the beats of an episode – that we would not be in for a paint-by-numbers superhero story. Instead, we were going to crack the genre wide open, and those of us who know how much joy flourishes in such fractures could relish in it here. Those who by default see glitches as errors and errors as bad, however, would likely not be as excited. I just want it on record, from the glitch world, that, for at least one of us, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law was the most validating Marvel Studios property they’ve seen yet. It showed the gravity of misogyny and used its glitches to subtly queer its corner of the Marvel universe. Through its glitches – a Hulk at a wedding, a Friend of Lulu in a Marvel TV show, a superstrong superhero powerless to stop cishet men from failing upward – She-Hulk: Attorney at Law may not have shown me my world, but it made me feel comforted in it. It made me feel like I, too, didn’t need to decide between my forms. It made me feel like I’m not imagining a false self when the transphobic voices around me ignite loud insecurities. It made me feel like fluidity is a superpower, because, after all, this hero does not only have two forms; she has Jen Walters, She-Hulk, and everything she is in every second between the two. It made me want to take up space in the ways I know how. 

She-Hulk sat at a table after a series of failed dates, but she wasn’t alone. We were there. We were with her. icon-paragraph-end



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