Gwen Stacy in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”: A Spectacular LGBTQIA+ Allegory

Issue 20: November 8, 2023

“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” continues to captivate audiences with its fantastic storytelling, visually superior animation, spectacular character arcs, menacing villains, and some friendly neighborhood tunes in both the orchestral soundtrack as well as the album featuring Metro Boomin, among others. Among the standout characters in the film is Gwen Stacy, who has swung her way into a Co-Lead role with Miles Morales. Today, we discuss Gwen Stacy’s plotline in the movie and how it relates to the broader LGBTQIA+ struggle for acceptance and identity.

“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” cold opens with Gwen Stacy, also known as Spider-Woman, voiced by Hailee Steinfeld; she is not only a skilled and determined hero but also a highly dimensional (No pun intended, but I am absolutely not going to say no to a good Spider-Man pun) character who struggles with her past, and her inability to deal with her double life causes disastrous consequences. Spoilers for the movie are below!

In the cold open, Gwen gives us a quick recap of the first movie before we quickly segue to her roaming NYC monologuing about how she lost her universe’s Peter Parker and how her father is convinced Spider-Woman is responsible. Gwen’s emotions are displayed through stunning watercolor visuals that change depending on her feelings; notably, when she zips to her father for a hug after a brief argument about Spider-Woman, her hair changes from a depressive blue to its natural blonde.

Later, Gwen fights off a rogue Vulture in an art gallery and runs out of webs during the battle. Captain Stacy finds her and readies his weapon, so in a moment of vulnerability, Gwen finally elects to unmask herself to her father. He is taken aback but ultimately decides to continue the arrest before he is knocked away by Miguel O’Hara, aka Spider-Man 2099. Gwen then leaves her universe to join a group of Spider-People like her.

Then, at the end of the film, Gwen is returned against her will to her universe and forced to confront her father; she gives him a powerful speech about how all she ever tried to do was wear the mask the way her father would have wanted her to. Her father’s reaction is extreme; he recognizes he failed her the last time she tried to be vulnerable and realizes nothing is more important than his daughter. So, sensing his dichotomy of duties between his family and his job, he makes the right choice and quits his job as captain on the spot (once again, no pun intended, but I am not sorry). Gwen and her father then embrace, except this time, Gwen uses her webs to pull her father to her before she sets out to help save her friend and the multiverse. Her hair also changes back to blonde again, but it’s on her terms this time.

The allegory goes as follows: Gwen’s secret identity is a stand-in for being LGBTQIA+, and her father is representative of the parents who don’t accept their children, which leads to a feeling of intense betrayal. The other Spider-People are the welcoming arms of the broader LGBTQIA+ community, who sometimes only have each other to turn to. Miguel O’Hara is representative of the toxic minority of that community that seeks to take advantage and manipulate people who are looking for a meaningful connection. Hobie Brown and Jessica Drew are the older LGBTQIA+ individuals who fought hard so that newer generations could be safer and happier.

If any of that sounds far-fetched or hard to believe, the creators snuck in a small “protect trans kids” flag in Gwen’s room. Additionally, Gwen’s costume’s primary colors are white, pink, and bright blue, the same as the transgender pride flag. These facts have led some fans to speculate that this new version of Gwen may be transgender herself. There, of course, is some pushback to this. Still, personally, this movie is about multiversal travel, which to me is much more far-fetched than a lead maybe being transgender and only allows the inspiring message of Spider-Man to reach more people.

Spider-Man is, was, and always will be an allegory for many things, but in this film, the connection to the LGBTQIA+ community is clear, intentional by part of the creators or not. Gwen’s journey resonates with those who have faced challenges in embracing their true selves and reminds them that they, too, can be heroes in their own stories, just like Gwen. The film’s message of acceptance and self-discovery can inspire and uplift audiences of all backgrounds, making it a significant contribution to the ongoing conversation about LGBTQIA+ representation in media. After all, in the words of Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, “Anyone can wear the mask.”