The X-Men have long stood as a metaphor for the oppressed and outcast, from racial minorities to people with disabilities to, well, comic-book nerds. They work rather well as a representation of LGBT+ people, too, because of their “hidden in plain sight” quality. Some people have immediately visible mutations, like Nightcrawler with his blue skin and tail, but most don’t. Humans hate and fear them, particularly because anyone they know could be a mutant who hasn’t come out. It’s a metaphor, but it’s a purposeful and effective one, dating at least since 1982 with the story God Loves, Man Kills. It’s even in the movies, with the scene where Bobby Drake comes out to his parents as a mutant.
Of course, while metaphorical representation can be valuable, it isn’t everything. Literal representation is important too, and X-Men titles have provided quite a number of openly LGBT+ characters. Northstar from letter N is an X-Man, and so are Rictor and Shatterstar, a longstanding couple who gave Marvel their first same-sex kiss. And now Bobby Drake, aka Iceman, is coming out as not just a mutant, but a gay one. He totally could’ve been my “I” if he’d come out a month sooner! This literally just happened last week, in All-New X-Men #40. He probably knew I was writing this post and didn’t want to be left out.
The X-Men movies were among the first superhero stories I really, really loved. I’ve seen X-Men more than forty times. The comics can be confusing, boring, needlessly complex, but at their best, X-Men stories are about hope. They’re about how our differences make us special, and how people from all kinds of backgrounds can work together for a better future where our differences are celebrated instead of feared. And I think that’s lovely.
X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont & Brent Anderson (reprinted 2011, ISBN 9780785157267). This is also a great choice if you’re new to the X-Men or have only seen the movies, because it’s a standalone story and was one of the sources/inspirations for the movies, so you get a lot of the same characters you already know. CN: Violent racism/homophobia, child deaths.