I'm a mutant. And I'm proud!
Some of you already know about my mutation and while I can't read minds or teleport or fly, it has made me an outcast for much of my life. I think that gives me a bit of a different perspective on a film like X-Men First Class, which I think frankly is a fantastic film! And it reminds me as well that I'm certanly no outcast anymore!
I've known plenty of people who I think would say that this film is heavy handed, beating the audience over the head with its own sense of morality. I don't think that's the case at all. No, the kinds of abilities described in this film aren't real, they're reserved to the realms of fantasy. Despite that fact, all of the viewpoints of the characters in this film are readily present in the real world every day.
No one can deny that Hitler's Nazi party were racists, believing that Aryans were genetically superior to all other races and that this entitled them to world domination
, (an idea that still persists today in some parts of the world). In the film this idea is taken by Sebastian Shaw, leader of the Hellfire Club, excellently portrayed by Kevin Bacon, (and officially my favorite Bacon character). Only Shaw isn't an Aryan, he's a mutant, believing that mutant kind is the superior race.
But racist attitudes only scratch the surface of what this wonderfully complex film has to say about the human experience. It also has a great deal to say about what it means to be an outcast or a "freak", the fear that comes with ignorance, the pain of being different and the challenging complexity of relationships with "normal" people, even those who claim to be our friends. I can't be the only person who finds myself identifying with Mystique... I'll admit that in the previous three films I found it difficult to empathize with her because she had no real character development. But in X-Men first class we see Mystique demystified. We see her as a child and then as a young adult, struggling with a question that haunts a lot of us: is acceptance worth the cost of denying who we truly are?
This isn't just some obscure philosophical question - this is a question that many of us have to answer one way or another. I can think of a number of people who've struggled with this question, none quite so visible as the GLBT community. How many closeted transgendered people live in constant fear of others discovering their secret? How frightening and difficult must it be for gay kids to be honest about their orientation? It takes a lot of courage to stand up for what you know is right, to speak truth to power, when you expect ridicule and physical injury to follow. So it's no wonder that a great many people choose to remain in the closet, denying themselves so that others will accept them. And it's no wonder that so many people have had these same conversations with friends or with family about why they hide in that closet and after all, why should they have to? Don't we have just as much right to be who we are? If we have a right to choose our religion, shouldn't we also have a right to things we didn't choose, like our gender, sexual orientation, the color of our skin or the function of our brains? Doesn't a person with dyslexia or ADHD have all the same rights?
You might question my inclusion of gender and skin color in this list. Imagine for a moment though that you were a woman in the very chauvinistic culture of the United States just a hundred years or so ago, before women won the right to vote. Women at the time were treated less like real people with their own thoughts and aspirations and more like property. And what if you didn't like the idea of being relegated to the job of dutiful spouse and mother, performing primarily the cooking and the cleaning? What if you wanted to be a doctor or an inventor or an archaeologist? These things were "not right" for a woman and would make you a freak who needed to be "put in her place" according to that society. (As was the subject of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew.) We've mostly overcome that. And of course, there's no getting around the denial of basic human rights to people in slavery, who have historically been of a different race than their captors. And we've mostly overcome that. So no, I don't think this issue applies only to "obvious freaks", I think it applies to a great many of us. For that matter, there was a time that "ugly laws
" prohibited people with cerebral palsy from merely being seen in public! And we overcame that as well.
In X-Men First Class, Mystique struggles with her unusual physical appearance. Having grown up with Charles Xavier as an adopted sister, she asks him "would you date me"? The question is an important one because although she considered Charles a friend, she's not allowed to be seen as she is in public. Charles' answer, "you mean blue?" betrays his true feelings. Although he likes Raven (her given name), the thought of being seen with her in public is uncomfortable. And this is something many of us freaks have had to deal with to some degree as well -- the friend who can't seem to overcome their fear of "freak by association". The guy who says "I'm a friend, and I'll support you... except when I won't." This is the guy who'll continue to be a friend despite knowing that you happen to be gay, but won't be seen in public with you if you're not in the closet about it. This creates the opening for Eric Lenscher (Magneto) to form a stronger bond with Raven, because where Charles insists she keep herself under wraps, Eric tells her that she's beautiful the way she is.
And this is where Hank McCoy (Beast) enters the picture. Hank's mutation is easily concealable -- all he has to do is avoid open-toed shoes, because he's got thumbs on his feet. Yet he's so insecure about comments like "bigfoot", (which he gets even from Havoc who's one of his own kind), that when Mystique asks him about developing a "cure" for her unusual appearance, he's all about it! This is the real Pandora’s Box: would you take a "cure" for being whatever you are? If there were a serum that could make you a blond-haired, blue-eyed, heterosexual male, would you take it?
In the real world today, this question turns out to be a huge hot-button issue for people with my particular mutation and their families. Most of us who have the mutation, if we find out about it when we're young, are all about the cure! Like Hank and Raven we desperately want to fit in, and we're quick to say we're willing to give up whatever we are, just to gain acceptance. But that's only when we're young. By the time we're in our thirties, most of us have adapted, found a niche that works for us and quite enjoy our lives. The notion of a "cure" no longer holds much interest for us at this age, because we're quite happy with who we are!
Maybe this is partly because emotions are so much stronger when we're young - everything seems so much more extreme in our teens and early adulthood. And isn't that what the It Gets Better
project is about?
I'm here to say it does get better.
Whatever your particular difference is, whether it's sexual orientation, physical appearance or neurological variation, we have a remarkable ability to adapt both as individuals and in our larger global village. And this is especially increasingly true now, with all the technology we have to overcome so many challenges. Even people who are quadriplegic, having only use of their neck and head, can now work in jobs like architecture and the like and have fulfilling lives with the help of assistive technologies. John Callahan was bar-hopping with a friend when at the age of 21 he became a quadriplegic in a car accident. He went on to be a popular cartoonist
, using his teeth to manipulate the pen!
There's something else this film talks about that I'd like to mention briefly as well and that's the fear that comes with ignorance. In the film, humans fear mutants... at least the humans who are in charge fear mutants indiscriminately, not bothering to realize that they are people as well with their own complex thoughts and feelings. That like any other person, the mutants will be motivated by their experiences and not simply "dangerous because they are". And while we're not considered dangerous, there is an eerie correlation here with my mutation. A great many parents are needlessly terrified of a coming mutant apocalypse brought about supposedly by the tiny amounts of mercury previously used as a preservative in some vaccines. It doesn't so much matter to them that the science doesn't actually support this theory because frankly, they're terrified. And why are they terrified? Because they've been told the horror stories of worst-case scenarios -- of people who represent only parts per million of the population. And then they've been lied to and told that these worst-case scenarios represent 1% of the population AND GROWING! Oh my god, the world is doomed! Abandon all hope!!! And how is this any different in tone from the humans in the film who decide unanimously that all the mutants must be destroyed and fire the gamut of their naval arsenal at a quarter-mile section of beach to destroy just about a dozen people?
The reality in my case is that the mercury theory was put forward by a man who was bribed to do so, whose science has not been replicated by any reputable labs, and who deliberately omitted from his study anyone who failed to fit the criteria for his conclusion. In short, he's a fraud. All of this has come out publicly and newspapers have since redacted articles based on his bogus information... and it's not very helpful because the genie is out of the bottle for a lot of folks and of course now we have to contend with conspiracy theories about how the government is out to get him for uncovering the truth and really just wanted to poison everyone with mercury. They're a little fuzzy on the why.
But I'm not doom saying. Quite the opposite, I'm quite hopeful!
You see, I love the It Gets Better project. I only think it's not going far enough. It's focus was (and really still is) too narrow.
To be totally honest, I'm getting a little tired of bawling every time I see a film adaptation of a comic book franchise!
It's not their fault though, and X-Men First Class is an excellent film. But I'll tell you the line that got me the most, "you're not alone". Those three words are amazingly powerful. I think those may be the most powerful words in the English language. In the film, Raven ultimately accepts the idea that she is beautiful and good the way she is -- a mutant -- and that she deserves to be proud of that fact. I think we all deserve to be proud of that fact -- proud of our differences, of our individuality. I believe that we CAN create a world that values and celebrates diversity, a world in which people can be proud to be a "freak".
I hope that people will take this line from the film as their rallying cry: I'm a mutant, and I'm proud!
Whether you're gay or straight, man or woman, autistic or neurotypical, if you believe in a world full of wonderful individuals, this is an idea to get behind. Even if you consider yourself completely normal, then say it with us if you support the cause, "mutant and proud".
So here's a stamp to show your support. Remember to fav it before you put it on your journal or profile. Or create your own and let me know so I can fav it.