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Location: Kansas City, Missouri, United States

Doing my part to irritate Republicans, fundamentalists, bigots and other lower life forms.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

'X' marks the allegory

It's a pretty safe bet that teenage boys weren't the target audience for "Brokeback Mountain" when it opened late last year. But this weekend many of those teenage boys will be flocking to what is likely to be the gayest movie of the summer: "X-Men: The Last Stand."

Yep. You read that right. The latest installment of the X-Men series is gay, gay, gay. And not in the "that's sooooooo gay" parlance of the young that signifies something is lame. Gay in the sense of "I wish I could quit you, Wolverine."

Since X-Men premiered as a comic book back in 1963, there's been something different about the series. I remember reading X-Men comics back in the late '60s. There was something about the characters that struck me as comforting and oddly relevant - feelings I didn't get from Superman, Spiderman or even Batman and his young sidekick, Robin.

The X-Men spoke to me about being "different" in much the same way that the Disney movie "Dumbo" and Han Christian Anderson's story of The Ugly Duckling equated differentness as specialness in my pre-teen years. The X-Men derived their powers not from being born on another planet or from vast wealth that allowed them to afford bullet-proof outfits, but from mutations. Something within them made them mutants and gave them their powers. For someone just beginning on his own path of being "different," the X-Men universe was a comforting one.

Being gay wasn't something talked about in the '60s, at least not in a positive way. But being different was something that I could relate to. Every month I picked up the latest installment of the X-Men and read it cover to cover in one of the old vinyl-upholstered booths at Parsons' Drug Store ... usually while sipping a cherry phosphate.

Gradually I gave into the peer pressure to put aside comic books as "kid stuff" and move on to other pursuits. Then in 2000 the first X-Men movie came out and what was a vague undertone in the comics of my youth announced itself loud and clear in the movie. Take, for example, this line from the anti-mutant villian, Sen. Kelly: "Now I think the American people deserve the right to decide if they want their children to be in school with mutants. To be taught by mutants! Ladies and gentlemen, the truth is that mutants are very real, and that they are among us. We must know who they are, and above all, what they can do!" It doesn't take much imagination to replace "mutant" with "gay" and hear that same line (or ones even more vehement) that are delivered against LGBT people in the pulpits and houses of political power on an almost daily basis.

The second film, "X-Men United," came out in 2003 the gay subtext moved even closer to the surface. There was even a "coming out" scene when Bobby Drake, a.k.a. Iceman, comes out to his parents as a mutant. His mother responds with "Well, have you ever tried not being a mutant?" Now there's a scene most of us can identify with.

Now comes the third installment, "X-Men: The Last Stand," that features a plot line ripped out of the headlines. A vaccine is invented to "cure" the mutants. Think of this as the ultimate "ex-gay" therapy. The idea of being just like everyone else is tempting to some, such as Rogue whose touch can be deadly. (Would this mark Rogue as a self-loathing mutant?) But others proudly defend their right to be openly mutant.

The character of Storm (Halle Berry) is given this gem of a gay ... oops, I mean mutant pride line to deliver: "There's nothing to cure, nothings wrong with any of us for that matter."

Adding to the "mutant as metaphor for gay" subtext of the X-Men films is the openly gay director of the first two movies, Bryan Singer. The third film in the series is directed by Brett Ratner, presumably so Singer was freed up to direct "Superman Returns" which opens later this summer (and begs the question of whether the latest film incarnation of the Man of Steel will contain any gay subtext). Singer, incidently, will turn his attention to a film that doesn't disguise its gay material under super hero uniforms next year when he directs the long-delayed version of Randy Shilts' "The Mayor of Castro Street" about the life and death of openly gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk.

So until "The Mayor of Castro Street" opens next year with a story of a real life hero, we'll have to content ourselves with tales of fictional superheroes with a gay subtext hidden beneath - just barely beneath - the surface with the latest X-Men movie.

And maybe, just maybe, the some of the teenage boys who will turn out in droves to see this weekend's release of "X-Men: The Last Stand" will have the proverbial light bulb go on right above their heads that the classmates they call "faggot" are a whole lot like the mutant superheroes they cheer on the screen.

Maybe they'll also get the idea that it's not a good idea to pick on the faggots 'cause you never know which of them might have some kick-ass super powers, too.