The X-Men are some of Marvel’s greatest superheroes. While fans enjoy the X-Men’s cosmic adventures and the wide range of their superpowers, the X-Men are also culturally significant for another reason: they inherently represent the outsider. In the Marvel universe, the X-Men are a team of mutants fighting to achieve peaceful co-existence between mutants and humans. The mutants are born into a world that fears and hates them, shunned by society simply due to being born with superhuman abilities. Despite being human in every way aside from carrying the X-Gene, mutants are constantly ostracized and threatened by the rest of society.
Real world events, such as the civil rights movement, have helped inspire the comic book stories of the X-Men. The X-Men also went on to become a strong allegory for the LGBTQ+ experience. Distinguishing itself from ordinary superhero fare, many X-Men fans resonate with the comics, series, games, and films’ reflection of real social issues, particularly bigotry and prejudice. While the fans may not be literal mutants with superpowers, they connect to many of the same struggles and challenges as the X-Men. Here is how X-Men is an allegory for the LGBTQ+ experience.
Mutant Powers Manifest During Puberty
In the X-Men franchise, mutants discover their abilities at puberty and during periods of heightened emotional stress. Similarly to members of the LGBTQ+ community, mutants discover key aspects of themselves as they grow up. Mutant powers manifest during puberty, the same time that many LGBTQ+ individuals begin to understand more about their sexuality and gender identity.
Both the mutant and LGBTQ+ community do not align with the traditional heteronormative structures of society. They are both minority groups that many people fail to understand and accept. The X-Men uncover their powers as they learn about themselves rather than being something that they acquire. This contrasts with other Marvel superheroes such as Spider-Man who receives his powers after being bitten by a radioactive spider. Therefore, the X-Men’s abilities are used as storytelling devices exploring themes of self-discovery and self-acceptance, themes which directly align with LGBTQ+ kids’ experience.
The X-Gene Knows No Race or Gender
Mutants can come from anywhere. There are mutants all across the globe from all walks of life. All mutants are born with the X-Gene, something that is not tied to any specific race or gender. This means that in the Marvel universe, anyone could possibly be a mutant. Many mutants in the X-Men universe are, in fact, born from parents that unlike them, are not mutants. Similarly, in real-life, parents who are straight and cisgender may have children who are neither of those things.
Moreover, Charles Xavier’s X-Men unites people under one banner. While the X-Mansion is located in New York, mutants come to the X-Mansion from all over the world. This includes the legendary Marvel superhero Storm, Ororo Munroe, a woman from Egypt. The X-Men team roster also includes Piotr Rasputin from Russia, who is more widely known as the mighty Colossus. Regardless of their racial background or gender, mutants all share something in common; they all carry the X-Gene. The LGBTQ+ community, like the X-Men, are also a global community comprised of many diverse individuals.
Parallels Between The Legacy Virus & AIDS Epidemic
Marvel introduced a narrative device in their comics with the Legacy virus during the 90s, with the Legacy virus being a direct parallel to the AIDS epidemic. Both the Legacy virus and HIV/AIDS attack healthy cells and predominantly affect a specific minority group. In the comics, the Legacy Virus killed hundreds of mutants, including Colossus’ sister Illyana Rasputin (a.k.a. Magik). Upon contracting the Legacy virus, mutants were shown to experience many of the same symptoms as HIV. These included skin lesions, fever, and fatigue. In severe cases, contracting the virus resulted in death. As the Legacy virus primarily affected mutants, the humans equated mutants to the dangerous virus—in the same vein that, in the real world, straight people wrongly thought of HIV/AIDS as a disease exclusive to gay men—thus creating an atmosphere of tension and worsened fear.
In Ramzi Fawaz’ study The New Mutants: Superheroes and the Radical Imagination of American Comics (2016), Fawaz describes the Legacy virus as “a fictional mutant disease akin to the AIDS virus that unravels the genetic sequence of its host, degenerating her body and her powers until death.” Fawaz refers to the virus as “not simply a disease but a powerful material expression of the mutant race’s ugly inheritance: a legacy of xenophobia and violence.” As the virus predominantly affects a minority group and because of the prejudice towards that group, developing a cure becomes more difficult. People tend to more easily wave away issues if it does not directly affect them. The parallels between the fictional Legacy virus and the real-life AIDS epidemic are very clear. The X-Men comics of the 90s showed how the real-world issues of its time influenced the era’s superhero fiction.
Self-Acceptance in the Face of Hate
Social division, inequality, and fear continue to unfortunately be very much a part of modern society. In both the real world and the Marvel universe, humans fear, and even hate, that which they do not understand. This intolerance leads many to hide parts of themselves from the rest of the world. Mystique hides her natural form in several of the X-Men films. If she does not do so, many run in fear upon seeing a blue-skinned “freak.”
In X2, in what is perhaps the clearest analogy to the franchise’s underlying LGBTQ+ themes, Bobby’s parents refer to Bobby being a mutant as a “problem.” Bobby’s mother asks him; “Have you tried not being a mutant?” The line clearly illustrates her lack of understanding over Bobby’s experience, as being a mutant is not something one chooses to become. What’s more, it echoes the homophobic sentiment that one’s queerness is a matter of choice and that one, in an effort to live a “more correct lifestyle,” can simply “not be” LGBTQ+.
The fact remains: it is something they are born as and is innately a part of their identity. Neither Bobby’s father nor brother respond positively upon learning that Bobby is a mutant. In the real world, making the decision to come out also requires a lot of courage. Ultimately, Bobby does not find a home with his biological family, but he does find a home and a family in the X-Men. Additionally, the year of 2015 sees the All-New X-Men comics reveal Iceman as gay in issue #40.
Some mutants choose to hide that they are a mutant. Others publicly embrace that aspect of themselves. While the Marvel universe is not the most welcoming towards mutants, Raven Darkholme (Mystique) chooses to accept herself and declares that she is “mutant and proud.” In the real world, allies and members of the LGBTQ+ community wave the rainbow flag. June is Pride Month, a time when people celebrate the freedom to be themselves.
Movies like Doctor Strange 2 and Spider-Man: No Way Home have opened the door for characters like Lady Deathstrike to show up in the MCU.
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