Legion of Superheroes #31 (1992)
Continuing our month of LGBT awareness in comics(check out our Facebook group for more info) we have one of the first mainstream comics to deal with transgenderism. This issue retcons a relationship for two characters in a major way. Unfortunately because of Zero Hour this story is out of continuity and the next iteration of the Legion disregarded the story all together.
This is where the issue takes its turn. The Dominators have taken over Earth and made any unnecessary medication incredibly hard to get ahold of. Shvaughn has been hiding something for years, she has been taking a medication called “profem” which changes her gender from male to female. Shvaughn was in love with Element Lad from the first holo he ever saw and thought that the way to his heart was to change who he was. So he became a she. Now without her supply of “profem” Shvaughn is turning back into a male, Sean. All of this is revealed to Element Lad who is there to lend moral support to Shavaughn/Sean. Element Lad lets Shavaughn/Sean know that gender was never an issue, what they shared never had anything to do with gender. Shavaughn/Sean asks Element Lad to leave him be, to let him discover who he is now. Which Element Lad does, and here’s where things get a little complicated. Sean runs into a young clone of Element Lad and they share a very nice moment which lets Sean get a little closure, and also acts to offer some comfort to this younger Element Lad for some deaths he caused earlier and lets young Element Lad know that he doesn’t have to bottle up all his feeling, he has people to turn to. The main take away from the story is a message to be yourself. Don't try to change because of what you think someone might think, don't change to please someone, especially if your change is not who you feel you are. As well as, trust in your friends, they can be your family.
When this issue came out there was a lot of controversy surrounding it with the fans. Many were in favor of what had happened and thought it was an interesting stance to take on these characters. Of course there were also quite a few fans outraged that a character that they liked turned out to be gay/trans, and that Element Lad was now confirmed as being bisexual or omnisexual (?). At a time when most stories about gay characters dealt with bigotry or AIDS, the Legion told one almost totally devoid of the homophobia of the time. Element Lad never scoffed, got angry or turned his back on Shavaughn/Sean. Later it’s revealed that Sean still has his job with the Science Police, even becoming their chief before Zero Hour.
As far as I could find, this issue didn’t receive a whole lot of mainstream attention. I think it was due to the fact that the Legion was just holding on to its core fanbase and not really expanding. The 5 Years Later stories while thought provoking, where very divisive. Keith Giffen has stated in interviews what during the books production the creative team was allowed to do just about anything, including blowing up the Earth, because no one was paying attention. So issues like this one flew under the radar. This issue, and the whole run up to Zero Hour told some really grown up stories that feel ahead of their time. So, Long Live the Legion!