Do You Know What Your Children Are? Mutants As Queer Pariahs [Mutant & Proud Part II]
Mutants as a metaphor for real minority groups are an awkward fit for a number of reasons. First of all, mutants are actually dangerous. Second, a lot of mutants have good cause to reject their identity. Third, and perhaps crucially, mutants don't have a shared culture like real minority groups.
Of course, people have said all of those things about LGBT people as well. In the second of three Pride Month essays exploring mutants as a metaphor for queer identity, I'll look at how mutants are actually a perfect metaphor for the sort of dangerous myths used to marginalize LGBT people.
The idea of legislation to monitor or control mutants is a long-running theme in Marvel's X-Men titles. The overturning of the Mutant Control Act triggered the events of Days of Future Past. Mutant registration was the cover under which the first X-Factor team operated, and the reason for the creation of Freedom Force. Its tendrils can even be felt in the Superhuman Registration Act that sparked the Civil War storyline of 2006.
In 1987, Marvel ran fake ads in its books in support of the Mutant Registration Act -- though they were actually intended to promote its upcoming Fall Of The Mutants storyline. The ads read; "It's 1987. Do You Know What Your Children Are?" One of the children featured was Franklin Richards, a member of Power Pack and the mutant son of the Fantastic Four's Reed and Sue Richards, with the word "MUTIE" scrawled across his face.
I wasn't at the right age back then to worry if my parents knew what their child was. I didn't yet know what I was. I was old enough to be terrified of the possibility that I might turn out gay, but I didn't know that I would. It was only years later that I would look back at those ads with the disquieted realization that the fear they were addressing was my parents' fear.
Of course, there is a difference between being gay and being a mutant. Mutants are actually dangerous. A registration act for people who can harness the power of a sun or control metal or control minds is just good sense.
But it's not good sense. It's profiling. And profiling is the root cause of LGBT estrangement from society.
When I hear people advance the idea that mutants in the Marvel Universe should be registered or monitored because some of them are dangerous, it brings to mind a host of similar claims made against people like me. First and foremost among them; LGBT people can't be around kids.
That is one of the oldest and basest libels against the LGBT community. There have always been those who say that all LGBT people are child molesters, but even when that's not the prevailing notion, the idea that some LGBT people are child molesters is reason enough to suggest that none of us should be allowed to adopt, none of us should be allowed to teach, none of us should be allowed to spend time with younger relatives. For anti-gay hate groups this is still a decisive issue.
Some LGBT people are dangerous. So we should treat all LGBT people as dangerous.
Then there's the fact that I can't give blood. I can't give blood in Canada, where I live, or in the UK, where I'm from, or in the US, where my bills get paid. I can't give blood in Ireland, Japan, Israel, Germany, France, Brazil, New Zealand, Australia, because some gay and bisexual men have blood-borne diseases.
Some gay and bisexual men live with HIV infections. So we should treat all gay and bisexual men as disease-carriers.
You know what else makes gay men particularly dangerous? We're promiscuous and childless. Now, sure, we're not all promiscuous, and we're not all childless -- and it ought to be no-one's business if we are -- but the fact that some of us are promiscuous and childless was long seen as a good reason to withhold certain rights from us, like marriage. If slutty barren gays could get married, it would endanger the institution of marriage. That's how dangerous we are.
Never mind all the slutty barren straight people getting married, or all the straight people with blood borne diseases, or all the straight sex abusers. Gay people are dangerous. LGBT people are dangerous. These people need to have their rights restricted.
This sort of profiling is not unique to the LGBT community. A small number of Muslim people are involved in terrorist activity, so all Muslims are treated like terrorists. A small number of black people are involved in criminal activity, so all black people are treated like criminals.
Categorizing a group based on an assessment of its most extreme representatives is not how justice works. Legislating against an entire class of people based on the behavior of some of them is not how civil rights works. Even when a problem is highly associated with a certain group, the progressive response is to look for solutions to the problem itself, not ways to limit, contain, control, or monitor that group without regard to their individual liberty.
Some have argued that mutant registration should be looked at like gun registration, but there's an important distinction. People are not property. That ought to be all that needs be said on that score.
Of course, within the Marvel universe there is an option beyond registering mutants. Eradicating them. At its most extreme, that idea means death camps. Just below that in terms of atrocities is the idea of a mutant cure.
In the comics and in the movie X-Men: The Last Stand, Dr. Kavita Rao was one of the lead scientists involved in efforts to "cure" genetic mutations. Usually such cures are presented as villainous schemes to wipe out the mutant threat through eugenics, but sometimes there's a suggestion that a cure could be a boon to people who are hindered by their mutations. Some mutants don't want to be mutants.
Some LGBT people don't want to be LGBT. Social and religious pressures to be "normal" have forced many queer people to seek out forms of conversion therapy, despite the fact that conversion therapy does not work and only succeeds in destroying lives.
Now imagine if it did work. Imagine if you could "fix" being gay. Wouldn't that be easier for everyone? People under external pressure to change would actually have the opportunity to change. Of course, more people would then feel that pressure. We wouldn't need any of the social change of the past 45 years. Eventually being gay would be more stigmatized than it's ever been before. Fixing gayness might even become a government mandate.
Why change society to accommodate those who are different when you can change those who are different to make them fit society?
Now apply that suffocating idea to the mutant "menace." Apply it to Nightcrawler. There's a guy whose appearance was so shocking that he was literally chased by an angry mob brandishing flaming torches on his first appearance (despite the fact that, according to Marvel's sliding timeline, this must have happened in the early 2000s). Nightcrawler was so unhappy with the effect his appearance had on those around him that he used a holographic image inducer to pretend to be hat-wearing dandy.
Nightcrawler today has more confidence than his past self. He's comfortable in his fuzzy blue skin. Indeed, his peculiar appearance arguably makes him one of the Marvel Universe's premier studs.
Nightcrawler didn't need to change; the world around him needed to change. Sure, that's a long, slow, painful process -- but it doesn't happen at all if there's a mutant cure.
Can a mutant who looks like Mudbug -- half-human, half-crawfish -- ever hope to come to the same level of acceptance as Nightcrawler? I admit it seems like a tougher sell. But I think a society that accepts and values a character like Mudbug and his unique strengths is a better society than one that seeks to cure him.
The third reason mutants are dismissed as a useful metaphor for real minority groups is that they don't have a culture. Yet a similar belief underlies many of the claims that LGBT rights don't deserve the same consideration as women's rights or the rights of Black Americans, or any kind of "special" (read: equal) treatment. Being gay or bi or trans is not a class, the argument goes; it's a condition shared by a lot of otherwise disconnected people.
The position was echoed by Scarlet Witch in a scene from Uncanny Avengers #9, written as a response to the controversy that surrounded Uncanny Avengers #5.
In an impassioned discourse with Rogue, Scarlet Witch rejected the ideas of shared history, shared values, shared cultural tradition for people from different backgrounds who only have one thing in common. She was talking about mutants -- but her language precludes the possibility of shared gay history, shared gay values, shared gay culture, and shared gay identity.
Rogue wasn't given very effective comebacks, but she did point to persecution as evidence of a shared mutant history. Scarlet Witch dismissed the idea, saying no group "owns persecution." Evidently she was ignorant of the fact that different groups experience different forms of persecution, and develop and share different survival strategies, and that this help bind communities. Given a couple more pages, Scarlet Witch might have got around to, "Why are there no straight pride parades?" and "When is white history month"?
While enumerating differences between mutants and religion, Wanda did manage to say -- in one of her dramatic turns to the reader;
"I don't think conditions of birth, that a person has no control over, should be what we use to categorize one another".
Oh, Wanda. Honey.
The issue came out during Pride Month last year.
Broadly adopted, Scarlet Witch's position would dispute the value of LGBT people reaching out to other LGBT people for support or friendship, because being LGBT is only categorization by condition of birth. Perhaps the idea here is that everyone should be so tolerant and accepting that no-one should need to be part of a minority community. That's a wishful notion. It's not clear what people are meant to do in the meantime.
Of course, when it comes to wishful notions, series writer Rick Remender chose the right character to express these views. Though a mutant, Scarlet Witch has never been an X-Man. An orphan who was rescued from the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants by membership in the Avengers, she perhaps sees herself more as a generic superhero than as a mutant. Indeed, such is the strength of her rejection of mutant identity that it was through a wishful notion that she attempted to end all strife between mutants and humans... by wiping mutants off the face of the earth. Nuance has not been Wanda's strong suit.
Ironically, Scarlet Witch's attempted genocide must be a major moment in the shared history of Marvel's mutant community. It's probably in her interests to pretend there's no such thing.
Speaking as an LGBT person who saw the generation of gay men ahead of him decimated by disease, I can promise that such events have an impact on one's identity and one's community.
Like mutants, LGBT people have a shared history of persecution, hate crimes, disease, atrocity, resilience, protest, and progress. Like mutants, LGBT people have shared values of diversity, tolerance, respect, pride, and celebrated difference. Like mutants, LGBT people have a shared culture of heroes, leaders, rock stars, sex symbols, style icons, and Hugh Jackman.
That's not to say every gay person shares in all these things, but nor does every member of any minority group. Wanda is not unusual in rejecting a minority identity. But parties happen whether you show up or not.
Mutants are not born of one tribe; they're born of every tribe. They build their own families and their own culture. People call them dangerous, and people call them tragic, and they don't always recognize that they only seem this way because people won't recognize them as people. And that alienation is part of what binds them together.
Maybe mutants are an odd fit for a lot of real life minority groups -- but they're an odd fit for precisely the reasons they're such a good fit for LGBT people.