When I first read X-Men, as a trans gay little girl, one who was closeted and with complicated and conflicted feelings about both my transness and my gayness, I related to the struggle for acceptance of the X-Men. I felt every complicated feeling and messy dialogue between some X-Men being like “if we can hide between them, maybe we could be safe”. I was desperate to think there was more than bullying, than suffering, than constant humiliation from others, and every time I saw a mutant get mistreated, I deeply felt like that was me. My first introduction to X-Men that I remember was watching X-2 in cinemas when I was 10. Then came the animated series, and when I picked up a comic at 12 there was no going back. I still remember that movie, and Mystique, when Nightcrawler asked her why she didn’t live in hiding, simply answered: “Because we shouldn’t have to”. I was living in hiding, so, while that powerful statement broke to my gay trans heart, I still resented that someone would actually do that. I identified more with Rogue than with Mystique there, as I was afraid and still dealing with my own identity. I later found myself as an out and proud trans girl reflected on Rogue’s comic persona and journey. With all of that, X-Men was my shelter.
X-Men also made me fully realize I liked girls. When I was reading those comics I dreamed too much about the clumsiness and closeness of those women and teenage girls “friendships” which always included total adoration, sleeping together, hand-holding, brushing their hair… Girls were a whole lot. When I saw those tender panels of Dani and Rahne (literally soul-mates) holding hands with Rahne’s head on Dani’s shoulder, or Jean with Storm resting on her shoulders and their mouths too close, Storm’s obviously more than friends relationship with Yukio, Kitty Pryde and Rachel Grey in X-Men: The End, Kitty and Magik tickle playing in bed, Kitty almost kissing Karma on that lost Mekanix mini, Psylocke flirty attitude and tension towards Dazzler – herself an openly mutant icon -, or Dazzler and Rogue enemies-to-close-friends tension… I felt myself there. And, of course, the special mention of that everlasting dream of growing old with your loved one that Mystique and Destiny always representedX-Men taught me how to process those feelings, but it also taught me how to swallow them up: for all the subtextual gay X-Men was, it also was extremely suppressive. They were never girlfriends, never addressed, they never kissed, just always almost so. X-Men was giving me ways of defining my attraction to girls, and in the same breath it was giving me ways to hide it, to subtextually see those gestures as a caring sign of girls’ attraction but never quite tell it apart. Always in the doubt, always subtextual, always repressed. X-Men was my beacon of gay sexuality, but it was, at the same time, my most long-lasting excuse for never facing those feelings in a recognizing and explicit way.Of course, I ended up identifying with characters like Rogue, or Dazzler, or Illyana Rasputin. Illyana has become the beacon of queer non-actually-represented representation for a bunch of lesbian and bi girls on the internet. With multiple pages, tumblr feeds, etc dedicated to her very teased queerness, as well as her compelling story of childhood trauma, mental health issues, even death and resurrection, she fitted me too well. And her stories are the ones I have appreciated the most, but they also have made very explicit that thing that hurt the most about this formative experience: the X-Men were all that I needed when I was little, but my shelter had to be broken. The need of explicit representation to be recognized and true to yourself transcends the limits of the mutant metaphor and requires compromises. We know the X-Men are the queerest heroes that have existed, but for them to teach us more, they have to know it too.
All this had a very tangible and rational reason behind it. With the Comics Code Authority explicitly prohibiting any mention of homosexuality in comics from 1954 to 1989, and this code still being used by Marvel and DC until the first years of the 21st century, LGBT+ representation was literally forbidden for most of what we call the Golden and Silver ages of comics and beyond. In fact, some of the queer subtext this text is talking about has been admitted to be a way to try to showcase these romantic relationships within the possibilities at hand, with authors like Chris Claremont explicitly stating so. But that subtext-yet-nothing explicit idea stuck. A lot of the contemporary X-Men comics I got to read when I started reading X-Men (that is, around 10-15 years ago) were no longer under the code authority, and yet Marvel will continue to do this queer subtextual characterization to X-Men characters without a clear LGBT+ storyline, especially long-lasting very established ones.To highlight a hopeful note of this story, some of these subtle queer characters actually have been explicitly stated and recognized lately. Most notably, Karma characterization as openly a lesbian in New Mutants vol 2 – around the year Mekanix came out – and with multiple, explicit on-panel queer storylines. Mystique and Destiny’s relationship actually hacked the code showing both of them as lovers in Marvel Fanfare #40 (1988), but with Mystique shapeshifting as a man – which is fair keeping in mind Mystique was comfortable with her gender fluidity -, although sadly their first kiss with Mystique in mutant form was actually showcased last year, in History of The Marvel Universe. Psylocke’s bisexuality was explicitly explored when she fell in love with Cluster. On the male side, Iceman, Rictor, Shatterstar and other X-Men characters have had a late confirmation. A very few of them have been rushed and poorly confirmed, like Kitty in Mekanix. And a lot of new X-Men characters address properly that homoerotic subtext with real context, like Bling!, Anole or Quentin Quire. Showcasing the queer aspect of the mutant metaphor has actually led to some great runs on the matter, like Generation X (2017) by Christina Strain and Almicar Pinna, Astonishing X-Men (2004) in its arc by Marjorie Liu, or Iceman (2018) by Sina Grace, with explicit queer characters representing more complicated things like passing, repressed identity and other LGBT+ related themes.We do have a long way to go, though, as someone could argue Magik’s orientation is stated as bisexual in the last New Mutants’ run (and she has had explicit representations in alternate realities that never made it in the main universe like Kieron Gillen’s Siege), but her dialogue is certainly not clear or nuanced enough, and ultimately read as a joke. As Storm and Yukio is a taboo story no one would touch on for years. As Kitty’s bisexuality is certainly erased and forgotten in time. As Dazzler’s status as a nodded LGBT+ icon has always been one of blink and miss it. The story of the children of the atom is one calling for queer kids everywhere, but, is it gonna give them the tools to openly express themselves?
Most of the images in this article are from either Uncanny X-Men vol 1 or comics mentioned in the article, except for this last Excalibur cover.
Comic Watch Pride: About The Homoerotic In X-Men And A Gay Girl’s Teenage Years
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