by Tony Ortega
Muscle men in spandex, men with the ability to see through clothing, walk through walls, become invisible, or elongate ANY part of their body. Hello, it’s no wonder that gay men are obsessed with comic books. This is the world we would love to live in. A world where mutants can live in harmony with humans (for the most part) or aliens from another planet can become revered in day to day society. Hell yeah, sign me up (and please give me the elongating abilities). However, gay men have had little representation in comics until maybe the last 10 years and that has only been sporadic representation.
In interviewing some of my gay male friends for this entry, one of them indicated that he related more to the characters of Donna Troy (not knowing who her parents were) or Raven (struggling with the challenge of being born different). Thanks Mark for these wonderful insights. Another one of my friends stated that he has never been able to relate to the few gay characters that have been introduced into mainstream comic books. He referred to Northstar of Alpha Flight and The X-Men. I agree, Northstar can be a bit of a snob and readily accessible to the gay male reader. Thank you Ron. As a kid, I related most to Jean Grey – Phoenix. Like her, I fought my dark side (or so my Catholic upbringing taught me to believe my homosexuality to be) and ultimately lost. She committed suicide (a fate I often contemplated as an adolescent). I hid my sexual orientation (i.e., my dark side) until the age of 30 and only allowed it to surface under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Until I finally embraced who I was, I was slowly committing suicide. So yes, Jean has always been my girl.
Let’s take at the state of current gay male characters in comic books. A major turning point in comics for the gay male was in 1992. Marvel Comics published Alpha Flight #106 in which the cover indicated that we would see Northstar as we would never see him before. The astute Alpha Flight reader always knew Northstar, however, Marvel Comics would not reveal this until many years after the character’s introduction. Another turning point occurred when Northstar became the first gay male Marvel Comics superhero to be married (Astonishing X-men #51). Here’s my issue with Northstar: he is super-hot, super fit (a former Olympic skier), and has the power of super speed and flight (okay, not even Channing Tatum can do that but come on). Additionally, Northstar has always been portrayed as a stereotypical hot, hard six pack abs, elitist gay man. I can’t relate to that (except for when he had that crush on his heterosexual team-mate Iceman, which I have encountered way too many times).
DC Comics has Apollo and Midnighter of Stormwatch. For anyone who has ever wondered what it would it would be like to see Superman and Batman in a gay male love relationship, this is as close as we will get. Apollo appears to be more relatable. Here is this Superman type hero, struggling with his same gender feelings despite having the powers of the sun. Yes, I can relate to that. Midnighter is a bit like Northstar: a bit pompous and snooty. How he won the noble heart of Apollo I will never know (unless Midnighter has other elongated attributes that appeals to Apollo).
When DC Comics ventured into the atrocity they call the New 52, they made the Earth 2 Green Lantern a homosexual. Yes, Alan Scott – the former father of Jade and Obsidian (also gay) is now a rainbow card carrying homosexual (sans children). In the first issue, we see him lay a huge kiss on his boyfriend and moments later, the boyfriend dies in a train crash, Alan is given his powers, and is thrown into a planetary invasion with virtually no time to mourn the death of the main he loved. The one thing I really like about this new Alan Scott is that his sexual orientation does not define him. I wish more gay men were like this: could make dating in NYC easier.
There are several more gay male super heroes out there (as well as many awesome Lesbian characters), however, for the sake of planetary ADHD, I will skip to my main theme of this entry – the one time that comic books got a gay male character right.
For anyone that has not read Amazing X-Men #13, run out and get it now. In this issue, Northstar (sigh) allows gay male student Victor Borkowski aka the mutant known as Anole, out on a date with someone he has been chatting with online and yet has not met in person. Nice going Northstar. Recently resurrected Nightcrawler gets on Northstar’s case about this and they subsequently seek out Victor before he gets into trouble. For those of you not familiar with Anole, he is a young mutant with reptilian green skin, horns on his head, and a rather large mutated right arm. On his way to meet his paramour, he decides against it because of his appearance. Like many gay men, we compare our outward appearance to those of the pretty gay men, neglecting the beauty that resides in all of us.
At this point, he is attacked by Lady Mastermind, a mutant with the ability to cast very realistic illusions. She torments Anole with illusions of how he used to look prior to his mutation and this is how his paramour will actually like him, not as the reptilian boy he is today. Here’s the part where the HIV activist kicked into overdrive. It spoke to me of the separatism that exists in gay society for guys who are HIV+ vs HIV-. Men who are living with the virus are scared to disclose their medical status for fear of rejection. They sometimes were the virus as a mutation, much like our friend Anole. I have worked with many clients living with HIV who wish that they can go back in time and change this. If they were not living with HIV, they would be more accepted in general gay male society. Off soapbox now.
Northstar and Nightcrawler arrive to save Anole from Lady Mastermind. While they were able to stop her from casting more illusions and furthering the torture of Anole, Northstar was unable to snap him out of it. Anole yells at Northstar, “Look at me, I am a monster. You look like a freaking movie star.” Tears swelled in my eyes and as a proud gay man said, they finally got it right. Thank you to the writer James Tynion IV and Marvel Comics for this amazing comic. (In case you are wondering, Nightcrawler – himself very monstery looking – was able to snap Anole out of his stupor and get him to meet his paramour, who accepted him, mutation and all).
As my friend Ron said, “I believe just like society’s growing acceptance of diversity in our world, that one day, LGBT characters will stand proudly alongside heterosexual Supermen and Asgardian Gods.” Gay men in comics have come a long way and it is the accurate representation of our struggle in society, our ability to relate to them on a fundamental level, and amazing writing which can be seen in Amazing X-Men #13, that will see Ron’s (and many other gay men’s) wish become a reality.