For decades, comic fans have interpreted the X-Men as an allegory. Professor Xavier has been seen as a Martin Luther King Jr. against Magneto’s Nat Turner (upon closer inspection, the King/Malcolm X parallel does not work as well as one would first believe). They have been seen as Jews trying to assimilate into a Christian culture. This claim is aided by the fact that both creators, Stan Lee (Stanley Lieber) and Jack Kirby (Jacob Kurtzberg) were Jewish and Magneto’s motivation partially stems from him being a survivor of the Holocaust. But, the years have progressed, the Civil Rights movement is no longer controversial (Don’t get me wrong. Racism is still a problem. However, as long as the subject is tackled heavy-handedly and in an over-simplified matter like Crash, all is well.), and being Jewish no longer carries such a stigma. Where does one go with these mutants to still make them socially relevant? Simple: writers have gone for another minority group, a minority group that still faces much public persecution: the queer community. When one truly explores the mythos of the X-Men, he will find that there is little difference between being a mutant and being gay.
The idea has really has been there since the beginning. What Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (to use their pen names) presented us with was a group of people who around the age of puberty began to discover they are different than other people. But with race (or, in most cases, religion) one knows his or her identity from the beginning. The only people in the real world that become minorities during puberty are those who realize that their sexual feelings do not align in the publicly accepted way.
So, upon realizing they are “special,” what do these teenagers do? Many choose to remain in society, blending in by not using their mutant powers, or using their mutant powers in private. In effect, they remain “in the closet.” Of course, some have an easier time staying in the closet than others. For every straight-acting gay, there’s an X-Man like Iceman or Jubilee and for every guy that’s more flaming than the Phoenix Force or girl with a haircut like Quicksilver, there’s a Beak or Toad. I even know guys who can turn the gayness on and off depending on the company they are keeping, and others who have gotten queenier since they came out, so I guess they would be Colossus and Beast, respectively.
The idea of “closeted” mutants has moved from just discussions about the comics into the entertainment itself. In New X-Men #116, Professor X gives a speech, ending in “I feel that it’s finally time to put an end to hiding…behind “secret identities” and ill-fitting clothes. Ladies and gentlemen. My name is Charles Xavier, also known as Professor X. And I am a mutant.” This speech very much resembles one of a government official or celebrity coming out of the closet.
But this underlying similarity pales in comparison to the directness and blatant nature of a scene from X2: X-Men United, directed by the openly gay Bryan Singer. Upon showing up at his home with some fellow mutants (pretty much the equivalent of his parents walking in on him and another guy), Bobby Drake (Iceman) has to “come out” to his parents as a mutant. Following a display of his powers, his mother asks him, “Are you sure this isn’t just a phase?” a commonly asked question asked by parents when their son or daughter has just come out.
Obviously, various writers have tackled the concept in different ways. But three eras address it most. The first fifty or so issues of the All-New, All-Different X-Men, which appeared in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s lay the groundwork and really start to switch the idea over to sexuality. This experiences a revival in the early ‘90s, when homosexuals are making their way into mainstream culture and AIDS is no longer something to be ignored. Finally, at the turn of the century, the age of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and metrosexuals, X-Men begins to change its view slightly. The title no longer as much advocates the gay movement, as provides commentary on its progress so far.
Before 1975, X-Men had been in reprints for years. The title had been selling pitifully and thus much time had passed since the last new story. In that year though, the title rose like a phoenix from the ashes (or Jean Grey from a crashed spaceship). Gone was the team of all-white, kids-next-door who just happened to have superpowers. Instead, we were given a group of young, powerful adults, whose backgrounds spanned across the globe. This was a team with an African demi-goddess (Storm), a Russian peasant (Colossus), an Irish cop (Banshee), and a member of a prominent Japanese family (Sunfire). There was a Native American (Thunderbird) and a young Jewish girl (Kitty Pryde), who, respectively, hailed from a reservation and the suburbs. One of their members, Nightcrawler, was blue with three fingers on each hand and a tail.
But what message was this sending forth? Was it simply that people can always find a way to unite and work together despite how they may look or what they believe? That was probably one idea. Perhaps though a second message was meant as well: that no matter who you were, what you believed, what you looked like, where you came from, or what your financial status; you could always end up being a mutant…or gay.
During this time, mutant persecution became a more central plotline to the series. Yes, the idea of Sentinels, robots that hunt mutants, had been around since X-Men #14, but, for the most part, the X-Men spent their time in the ‘60s simply fighting evil mutant and other ne’er-do-wells. In fact, even Magneto’s platform was different at the time. He was not yet the sympathetic villain, fighting against humans only after he had witnessed the injustices done to mutants (and witnessed similar horrors in the Holocaust). Instead, he is just a power hungry fiend, as shown in this piece of gripping back and forth between him and Professor X:
Magneto: Only you and your X-Men stand between the mutants and world conquest! Why?? Why do you fight us?? For you too are a mutant!!
Professor X: But I seek to save mankind, not destroy it! We must use our powers to bring about a golden age on earth—side by side with ordinary humans!
Magneto: Never!! The humans must be our slaves! They are not worthy to share dominion of earth with us! You have made your choice—forevermore we are mortal foes!
In the age of the All-New, All-Different X-Men, there were anti-mutant riots (which started in X-Men #98 and would constantly resurface) and “Days of the Future Past” showed a future where the government openly supported the extermination of mutants. The creators even put forth Senator Robert Kelly (who first appeared in #141), a presidential candidate running on an anti-mutant platform. In fact, when Nightcrawler makes his debut, he is being chased by an angry mob just ready to kill him.
Check back Wednesday for more of Devin's look at the X-Men as allegory for the gay struggle.