Tuesday, April 21, 2015

An X-man Comes Out in the Worst Possible Way

Fanart by JamieFayeX

If you’re anywhere on the internet today, you've heard that Marvel has decided in it’s new issues to expose one of their time traveling young X-men as gay. Normally, as a member of the LGBTQA+ community, this would be so exciting! Instead, I am left with nauseating rage. My straight friends were confused as to why this entire set of panels makes me feel like Marvel is dipping into Mugatu's medicine cabinet!

I mean, come on!

So first off, let’s start off by saying this... Just because there’s LGBTQA+ representation does NOT mean we should be automatically happy about it. DC has had a habit of handling it very poorly, whereas Marvel has had a habit of handling it very well. So that’s what makes this even more upsetting. This treatment of the characters in this scene is extremely disgusting and presents a lot of problems that are prevalent in our community and things we deal with everyday. It’s disappointing to see this ignorance out of a company who at one point was bold enough to put a gay wedding on the cover. It’s like going to an ice cream store and the ice cream has been flavored with... well... shit. Spoilers ahead. (Click on all the comic panels below to expand them.)

Now quick back story, Jean and Bobby are their past, young selves. This is crucial in understand why they can talk about their future selves.

We start off with Bobby saying something mildly offensive. Ok, that’s bad, but also he’s a teenage boy. That doesn't excuse it, but it is not unexpected behavior and a great point to address that issue. It definitely appears as if Jean is about to! Go Jean!

Ok WHAT?! No. Just no. Here is point #1 I can make to pretty much everyone across the world. Coming out is not a one-time situation. It is something we constantly go through our entire lives. It is also something that never gets easier. It varies from situation to situation. If Bobby wanted him being gay brought up, he would've done it. Forcing coming out on someone is a very horrific thing to do to them, as you have put them in a situation which could potentially be dangerous. What about working for a homophobic boss? You tailor your conversations to say “girlfriend” instead of “boyfriend” and a co-worker, in front of your boss says “But aren't you gay?” Then that co-worker has just put your job in jeopardy, either through being fired or just your life being made a living hell. If your friend/coworker/random acquaintance is hiding their identity, you better damn well let them do it. Exposing them is not your job and makes you an asshole.

On top of that, personally, I am so tired of the subject being tackled always by a character finding out they are homosexual. Not bisexual, asexual, transgender etc. Just gay. Come on guys. Seriously. So lets take a breath and move on. Perhaps it gets better?

Ok no, it got worse. Let’s break this down as well. “Because I’m psychic. I can read your thoughts.” It’s a major invasion of Bobby’s privacy. This takes forcing him to come out on a whole different level. Your sexual identity is a very very personal and private thing. Not only is she exposing him, she even found the information without his consent! The psychics in X-men have pretty iconic conversations regarding consent when reading minds. Bobby then proceeds to tell her to stop over and over and over again. Bobby clearly doesn't want this information known, and doesn't want to discuss this. Even at this point, he’s not even certain in his own identity, and now here’s Jean telling him what he is. She’s invading his privacy, defining him, and for lack of a better term, telepathically “raping” him (I know, I know, I hate the term too. But what else do you call forcing your actions on someone who is repeatedly saying stop?). Jean is going into his thoughts without his consent and exposing what she finds (Which quite honestly, could have been a passing random gay thought which she's now turning into defining him), and continues to do so even after Bobby has repeatedly told her to stop and even BUILT AN ICE WALL between them. This is such an uncomfortably disgusting display, and it’s not even over yet.

The dialogue in the left panel is so uncomfortable and harkens back to every time someone tried to define my sexuality for me. Jean is bullying him. She is defining him against his will. How this can be seen as appropriate is beyond me. Bobby even then in the next panels makes it clear he is disgusted with her, and she uses the chance to make a gay joke at his expense. So she defined him, and then used it to mock him. What in the hell is going on with this comic??

How can my older self not be, but I am?” “I don’t know. It’s a unique situation.” Again, defining him to him with no concern for his actual feelings. Bobby brings up a good point of how many people do hide that side of themselves because it’s much easier to live in a cruel world hiding the controversial parts of yourself (as horrible as it is that it’s seen as controversial). This is one golden nugget where he brings up a very real issue. Then he brings up that older-Bobby has actually dated women. Jean immediately shuts that down. Apparently if you don’t have good relationships with women you are gay. Sorry guys. I don’t make the rules. Jean apparently does though!

Maybe I’m bi.” There ya go, Bobby! This is a genuinely good realization to come to. There is pretty much ZERO representation of bisexuals in comic books. What a great way to introduce one by acknowledging they have had relationships with women before. But wait... “They say everybody is.” Ok. Again no. Just no. Bisexual people have to constantly deal with a thing known as “bi erasure”. This is shown as an example when she says everyone is. It erases our identity by making it a “default” setting on people as opposed to our identity, and one that we have to fight and scream to have taken seriously. It’s similar to, for example, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, once Oz was gone, Willow magically became a lesbian because she had Tara. Her being bisexual was never even on the table for consideration. (Because apparently you can flip sexuality like a standard light switch, when in fact it’s more like a dimmer switch.)

But I think you’re more full gay.” Why is she pushing it? Even the way this is worded shows she is pushing her ideals onto him. Many MANY bisexuals deal with this in varying ways. We’re even told by our own LGBTQA+ community to “pick a side”, or when we date someone of a certain gender it’s treated as “oh you’re ACTUALLY gay/straight”, or it’s a “phase”, or it’s the “middle ground until you settle down”. She’s showing blatant disrespect for bisexuality by erasing it, then taking her thoughts and using it to define him even further and negate how he feels about his own identity.
Oh what a nice and soft moment. No. “It’s no one’s business until you say it is.” And then Bobby says what any rational person is thinking. “Thank God for me.” Praising herself for violating him. I’m sorry that’s some textbook level abusive behavior. “I completely violated you, but no one should violate you. But it’s such a good thing I violated you.” This is so chilling and nauseating, especially being done with younger characters in a comic series that has often been a good place for the LGBTQA+ community.

This entire section of the comic is problematic on so many levels that you wonder how it could have possibly ever left the sketching stage. It relies on stereotypes, erasure, violation, manipulation, and it’s all dressed up in a pretty bow with a big red M on it. It’s a giant step back for Marvel, and does nothing but harm to the community. In the end it gives an overall feeling of pandering without any actual attempt made to make it appropriate or to show any real care. It doesn't matter if you put a customer favorite on your menu if you don’t know how to cook it. I’m left feeling like the big brother I looked up to just bashed by face into the concrete.

 This is not the representation that we need. This is not how we want to move forward in the world. If our options of representation are this or none? I’d take none.

Ellie Collins is an author and cosplayer who loves comics enough to be disappointed by stuff like this.

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  1. They did this to sell comic books. Get off your high horse. Not all people are represented perfectly in comic books. They are not real. Also the young x-men are like 15 in this, how pc were you then? This blog is one person's simple minded tirade who was on a witch hunt mission.

    1. Hi, I'm one of the co-founders of the site and I wanted to give you some one on one response, since comments like this are so rare.

      While I appreciate the time you took to research our blog, I'm afraid your findings are in correct: we are a group of MULTIPLE people, with differing but compatible opinions. For future reference, the author of the article is explained in the by-line at the bottom of most articles. You can use these to compare and contrast the different opinions of our authors. We even have a few argumentative series, in which multiple articles are written to debate one another.

      Finally, I'm afraid you have misinterpreted the author's thesis. She is not arguing that 15 year olds should be "PC". She is arguing that the writing provided no commentary or thoughtful consideration for the issues presented, making the writing low quality and the issues mishandled. We do not own a high horse, no matter if it's 4/20 or 4/21, but I think one of our authors owns a goat.

      Best of luck in your journey to reading comprehension!
      Much love,
      Jarys Maragopoulos of the Ace of Geeks

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I agree with Bertdivietri Bert DiVietri, its just a comic...its just one of the most durable and influential forms of American expression. And besides its not like any kids might look to the message it sends. We have nothing to worry about.
    Now if you'll excuse me I have to vent this excess sarcasm before I develop maintenance issues.

  4. I definitely understand where this writer is coming from. My ex is a bit effeminate and back when he was in the closet in high school he really struggled because people acted really condescending about how someone as flamboyant as him could still be in the closet. It was hurtful. He knew he was gay, but he was like 16 and just not ready to come out yet. So yeah, that really fits with what you said about how outing someone can be really insensitive, a true act of bullying.

    But I think it's more complicated than that. For instance I know in my situation, I wanted more than anything for someone to tell me they knew that I was gay. I was so lonely and scared of being rejected by the people I loved most. I needed someone to say, "hey, I know you're gay and I still love you, so stop worrying already!" Because I was worrying, a lot. Luckily my mom saw my internet history and confronted me about it, and helped me to understand what it means to be gay and accept myself and feel proud. With my high school friends, though, I spent two years knowing and not saying anything, wanting so badly for my friends' acceptance but not knowing how to ask for it. I would have loved for Jean Grey to have read my mind, told me everything is alright, and have given me a big hug :)

    So I don't think there's necessarily a right way to understand Jean's actions. To me, what she did was compassionate. To you and my ex-boyfriend, it was a violation of privacy and a cruel form of bullying. I honestly think it just depends on the person, you know?

    As for the bisexuality thing, I think it's actually quite realistic. I know that before I came out and accepted my homosexuality, I thought I could be bisexuality, although I knew all along it wasn't true. I think that's common for gay men, and Bendis is right to express that.

    That being said, I by no means want to denigrate bisexuality! It obviously exists and is so important to so many people. Luckily, though, I think bisexuality is better represented in comics than you may realize. After all, A-level heroes Catwoman and Mystique are bisexual! And less popular heroes like Constantine and Shatterstar are bisexual, too.

    As for the decision to make Iceman gay, I really like it. I know as a gay man, I've been pleased by the recent strives Marvel has made to better represent our community, but also frustrated, too. Northstar, Rictor, Wicken, Anole . . . they're all interesting characters, but none of them are visible. If you were to make a list of the top 50 Marvel superheroes, I'm not sure a single gay character would make that list. And that sucks, having your heroes be lame or irrelevant. With Iceman, though, this could change. Iceman has one of the best powersets in comic books, and is a seriously funny guy. He's mainstream, and with a little fleshing out, I think his character could potentially become really successful.

    And to me, it fits really organically with his character development, thus far. After all, he's never had an interesting, natural seeming heterosexual relationship. He's struggled with low self-esteem and understanding his identity, and his funny personality is coping mechanism to cover his insecurities. Compound that with the fact that he's potentially an omega level mutant, and yet he's never really achieved anything significant or memorable as a superhero, and you begin to see that making his character gay actually makes a lot of sense. Seth McFarlane called it. And I love that it's not the original Bobby Drake coming to this realization, but his time displaced younger self. It really reflects beautifully how much easier it is for young people to accept their sexual orientation when the culture becomes more open-minded, and it will enable us to explore the oppressive nature of the 20th century in an interesting way. Well done Bendis. I think this is a nice bit of writing, and I'm interested see where he takes it next!

    1. Hey, thanks for the really thoughtful comment. We appreciate it!

    2. While we clearly vary extremely in our interpretations of the issue (praising Bendis vs condemning him), I appreciate your respectful way of expressing it. We could go back and forth about it ad nauseum, and I doubt either of us would change.

      To me thought, it's highly disturbing to see praise for a deep violation being portrayed in a positive light. The narrative does not address the problems, and Bendis is refusing to see problems. This in itself is a huge, glaring issue that makes this in no way a reason to praise Bendis.

      Two things of note when praising Jean's behavior:
      A) We don't know what thought she heard from Bobby. Many straight men have "experimental" ideas in their youth. Given Bobby's own confusion at the things she says, I highly doubt his thoughts were going "I'm gaygaygaygay". He does not convey a teen already struggling with his identity wishing for someone to out him. So at the very least, Bobby had some thoughts she interpreted as him being gay. She may have ignorant ideas of what constitutes a "gay thought", and thus her interpretation, and consequently pushing of the topic, inflicts her ideals onto Bobby which would be entirely not even true in the first place.

      B) If we go the route too that Jean has no control of her powers, then that means she would also have that power of influence. This is dangerous when you are attempting to tell someone what sexuality they are. Not only is she conversationally forcing her ideas onto him, she very well could be doing it literally with her powers without even knowing.

      Also it's problematic that the route took to out him contained:
      -You can't catcall women because you're gay. No, "You shouldn't catcall women" should be a different discussion entirely. I've gotten most catcalls honestly from gay men.
      -You're gay because I know more about you than you. A common argument used in reverse to justify conversion therapy.
      -You're gay because you had failed relationships with women. Umm... what hero HASN'T? For that matter, if every man who had consistent failed relationships with women were gay... well... the pride parade would be REALLY overcrowded.

      Ideally, this situation could have been written a couple different ways with minor tweaks that make it something actually worthy of praise.

      First, Bobby could've stormed off, actually gave a bigger reaction to the extreme violation. Jean realizes how what she did was super fucked up, there is a major conflict and resolution there that is realistic.

      Secondly, If we are to assume they are besties, Bobby is shown with an inner turmoil. Jean goes to him as a friend, says he can talk to her about anything. He tells her it's too hard to talk about, but maybe she can read his mind and see what's going on. Jean reads his mind, and even if she already knows, acts as if she hears it for the first time and gives him understanding and holds his hand as he figures it out himself, not tell him what he is.

  5. To put another spin on this...

    Have you ever had those sorts of gay friends who pretend to be straight? Even without telepathic powers, you can see their gayness shining from SPACE! They say and do all sorts of things that they think makes them appear more straight but, in reality, just makes them appear more desperately gay.

    "This" Jean Grey is not "our" Jean Grey. Not long after coming to this reality, she learned she could read minds but without Charles there to mentor her, to guide her, she can't control it. She picks up stray thoughts, strong thoughts and passing thoughts - that's been established.

    Now, combine Bobby's obvious comment about Magik and his thinking "I'm covering!" or "If she were a man!" or any number of other "gay" thoughts - and Jean was there to pick it up.

    Bobby's history of girls consists of Polaris (who was dating Alex, at the time), Opal (who was the perfect beard), Rogue (untouchable!) and Kitty (FAR too young and intellectual for him!) and this is very plausible - in fact, astute readers of X-Men have been saying this for years...as did Nurse Annie to Northstar WAY back when!

    I'm going to have to defend Jean, here. She didn't jump into his head and start rummaging around. She picked up on what Bobby was thinking. She also didn't "out" him, she kept that conversation between the two of them. If you read the entire scene, she respects his privacy - they even hug! Also, instead of reading "I know, I'm psychic" with a condescending feel to it, read it with a bit of a sarcastic tone and the whole scene takes on another feel.

    Besides all that...this could all be wiped away with "Secret Wars".

    1. I agree with Furyian. As a gay man myself, now that I'm 29, I look back in my younger years like from middle school and even up into high school. In middle school I would talk about how "hot" chicks were and stuff like that. BUT...EVERYONE could see through it. I got bullied a little in middle school but it was tolerable. I know there are other gay people who are hardcore bullied and I have empathy for them.

      Also in the comic, Jean states that NOWADAYS, nobody gives a flying rat's ass if people are gay anymore. It's nothing that needs to be hidden anymore. Come out! Come out! Wherever you are!! If you're like me, a gay man, you probably have a very good female friend who is good at giving comfort and understanding. Pretty much EVERY gay guy has a gal pal like this.

      I definitely see the original writer's reasoning for his opinion, but I think it's a little overanalyzed.

    2. I agree with Furyian. As a gay man myself, now that I'm 29, I look back in my younger years like from middle school and even up into high school. In middle school I would talk about how "hot" chicks were and stuff like that. BUT...EVERYONE could see through it. I got bullied a little in middle school but it was tolerable. I know there are other gay people who are hardcore bullied and I have empathy for them.

      Also in the comic, Jean states that NOWADAYS, nobody gives a flying rat's ass if people are gay anymore. It's nothing that needs to be hidden anymore. Come out! Come out! Wherever you are!! If you're like me, a gay man, you probably have a very good female friend who is good at giving comfort and understanding. Pretty much EVERY gay guy has a gal pal like this.

      I definitely see the original writer's reasoning for his opinion, but I think it's a little overanalyzed.