Bobby Drake is gay. Now, that is. He wasn’t gay when I, not quite 10, read my first X-Men comic, around issue #44 of the original. A lot has been said about the character’s coming out. It doesn’t make sense. It comics out of nowhere. He dated women. It’s just another PC retcon to make gay people happy. Keep your hands off straight heroes! These were the same comments made when Greg Rucka outed Renee Montoya in Gotham Central. Well, except her character had dated men. You know what I mean. So Bobby, like Montoya, had a really long and messy coming out period and Bobby should win hands down for convoluted back story, Messy is how coming out often was — and is — for some LGBT people, especially if someone has felt pressured to deny their sexuality or gender identity and conform to socially acceptable roles expected of them. Many years ago I had a friend whose whose parents divorced when his father gathered the courage to announce he’d always been gay and couldn’t suppress this fact any longer. After more than three decades and a marriage with two children another friend accepted being trans and the marriage was lost though the children remain in my friend’s life. The father of a former boyfriend tried to beat some masculinity into him as a child, and after more unsuccessful relationships, heartache, and I imagine lots of soul searching a few years ago he realized he’s transgender. In the past few years I’ve come across a small number of men whose marriages (to women) were all in some stage of falling apart because they were tired of living a lie by trying to do what they’d been told was right and proper.
In the years before discovering X-Men as part of my still very fresh four color fascination I’d begun my own long coming out process. At age five it was simply realizing something was fundamentally different about myself compared to everyone else around me and somehow knowing it had to stay a secret. A year later I stood by my mother’s side as my much loved grandma informed her she’d better cut the apron strings with me or she’d have a sissy on her hands. My internal monolog said “Oh, that’s what I am” and “Too late, grandma.” There was schoolyard teasing in grade school, and the onset of innocent crushes on TV actors and superheroes like Element Lad, Ultra Boy, Iceman’s teammate Angel, and Bobby….never entered my mind that way. The bullying I faced in high school was rarely physical but still frightening to a teenaged kid afraid of being tossed out of his home and onto the streets of small town USA. But I found out shortly after graduation that I wasn’t alone and others like me were closer than I’d ever imagined — a trio of men who comprised my first two boyfriends and a family friend’s cousin who’d been good friends with my youngest uncle who’d had a wife and two very young children when he committed suicide. That may seem an odd revelation but I was trying to confirm my suspicion that my uncle had killed himself because he was gay and felt trapped in marriage. Despite having concrete proof of other gay men around me I was still terrified of coming out and had absolutely no intention of doing so for a long time. And yet it happened…twice and without my wanting it. The first time because my sister found evidence of and told my mother, who dismissed her. The second time was a confrontation with my parents who had irrefutable proof and I walked out instead of facing it and decided to cut off contact rather than be disowned. This lasted all of two weeks because my mother called me at work and scolded me for shutting my family out, including my youngest brother who was very sad I’d disappeared, and told me this wasn’t the end of the world. Considering this happened years ago in a small, fairly conservative town with my fairly religious family made me feel very loved and extremely lucky, unlike countless LGBT people before and after.
But I’ve digressed from Iceman and his coming out story.
After reading the above paragraph you shouldn’t be surprised that as an adolescent and teen I didn’t quite grasp the mutant as hated minority metaphor. My younger self asked why were they hated when they didn’t look so different from the Avengers, Fantastic Four, and Daredevil. Why, I asked myself, didn’t they just try harder to hide their secret when that was what I was trying to do? Never mind not having the most successful results! Of course, that line of reasoning started to fall apart when Hank McCoy morphed into the furry Beast in his Amazing Adventures strip, but never underestimate the power of denail! The idea of embracing everything about myself as the X-Men were being written to do just didn’t seem possible till I’d faced being unwillingly outed which till then had been my worst fear. And that is what I thin Bendis has done here after decades of continuity with writers having Bobby date women: tell a story of a gay teen being told to embrace himself because being gay is normal.
What happens next will be as important. The X-Men franchise books have had a number of LGBT characters over the years, most of whom have had varying amounts of popularity. Even Northstar, the highest profile of the queer X-Men, hasn’t had much staying power. Not like Cyclops, Angel, Jean, Beast — and Iceman. For the most part I’ve stayed away from the X-Men books for years. Page after page of exposition filled word balloons did me in and only Grant Morrison’s and Marjorie Liu’s runs were enough draw to bring me back for their durations. Now I think I’ll have to start reading whichever series Iceman will be in to see how things unfold.
Damn you, Bendis!
Really though, thank you, Bendis!