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.


Oliver’s NYC Escape

Oliver and Company (Oliver's NYC Escape)My passionate love for all things New York City began with the rollicking technicolor adventure of Disney’s Oliver & Company.  While it can’t be possible because I was born in 1983, but I recall seeing Oliver & Company on the big screen movie; but I still maintain that The Little Mermaid was my first big screen Disney movie.  The pop-songs of Billy Joel and the bright colors of New York City were candy to me.  Oliver & Company had it all, as far as I was concerned: quick, hand-drawn animation; various styles of humor; a lesson about family; and the pop-songs of Billy Joel.  The Disney film’s Manhattan adventures helped lay the foundation that created the landscape that fueled my queer escape fantasies.

Oliver, the remaining free-to-adopt kitten in the box, reflects the emotional isolation queer students feel throughout middle and high school, watching other students pair off to experiment with the opposite sex.  Oliver is separated from his peers.  Abandoned, Oliver falls into friendship with the thief Fagin and his dogs – Dodger, Tito, Francis, and Rita – paralleling the found family friends that homosexuals find in similar people; either because of disapproval or knowing how difficult life would be for the child.  During his time with Fagin’s crew, Oliver meets a similarly abandoned young rich girl, Jenny.  Upon meeting Jenny, Oliver is offered an opportunity of acceptance; and vice-versa for Jenny, who is consistently left with only a butler while her parents travel.  The basis of that acceptance is that Jenny doesn’t truly know Oliver, or his life as a thief, which eventually catches up with him.  For queer identity development Jenny represents the dreams and goals that are imposed by the majority.  Oliver, like young queers, has mixed feelings about owning the newly discovered world or the normative from which they came.  Choosing neither endangers the clarity of life’s path.  Only at the end when both worlds, that Oliver doesn’t want to meet, do meet is he able to find happiness in his identity and create unique goals for himself.

Oliver & Company painted the picture of New York City with the experiences and people I wanted.  The characters kept a sunny view towards the world, despite the hardships that were thrown at them, regardless of the collar-color of the problem.  While they scrounged for food scrapes the dogs made playful games of their thievery to alleviate.  The cast of Oliver & Company took their lumps, learned, and then tried again with new vigor.  They had grit, ambition, and motivation to make steps.  No matter how many knocks life gave them, Fagin & Crew dreamed of a utopian life, nurtured with their communal domestic routine.  As in the found family, Fagin & Crew, shared their spoils and comforted through their failures.  They were early models of friendship and family in its purest forms.  A New York City of bohemian friendship, where there wasn’t much, but what was had was shared willingly.

Verve – Tales of the City & Sense8

Sense8 [I Am We] (Tales of the City & Sense8)Tales of the City series offered a worldview where groups do not exist in isolation.  Rather, they exist shoulder to shoulder, helping and loving, other groups.  Tales of the City celebrates the connectedness of humanity.  My first found family was Armistead Maupin’s More Tales of the City, the second in the series, when I read it in high school.  More Tales of the City embedded in me the values and worldview that made the Netflix series ‘Sense8’, by the Wachowski Siblings and J. Michael Straczynski.

In ‘Sense8’ there is a parallel species called homosensate, where a group (‘cluster’) is mentally and emotionally linked across the world.  The show emphasizes the shared humanity amongst the diverse characters, while using their differences to unite and save one another.  The members of a cluster did not know one another, due to global distance, prior to being activated, and find in one another a family.  While happy in each other lives, they are isolated from those around them either because of a secret or just feeling misunderstood, but a cluster’s connections allows members to share experiences and memories, granting them innate understanding of who one another are.

The found family concept was introduced in More Tales of the City, which was taken to a global level by the wonderful ‘Sense8’.  The Netflix series acted as a macrocosm to San Francisco in Tales of the City, applying the US melting pot to the entire world.

Verve – Heather

I have been reconstructing the found family I had built for myself, which I unceremoniously tore apart.  I began with Heather, by reconnecting with her in recent months.  I had met Heather through my first boyfriend, Ben; she is his ex-sister-in-law.  When I broke-up with Ben, and other boyfriends, Heather remained a constant.  Often, she was a great deal more pleasurable to be around than who I was dating.

Heather is a hardcore reader and deeply empathic.  She is the type of friend that is always needed – a person who completely accepts another person as they are.  She’s the rare person that shares what she has, and the even rarer person who gladly gives up what she must to improve another’s standing.  Heather allows people to drop their masks and be their authentic selves.  In the instance of me, I found a person who shared my proclivities and smart enough to grasp references &allusions without explanation.  Heather keeps friends to her detriment – even if the friendship is one-sided or toxic.

It has been just over seven years since Heather and I had seen each other.  The fault in our disconnection is with me.  It was a dark time, and could no longer deal with people around me, so I pushed every support away from myself.  I was convinced I had to do everything alone.  A family never does anything alone.


Tales of the City

My first found family was Armistead Maupin’s More Tales of the City, the second in the series, when I read it in high school.  The series took place in San Francisco, on the fictional street of Barbary Lane, at building number 28.  It was an apartment house owned by Mrs. Madrigal, who grew marijuana and dispense wisdom to her tenants.   In More Tales’ pages, I was introduced to characters that were diverse and inclusive.  Mary Anne was the Midwest middle class.  Brian was the womanizer who wished to settle down; the romantic hero.  Most importantly was Michael Tolliver, Mouse to his friends, my first impression of homosexuality presented as a normal.  I was captivated by how easily and zeal that Mouse navigated heartbreak, taking it in stride.  Mouse believed he was meant to find love, and that it could be found the very next day just around the corner; he was my gay Mary Tyler Moore.

As I devoured each book in the series the cast grew to include all forms of intersectionality.  Mrs. Madrigal’s daughter, the bisexual hippy Mona Ramsey came and went as she searched for her father.  Edgar Halcyon, who first was Mary Anne’s boss then became Mrs. Madrigal’s lover.  His daughter, DeDe Halcyon-Day, and her lesbian lover the model D’orothea Wilson offered opportunities to view the more affluent and art-centric San Francisco.  Mrs. Madrigal’s own mother, a brothel owner, appears towards the end of the series.

Tales of the City series offered a deluxe view the real world, through a fictional lens, demonstrating that groups do not exist in isolation.  Rather, they exist shoulder to shoulder, helping and loving, other groups.  Tales of the City celebrates the connectedness of humanity.