A young woman and a young masculine individual stand outside a building. The woman is grabbing the front of their shirt. Both look startled by something off camera.

Jordan Li of ‘Gen V’: Because bigender Asians exist too!

The shapeshifting superhero-in-training represents how an ever-changing form doesn't make a person any less real

From left, Derek Luh and Jaz Sinclair in "Gen V."

Still frame from "Gen V"

I’m a bisexual, nonbinary Asian college student, meaning that in TV land, I’m virtually invisible. And that’s precisely why Jordan Li from Gen V means so much.

Like its parent show, The Boys, Gen V takes a satirical spin on the world of superheroes. But it’s this satire that makes it so hard for me to admit how much the show, particularly Jordan, means to me. After all, how much room is there for sincerity in satire?

The Boys is mainly known as a parody of superheroes, but anyone who’s been keeping up can tell you that it’s also a razor-sharp satire of celebrity culture. At first glance, its spin-off show Gen V couldn’t be more different. It’s set in the same universe as The Boys, but it has a lighter, more youthful tone. The superheroes, known as Supes, are college kids this time.

While the Supes of The Boys are easy on the eyes too, Gen V’s main cast consists of actors who have mostly been in Netflix teen shows. Before his big break in Gen V, Derek Luh (who plays the male form of Jordan) was even a Wattpad heartthrob in the 2010s. Plenty of fangirls plastered his face on the covers of their books, which makes total sense. His face is exactly the sort of face that inspires youthful infatuation.

Despite its glossier façade, Gen V is unmistakably a part of The Boys universe: a scathing, incredibly gory satire of celebrity worship. But what is satire, really? Must it be mean-spirited and tongue-in-cheek? Some people might think so, but satire is social commentary, and effective social commentary requires actual interest in other people. Irony is simply a tool of the genre, but at its core, good satire is rooted in a desire to see society change for the better.

No satire is really effective without heart, and Jordan Li (with the male and female forms played by Luh and London Thor, respectively) provides a lot of that. They’re an Asian American student at Godolkin University AKA God U, a fictional college for young Supes. Their power allows them to shift between female form and male form—as a girl, Jordan is brash and impulsive; as a boy, they’re guarded and taciturn. Both forms constitute a single person. But other people tend to be interested in only one side of them.

In the image above, a young feminine individual is wearing a grey tank top and has their arm outstretched with a serious expression on their face. In the photo below, a young masculine individual is wearing an identical tank top.

Jordan Li can switch between two forms, played by London Thor (top image) and Derek Luh (lower).

Still frame from "Gen V"

For example, their first girlfriend, Jenny, forced them to stay as a guy constantly. Meanwhile, their parents, especially their father Paul, refuse to acknowledge that they’re “not a boy[…], not all the time.” While in female form, Jordan sleeps with a guy in episode three, and we never see him again; there’s no indication that this man cares for Jordan beyond hooking up with a hot girl.

It also goes way beyond the personal, though. Jordan lives in a world where clout is everything. Gen V may center on superheroes with fanciful powers, but it’s not unlike our world at all. With social media, you can generate attention with just a few clicks. So when no one’s paying attention to you, you might as well be worthless in the attention economy. In real life, we see it in fields like publishing, where the success of a novel these days usually depends on buzzwords, virality, palatability, and having the right OOMFs (i.e. mutuals on social media).

For Jordan, their lack of clout hinders their dream of joining the Seven, an exclusive group of not-so-heroic Supes with great publicity. Although the members of the Seven are almost all horrible people, the masses give them lots of attention, good and bad. That translates to brand deals, book deals, billboards…in short, money and relevance. It’s a cutthroat industry, and Jordan will take down anyone just to get ahead. Except that’s not enough. The CEO of Vought, the corporation behind God U, dismisses Jordan as a “bigender Asian with pronoun fuckery.”

A young feminine individual and a young masculine individual are standing side by side.

Jordan Li's nightmare is a world where they are split into two people.

Still frame from "Gen V"

Ergo, not marketable enough. Vought pretends to be progressive, but 92 percent of their Supes are white, only six percent are Black, and two percent are Asian and Latino. The Seven’s singular Black superhero is even called Black Noir, and his replacement after Vought’s top “hero” Homelander kills him is simply called Black Noir II.

The Vought employees debate on which students to put front and center, depending on their various levels of palatability; “diversity” is okay, to a certain extent. The conservative bigots aren’t fans of the protagonist Marie (Jaz Sinclair) because she’s Black, but some of the employees argue that at least she’s conventionally beautiful, cisgender, and as far as others believe, straight. Likewise, a Vought employee expresses concern over Andre’s skin tone, but he barely passes their evaluations because he’s a cis man and again, straight, as far as others know.

Even as Jordan willingly submits themself to the capitalist machine, they get spat out because they’re not considered a viable product. The price for their self-acceptance is a hefty one. Society sees them as too complicated and too confusing. In the age of ever-shrinking attention spans, a bigender, bisexual Asian American might just be too much of a mouthful. Sound familiar?

Jordan says they only care about themself, but that’s just what they want to convince others, and themself. They’re undoubtedly a hero, but the world doesn’t want to recognize a bigender, bisexual Asian American as their hero. But perhaps that’s alright, as long as the right people do. Jordan slowly realizes this as they form genuine bonds with other students, especially Marie, who falls for all of Jordan, not just one side of them.

A young, feminine individual has their hand on a young woman's shoulder while facing each other.

Marie falls for Jordan.

Still frame from "Gen V"

For me, Jordan is a great depiction of a young adult’s struggle to succeed in an exploitative world without completely losing themself. I’d consider them amazing representation—but I ask myself a lot of questions about that idea. For one, what is representation? What purpose does representation in a show produced and released by a mega-corp serve?

It means a lot to me, but should it? Can I and should I consider the representation offered by a satirical program emotionally resonant? Can I find this meaningful without being the butt of the joke?

I guess I can’t answer all those questions just yet. After all, I’m a college kid hoping to make my way in this world too. I’ve got so much to learn and figure out. But I’m the youngest member of a writers’ room, and I try to think about my own professional experiences so far. Yes, we need to put money and marketability on our minds as we write. Yes, we need to abide by what the TV execs tell us.

As the recent writers’ strike in Hollywood should remind us, though, TV writers are real people. We’re real people, real human beings. We pour genuine creativity and passion into our scripts. And we do have a real desire to write diverse characters that reflect our own experiences or the experiences of people we care about. Even if we have to do it within those parameters, we do our best. We want to make a difference.

We’re real people, real human beings...We want to make a difference.

Gen V is a reminder that good satire has something meaningful to say, not to blindly target everything and everyone. The series satirizes the culture and corporations that commodify people. But it unpacks that commodification too, delving into the main characters’ raw emotional journeys.

They effectively show that for Jordan, getting misgendered is not just a nuisance, but causes truly excruciating gender dysphoria. They show Jordan as a well-rounded human being with an actual complex personality—they’re sometimes a coward, but admirably brave at the best of times. They can be shy but also abrasive. They’re sharp-witted but their love for Marie turns their brain into a mush.

So yeah, despite everything, I’ll go ahead and embrace Jordan Li as representation that means a lot to me. There are real human beings behind this character, and the writing tells me that they actually care about people like me. (We exist!) I’m thankful for that. Characters like Jordan Li do make a difference.

Published on February 19, 2024

Words by Julienne Pal Loreto

Julienne Pal Loreto (she/they) is a university student, freelance writer, and proud Bisaya. This year, their short story “Colony VII” was selected for the anthology Super Societies and Other Stories: The Best Philippine Sci-fi Stories by 8Letters. She is a lifelong Pokémon fan and really hopes to see that #JaneNella rom-com happen. Follow her on Twitter at @yenpal1 and on Medium (@yenpal).