A concern over X-Men’s recent representation of bisexuality
by Bradley Donalson
Marvel’s X-Men have always been a touchstone for queer readers. They currently have openly queer characters like Northstar, Karma, and Mystique, to name a few. But they’ve also had a long history of queer subtext. Both groups could be born to anyone in any family. Both groups don’t become fully aware of the way they were born until puberty. Both groups have to face widespread discrimination that results in trying to hide who they are.
Just think of the scene in the X2 movie where Bobby, aka Iceman, has to come out to his parents as a mutant. His mother asks him if he’s ever tried “not being a mutant,” while his father blames his mother. It’s not particularly subtle. Or you could look at the scene in X-Men: First Class where Xavier outs Hank McCoy, later known as Beast, to his boss. When his superior asks him why he’s never said anything, he responds with “you didn’t ask, so I didn’t tell.” Again, not so much with the subtlety. There are also other broader parallels such as trying to be a part of society without having to compromise identity or the entire “cure” story arc.
And that’s just the movies that, unfortunately, don’t depict any openly LGBTQ characters. The comics are becoming much more inclusive with new characters who have always been LGBTQ, as well as retconning some long-standing, popular characters.
The latest retrofitting comes in the form of Bobby Drake in the All-New X-Men. In this title, the five original X-Men (Jean Grey, Scott Summers aka Cyclops, Bobby Drake aka Iceman, Warren Worthington III aka Angel, and Hank McCoy aka Beast) are transported from the past to confront their future selves. One of the developments that arises is that Jean uses her psychic ability to force Bobby to confirm that he is gay, even though his future self identifies as straight. While seen as a triumph for even more diversity in the realm of comics, I’m personally a little worried about possible implications for this time-warp revelation.
The most glaring issue for me is the dismissal of bisexuality. While Bobby is trying to reconcile his admission that he’s gay with the idea of his future self being straight, he considers that he might be bisexual. Jean says something pithy about how “everybody is,” and then immediately follows with “but I think you’re more…full gay.” This might seem like a friend who’s just trying to provide comfort, but it comes off as the old idea that bisexuality is just a transitioning period before becoming “full gay,” and not recognizing it as a legitimate identity. A few bisexual people that I know personally are very adamant about two things: bisexuals are not just waiting to become homosexuals, and bisexuals are not heterosexuals who are just experimenting. Jean’s remark that Bobby seems completely homosexual also undermines this by basically saying that he can’t be bi. Yes, Jean is a telepath, so she has insight into Bobby’s emotions. Yes, she’s supposed to be a teenager, so it’s possible she didn’t know that she’s being dismissive. No, that doesn’t excuse it.
The writer, Brian Bendis, is obviously aware that representation is a massive issue in today’s pop culture. To retcon a major character like an original X-Man in order to include representation for the gay community is bound to cause strife among social conservatives and devoted followers of the series alike. But representation for one portion of the community shouldn’t come at the expense of another. Personally, I feel like this was a missed opportunity to start a conversation about bisexuality as it is depicted in modern media. Jean isn’t letting him hide his sexuality, so why is she letting him—even for a moment—diminish bisexuality to a smokescreen for being gay? I appreciate what Bendis was trying to do here, but unfortunately, it didn’t turn out as well as it could have.
Some other apprehensions revolve around how the writers will reconcile Bobby’s sexuality. How are they going to justify his older self as a heterosexual with his younger self as homosexual? The older, straight Bobby has a canon of past issues as a straight man that they will have to justify. This has the possibility of ending up with a flavor of ex-gay therapy where he embraces the shame society has thrust upon him. And while no Marvel mutant can ever be said to have a happy love life—it’s just not interesting storytelling—Bobby’s wasn’t that bad. He had multiple relationships with women, and even though they never seemed to work out, he seemed to be legitimately attracted to these women. The writers are going to have to make sure they do this well. I know I’m hoping that they do.
While there are concerns, it is wonderful to have greater representation of real LGBTQ people in popular culture. Iceman should provide a powerful storyline that will resonate with comic-book readers young and old, and hopefully, he will make a positive impact on them.
All-New X-Men #40 is currently available in comic shops.