The idea of the X-Men has strong parallels for anyone in a minority. Here are two testimonies by gay men who grew up reading the X-Men that give a taste of how fictional mutants have influenced real gay lives.
Havok / Mystique (Click images to enlarge)
In the article Queer X: The Queer History of X-Men, Alex Jeffery considered how the X-Men series can be read as a powerful allegory about the struggles faced by minorities.
To accompany that piece, here are two testimonies by gay men who grew up reading the X-Men comics. Their very personal identifications with characters, one male and one very gender-fluid, give just a taste of the breadth of resonances that the mutants of X-Men have had in real gay lives.
Havok, by Gwared Sheridan
“I don’t see myself as born into a mutant cult or religion. Having an x-gene doesn’t bond me to anyone. It doesn’t define me. In fact, I see the very word ‘mutant’ as divisive, old thinking that serves to further separate us from our fellow man. We are all humans, of one tribe. We are defined by our choices, not the makeup of our genes. So, please, don’t call us mutants. The ‘M’ word represents everything I hate… Call me Alex.”
Alex Summers, hero name Havok, grew up in the shadow of his brother Scott aka Cyclops, leader of the X-Men. Scott’s public identity and pride in homo-superior, and it’s communal existence, left Alex feeling distant from his ‘people’, so much so that he eventually left for outer space. When I came out, my concern wasn’t that people would vilify me or treat me as sub-standard; it was that I wouldn’t be able to be the gay man people expected me to be. The only gay world I knew was filled with pop music, neon lights, doubles with mixers, party drugs, fashion and judgement. None of this was something I could identify with but still I felt the pressure to identify or forever be on the outside. The expectations mostly came from the community itself. They wanted me to share the same social representation and views and inhabit the same stomping grounds – integration by segregation. I didn’t want this and I still don’t. I have always struggled with the idea of expected communal inclusion because of what I consider to be genetic circumstance but it took me many years to realise that I could be the gay man I wanted to be. I can identify with how Havok views himself in relation to the mutant community, how he believes that the good and bad, the strong and weak both share this gene, the common ground not being the gene, but the variety of ‘humanity’ within. These ideologies made Alex embrace the nature of everyone coming together, not just mutants. If there is one lesson to take from the mutant legacy in Marvel comics, it is this. I am a person who is gay, not a gay person. Much like Havok’s belief that we are better together than apart, I think if we blur the lines between communities then identifying someone for who they are, rather than what they are, will be the norm because that’s how we all should be received, for who, and not what, we are.
Mystique, by Mark Goldby
“Kid, my clothes are just an extension of my body. I’m always naked.”
The mutant Mystique changes shape at will; she/he alters her (his?) outward appearance to meet the needs of any given situation, be it amongst friend or foe. At the heart of this constantly shifting paradigm lives a guerrilla identity. This identity is indefinable by all the usual social cues it devours and mimics the ones that surround it, existing within norms and social expectations while suppressing the true self.
This covert persona is greatly reminiscent of the notional closet which many LGBTQ members will occupy at some point in their lives; certainly it is true of my own experience; to present one social construct whilst living by another, to occupy the rhino-thick skin of a throwaway persona and deny the vulnerable true self a full discovery: or indeed, to be truly discovered by another. And whilst we live in detachment from our own skin, we will always fear the monster that lives at the heart of our artifice; blue of skin and yellow of eye. To truly find happiness within ourselves, we must endeavour to embrace our monster and learn to revere our own mystique, the things that set us apart from the easily imitated crowd, make us interesting and exciting in our own right.
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