Stephanie Brown is 20, and headlines dance across the screen of her phone - “Spoiler: The First Transgender Superhero?”, “Spoiler Alert: All Is Not As It Seems”, “Trans Icon Spoiler Revealed!”
“This is ridiculous. They can’t - they can’t even come up with a good headline!” Tim stares at her from across the table of the diner, a look in his eyes that says he knows full well the humour is just a cover. Like he’s any better.
“You’re allowed to be upset about this, you know.”
“I know!” she says, throwing her arms into the air, “I just...it’s not like they know my identity or anything. I’m not the one getting outed, Spoiler is.”
“And what about the people who know you are Spoiler?”
“You’re what?” Kara asks, brow knitted in confusion. She’d caught the train up to Metropolis to meet her, mostly because she wanted to get away from the pitying looks and the constant press. Outside Gotham her being trans wasn’t even front page news, but the local press hadn’t let go of it all week - one had even managed to corner her on patrol, shouting one poorly thought out question after another as she grappled away.
“I’m trans.” Steph replied. “It means, like… I’m a girl, but people used to think I was a guy? And, I mean, I’m on medicine that makes my body more like how I want it, though not all trans people - uh - it’s complicated?” Steph trailed off as Kara continued to stare blankly back at her, eyes unblinking.
“What’s the difference between a girl and a guy?” Kara asked after a few more seconds of silence.
“Like…” Shit, she said that out loud. “Like, how can you “be” a girl? That would be like… like “being” a bro, right?” Steph was so, so confused. This somehow felt like it was the wrong way round.
“Kara, I have absolutely no clue what you are talking about right now.”
“Ugh! So, when you’re friends with someone, or like sometimes when you’re fighting people? You call them weird words! You know, bud, bro, girl, pal - they’re like nicknames, but for everyone!”
Steph sat in a mixture of shock and amusement, genuinely speechless for one of the first times in her life.
Kara doesn’t know what gender is.
“Hey! Why are you laughing! I swear to god if you don’t explain this to me, I’m gonna fly to
Gotham and laser vision every single -”
Stephanie Brown is 15, and she’s only been Stephanie for about a day. Not to anyone else, of course - she’s Spoiler to Robin, and [REDACTED] to everyone else. But to her, she was Stephanie now.
The name was random, she’d tell people in the future - but, as she’d eventually tell Cass on one quiet winter night, that wasn’t true. Stephanie is their next door neighbour, too. Gotham is a mess right now, still reeling from the death of a Robin and the anger of a Bat, and her life more than ever feels hellish, unnatural - her father abuses her, her mother ignores her, all while she hides the very nature of who she is.
So she runs out into the night, and she pretends for a while. Pretends she can make a difference. Pretends she can be proud of who she is. Pretends it doesn’t hurt.
Stephanie - their next door neighbour, Stephanie - she doesn’t pretend. She goes out to work every morning, comes back every evening, and she smiles - even when she’s clearly tired, even when it rains outside.
Even when she gets caught in the crossfire of one of the Penguin’s latest schemes, and comes home nurturing a wound she can’t afford to get properly checked out. She keeps smiling. She gets home, and she plays music that can just faintly be heard from Steph’s bedroom next door, and she sings to herself - one of the few times Steph gathered up the courage to talk to her, she said she’d always wanted to be a singer.
Steph spent so long admiring her neighbour’s talent at pretending, and it all came crashing down the day she tried to come out to her mum, got overheard by her dad, and landed herself outside the door of the apartment with nothing but the clothes she could pack in her rucksack. Stephanie - their next door neighbour, Stephanie - she helps her up from the floor, she wipes away the tears, she cooks them both a warm meal - and Steph finally finds the guts to ask her how she pretends. How she smiles.
“Gotham is a horrible place, darling, and there’s plenty to be sad about - but I’m not pretending. I smile because when you live in the dark, the only way to fight it is to let yourself be the light.”
She puts on the costume that night, and goes out to find Robin, and when she does, she takes off the mask. She tells him that she’s trans - that she has nowhere else to go - that she trusts him.
That her name is Stephanie.
He grins, and extends a hand, and says “At least you don’t have to deal with wearing a binder on patrol.” And Steph never lacks for home, or love, or family again.
Stephanie Brown is 20, and she wasn’t expecting Batwoman’s help tonight, but she’s hardly going to turn it down. They’re taking down a group of criminals that have set up shop in an abandoned church off Wester Street, just at the edge of Steph’s usual patrol area - and across the city from Batwoman’s.
“Not that I don’t appreciate the help,” Steph manages to get out between knocking heads together and plugging in a USB to the computer system that’s been set up in the corner, “But this isn’t exactly your usual turf?”
“Figured I’d come have a chat with you.” A large man wearing a bowler hat that is far, far too small for him crashes down onto the desk, and through it, slightly crushing the computer beneath.
“Oh, and like, destroy important evidence whilst you’re at it?” She replies to Batwoman, knee colliding with the head of the last conscious lackey in the building.
“I’m sure Oracle can retrieve what you need,” comes the deadpan response. “Listen, I know - I’ve been here, alright. God, it wasn’t even a week after I’d started, the rumours started going round that there was a reason half the crimes I’d stopped were outside gay clubs. Badass chick beating up bigots? It wasn’t exactly a leap.”
Steph froze. She hadn’t - she hadn’t even considered someone else might have been through this. Whose superhero identity gets outed? Well, both of theirs, apparently.
“I’m sorry. That’s - I can’t imagine that that was easy.”
“It got even harder when I let the wrong quip fall out on patrol one night and they stopped being rumours. I know it’s not the same as what you’re dealing with, but - I mean, I swear they copied some of these headlines wholesale from back then.” Steph can’t help but laugh.
“It just doesn’t feel fair, you know? I didn’t choose this, and now there’s headlines and responsibilities and people flooding the web with hateful shit about me, and if I respond wrong I’m evil, and if I don’t respond I’m a coward, and I’m expected to - to somehow represent the entire trans community without taking a step out of line! I don’t care if some asshole on the streets shouts slurs at me when I’m in costume, and I don’t care about having to come out to a couple extra people, but this…”
“I get it. You didn’t ask to be some shining light for trans people everywhere.”
And damn, if that doesn't get her right in the gut. She didn’t ask to be this, she had no clue how to be this, but maybe…
Maybe she should let herself be this.
Cass’s hand is warm on her arm, and her eyes are shining.
That was beautiful, she signs, lifting her hand in the process, and in response Steph slides her arms around her partner’s waist.
“Thankyou.” she replies. “I wasn’t sure at first, but -”
Stephanie. Cass signs her name between them. Steph grins.
The headlines take a lot longer to die down this time, and she’ll be responsible for many more in the years to come - the video she made, posted to a variety of social media accounts, talked about being trans, about being a superhero, about her life and her choices, about her non-binary partner, about lights and responsibilities and why she did what she did.
About her name.
And although many superheroes will come forward in the years to come, although she was never really the first trans superhero to begin with - even though she would eventually join the Justice League, even though she would take more than one new name in her time - Stephanie Brown will keep, in various drawers and boxes, for the rest of her life, her copy of the Gotham Gazette from that day.
“Spoiler Is Trans,” the headline reads, “And She Is Proud.”