My high school façade was designed for survival

In high school, I didn’t go to parties because I wasn’t invited.  If kids were doing drugs and drinking it wasn’t with me because no one asked.  Popular was the jocks or musicians because they got all the attention; and paid attention to all the girls, and not to.

My high school façade was designed for survival, leaning heavily on the cartoonish geek persona from middle school.  The comic books that had sheltered me in middle school became the defining trait in high school.  The differences I had from other boys was easily masked by the label “geek.”  I welcomed being considered a geek because it allowed me to avoid being ostracized as a “sissy.”  While this got me socially accepted, it limited the depth of my character.  I allowed peers to dictate my identity and silence my own interests. I strived to fit-in but gained attention because the adjectives that allowed me to nonchalantly shift cliques fixed a spotlight on me, and the impending question about my outsider status.

I knew acceptance wasn’t me being made into a token, but I sabotaged acceptance by defensively rejecting labels.  Instead my rejection came from refusing my own skin, which was rooted in the denial that was needed in high school to survive.

In high school I met Luna, an openly butch lesbian.  We ended up meeting over Erykah Badu, Live, in Freshman English.  I do not know what Luna’s true feelings were towards me, but our friendship was one sided.

Luna seemed embarrassed by me and our friendship.  She aligned herself with me while in school, but when it came to life outside of high school she dissuaded me from participating in the same, and only, local gay youth group.  The handful of times that I asked Luna what happened at the meetings, she told me they talked about what was going on and their problems.  When I followed-up with inquiries to go, Luna told me that I would hate them and that they weren’t filled with my people.  Luna was confident in her identity, her labels – similarly to those in the youth group who had already presented to their parents – gave them the bravery to confront the world that I lacked.

After asking Luna those handful of times to participate, I got the hint that I was not welcomed into that part of her world.  I could not discern what it about myself that kept me from being acceptable for a youth group targeted at my group.  I had made my friendship wholly unconditional and fully.  It was when I discovered the usage of the internet and Gay.com as linkage to fellow young gays, was I able to comprehend why.

The homosexual teenagers I conversed with through the internet, just as the youths in the gay youth group, had an acceptable idea gay youth: Bruce la Bruce models.  Repeatedly from the other teens, who lied that they were 18 as well for access, I was not an acceptable because of comic books.  The geek façade that protected me in the halls of school isolated me from the homosexual community because I didn’t appear to fawn over pop-idols as porn stars.

Advertisements

In middle school, ‘gay’ was a pejorative

Playgrounds, as evolutionary survival, teach the necessary fact that it is important to be like everyone else, to find acceptance into the group dynamic.  From pre-historic to ancient-times, and beyond, avoiding being ostracized meant avoiding death.  This evolutionary hold-over pushed stagnation in the formation of an authentic identity from others, keeping interests, past-times, and loves from friends and families.  Unsurprisingly, children are acutely aware of the differences amongst each other, particularly when there’s one who doesn’t participate in the same activities and games.

Feeling distant from classmates and peers, particularly the boys, began in elementary school when I wasn’t naturally inclined to want to participate in the same games and activities.  While I could rough house and play with the best of them, my over-exuberance must’ve rung inauthentic to those around me.  The thing I had that other boys did not have was my father’s Playboy magazines, which he kept openly in the living room on the end table near where he sat.  The other boys would accept invitations to play or have sleep-overs in the living room, allowing free perusal of the Playboys.  They were in awe that the nudity was on display so openly.  I explained that my parents thought it was better to see healthy relationships than to see violence as natural solutions; when I turned thirteen I still hadn’t seen Terminator 2: Judgement Day, but had seen 9 & ½ Weeks.

Middle school was a complicated time – while other boys discovered girls, I had no interest in them.  What I found more appealing were the boys, who became the subject of fantasy and infatuation.  In middle school. there were no boys to roleplay intimacy or boundaries; everyone’s burgeoning masculinity was too fragile.  Other students’ sexual exploration didn’t have many venturing far from home, but my search had me travelling far into the realm of gay-other, which at that time was predominately found in the character Jodie Dallas, from Soap reruns on Comedy Central.  Jodie Dallas was ridiculed and dismissed every time he came out.  He was a sad sack that never was taken seriously by his family, and was unable to find happiness with another person that was similar, whom to divulge his thoughts and feelings to.  Jodie was constantly alone, single, and friendless because homosexuality separated him from his family.  This was a typical portrayal of homosexuality in the early & mid-1990s, and Soap was from the late 1970s.

In middle school, ‘gay’ was a pejorative for ‘stupid,’ ‘sissy,’ ‘girly,’ or ‘less than.’  With group acceptance as the primary goal being labeled the outsider was unacceptable, so I steered far from the homosexual labels.  I was intimidated.  I wasn’t ready to be placed in any box, let alone the wrong one.  kept any suspicious ‘gay’ buried through comic books.  A lack of interest in sports was chalked up to geek, safely hiding within the group.  I ignored the adventure of exploring a gay identity, and embraced the descriptions that avoided me being ostracized into the group with the more flamboyant homosexual boys – the ones labeled “sissy.”  So, when a girl asked me to be their boyfriend I said yes, lacking the vocabulary and experiences to know that it would be an ill-fit.  I withdrew and couldn’t muster the interest to mimic boyfriends I saw modeled on TV, and waited for the inevitable implosion.  When she did call to break-up I didn’t feel relieved, or even numb – I simply went about my afternoon watching cartoons.

X-Men’s Legacy Virus

X-Men's Legacy VirusI annoyingly tagged along on my mother’s weekly grocery trips, using them to routinely see if the magazine spinner rack contained a new super-hero adventure.  As a youth, I connected with every aspect of the superhero genre: the ordinary persona was a cover for the true fascinating life away from restrictions.  The grocery store’s spinner rack held many A-list superheroes, such as Batman, Superman, and Captain America, but was overwhelmingly mostly C-list, Ex-Mutants or SleepWalker; others were B-list or cult heroes like the growing Dark Horse line, Ghost or X.  I flipped through each title, sitting on the ground, sampling their plots and characters, but their struggles felt too distant from my own.  It took months for me to find the title that was my life, that reflected everything that I was feeling – the X-Men.  These were heroes that instinctually understood me and I them.  Their world was my world.  I was a mutant and that’s why I didn’t fit in!

The X-Men family of titles when I discovered them were polybagged because they were amid the “X-Cutioner’s Song” storyline, and each issue contained a trading card.  The X-Men’s founder and mentor Professor X had been shot.  Searching for the would-be assassin the X-Men discover the attacker was a clone of Cable, time travelling son from the future of founding member Cyclops.  Before being defeated Cable’s clone, Stryfe, gave a mysterious canister of mutant DNA to the X-Men’s enemy Mr. Sinister, who opened the container to discover it open.  Rather than receiving the genetic code to Cyclops and Jean Grey, another founding X-Men member, Mr. Sinister released the Legacy Virus, a disease created by Stryfe that targeted mutants and disrupted their necessary RNA replication, making the body incapable of creating healthy cells, which resulted in the mutant’s death.  In the final moments of life, the Legacy Virus caused a mutant’s power to flare violently, in effect turning the mutant’s ability – what made them unique amongst other mutants – into the cause of their own destruction.

Underneath the garish early 1990s costumes the X-Men had pathos.  The Avengers and Fantastic Four were friendly clubs occupied by those who found being a super-hero an adventure.  The characters were chums and friends who spent their down time around a pool or squabbling over used condiments.  The X-Men were a found family because there were no other heroes that understood their position in society.  The X-Men didn’t want to save the world, they wanted to live and be left alone.  The villains of other teams wanted their opponents subdued so that victory could be achieved.   Down time for the X-Men was spent training to control their powers, running through numerous survival scenarios because their antagonists were actively attempting to kill and commit genocide.  Still the X-Men believed in showing compassion and empathy to their opponents, believing in finding a common ground to move forward.  The X-Men taught me that exposure to similar experiences has the potential to bring about understanding.

Kabuki & Elektra

Kabuki (Bill Sienkiewicz)
Kabuki by Bill Sienkiewicz

I had missed Bill Sienkiewicz’s work in the 1980s, but I had David Mack; ‘Metamorphosis’ was Mack’s Elektra: Assassin.  Both artists combined traditional fine art skills, collage, and traditional comic book style-art in their work.  David Mack’s artwork exposed me to comic books as fine art; before, the closest at this point was Sam Keith and Travis Charest.  David Mack was the first sequential artist whose name I knew and followed from project to project.

Both Kabuki’s ‘Metamorphosis’ and Elektra: Assassin are stories of teenage rebellion.  In their respective storylines, Kabuki and Electra begin their journey awakening in a mental institution disjointedly recalling their origin, and eventually must escape.  While Elektra escapes and thwarts an evil ninja clan’s plan to take-over the United States, Kabuki spends the entirety of her storyline in the mental institution.  In Kabuki’s case, though, the institution reprograms secret agents to work in other organizations.  While escaping Kabuki is pursued by released inmates and former teammates.  Kabuki’s fights are battles against intrusive ideologies.

Elektra (David Mack)
Elektra by David Mack

By defeating the anthropomorphized points of view, Kabuki rejects the limitations of philosophy.  For Kabuki, a myopic view of the world does not fully explain the world.  Returning to Elektra, by the end of her journey she has defeated the plan of The Beast, an evil entity worshiped by an evil ninja clan.  Having been groomed by outside forces to be a vessel for The Beast, Elektra’s defeat of the creature is her own statement of anti-establishment.  For Elektra and Kabuki their stories are about rejecting the societal expectations, which others use to groom them to be killing machines.

Felix’s Evolution

When Felix was originally created, in elementary school, I garbed him in the standard blue and gold X-Men uniform.  As I grew through school more “personality” was injected into Felix’s costume through individualizing his presentation.  Until, by the end of middle school Felix was dressed pop-punk: urban military boots, jeans, half un-tucked t-shirt, and bomber jacket; because the 90s.  Being 13 years old, and knowing nothing of bad-assery, I had Felix chew bubble-gum; a big no-no in my house growing up.

Going through high school, Felix’s costume became a simplified bodysuit again with a hoodie over it, a set of cybernetic goggles, a thigh-strap for pouches and guns, and urban boots; because the late-90s.  At the end of high school, Felix had ditched the pull-over, but attached the hoodie to the bodysuit.  The boots gave way to padded soles on the body suit.

By the time I entered college, Felix had evolved from clown to trouble-maker.  Felix had begun as a fun character, evolving through the storylines into a stylized character.  Initially appearing as the jokester in Generation X, Felix grew to become a morally ambiguous character that juggled numerous facades by the Utopia-era.  I gave-in and gave Felix a green satchel bag, bringing him to full homage status.

Felix Masquerade

I dreamed of super-powers to be like the mutant X-Men, just as I had dreamed about being like the other boys in school.  I didn’t understand why I had to feel alienated and alone from everyone in my school and home; why couldn’t what made me different be celebrated the way athleticism and super-powers were? The character, Felix, I created was originally purely escapism, a way to join my favorite mutants as I read their new issues.   Over time he developed as I grew, becoming a character that I armored myself with in new and boundary-pushing situations.

The original power I grafted onto Felix were my wish fulfillment, liberating me from the conflicts I had with homosexuality’s shame.  Originally, I gave Felix shapeshifting abilities because I’d be able to become anyone other than myself.  With shapeshifting, I’d reflect the popular students throughout middle and most of high school, avoiding the lonely and isolation prophesized by television and movies.  Changing my appearance, Felix could literally become or match anyone’s desire, gaining the perfection that I had desired.  Being able to shapeshift I’d have more tools at my disposal to make my goals and fantasies match my outside.

Felix was eventually given telepathy as I struggled to juggle the various facades I had created to navigate interactions.  Telepathy ensured that the forms I took would be ideal for whom I was interacting with, removing the guess work about how to be part of the group.  I’d know exactly what to say, be prepared for what others would say, and always have a funny quip to keep grace.  Having the correct words, I’d be able to give the illusion that I was known without having to go through the painful experience of not exposing my queerness.

As I began to fully explore what differentiated me from others, I added the final super-power: teleportation.  Felix would be able to truly escape any situation that was uncomfortable; I’d be free to be away from ticky-tacky suburbia and be where the different, foreign, and unique are celebrated –  New York City, home to many of Marvel’s superheroes and faraway from the mundane.  By this time Felix stopped becoming escapism and became the armor for every day, designed to masquerade as popular and fleeting.  Felix had become the mysterious character whose silent smile spoke, so that I didn’t have to expose myself to isolation and alienation.

What Comics Mean to Me

avengers_youngbabyx_02It’s always been easier to say, “I enjoy comic books” then “I am gay.”  In school, comic books sheltered me from isolation growing because they offered a world to escape into that was more acceptable than homosexuality.  The differences I had from other boys was easily masked by the label “geek.”  I welcomed being considered a geek because it allowed me to avoid being ostracized as a “sissy.”  The popular boys were my superheroes, the ones that I modeled my failed mimicry after because they embodied acceptability, which I could not do on my own.

Away from school, comic books provided a space to explore my queer identity, which has allowed me to state my queerness with greater confidence.  Prior to comic books, queer experiences shown in TV mass-media were rooted in pain, neglected, and isolated.  Comic books offered the first examples of characters who took their uniqueness, and amplified them to create identities that were admired.  The loud personalities of super-heroes demonstrated to me that it was possible to be accepted for brashness.  Super-heroes, like myself, hid their true self behind mild-mannered civilian identities.  A world was opened to me where underneath the mask I created in school the true self was possible to be celebrated, and accepted, for its accomplishments.

Wonder Woman as Queer

Wonder Woman by Nathan FoxWonder Woman is from Paradise Island, a single-sex island, where in the twenty-first century began canonical displays of romantic love towards one another.  Wonder Woman’s advocacy of queer eroticism, which began with her creation by William Marston in 1942 until Dr. Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent labeled Wonder Woman dangerous to young American girls by promoting lesbianism.  Fearing cancellation DC Comics’ writers and artists began suppressing Wonder Woman’s textual queer support, barely addressing her erotic history as subtext.  During this time Wonder Woman abandoned promoting equality between the sexes for earning Steve Trevor’s affections.  In the twenty-first century writers leaned-in to modern interpretations of Paradise Island, once again freeing Wonder Woman from heteronormativity, and regaining her role as an advocate of queerness.  Freedom from heteronormative expectations removes preconceived notions of “sex” and “gender” labels, allowing Wonder Woman to embody the idea of universal love.  Wonder Woman’s love for all extends to acceptance, such as in the 2016 (v3, #48), when she officiated over a same-sex wedding, legitimizing homosexuality as a mainstream.  Additionally, given Wonder Woman’s Amazon Princess role means that Hippolyta, queen-mother, would have performed officiations on Paradise Island, and given being royalty her participation would lend significance and validity to the ceremony.

Wonder Woman’s Dichotomy

 

Wonder Woman by Adam Hughes
Wonder Woman by Adam Hughes

Wonder Woman, Diana Prince, with her powerful abilities, centuries of training and experienced at handling threats that range from petty crime to threats that are of a magical or supernatural nature, Diana is capable of competing with nearly any hero or villain.  She’s concurrently the fiercest and most nurturing member of the Justice League, capable of making the hard decisions.  Wonder Woman’s hard-decision making is brought from her backstory and characterization.  In comic books and the DC Universe Wonder Woman’s nickname, The Amazon Princess, makes obvious the dichotomy inherent in the premiere super-heroine.  As an Amazonian she is a trained warrior, powerful, strong-willed, and does not back-down from a battle.  The princess aspect of the character places her in the political and diplomatic spheres, pursing peace without escalating conflicts.  In both worlds Wonder Woman is a leader, who, unlike Superman and Batman, understands the ramifications globally and locally of her actions.  Throughout the character’s seventy-five-year history, and several retcons, Wonder Woman has remained consistently nurtured humanity through compassion and a strong conscience.

 

Wonder Woman and American Ideals

 

wonder woman by iumazark-d3iekm2
By Gabriel Iumazark

Batman and Superman are aspects of the American experience in ways that Wonder Woman is not.  Superman is the immigrant experience, constantly having to be better and stronger than the ideals – truth, justice, the American Way – he embodies because if he does not than all immigrants/aliens/heroes would be viewed as untrustworthy.  Batman is the guilt wealth brings, fighting the shadows to right the wrongs upon which success is built upon.  Wonder Woman though is not born of the American Dream – she does not come from guilt due to success, nor is she an immigrant who holds ideals of a culture.  Wonder Woman, is a visitor to America; she is an emissary of foreign ideals that she hopes to impart.  By her actions and adventures Wonder Woman inspires all peoples to possess physical and mental strength, values, and ethical and moral attributes, proving that not only American values need dominate the world stage.  She is not looking to eclipse the core of American ideals, rather Wonder Woman’s goal is to symbolize that anyone can embody truth and justice.  Wonder Woman normalizes that esteem for human life is a source of strength.  This diminishes the American belief, which has vacillated through its history, that armed conflict leads to conflict resolution.