‘Y: The Last Man’: How Will the Show Address Gender Identity?

Y: The Last Man, the series based on the comics by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra, will premiere on Hulu via FX in September. It will have some potentially tricky work to do in terms of addressing questions around gender identity. How will the show handle the topic?

Y: The Last Man’ will have to catch up to the conversation

Ben Schnetzer at AOL HQ in 2016 in New York City.
Ben Schnetzer | Roy Rochlin/Film Magic/Getty Images

The 60-issue comic series launched in 2002 and was published by DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint. It’s set in the near future, in a world where a mysterious mass catastrophe has killed all individuals with Y chromosomes except for one. That lone survivor is our protagonist, a twenty-something named Yorick Brown (played by Ben Schnetzer in the show). 

It was received by many as a feminist story because of its many women in positions of power. And because it avoids the trope that suggests a world run by women would be nothing but soft and maternal. 

And indeed, Vaughn is somewhat known for writing beloved female characters like those in Paper Girls, Saga, and Runaways.

But times have changed…

The conversation around gender identity has evolved significantly over the last 20 years. In the comics, there isn’t a lot of discussion about what it means to be “male” or “female” (let alone representation of nonbinary, intersex, transgender, or gender fluid characters). 

In the source material, those who die in the catastrophe are, for the most part, cisgender men. And the characters in the comics merely state that all the “men” have died with little additional clarification, unfortunately equating chromosomes and gender. So the series will face some significant challenges right from the start.

‘Y: The Last Man’ teasers offer hints about the new season

There is some hope that the series will address the issue in a thoughtful way. One of the teasers has Diane Lane in her role as the American president challenging one of her subordinates about it. 

The junior government official is seemingly revealing to the president that she saw Yorrick from a distance of about 10 feet. She says, “I don’t think he was transgender, ma’am.” The president replies, “You’re telling me you can verify someone’s chromosomes from 10 feet?”

So it seems the series will hopefully try to convey the message that it is foolish and harmful to make assumptions about one’s gender identity based solely on appearances or biases about presentation.

Showrunner Eliza Clark made comments about gender

Additionally, showrunner Eliza Clark has made some encouraging remarks. As Variety reports, Clark said in an interview, “Yorick’s maleness is not what sets him apart in this world — it’s his Y chromosome that sets him apart.” 

She went on to add, “Gender is diverse and chromosomes are not equal to gender. And so, in our world — in the world of the television show — every living mammal with a Y chromosome dies. Tragically, that includes many women; it includes non-binary people; it includes intersex people. … We are making a show that affirms that trans women are women, trans men are men, non-binary people are non-binary, and that is part of the richness of the world we get to play with.”

Finally, a new character has been created for the series — Sam Jordan, a transgender man played by Elliot Fletcher. The addition of Sam seems to suggest the show’s creators want to send the message, loud and clear, that gender and chromosomes are not the same thing.

‘Y: The last Man’ could influence bigger gender discussions

By centering the importance of chromosomes, the series runs the risk of promoting gender essentialism. 

The premise could easily usher the audience down a train of thought that leads to the conclusion that our chromosomes determine our identity. 

Since they quite literally decide whether a character lives or dies, chromosomes must say something important about who that character is. At least, that’s how the line of thinking could go if the show fails.

Conversely, the series has the potential to do something powerful and important. 

By creating a world in which virtually no one has a Y chromosome but we still see a range of gender identities, the series could start to shine a big, bright light on the fact that gender, indeed, is not determined by supposed biology. 

Y: The Last Man is set to premiere on Hulu on September 13.

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