‘All-New X-Men’ Reveals Longtime X-Man As Gay (For Now)
UPDATE: Marvel has officially released three preview pages from the issue, which we've included below.
The Advocate has published leaked pages from All-New X-Men #40, on sale tomorrow, which reveal that one of the characters is secretly gay. It's a big moment, and one that could potentially increase gay visibility in the Marvel Universe in a significant way, but there are complications to the story that make it hard to read as an unambiguous victory for LGBTQ representation. Read on if you don't mind having the issue spoiled.
The scene in question, from writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mahmud Asrar, sees the time-tossed teen version of Jean Grey take the junior version of Iceman aside to ask him why he called out Magik's hotness when he's actually gay. After initial denials, Iceman acknowledges what Jean had already confirmed from invading his mind. Bobby Drake, a founding X-Man who has been around in comics since 1963, is gay.
Or one of him is. This is the younger version of the character from an earlier time, brought into the present day for... reasons. The older, present day version of Iceman is not gay, according to the conversation that this Bobby has with this Jean.
Hopefully Marvel is setting up a story wherein the older Bobby comes out as well, inspired by his younger self --- and, really, unable to deny it any more (begging the question; if your younger self comes out and you're still in the closet, has your younger self outed you?). Iceman's sexuality has long been the subject of speculation among fans, though the signals sent out by creative teams over the years have been decidedly mixed and not at all conclusive. He's certainly a character whose coming out would present no insurmountable complications; as Jean points out in an additional leaked page shared via Tumblr, the elder Bobby's relationships with women haven't been particularly successful. (That page also takes pains to rule out the possibility that Bobby is bisexual.)
If the elder Bobby actually isn't gay, that troubling, as these characters are supposed to be the same person at different ages, not different versions from different realities. If the elder Bobby is straight, that may be evidence that these characters aren't actually the same person. If they are the same person, that implies that a gay teenager can grow up straight.
That's a very dangerous message to send into the world when so many children are hurt or driven to despair by their own or their parents' beliefs that LGBTQ identities can be "fixed."
I think Bendis and the editors at Marvel are smarter than that, but I don't have the luxury of not worrying. Marvel has some great LGBTQ characters, but they tend to disappear into the crowd whenever a book ends or changes writers. When I mentioned my fear back in 2013 that Marvel's queer characters might disappear from its books, one person called me "a bit ... hysterical." But it happened; they almost all disappeared. Marvel has trained me to be pessimistic about the long-term visibility of its LGBTQ characters, and Bendis's run on the X-Men books comes to an end with Secret Wars. If there isn't already a plan in place to establish the elder Bobby Drake as gay, future writers could ignore "gay teen Bobby" as an aberration, and that would create the lingering ugly implication that the elder character's sexuality was somehow 'fixed'.
If there's a plan, this is a big step forward. If there's no plan, this is dangerous writing. I don't see much middle ground.
(Side note: If you're one of those fans who gets upset at the idea of writers taking a "straight" character and "making them gay," please understand that it is actually very common for a gay person to be in denial about their sexuality for years, up to a lifetime. This is because the world is full of people who are intolerant towards same sex attraction. This may not actually be a surprise to you.)
There are other elements to the leaked scene that trouble me. I'm glad Jean called Bobby out for disrespecting Magik, but Jean's violation of privacy is not a small detail; that's awful behavior, and yet she congratulates herself for doing it ("Thank God for me"). If you ever have evidence that a friend is questioning their identity, you should make yourself available to listen and be supportive, but don't put them on the spot. And shame on you if you went looking for that evidence. Also, Bobby should not be calling Jean a "nosy bitch"; especially not as one of his first acts as a self-identified gay man. Being gay doesn't make misogyny cute.
All my concerns aside; making Iceman gay is a major move, because he's a long-standing and significant character. I hope this makes a difference, but it only really matters if it sticks. Seeing the adult Iceman come out and start enjoying life as a romantically active gay man, would be a big deal, especially if he's not rushed into another of Marvel's strangely sexless committed same-sex couples.
Maybe it's time he and Gambit had a thing?