There’s a popular theory about the hit movie Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse that’s been bumping around the internet: is Gwen Stacy, aka Spider-Woman, aka Ghost Spider, aka Spider-Gwen… Transgender? And the answer, I’m here to tell you, is yes, Gwen Stacy is trans. If you want her to be.
Before we get into esoteric meditations on the nature of art (don’t worry, you art fiends, we’re getting there) a brief breakdown of what this theory is all about; and spoilers past this point. In the first movie, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, we relatively briefly met Gwen Stacy (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld). She’s a multiversal variant of Spider-Man from a universe where Peter Parker died and Gwen Stacy — who usually dies having her neck snapped during a showdown with villain the Green Goblin — lived and continued on with the mantle of Spider-Woman.
In that first film, all we really found out about Gwen was that she was a dancer, the aforementioned origin, and that she bonded strongly with Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore). In the sequel, that all changes; and in fact, Gwen is given an enormous spotlight right from the beginning of the movie. Her overall arc is that she’s been blamed for the death of Peter, so her own father, Captain Stacy (Shea Whigham), is trying to arrest her. Once Gwen reveals herself to her dad after a confrontation with villain The Vulture, he still tries to arrest her. Instead, she runs away to join a multiversal team known as the Spider Society.
Months later, she finally returns to visit her father after she’s been rejected by the Spider Society, and doubles down on that she won’t give up being who she is. So instead of arresting her, he quits the police force. They hug, and she goes to start a team of her own, leading into one of the movie’s many cliffhangers.
So that’s the plot; but why do people think Gwen is trans? There’s a pretty prominent “Protect Trans Kids” sticker on the wall of her bedroom, which is nice but more evidence that the filmmakers want to laudably highlight the message. Gwen also wears a trans flag on her jacket at one point, which also indicates that she could be trans, or could be an ally.
But the biggest piece of evidence is that the colors in Gwen’s dimension are the colors of the trans flag. Each dimension has its own base color scheme (to wit: Earth 42, a dimension where Miles has become villain The Prowler, is suffused in the purple of The Prowler’s costume), and though Gwen’s shifts and changes like a mood ring based on her emotions, it all defaults to the trans flag colors.
And then there’s the emotional thrust of her arc, which has her “coming out” to her father, him rejecting her, her running away, and then finally accepting her identity. In fact, in that final scene, Captain Stacy is wearing a white shirt, pink tie, and black pants… Not trans colors, but the colors of Spider-Gwen’s costume, showing he’s mentally aligned with his daughter.
What all this adds up to is that Gwen definitely could be trans, and it’s something the filmmakers could either confirm (or deny) externally; or confirm (or deny, though that’s less likely) on screen in next year’s threequel Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse.
But frankly, it doesn’t matter what they say, because as we noted above: Gwen is trans if you want her to be trans.
I threatened earlier to delve into the nature of art, and Across the Spider-Verse even riffs on its own nature as pop art early in the movie. But inarguably, it is art. This movie is art. And art is up to interpretation. That’s the beauty of it. There’s no right or wrong… There’s the artist’s intention, which is either explicated verbally or implied subtly. And then there’s how the viewer, reader, however you’re interacting with the art, interprets it. In this case, if you interpret Gwen Stacy as trans, she is trans. If you don’t, that’s okay too. Both takes are equally valid, and neither invalidates the other. And in fact, whether you believe Gwen Stacy is trans, or you don’t, it doesn’t change the plot of the movie or the character, merely how you — the viewer — interact with the movie.
This, since the very beginning of the superhero, has been the power of these stories, their ability to channel emotions and concepts through the lens of sci-fi and fantasy. Though it’s been present since their inception, superheroes have in more modern times been used as a catch-all for “other,” meaning people in more marginalized groups. That’s partly because comics have often become the emotional salvage point for those who are othered, but also because those superheroes and their stories work as such great metaphors. The most famous example is the X-Men, who have been used as stand-ins for everything from LGBTQ+ experiences to African-American experiences and beyond. Spider-Man is another character who has always embraced an outsider status… Even in the Marvel Universe, where he’s saved the world multiple times, he’s still treated as a joke and generally dismissed by the other heroes.
Across the Spider-Verse (and Into the Spider-Verse, though to a lesser extent) leans into this trope by digging down on what makes each version of Spider-Man feel othered. For Miles, we get a pretty pointed critique of how the character was treated in the real world when Marvel Comics introduced him. For the movie’s break-out character Spider-Punk (voiced by Daniel Kaluuya), he embraces his otherness and celebrates it; that’s the whole point of Punk, after all.
And for Gwen, there’s the general idea that she’s lonely, she is looking for her group, her people. She finds that by the end of the movie with a group of Spider-People who are the weirdos and outcasts. So on that level, we’ve all been lonely, so we can all understand Gwen’s emotional arc regardless of our broader experiences. But dig even two inches deeper and you can see how well Gwen’s arc maps over the experience of trans coming out, down to finding comfort in the clothes you wear. Here, it’s a superhero costume. In the real world, it’s the clothes that perhaps don’t conform to your assigned gender.
Naturally, conservative outlets are running with this theory as an attack on their values, while ignoring that allowing viewers to interpret Gwen Stacy as a trans character takes nothing away from whatever their interpretation is (I’m assuming it’s “Spider-Man is a metaphor for a man with spider powers”?)… And in fact ignores the very surface lesson of Gwen’s arc in the movie: acceptance, even if there’s a lack of understanding. That’s what Captain Stacy goes through at the end, where you can see him struggling to wrap his brain around what his daughter is, and what she’s going through. He doesn’t get it by the time she leaves through a dimensional portal; but he’s going to try, and that’s what counts.
It’s unfortunate, to say the least, that this beautifully nuanced take on what could be seen as a trans superhero is starting to be used as a cornerstone in the ongoing, dangerous cultural war on trans children. It’s framed and presented as something you can take or leave, but given how meticulously every aspect of Across The Spider-Verse was created it’s also impossible to think allowing for a trans interpretation of Gwen wasn’t discussed at some point in the process. So if you do want to see Gwen as trans? See Gwen as trans. Allow her positive and hopeful journey to inform your experience, instead of the bile of bigots. They’re the villains. Be a hero.