Author Rachel Pollack, a transgender activist who created the first trans superhero in a mainstream comic book, died Friday at age 77.
Pollack had been suffering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer that attacks the lymphatic system, The Guardian reports.
Her wife, Judith Zoe Matoff, reported her death via Facebook, and their friend Neil Gaiman shared the post on Twitter. “Rachel will continue to be a Light in this world and in the next,” Matoff wrote. “She will continue to inspire so many of our beloved Tarot community, the Science Fiction and Fantasy community, the Comics community, and the Transgender community for whom she shared so much respect and care.”
Pollack, an acclaimed author of science fiction and fantasy stories as well as an expert on tarot, created trans superhero Kate Godwin, a.k.a. Coagula, for the Doom Patrol comic in the 1990s. Iconic writer Grant Morrison had preceded her on the series.
“It was very hard for anyone to follow Grant Morrison in writing a series, and I think it’s only recently that Rachel’s work on Doom Patrol has been reassessed and seen as genuinely ahead of its time, and it’s about time too,” Gaiman, himself a well-known author, told The Guardian. He had visited Pollack and Matoff at their home in Rhinebeck, N.Y., toward the end of Pollack’s life.
She was one of the earliest trans activists, having undergone gender-affirming procedures in her early 20s. She was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., but moved to England when she transitioned and began speaking out for trans rights there.
As part of a trans group affiliated with the Gay Liberation Front, she coauthored a manifesto in the organization’s newsletter. “There are many questions we are just beginning to examine,” the manifesto read in part. "Why is [drag performer] Danny La Rue a West End institution, when we get kicked out of our flats for wearing a skirt? Apparently it’s all right if you’re doing it for money, but perverted if you do it for personal satisfaction.”
“Rachel was a crystallizing force in the trans movement and so many other areas,” writer and activist Roz Kaveney, who also worked on the manifesto, told The Guardian. “She was perpetually an inspirational figure and was one of the first professional trans writers who had a career while out and proved that it was possible to do that.”
Pollack wrote four novels and seven collections of short fiction. Her novel Unquenchable Fire won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction in 1989. “Rachel was a beloved writer of fantasy, but I prefer to describe her as a magical realist,” Gaiman said. “She wrote these wonderful books of heightened reality and magical worlds where she would concretize metaphor.”
Pollack was also “the greatest living authority on the tarot,” another friend, writer and historian Morgan M. Page, told The Guardian. Her book Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom is “the basis of all modern tarot interpretation,” Page said. Pollack “brought in psychoanalytical ideas, Jungian readings of the tarot,” taking it beyond fortune telling, Page added, and designed tarot decks. She was a supporter of the women’s spirituality movement and advocated for it to include trans women.
Gaiman noted that he and Pollack bonded over their shared Jewishness, among other things. She had her own version of a line from an Orthodox Jewish prayer in which men say, “Thank you, God, for not making me a woman.”
“I remember her telling me that after she came to following her surgery she said, ‘Blessed to you, God, for not making me a woman, but thrice-blessed to the doctor who did,’” Gaiman said.