When the Y: The Last Man comic series originally hit stands back in 2002, mainstream media wasn’t having nuanced, trans-inclusive conversations about gender identity. In the first issue, protagonist Yorick Brown is introduced as the only man to survive a worldwide event where a plague almost instantly kills every living mammal with a Y chromosome.
A lot has changed in the almost two decades since readers first picked up Y: The Last Man, and the long-in-development television adaptation, airing now via FX on Hulu, reflects that. The TV version features a number of additions to the original comic, including an entire plot set in the Pentagon and a new character, Sam, a transgender man played by trans actor Elliot Fletcher (Faking It, The Fosters). In fact, discussions around gender, chromosomes, and being trans come up repeatedly in Season 1, something that was a top priority for showrunner Eliza Clark (Extant, Animal Kingdom).
Clark spoke with Logo about updating the story of Y: The Last Man to reflect the world we live in, including trans representation, and how the show is ultimately about “escaping binaries” the world has built.
Hi, Eliza! I’m loving the series, and the changes you made to the original comic. How soon into developing the series did you think it was important for trans people to be represented, and to have that point of view of the world post-event?
Well, I would say that it was central to my pitch to be hired for the adaptation. I’ve also loved the book for 10 years, and I have always wanted it to be a TV show. But, at the same time, when I heard that it was available, I had the question of how would you do this now in this world? Because I think I wouldn’t want to make anything that equated chromosomes to destiny. I don’t want to make anything that has an essentialist view of gender. But I also felt like one of the things I liked best about the book is that it’s really about how human beings desire to put labels on things and to put things into binaries, and examining all the ways in which oppressive systems inform our identities. So, I feel like it’s logical in the world of Y: The Last Man to also break down gender binaries and that kind of thinking. Because ultimately the truth is… and the science supports it, too, is the world is so much more interesting and varied. And chromosomes aren’t people’s gender. Getting to play in a landscape that really examines the sort of broad spectrum of humanity is way more interesting to me.
I like that scene in the fifth episode where Dr. Mann says that not everyone with a Y chromosome is a man and explains why. It could have been a throwaway line to explain what happened with trans people with the event, and instead, you made one of the main characters, Sam, trans. What was the genesis of Sam?
Sam was one of the first characters that I felt was necessary [to add] to the adaptation. He is a really interesting character for lots of reasons, beyond the fact that he’s a visible man in this world and that is uncomfortable or sometimes dangerous. Just the same way it is with Yorick, he also is an artist in a world where he’s wondering if art exists anymore. And his trajectory is very exciting to me. But the scene you’re talking about in Episode 5 is maybe my favorite scene in the first season, in part because I think it’s so important. It’s an opportunity, having a scientist who can actually speak to the science of sex and gender and chromosomes. And basically what she’s saying is, “Don’t take a myopic kind of small view of what we’re trying to do here. This is way bigger than the idea of bringing back cisgender men.” It is tragic that everyone with a Y chromosome dies and it’s not… [comic creators] Brian K. Vaughn and Pia Guerra, they weren’t interested in making a show that was about like, “Men are from Mars and women are from Venus.” And I’m certainly not interested in that. The people in this world and in this show are hopefully really well-drawn, three-dimensional characters who have so much more to who they are than their gender.
Did that scene with Dr. Mann come from conversations that the writers were having among themselves?
We had a lot of experts come and talk to us at the beginning of the year about lots of different things, including escape artistry [laughs]. We met with GLAAD, and we had this really amazing conversation where Nick Adams from GLAAD gave us a kind of primer on all of that really exciting, interesting stuff that’s in that monologue. So, the seed of it was from this conversation we had with him that we found so fascinating and exciting. But I will say that every single person in the writers’ room from the very beginning was about bringing the story that we all loved into the world we’re living in now, and wanting to recognize the diversity of gender.
Elliot Fletcher has said, “In this world, post-event, gender is somewhat irrelevant.” In the comic, Yorick has his gas mask on all the time, but then on the show, he has it off fairly often. And I’m watching thinking, no, put your mask back on! But then I remember they think he’s trans. So, when did you have that moment of oh, Yorick could take off his mask because people just think he’s trans?
Well, we thought it was really interesting for both Sam and Yorick, and for the other transmasculine people or men in this world. So, both Sam and Yorick are wearing a mask at the very beginning of the season. And then, depending on where you are and who you’re with, your gender is either incredibly important or not at all. So, the book is all about the worlds that you travel in and the different kinds of communities that form and the rules they have, is completely dependent on where you are or sort of whether or not Yorick has to wear the mask. Or whether or not Sam has to hide.
Yeah, you told Variety, “Yorick’s maleness is not what sets him apart in the world, it’s his Y chromosome.” Gender is diverse, and I think that this show will make people question things in a good way. I don’t think people would expect that from this sci-fi, post-apocalyptic type series, but then [executive producer] Nina Jacobson was saying how the team was excited to “blow up the binary.” So, what does blowing up the binary mean?
Okay, so for example, when we made the main title sequence I interviewed a bunch of different places that make these main titles. And one of the things I said was I think the show is about escaping the binary, and that’s sort of the idea behind our main title sequence. It’s interesting because people have this idea of gender that really is scientifically inaccurate and just so narrow. The show, in general, is about escaping binaries. I’ve talked about this a little bit, but for me, the whole first season and the show generally is about identity. It’s about who we were before and who we can become, and asking questions about, what does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman? What does it mean to be a person? And also asking questions about the systems that conspire to inform identity in ways we don’t even know about.
So, capitalism and white supremacy and patriarchy and cis-heteronormativity and all of that, all of those systems, are the air that we breathe. We don’t even realize the ways they’ve been ingrained in us. And white women uphold white supremacy. It’s not as easy as oh, the world no longer has cisgender men and everything is perfect, because I think the truth is there are lots of ways in which we have been socialized and taught about ourselves that we probably should be freed from. So much of the first season is about watching these characters, and some of them cling to the things they know. If you’ve seen it, Amber Tamblyn’s character, Kimberly, is obsessed with a binary idea. She talks about bringing men back, even though there are plenty of men in this world. Her entire life is tied to patriarchy. And that’s where her power comes from: her proximity to men. She is desperate to bring it back. But there are other characters who are discovering the things that they thought were them, but really weren’t and are letting go of the trappings of their old life and becoming something different. So escaping the binary is about gender, but it’s about everything. It’s about the ways that human beings are labelers and meaning-makers. We like to categorize, and sometimes we do that to the detriment of our happiness.
Y: The Last Man Season 1 is streaming now on Hulu, with new episodes airing on Mondays.