Growing up a nerdy, Latinx, closeted kid in the '90s meant I didn’t see a lot of myself in characters on TV, in movies or even in the comics or books that I read.
Growing up in the suburbs of New Jersey, when that I’d tell people I was Puerto Rican, it was often met with surprise. “You don’t look it!” they'd blurt out, to which my grandma would often say, “What? Are we supposed to have two heads?”
I never quite fit in. Even when I met other Latinx kids in middle school, they asked me why I acted “so white” (aka was a big nerd).
So, I very much looked to pop culture to try to see myself. And while I found characters to relate to, almost none of them were Latinx or queer. But I still found these characters to be different and to be othered, and that alone was enough for them to become icons to me. They were unapologetically femme in a world where that was normally looked down on. I looked for strength in these underestimated characters. In characters that, even in their sci-fi or supernatural world, were still not at an advantage. And no I’m not just talking about the entire cast of the X-Men Animated Series (but we’ll get there).
All these women were fairly unapologetically themselves and all fairly badass in their own way. They made me feel seen and empowered, which meant a lot to this nerdy babygay.
Lydia Deetz from Beetlejuice
“My whole life is a dark room. One big dark room.”
Before I ever found a home at my local mall’s Hot Topic, there was Lydia Deetz. Lydia is important as one of the first leading ladies in a movie in which goth style and more somber attitude weren’t considered a negative. Lydia wore a lot of black, had cool hair, was interested in the supernatural, felt isolated from her overly cheery family, and was really into photography—all things that made her “cool” to my babygay self (and tbf all things that still make her cool to my adult self).
Lydia was important for many reasons, but especially for being a complete outcast amongst her family and peers, but never being afraid to be herself—even if she has to befriend a few ghosts and vanquish a…whatever Beetlejuice is along the way.
Jubilee from the X-Men animated series
“Does a mall babe eat chili fries?”
The X-Men animated series was really important to me and many many other kids from the '90s. It’s what spurred my love of all things X-Men, and what made me fall in love with badass ladies from comic books.
Jubilee was my first love though, because in 1993, when the cartoon debuted with the two-part "Night of the Sentinels," it revolved around a young Jubilee encountering the X-Men at, duh, the local mall. Jubilee was then adopted by this chosen family full of diverse characters and really badass women. She also got to be Wolverine’s sidekick. She was also the epitome of the '90s in her bright yellow coat, jean shorts, pink sunglasses, and sassy attitude.
I felt a kinship with this young girl — we were close in age, had vaguely similar style, and I too wanted to be adopted by the X-Men at my young age of however old I was in 1993.
Nancy Downs from The Craft
“We are the weirdos, mister.”
It wasn’t often I loved a villain... but then my mother banned me from seeing The Craft in middle school when it came out.
My not-even-religious Puerto Rican mother had been told it contained stuff about “devil worshipping” from a cousin. So, of course, I rented it from Blockbuster Video as soon as it was available and loved it. Nancy got revenge and then some on her bullies and abusive stepfather. She also had some iconic '90s looks. J.K. Rowling was shook (and maybe a little inspired).
Batgirl from the '60s Batman
“Perhaps you’d include Batgirl too.”
A perk from staying home from school as a kid (aside from the whole no school thing) was getting to catch reruns of the old super-camp '60s Batman show. The show featured very few women, so to have one who could fight alongside Batman and Robin was a pretty big deal. Aside from crushing on Robin in his speedo tights, my other love was Batgirl. Her outfit was so high femme and camp and honestly was custom-made for a drag queen. I’d closely watch the credits every time to see if they had Batgirl in the opening and if they did, I was always extra excited.
She fought evil in heels and purple tights — what more do you need for a queer icon?
Deanna Troi from Star Trek: The Next Generation
"Respect is earned, not bestowed."
Counselor Deanna Troi was the costume change stunt queen of Star Trek. I mean, with a drag queen-esque mother like Ambassador Lwaxana Troi, who could blame her?
Troi was one of the few women heavily featured in the series — and she was a trusted confidant of Captain Picard. She was also in a love triangle with two of the hottest dudes aboard the Enterprise, Worf and Riker. Troi didn’t sacrifice her femininity to serve in Starfleet, which was really important for me as a babygay (and, no doubt, for lots of young gays and girls).
Princess Leia from Star Wars
“Aren't you a little short for a Stormtrooper?”
Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan was one of the first sassy sci-fi female characters who didn’t need saving. The first movie revolved around the men coming to save her, and she rolled her eyes through most of her own rescue. She was also a character who grew up with the series — going from princess to general.
Leia very quickly became the beloved matriarch of Star Wars. Being the only leading lady of the original trilogy, she immediately stuck out to me as a young gay kid; a woman in a sea of men, and she had zero time for their bulls**t. I used her action figure to boss around my G.I. Joes and secretly wanted to be her for Halloween.
Leia’s looks were iconic and her insults even more so. This is mostly thanks to the queer icon that portrayed her, the beloved Carrie Fisher.
Storm from the X-Men animated series
“Storm, Mistress of the Elements commands you to release that child!”
Ororo Munroe is an icon and a legend. She is arguably one of the most well-known X-Men, after Wolverine. She has been played by two different actors on the big screen and has been in every X-Men cartoon. She could change her outfits using bolts of lightning. She loved a dramatic monologue. Her voice was commanding. She was every nerdy closeted queer kid's icon.
Her action figure always came with a flair for drama as well (light up chest, huge hair, heels). She was the commanding queen I wanted to be as a kid.
Buffy Summers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
"That was then...this is now."
Buffy Summers moved to Sunnydale after being the reigning prom queen of her former high school and was immediately made an outcast. She was made fun of by Cordelia, had to hide her true self from her mom, and fell in love with all the wrong boys. Her fashion choices were, however, always iconic — the fashion is as much a part of the show as the setting. The same episode where Buffy comes out to her mother and is promptly kicked out of her house — she fights her evil ex to the death... and then leaves town.
What closeted gay kid couldn’t relate to someone not being accepted by a parent? I wanted to look that good fighting evil and also have cute undead guys throwing themselves at me left and right.
Wednesday Addams from The Addams Family and Addams Family Values
“Are they made from real Girl Scouts?”
Not unlike Lydia Deetz, Wednesday Addams was an unapologetic goth kid who didn’t care how much she stood out. She was annoyed by the boringness of her classmates. She put on a very (very) bloody play in front of her entire school, alongside her brother Pugsley. Her family was also full mall goth — they loved all things dark and supernatural. She was an outcast by societal norms, but her family loved her and accepted her... and were just like her.
Wednesday would continue her icon-ness in the sequel movie, Addams Family Values, where the movie climaxes with her getting revenge on the annoying kids at her camp that forced her to smile.
Catwoman from Batman Returns
“Life's a bitch, now so am I.”
Almost every take on Catwoman is fairly iconic (but let’s not talk about the Catwoman movie). The Catwoman in Batman Returns had no time for Batman’s heroics, but also made a pass at him nearly every chance she got. As Selina Kyle, Catwoman is shy and nerdy — until her boss throws her out a window and she gets... cat powers (or something).
She then gets a total makeover and a new lease on life. She takes revenge on the terrible men of Gotham and has no issue crushing anyone who gets in her way. It’s the best kind of coming out story — one full of revenge. She was also one of the first female action figures I ever owned, and boy did I play with it until all the paint on her face wore off.
Cordelia Chase from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
“See, in the end, Buffy's just the runner-up. I'm the Queen.”
Cordelia Chase was the iconic mean girls of '90s geekdom. Her fashion was killer, her choice in men questionable, and her take-no-s**t attitude was one to aspire to. Cordelia was the queen of Sunnydale High, but in the world of the show — she wasn’t special. She had no powers, but she didn’t care.
There was never a time she was intimidated by Buffy or any of the superpowered Scoobies. She went on to arguably have one of the best arcs across any two TV shows when she moved to Angel. A mean-girl-turned-hero-turned-higher-power — something a youg gay kid could aspire to be.
Chun-Li from Street Fighter
"I'm the strongest woman in the world."
Stumbling upon Street Fighter II at an arcade in Disney World, I marveled at how hot Ken and Ryu were — but then immediately fell in love with Chun-Li. Chun-Li was most definite othered in a video game full of muscle men and mostly boring outfits.
Chun-Li wore a dress, had a cute hairstyle, and, as long as you learned her special moves, could kick the crap out of any of the men in the game. Her winning move was also to jump up and down, smile, laugh, and give the peace sign. She was also an Interpol agent out to defeat M. Bison for murdering her father — Chun-Li most definitely brought the drama. As a young gay kid, I related to her sticking out amongst her peers and her unapologetic femme-ness.
Rogue from the X-Men animated series
“You look nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.”
Rogue’s backstory even felt queer — her first kiss turned her into an outcast. She covered up her feelings of isolation with extreme sass. Rogue also rocked knee-high yellow boots, had '80s rockstar hair, and wore a cool jacket. Rogue was the strongest member of the team — she could punch directly through a Sentinel. She went head-to-head with Gladiator during the Dark Phoenix Saga. She was unconventional, angsty, and sassy as hell.
A true icon.