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How X-Men Taught This NYC Firefighter to Embrace Her Transness

Woman on Fire
Photography: Alex Cayley

Brooke Guinan, the subject of Julie Sokolow's doc, Woman on Fire, reflects on coming out & creating a world where heroes overpower villains. 

I can still remember being a kid and staring in the mirror literally talking to myself trying to figure out some way to say two simple words: "I'm gay." Now those words seem like the simplest to say. Those words are no longer true, but only because the words got harder to find and as I found them they seemed to fit less and less. Queer theorist Judith Butler talks about language and how our reality is limited by the words that we have to define everything. Therefore in a world that is ultimately defined by male and female, I never quite felt that there were adequate words for my existence. It wasn't until I was 23 years old that I would find words that seemed to actually define who I was. For the record, "I'm trans" wasn't any easier to say.

Aside from spending the majority of my life coming out in various forms, I have also been a lifelong lover of superheroes. It started with Saturday morning cartoons and Batman: The Animated Series every day after school. But after my grandparents bought me a comic pack including the Mutant Genesis arc of the X-Men, my fate as a mutant lover was sealed. I had never before found such closeness and inspiration in fictional characters. When I would eventually come out as a trans woman in my twenties, I would often say that I wanted to be like Rogue, the sexy, butch, southern, super strong heartbreaker with an inability to make skin-to-skin contact with others. However, more often than not, I would find myself using the hairy, grotesque, animalistic, and aptly named character of the Beast to more accurately convey how I actually felt about my body. In reality, I was probably most like Mystique, a shapeshifter.


I found myself in a world where I would constantly need to define who I was for others or more simply "come out." Being trans felt a lot like being a mutant to me. Sure, there were times when I would stand out for how I looked because I was a little too big and tall to be a woman. However, I was far too effeminate to be a man as my clothes and mannerisms were decidedly more female than male. For the most part I think I blended-in unless someone were to look twice or stare a bit too long. Like a good deal of the X-Men, I appeared to be "normal" unless I chose to reveal my powers of fucking with the gender binary.

Luckily, the X-Men taught me a great many things. They taught me about community--the power that exists in finding others who can be outsiders in their own world but who just might wind up feeling more like family to other outsiders. They taught me about the pride in standing up for one's self and being a leader in a world incapable of completely understanding someone who exists outside of the comfort of societal norms. The X-Men fight to save people in a world that largely hates and fears them. I may not have known any other queer people growing up, but I think I was lucky to have fictional friends who taught me about the importance of being authentic and honest about who you are--not just honest to one's self, to whom coming out can be the most difficult, but authentic in a world that needs more truth and courage.

Today, I celebrate all the superheroes out there living their lives boldly in a world desperately in need of heroes. I also celebrate and encourage those who are still struggling to leave behind their secret identities because it's not always easy being different. Hopefully, together we can make the world a place where heroes reign supreme and villains better beware.

Woman on Fire, directed by Julie Sokolow, is now available on iTunes, Amazon Instant, Google Play, and VUDU. For more information, visit

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Brooke Guinan