In this day and age, we're seeing more LGBT characters than ever across adult and even children's cartoons. These characters are usually portrayed quite sensitively and positively, but even as recent as a decade ago, the rare gay character would almost always be a walking caricature of what society as a whole saw these individuals as.
In the Adult Swim cartoon, Superjail! (yes, the exclamation point is part of the name), this appeared to be no exception. Spanning 4 seasons from 2008-2014, the show was about a massive prison that was run by a Willy Wonka-esque Warden, his abused accountant, Jared, loyal do-all robot, Jailbot, and a tough, burly prison guard, Alice.
From the moment we first see her, the character is clearly meant to be very unsightly to the viewer, and this outlook is shared by most of the other characters on the show. Already identifying as a woman when the show begins, Alice is clearly portrayed as transwoman who is very much failing to "pass" as a cis female. Her body still muscular and manly looking, her hair is done up in a pony tail like a little girl's, and her eyes concealed behind pink sunglasses that would probably look better on a grandma.
Sporting giant breast implants as well, the show doesn't shy away from verifying that Alice is pre-op by consistently showing a large bulge in her crotch area, usually as a means of shock value. Stubble coats her angular jaw, and the deep, gruff voice that the character speaks in ensures that nearly everyone that she comes across acts shocked that this hulk of a person identifies as a female. Yet, despite how outwardly offensive that Alice's character seems to be to the trans community, as an avid fan of the show, I have to admit a few positives about Alice that I'll list down below:
Her Confidence: Despite the fact that most of the men that she shows interest in react to her with disgust, Alice doesn't let it phase her. Indeed, with the way that she flaunts her body, flirts with some of the prisoners, and seems fully immersed in trying to be a girly-girl, the prison guard radiates confidence as despite how unsightly her appearance is to many people on the show, Alice sees herself as a hot commodity. Not only this, but despite identifying as a woman and embracing her feminine side, Alice isn't afraid to be rough and tough when needed.
Superjail! is a bloody cartoon that is known for its elaborate sequences of mass killing, gore, and general violence. The titular prison is a dangerous place to be for inmates and staff alike, so to be the chief guard, it takes a special kind of person. Indeed, Alice is seen kicking tons of ass throughout the series, where she single handedly keeps thousands of prisoners in line. Capable of feats such as easily caving-in a man's face with her nightstick, Alice isn't afraid of being "unladylike" by displaying her combat prowess. Despite clinging to traditional female tendencies, the character doesn't let traditional gender roles weigh her down even then.
One of the many struggles that transwomen face is transitioning physically after having gone through male puberty. Here, Alice has embraced her muscles, where judging by her voice and prevalence of facial hair trying to grow, it could be assumed that she isn't on hormones (not covered under the Superjail healthplan, maybe?). Despite this crutch, she refuses to let it define her femininity, and I can't help but admire the characters confidence despite what the show might have initially been trying to portray her as.
She's not Desperate: There exists this toxic idea that transwomen should be thankful if they receive attention from any man at all. This is usually a viewpoint that is prolonged by fetishists who feel entitled to a transwoman's sexual attention solely because they "tolerate" her physically. It stems from this old notion that transwomen are so undesirable by cis men that any attention, be it strictly sexual or not, should be responded to with appreciation. Not for Alice.
From the very first episode of Superjail!, the Warden is revealed to be infatuated with his employee, and the entire plot of that first episode is him trying to go on a date with her. This huge crush that he has on Alice is a running gag throughout the series, where he regularly flirts and swoons for her on multiple occasions. These affections seem genuine as opposed to fetishization, because never once does the Warden reference her being a transwoman or even the idea that she used to be a man, and it appears that he merely sees her as a beautiful woman that he wants to get with.
Now, how does Alice react to her powerful boss (literally, the Warden seems to have the power to bend space and time) having a big thing for her? Well, with rejection. Despite the fact that dating someone like the Warden would be greatly beneficial to her, Alice throws the idea of dating her boss out the window pretty quickly. He's simply not her type, and she doesn't at all feel an obligation to date him over some belief that she's lucky to get any attention from a man at all. Alice maintains a decent professional relationship with the Warden, but even admits to being disgusted at the idea of even having casual sex with him.
When we do get a look into what Alice is into romantically, she appears to be very confident in being the dominant party in the relationship. In a prison holding male inmates, she gets her pick of the litter for (arguably, nonconsensual) fun if she needs it. She wants what she wants, and I have to commend the fact that Alice's character wasn't written to be some pathetic sad-sad vying for the male gaze.
Morally Grey: I feel like in order to compensate for how badly LGBT characters were written in the past, there exists this pressure to write them all as good, moral, upstanding characters with little or no personality flaws. This ironically has led to many networks and streaming services not taking risks and writing genuinely interesting queer characters with various degrees or morality.
Alice is far from a safe character. She has a temper problem, and when angered, she can react rather violently and destroy things (people included) around her. All the major characters (except maybe Jailbot) have felt her wrath at some point, and nobody behind the prison walls is spared from her should she be sent to put down a riot.
On top of her violent tendencies and temper, Alice doesn't always ask for consent when it comes to fooling around with some of the prison inmates. On multiple occasions, we see prisoners tied up BDSM-style while Alice does who knows what to them. Again, this was more for the shock value, but nonetheless paints a picture of the guard's moral compass. She can also be a bully at times, regularly mocking and ridiculing the diminutive Superjail accountant, Jared.
Despite these villainous characteristics, Alice isn't a completely evil person. At the end of the day, she's still risking her life to guard a dangerous and deadly prison that contains some of the most violent criminals on Earth. She also helped save the world when it was revealed that the Warden would become the dictator of Earth in the future after franchising Superjail, where despite her future self serving as one of Warden's lieutenants, she still chooses to help Jared and Jailbot stop the events that would lead to the bleak future.
At the end of the day, I can't speak for every transwoman, or even the LGBT community in general, and I'd understand if a vast majority of people still see the character of Alice as an offensive stereotype that mocks the appearance of transwomen. Beyond face value, however, I think that there is more nuance to the character than what's beneath the surface. We see ugly cis-gender, hetero characters all the time (Homer Simpson, anyone?), so just because a trans character doesn't appear conventionally attractive, does that make them an offensive one?