Growing up as a confused kid who was always being bullied in some way or another I often found myself being drawn to the X-men. The series was always laden with characters being mistreated for being different. Admittedly, these guys are different in the sense that they shoot lasers from their eyes and have six-inch metal claws in their arms, but just like me all they wanted was acceptance.
Over the years X-men has been used as an allegory for homosexuality (and other minority groups). Powers are often discovered around puberty and people often feel the need to hide what they are, eventually having to ‘come out’ to those around them. The derogatory term ‘mutant’ is akin to offensive slurs like ‘fag’ or the n-word, the community having adopted the term in an attempt to reinvent it as something positive.
During the 90s a storyline ran about the ‘Legacy Virus’, which was at first believed to only effect mutants, a clear parallel of HIV. It caused the loss of powers for anyone affected, weakening them and eventually leading to death. It was later revealed to be just as dangerous for humans, tragically taking the life of Colossus’s human sister. When it was decided by editors that this sort of storyline shouldn’t occur in their comic a cure was quickly invented and the whole thing seemingly erased from the characters’ memories.
A recent storyline saw a ‘cure’ for mutant powers being discovered. While most of the mutant community saw it as a massive insult, some mutants who were sick of being persecuted were tempted to take it. As I’m sure you’re aware, certain groups wish to see homosexuality cured, especially religious nutjobs. Mimicking this in the comics, one of the X-men’s old villains was a preacher who wished to annihilate mutantkind, believing them to be the spawn of the devil. In a famous storyline he tried to shoot an X-man live on TV and thankfully he was stopped by one of his security guards.
There have even been attempts to split off from mankind and create a mutant sanctuary to finally get away from persecution. This can feel like a tempting idea at times, getting away from all the homophobic bigots. I imagine after all the single gays have hooked up the idea would get quite tiresome though.
The series has featured a great number of gay and bisexual characters over the years. The most famous of these is Northstar, the first openly gay character created by Marvel comics who recently got married. He often acts as a mentor for gay or curious X-men. Long time villain, and occasional hero, Mystique has been revealed to be bisexual. A recent gay X-man is the green reptilian mutant Anole; seriously who thought that name was a good idea?
Transgender issues have also been explored through characters that can change their appearance at will, even changing genders. In her relationship with Destiny, Mystique was seen to take on the form of a man on several occasions, so as to blend in while in public. At one point they had planned to reveal Mystique’s son Nightcrawler was created by Mystique shape shifting in to a man and impregnating Destiny.
Overall, beneath all the action scenes, X-men is really a series about accepting being different, regardless of what other people think about you. A lesson that is great for any confused, scared teenagers out there.