Loki (2021) and Gender Fluidity
by Ask Vestergaard
This article contains spoilers.
On the 6th of June 2021, the official promotional account for the recent Disney+ Loki show posted a GIF on Twitter, containing an identity certificate for its titular Asgardian god. The form detailed a few of Loki’s key characteristics: black hair, blue eyes, and, most interestingly, a ‘fluid sex’. The message was clear: rejoice, ye nerds, representation is here, ferried across the rainbow bridge alongside queer-coded villainy and the twelfth first gay Disney character. He’s also bi, by the way. He even hints at it. Once.
Kate Herron, the showrunner of Loki, had previously directed four episodes of Netflix’s Sex Education, a show that has been widely celebrated by queer critics as an example of genuinely good representation. So it ought to have been reassuring when she told Insider that Loki is ‘gender fluid in the Norse mythology and the comics and it felt [important to] make sure it’s canon’. Additionally, both head writer, Mark Waldron, and lead actor, Tom Hiddleston, assured Inverse that the character’s genderfluidity was important, with Waldron saying, ‘I know how many people identify with Loki […] and are eager for that representation’
and Hiddleston mentioning that it was something that he was ‘always aware of when [he] was first cast 10 years ago’.
And yet, despite the insistence of three of the show’s creative leads, Loki goes nowhere with its promise. Sex and gender are not synonymous – genderfluidity is real and describes a person’s shifting gender expression and identity, while ‘sex fluidity’ is fantastical and implies the transformation of someone’s physical sex. That is to say, shapeshifting – which is one of Loki’s powers. The thing is, Loki Courtesy of IMDb is a trickster figure.
The stereotype of trans folk ‘dressing up’ to ‘trick’ people is one that continues to endanger the lives of trans people to this day, and yet the supposedly genderfluid Loki is only ever shown as ‘dressing up’ in order to, well, trick people. Hiddleston’s Loki transforms not as a means of self-expression, but as a means of manipulation.
Instead of writing a little gender euphoria into Loki’s arc, this dangerous subtext is somewhat sidestepped by ensuring that he never once shapeshifts into anything other than another straight white man. He’s totally trans nonbinary. Right?
Except he isn’t. Not even in a tokenistic way. A poorly written script makes certain of that. Sophia di Martino plays Sylvie, a ‘variant’ of Loki from another dimension. And she’s special. In the show’s fifth episode, when Hiddleston’s Loki encounters several other variants of himself, one of them tells him that he’s ‘different’. But he insists that he isn’t. He’s ‘the same’, he says, before asking, ‘Have any of you ever met a woman variant of us?’ To which another Loki responds, ‘… sounds terrifying’.
Sylvie’s different. Because, you see, Sylvie’s a woman. Something that the genderfluid shapeshifting god of mischief could never be. And thus, like an immovable object and an unstoppable force, Liberal Feminism and Rainbow Capitalism collide, and the result is… two more cis people.