It is human nature to feel a strong affinity toward people or things that we relate to on a very personal level. And when the subject of our affinity happens to be a band or a book or a TV show, it’s even more awesome, because we can get all obsessed and fangirly, and in doing so find other ~kindred spirits~ with whom we bond, and it becomes a huge, cool CYCLE OF CONNECTION that reminds us that we really aren’t alone in this big ol’ scary thing called life—which is why I thought it would be fun to have a convo with my fellow Rookie Lola about why the X-Men are so cool, and why they mean so much to us.
I’ve long felt a kinship with this team of comic-book (and now movie) superheroes. They are a group of “mutants”—humans with superhuman powers caused by a mutated X-gene. Professor Charles Francis Xavier, aka Professor X, is a mutant himself, and he helped train the X-Men to use their powers to help the world. Sounds cool, right? Well, the mutants don’t have it so easy. Imagine having the ability to do something so incredible that most people wouldn’t understand, and so they might even become scared of you. Or imagine just feeling STRANGE. You get picked on, harassed, threatened, all because you are different. Being a chubby, extremely shy (yet highly intelligent!) biracial nerd who was constantly threatened by bullies due to a perma-bitchface—or, as my dad likes to call it, the “Lodi Scowl”—I never felt really comfortable among my classmates. I looked forward to being at home, in my room, surrounded by the things I liked: comic books and movies. When I was given my first X-Men comic by my dad, I immediately felt simpatico with the characters. I always had a thing for the underdogs, the unlikely heroes, the freaks with the hearts of gold! They became my friends. —Marie
LOLA: Shout-out to biracial nerds! I was one, too, the weird girl with no friends. Every day, girls would demand to know why my hair was so frizzy and why I didn’t straighten it. The things I was good at—reading, computers—alienated me even further. I remember trying to help one kid with his spelling homework and him snapping, “Shut up, you read the dictionary.” Ugh, ice burn. I can’t remember when I discovered X-Men—it was probably the Saturday-morning animated series, and not the comic books—but the first time I ever felt like a mutant, they were there for me. Most of the X-Men have an origin story that goes like this: they’re born normal until a moment of trauma (or puberty!) causes a power to emerge, alienating them from friends and family, often cruelly. Then Professor X brings them to the stately X-Mansion, where they find out that not only are they not alone in their weirdness, but that the weird part of them is what actually makes them a fucking superhero. I felt relief knowing there were other mutants out there, despite the off-chance that they might not exist. I think this identification was the connection for a lot of people. Take Junot Diaz! In The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, he writes: “You really want to know what being an X-Man feels like? Just be a smart bookish boy of color in a contemporary U.S. ghetto. Mamma mia! Like having bat wings or a pair of tentacles growing out of your chest.”
MARIE: I think a lot of people feel a strong connection to the X-Men because the X-Men became empowered by their perceived “flaws” instead of being paralyzed or devastated by them. Not to say it was all quick fixes. It’s an ongoing struggle, and I think that’s what so many of us can relate to. There’s this rad tarot reader in San Francisco named Storm (after the X-Men character!) who uses X-Men cards as his deck. Then there was this dude I lurved who had a rap-funk group a long time ago, and one of their songs was inspired by the parallels between X-Men and the civil rights movement. Chris Claremont, one of the comic’s writers, once said, “The X-Men are hated, feared, and despised collectively by humanity for no other reason than that they are mutants. So what we have…intended or not, is a book that is about racism, bigotry, and prejudice.”
LOLA: The X-Men are for anyone who feels irreducibly, irrefutably, DNA-level different. And they grind through the same questions as the rest of us. Are mutants an evolutionary advancement, or a mistake in evolution? If you could erase or “cure” your differences, would you? Is it better to assimilate by being “normal,” or to make normal PAY for what it’s done? When I was made fun of for reading the dictionary, should I have stopped using big words? I grew up to be queer as Christmas, hitting my gay stride just as the big question in the U.S. became: should I adapt to marriage or should marriage adapt to me? Professor X along with his X-Men engage in this lively debate against Magneto and his Brotherhood of Mutants. The X-Men want to live in harmony with humans, and Magneto doesn’t.
MARIE: Yes! In the movie First Class, I understand WHY Magneto chose a different path than Xavier, and I kind of sympathize with him. Magneto’s family was executed by Nazis in World War II. His worldview is a result of the trauma he experienced as a child. He doesn’t believe humans and mutants can be equal, and he wants to protect his fellow mutants from experiencing the kind of tragedies he did. Professor X was raised with wealth and privilege. He wants peace between mutants and humans. And while most of us would agree with his approach, we can understand why Magneto became the person he is. Mutants, like humans, are multifaceted, and incapable of being 100 percent good or 100 percent bad.
LOLA: Right. Complexity! Baggage! Poor impulse control! Like real people. The relationship between Magneto and Professor X is true to real-life nemeses. They’re best friends who become worst enemies for the same reason they became friends: they’re so alike. They become each other’s direct competition. And even then, they still play chess together in a futuristic glass prison cell, because they’re the only people who really get what the other is going through.
MARIE: For a long time, I would sit on my bedroom floor after school, reading about the latest X-Men mission while other girls in my class were only reading Bop. Little did they know I was crushing simultaneously on Zack Morris from Saved by the Bell AND Beast, the blue “intelli-thug” (as I like to call him). A life of balance, always!
LOLA: Marie, I am not judging you. I cannot, when this 1995 Fleer Ultra “X-Men Spring Break: Gambit & Rogue” trading card was largely responsible for the sexual awakening of the nine-year-old who became the 26-year-old writing this article with you:
I wanted to make out with Rogue and Gambit, and I wanted to watch them make out. I wanted their relationship, I wanted to be them, and, according to this fanfic I wrote when I was 11, I wanted them to be my parents, too. Taking a moment.
Damn. That tension. The quote from Gambit on the back of the card: “Mon Dieu! How do you put lotion on a belle you can’t touch?”
MARIE: Poor Rogue. She couldn’t get any action, otherwise she’d put her lovermenz in danger, because she can absorb a person’s abilities and memories, essentially sucking the life out of them, just by touch! But what a fierce lady. I loved the team’s all-around strong female presence. If you are a mutant, there is no “weaker sex.” The female X-Men can kick ass just as hard as the men. Storm, who sometimes leads the group, has the power to manipulate the weather and fly. Jean Grey has telepathic and telekinetic powers, and when she transforms into Phoenix, reaching the apex of her mutant abilities, she can engulf an entire planet into flames. Baby gurl’s got skillz.
LOLA: Right! Jean Grey is kind of the manic pixie dream girl of the team. She’s the center of a love triangle with Wolverine and Cyclops. She’s the most basic of all the X-Women, and she STILL almost destroys the entire universe. She dies at least twice!
MARIE: There are SO MANY BADASS MUTANT LADIES! My personal favorites were always Jubilee, the rebellious, rollerblading mallrat whom I also bonded with, because she was Chinese, and Kitty Pryde, who became a sort of kid sister-type to many of the more established mutants. Kitty could pass through walls and had a cute little dragon named Lockheed as a sidekick. I wanted to be one of them! TAKE ME AWAY, PROFESSOR X!
LOLA: I feel you so hard. Maybe it’s because the location of the X-Mansion—Salem, New York—is a real place near where I grew up that I can’t rule out the idea that one day, if I am strong enough and my heart is brave enough, the X-Men will knock on (blow up?!) my door, yelling: “There’s no time—come with us. Now!” The possibility of this event helps me stay true to the importance of being a glorious mutant. That and my tattoo.