I knew that Stan Lee’s death would happen eventually, but it doesn’t make it any less devastating.

Many people will write about Stan Lee’s outsized impact on the comic book world. As the editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics, he co-created such classic characters as Spider-Man, The Hulk, Iron Man, and the X-Men. But through these beloved characters, he also made it okay for us to feel different. As a transgender woman, I can’t thank him enough.

Even though Stan Lee never created a transgender character or superhero, his creations led me to believe that no matter how different I feel, it’s still okay.

I grew up as a closeted trans girl in the 1990s and didn’t have any role models whom I could point to and say, hey, that’s me. I didn’t have the role model who gave me the courage to live my life authentically. I had to look for inspiration where I could, and ultimately, I found that in the comic book world.

While I love Captain America and The Avengers, I keep going back to the many X-Men comics over the years. In an interview with the Television Academy in 2004, Lee spoke about creating the X-Men, saying, “I couldn’t have everybody bitten by a radioactive spider or exposed to a gamma ray explosion. And I took the cowardly way out. I said to myself, ‘Why don’t I just say they’re mutants? They were born that way.’”

While he may have seen it as cowardly, Lee would forever shape history with this decision. He could have caused their powers to happen by any other way, but he didn’t. For that, I am forever grateful.

danielle solzman stan lee
The author with Stan Lee at the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo in 2017.

What he did was create characters who were born that way. It’s no different than those of us who are LGBTQ. Our gender identities and sexual orientations are not a choice. I didn’t have any choice in being a straight transgender woman. Just as Logan didn’t get to choose to have animal-keen sense, enhanced power capabilities, a healing factor, and retractable claws, I was born this way, along with all the struggles that come with it.

The X-Men are mutants, but many of them were not given birth to by other mutants. It’s no different than those of us in the LGBTQ community. While some of us do have parents who are LGBTQ, more often than not, we’re the product of a cis-het relationship and have to deal with our own families not understanding where we’re coming from.

It’s the battle for mutant rights that many of us in the LGBTQ community likely resonate with. I know I do.

As a writer and comics lover, I hope to one day create my own transgender superhero. If not for the world that Stan Lee opened up to so many people, this dream might have never existed. But it does. Thank you, Stan.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is a film critic and writes about TV and Film at Solzy at the Movies.