Some people become super heroes after being bitten by radio-active spiders, some are struck with dark matter powered lightning and while others were born this way. No matter how you acquire your superpowers, having and living with these extraordinary abilities can be quite overwhelming. Navigating this emotional minefield therefore forms a part of every hero’s journey. Nia Nal is no different.
The shy news reporter who is afraid of competition and avoids confrontation, is secretly an alien blessed with the ability to have dreams; cryptic, often dark, visions of the future, visions she can’t quite interpret or understand. She is also a transgender woman who has inherited a superpower that is passed from mother to daughter and only one woman in each generation inherits the ‘gift’. She feels terribly guilty about having the ability as her sister Maeve is the one everyone expected to inherit it from their mother Isabel. In fact, Maeve has been studying to interpret dreams and preparing to receive the ‘gift’ her whole life. But it is Nia who has the power and she isn’t even sure if she wants it!
Yep, being Nia Nal a.k.a The Dreamer is not easy, but CW’s Supergirl showcases her challenges and journey in a manner that makes her a relatable and inspiring superhero. It is established early on that Nia is compassionate and brave. She is also open about being a transgender woman and shares her truth with her friends and colleagues, first with her editor in chief James Olsen and later with Kara Danvers, inspiring her in turn to share her secret (that she is Supergirl) with Nia in Season 4 Episode 11 titled Blood Memory, where both of them are coming to terms with sister issues.
Kara’s sister Alex has had her memory wiped by J’onn J’onzz to prevent her from disclosing Supergirl’s true identity to anyone. In the process she has become distant from Supergirl even as she remains a loving sister to Kara.
On the drive to Nia’s hometown of Parthas for the annual Harvest Festival with Kara at the wheel, Nia falls asleep and has a dream about her mother drinking a dark liquid from a cup and dying. When they reach Parthas, Nia discovers that Maeve is disappointed that her powers have not manifested yet. Nia therefore feels a bit guilty for having been blessed with what was her sister’s lifelong dream and doesn’t quite know how to break it to the family. In fact, she hopes to find a way to transfer her powers to her sister.
Meanwhile, Nia spots a cup with a dark liquid at the family’s home, just like the one she saw in her dream. She destroys it hoping to avert her mother’s death by poisoning. But Isabel dies of a spider bite soon after and Nia discovers that she had interpreted her dream incorrectly. While she was right about her mother dying of poisoning, it was spider venom that is toxic to people from her planet that killed her. She wonders if she even deserves the gift. Had her sister Maeve had the dream, she might have been able to interpret it correctly as she has been educating herself in preparation for the ‘gift’ her whole life. She wonders if Maeve could have saved their mother.
Soon she has another vision of Maeve being attacked at their mother’s funeral and pushes her sister out of the way just in time to save her life. Maeve realises Nia must have had the ‘gift’ in order to know exactly what was about to happen and when. She is devastated to find that it is actually Nia, and not her, who has inherited the dreaming ability. Wondering how could Nia have the powers, in a fit of a rage Maeve calls Nia “not even a real woman”!
This is the most heartbreaking moment, because Maeve had been hugely supportive of Nia’s transition. Also, the fact that Nia has inherited an ability that can only be inherited by a woman should settle the debate about her gender in the most definitive way!
This one moment, one emotional outburst, stirs the hornet’s nest about what it means to be a “real woman”, a painful question about gender identity that is often flung in the face of transgender women. In fact several well know feminist have been known to exclude trans-women from the feminist discourse by questioning their ‘womanhood’. It is about time we acknowledge that trans-women are women. It is time we made feminism trans-inclusive because the sisterhood is about all sisters; cis-gender, heterosexual, transgender, homosexual, bisexual, asexual, able-bodied and disabled, black, white and brown sisters… every one!
Nia Nal, television’s first transgender super hero is played by transgender activist Nicole Maines who brings freshness, vulnerability and depth to a multi-layered Nia. This decision to caste an actual transgender person to play a transgender character is something we hope inspires other production houses to follow suit instead of just hiring cis-gender people to play transgender characters.
*Feature Image courtesy Supergirl CW