Aside from the Spandex and Leather, Are the X-Men Gay? Part Three

by Devin

Today we present the third and final installment of Devin's three-part series. Have you read parts one and two?

In the first issue of Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run, he has Professor X bring up that the current generation of mutants emerging is different from any that has come before them. While the upcoming generation of gay youths may not have to worry about stranger mutations, they are different from those that have come before them. In the past few years, coming out in high school is almost becoming common in more liberal states, whereas only a little bit before that, a school of a thousand could very well only have a couple of “out” students. While they naturally will face challenges, just like Professor X mentions, they will be of a very different nature than those that have come before them, where the main struggle was in reconciling who you were with who you had to be to socially survive high school.

Morrison also introduces a group known as U-Men, humans who wish to be mutants. In order to make such a hope possible, they kill mutants and then harvest their organs, transplanting the special body parts into themselves. This includes grafting on wings or replacing their eyes for those that shoot lasers. Therefore, while their DNA may still be human, they appear to be mutants. In essence, the U-Men are the X-Universe’s equivalent of metrosexuals. However, in order to be a U-Man, one must kill or terribly maim a real mutant. Could Morrison be remarking that metrosexuality is not the right way to get gays into the mainstream? It merely picks and chooses the aspects of gay culture (or organs) that it wants, but then leaves the rest behind. This leaves gays in a state where they can dress a straight man or be funny on Will and Grace, but still cannot get married in most states or the general respect of a straight couple.

The Queer Eye parallel goes even further. The idea of a mutant subculture permeating the mainstream culture of humankind is one of the main themes of Morrison’s run. In his 41 issues, mutants no longer hide as much as they used to (just like gays nowadays, there are many more “out of the closet”). There are more mutants than ever and, like any minority group, a subculture has begun to form. One such example of this subculture is the existence of a mutant designer, Jumbo Carnation. This character has to his credit such clothing as “tentacle gloves.” A title devoted to the “mutant section” of New York City (almost every major city has a gay neighborhood), District X, ran for a while during this period.

Even the Xavier Institute is now openly a school that exists for mutants to learn in a safe environment. Interestingly, around this same time, controversy was building over the opening of Harvey Milk High School, a school in New York City for LGBT youth who did not feel safe attending their current schools. The Harvey Milk High School received protestors and angry speeches from politicians and people in the press. Similarly, in the issues which first show the school no longer hiding the fact that it’s a mutant school, protestors swarm outside of Xavier’s Institute.

The X-Force reboot that happened around the same time (starting with issue #116) also has much to say about the Queer Eye and Will and Grace phenomena. In this version of the title, gone were the testosterone and angst-filled products of the early ‘90s, such as Cannonball and Sunspot. Instead, Peter Milligan delivered to us a superhero team that was more like the Backstreet Boys or Spice Girls than the Avengers or JLA. They are given intentionally corny names that only marketing majors could think of, like, U-Go Girl (the team’s teleporter) and Mr. Sensitive. One member, Anarchist, complains about the possible joining of the mutant Spike, since he says that there cannot be two black members on the team.

In short, these mutants have been intensely focus-grouped for the sole purpose of being presentable and lovable for the mass of humans not yet ready for the whole of mutant culture. They are young, sexy, and flawless. One character says in the first issue of the run, “I might be a mutant, but I kind of like the members of my team to look at least half human.” This way of thought mirrors many depictions of gays when they appear in mainstream culture. Margaret Cho has even referred to the Queer Eye group as having a “superhero grace.” For the mainstream is not yet ready for such a wide spectrum of gays as it has for heterosexuals. When they appear, they have to be perfect. As Cho notes, “Have you ever seen a gay man on TV be ‘bad’ at something? Not likely. We've not that luxury to fuck up.”

Therefore, in both real life and in the world of X-Force, the current path of assimilation is a double-edged sword. On one hand, this focus-grouped team of minorities is getting them into the mainstream. On the other hand, they are not being given honest exposure. Instead, they are just tools to sell products. One character, Zeitgeist, comments on this in the first issue in his inner monologue during a battle:

Money. Fame. Sex. Cars. Houses. Champagne. Talk shows. Caf├ęs. Limousines. Immortality. Luck. Just the peanuts they throw at us. They’d hate us if we couldn’t do this. They’d fear us.
They adore us now. They know why we’re here, what the point of us is. But I’m still a mutant you idiots. I’m still fourteen years old…I’m a freak. And I hate you all.

Quite frankly (or Frank Quitely), the X-Universe is embarrassing to read nowadays. Whedon followed Morrison’s brilliant run with the least subtle, least controversial, least insightful story that tied gay rights with mutants and then gave the reader eighteen issues that essentially screamed, “I WANT TO BE WRITING THE AVENGERS!” Now, Warren Ellis (a writer I typically like) has succeeded him, premiering with an issue where nobody acts in character, the X-Men are chummily working side by side with the police, and, to add insult to injury, the art is just muddled and confusing. And, of course, one cannot forget the 198 (or however many we’re down to). Last time I checked, there had been no mass exodus to the closet (though that would give me a great excuse for my dating woes). In fact, I’m starting to fear that there are just no heterosexuals left in the world anymore, just like Trask feared would be the fate of humans in New X-Men #114.

I end this post on a low-note. For the moment, I fear that the X-Men have been downsized from a forum for cutting-edge commentary to once again being brainless, spandex clad crime fighters whose main concerns are stopping the earth from being shot by a giant bullet and whatnot. But, as my post has shown, none of these dry spells last forever. Give the gay rights movement (or some other social movement) time to progress or change a bit more, to get more problems, and maybe, hopefully, the X-Men will again be back on track. Till then, I’ll look away elsewhere for my thrills, awaiting the day I can again see Cyclops firing an optic blast at Magneto, and know that there’s a little more going on than there first appears to be.

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