Madden: The importance of X-Men to the LGBT community


Daily Northwestern

Joe Madden, Columnist

The notion that the mutant world in the X-Men franchise is an allegory for the real-life LGBT community has become a popular one. Publications ranging from traditional LGBT news outlets The Advocate and The Gay & Lesbian Review to the mainstream Huffington Post and Slate have taken note of the presence of LGBT issues in the popular superhero universe.

According to a BuzzFeed article, Sir Ian McKellen, who shares the role of the mutant Magneto with Michael Fassbender, said he signed on to the series when “director Bryan Singer explained … that the mutant superheroes serve as an allegory for the gay community.” But what these news outlets are missing is the importance behind the allegory and the presence of LGBT stars in the franchise: they explain, rather than preach, the correct stances on LGBT issues.

First, some background as to why the fictional X-Men are seen as allegorical to the real-life LGBT community. Mutants are incredibly diverse, often develop their powers around puberty, have powers that are either entirely internal (Storm, the Professor X , Jean Grey) or can be easily concealed (Wolverine, Mystique) and often decide to keep those powers concealed because of persecution from non-mutants. These super-humans, consequently, face the struggle of deciding whether or not to conceal their uniqueness from society – at one of the most vulnerable times of their lives – in the same way LGBT people do.

The film series has furthered this interpretation of mutants as analogous to the LGBT community by drawing from its current cultural phenomena. Mystique, played by Jennifer Lawrence, struggles with whether or not she is as beautiful in her mutant form as she is in her human one throughout “X-Men: First Class.” After seeking recognition of beauty from her friends in both forms, she ultimately declares herself to be “mutant and proud.” Proud.

If that did not ring any rainbow-colored bells, the primary conflict of “X-Men: The Last Stand” is the development of a supposed “cure” for being a mutant. In one of the opening scenes of the movie, a father bursts in on his curly blond-haired son in the bathroom, and sighs “Oh, God … not you” upon discovering his boy attempting to saw off his mutation: angel wings. When daddy dearest later develops a cure for his son’s condition at his pharmaceutical company, his beautiful boy quite literally decides to spread his wings and fly away.

Notably, though the angel boy has very little screen time, he has a prominent place on the movie’s promotional poster.

It seems then, that the mantra “mutant and proud” and the cure for mutanthood are fictionalized versions of the LGBT pride movements and sexual orientation change efforts, respectively.

The presence of LGBT issues in the X-Men series, however, is not nearly as important as the way the series handles them. Each movie emphasizes that being a mutant is a genetic condition; many opening sequences are simply visuals of DNA. When the aforementioned father of the year announces the development of a cure for being a mutant on television, Storm argues that there cannot be a cure for being a mutant because what is not broken cannot be fixed. In short, the films do not tell viewers what to think, but they show them how to think.

The series does not preach that people should not be persecuted for being LGBT. It shows how unfair it is that mutants are persecuted for their biology. “X-Men: The Last Stand” does not preach that LGBT conversion therapy is wrong. It shows that efforts to change harmless, genetic differences are merely expressions of insecurity and prejudice, and they yield temporary results at best. Mystique’s struggle with her self-image does not tell people to be proud of being LGBT. It shows that fighting what should not be fought is self-destructive, and that embracing who you are is the only way to love yourself.

X-Men does not tell its target audience — children and teenagers — the answers to moral questions. It shows them the solutions. It does not tell kids what is right, but gives them the tools to find out what is right for themselves. For that reason, director Bryan Singer should be credited with giving political meaning to the chronicles of some blue misfits who can control metal and read minds.

Joseph Madden is a Weinberg freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.