I Ship it! (But I Shouldn’t Have To)
The following is a guest post by artist Peter Cimpoe
There was an anonymous postcard I saw many years back that has always stayed with me. It was in one those Post Secrets books that were all the rage for some time. It was a picture of the three kids from the Harry Potter films and written over their faces, in plain black text, was something along the line of: “These people have been closer to me in my life than my own family”. I was struck by this text. I suspect that a lot of people would find that statement sad or even shameful. I really don’t think there was anything sad or shameful about what written on that postcard. Harry, Hermione and Ron are mythologies that have become entrenched in the consciousness of a generation of kids and adults. These mythologies are an integral part of our lives; they influence our outlook on life, friendship and love. They soothe us during our formative years and guide us later in life, when we hit the brick walls of adulthood, coaching us through the back alleys of our minds and showing another way – another route – to the invisible platform. The uber-influence of these mythologies is something that should be celebrated. Sometimes, there just isn’t anyone around us we can identify with except for those living between the pages of books or on a flickering television screen. It’s why representation is especially so important to minorities.
I didn’t know any gay people when I was growing up. As a kid, being gay was an anomaly; it was a tragedy. It was icky and gross and unacceptable. If you didn’t like someone or something, you’d call it gay. It’s how you knew something was bad; it was “gay”. There wasn’t much to look at in terms of queer representation but the little bit I saw meant so much to me. I don’t know if I would’ve come to the conclusion that there was nothing wrong with being a gay person if I hadn’t discovered – and cherished – the little representation I had stumbled across. My queer identity certainly didn’t come from school or my family or church (yikes). It came from television, books, video games, comics and movies. The representation that influenced me was mostly just subtext or non-canonical but that really didn’t matter. Comics and video games were still heavily censored in the 90’s. It was censored worse in the decades preceding that. I grew up reading the Claremont era of X-MEN as well as some of Jim Lee’s run. I always thought that there was something weird going on between Mystique and Destiny’s living arrangement but I didn’t realize they were lovers until it was officially confirmed years later.
Storm, on the other hand, was so gay. I can’t believe this isn’t official. The Uncanny X-MEN #170’s cover art by Paul Smith is – in essence – an angry kiss between her and the butch Calisto. The Claremont era of X-MEN saw Storm evolve from a demure, feminine and pants-less character into a gender bending badass. She shaved her hair into a mohawk and started wearing masculine punk clothes identical to the outfit Calisto wore. It was basically the experience of being a young gay person from a small town who goes to University in the big city, meets their first overtly queer person, and proceeds to dye their hair green and freak out everyone they used to know. Storm’s personality changed too. She became assertive and confident and took control of the X-MEN. After Calisto, Storm meets another queer-seeming character, Yukio, and I really do think they there was more than just “subtext” between these two. Claremont said the great thing about comics is you never see what they do between the panels so there’s always room for interpretation. I didn’t have to see Yukio or Calisto actually kiss Storm; it came across so obvious to me. Storm experienced what so many gay people experience when we meet our first out queer person at college or have our first same sex kiss. She went all out and aggressively explored an aspect of herself that had been previously restrained. She wasn’t holding back anymore. It made some of her family member – Kitty Pride, in particular – uncomfortable with the dramatic change but maybe that was to be expected. Here was a woman Kitty had come to know in one form – demure, feminine, pants-less- and she was transformed. We first see the truly badass Storm when she penetrates Calisto (with a knife…) and then when she comes out to her teammates sporting a mohawk and butch clothes. She further challenges gender norms when she takes leadership of the X-Men from Cyclops. I’m not sure there ever was a major superhero team led by a woman before Storm. Seeing a superhero defy gender roles and expectations, all the while kicking ass and taking names, was everything to me. It was my Ellen saying “I’m gay”. And just as Ellen Degeneres’ coming out as a fictional television character changed the way Americans thought about gay people, Storm changed the way I thought about being gay. She made defying gender norms exciting and positive. Eventually I would read about Northstar and Mystique and Batwoman and they were great, in their own way, but they never had the same impact to me as Storm had during the iconic Claremont run. Moreover, there was no one in my life who impacted the way I thought about my sexuality more than Storm. It’s why I can totally relate to that anonymous Post Secrets postcard. When we can’t turn to real people in real life, we turn to fiction. It gives us the perspectives we need to put up a brave front and deal with discrimination and hate. It helps us to see the rejection of our peers in a different light. And to quote Liz Lemon on 30 Rock: “Rejection from Society is what created the X-Men!”