"Mutant" as a Codeword for "Gay" in the X-Men Movies

Michael Brown

11/3/2011 12:01:00 AM - Michael Brown

The X-Men movie series, based on the comic books of the same name, is well-known for its unusual cast of gifted mutants and for its extraordinary special effects. What is not as widely known about the X-Men is the fact that the movies, along with the comic books, draw many clear parallels between the mutants and the gay and lesbian community. It is an open secret that the most recent movie in the series, “X-Men First Class,” which serves as the prequel for the other films, is especially overt in presenting these parallels.

Zach Stenz, one of the First Class screenwriters, explained on a Facebook comment posted in June: “I helped write the movie, and can tell you the gay rights / post-holocaust Jewish-identity / civil rights allegory stuff was put in there on purpose. Joss Wheldon designed the whole ‘Cure’s storyline in the comic books specifically as a gay allegory, and Bryan Singer wove his own feelings of outsiderdom as a gay man into the movie series. The whole ‘Have you ever tried NOT being a mutant’ coming out scene in X2 [released in 2003] is even particularly subtle, while it is effective.”

Who exactly is Bryan Singer? He is the openly gay producer, director, and/or writer of X-Men, X2, and X-Men First Class, and a reviewer on the Fridae website (“Empowering Gay Asia”) noted that Singer stated in an interview on BBC “that ‘mutant’ was a stand-in for ‘gay.’” Those are the words of Singer, not my own.

The reviewer, named Helmi, explained , “X-Men is supposed to be the superhero series that secretly took gay issues into massive mainstream territory. Since the comic appeared in the 60s, pop-culture critics have drawn parallels between the mutants’ struggle to gain wider acceptance for being genetically ‘different,’ and the gay community's struggle for acceptance and recognition.”

Singer cast some famously gay actors in key roles, most notably Sir Ian McKellen, who said at the Cannes Film Festival shortly before the release of X-Men 3: “As a gay man, some people think that it ought to be cured and made normal again, and I find it as offensive as someone saying that they have a cure for the color of their skin. This particular story was close to my heart; it has an important message to young people who may for one reason or another be disaffected with society because society points at their differences and says that they're inferior to the rest of us.”

Writing in 2006 in RelevantMagazine.com about “X-Men: The Last Stand,” ex-gay author Chad Thompson noted, “I saw the movie and discovered that almost every scene in it somehow parallels the struggle to integrate gay and lesbian people into society.”

He was not exaggerating when he said, “almost every scene.” Another viewer of X-Men 3 commented to me, “As I watched the film, the connections and similarities were startling. You could have made the X-Men gay and the script would have worked perfectly.”

Thompson explains, “In a world where some are born ‘normal’ and others are born with genetic mutations that give them superpowers, those without the mutations decide to formulate a serum that can normalize the mutants. Most of the mutants argue that they don’t need a cure, asserting that their mutations are innate to their identities, but still some who aren’t happy with their mutations embrace the chance to change.”

In X-Men: First Class, Dr. Henry "Hank" McCoy concocts a serum that will hide his mutation (seen in his feet) without removing his powers, only to discover that the serum actually accelerates his mutation, turning him into a powerful beast. In other words, therapy designed to turn a homosexual into a heterosexual will not work. Instead, it will result in a stronger homosexual identity.

In light of the whole theme of X-Men: The Last Stand, this message is certainly intended.

In perhaps the movie’s most obvious example of “mutant as a stand-in for gay,” when Hank McCoy is first revealed to be a mutant, he is questioned by his coworkers as to why he hadn’t reveal his true identity before. He replies, “You didn’t ask, I didn’t tell.” Gays in the military under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell couldn’t have said it better.

Alyssa Rosenberg, writing on the ThinkProgress.org website, called X-Men First Class “a great gay rights metaphor,” noting that already in X2, “Iceman’s visit to his parents took the form of a coming-out sequence, complete with confusion and rejection by a sibling. In First Class, those comparisons are even more explicit.”

Explicit is hardly an overstatement, as the mutants proclaim themselves to be out and proud towards the end of the flick. It appears that subtlety is no longer needed.

But this should come as no surprise. After all, Elizabeth Taylor famously said, “If it weren’t for gays, honey, there wouldn’t be a Hollywood.”