So, Iceman's gay now. Very predictably, this is a thing that I have a lot of opinions and feelings about as a fully out X-Men fan -- and also because of my gayness. This is a pretty big deal, a pretty big development, and I'd say that Iceman is a pretty "good get" for the queer community. He's a headlining X-Man with a fully formed personality as well as a rich history filled with lots of solid stories. He's also an Omega Level mutant, which is something that a certain sect of X-Men fans really care about for reasons I can't understand. Iceman isn't like Northstar or Shatterstar, and not just because his name isn't "Icestar." Those two guys aren't essential; like a lot of Marvel's LGBT heroes, they come and go all the time. Iceman is pretty much as essential as it gets with the X-Men. He has appeared in a team book consistently for the last 15 years. The X-Men might finally have a gay character that won't disappear in-between every creative team shake-up.
This also isn't a development that has come out of nowhere, although I do believe it has a rather odd origin. As with more than a few other X-Men (Storm, Gambit, Kitty Pryde, Dani Moonstar, etc.), fans have long had theories about Bobby Drake's sexuality. In fact, Scott Lobdell really focused a lot of attention on the character during his "Uncanny X-Men" run, specifically in storylines featuring Iceman's bigoted father that rather bluntly used being a mutant as a metaphor for homosexuality. This was even echoed in a trailer-worthy Iceman scene from Bryan Singer's "X2: X-Men United" ("Have you tried...not being a mutant?"). But from what I remember from my days as an active member of Marvel's AOL message boards, most of the early rumors had a real clunky justification: "Uncanny X-Men" #331.
Emma Frost possessed Iceman's body in "Uncanny X-Men" #314 and used his powers way more efficiently than Bobby ever had. With a gaping hole in the chest of his ice form, Iceman confronted Emma in her office, covering it with ice for dramatic effect. Emma walks in and says, "So you've decided to use your mutant ability to pursue your first love: interior decorating?" I remember this moment -- clearly a joke about what Iceman did to the office -- being cited all the time as evidence of Bobby's queerness, because all gay men love interior decorating. Groan, right? Later in the issue, Emma uses a mental projection of Iceman's ex to antagonize him, saying, "I was never really your girlfriend. You never loved me. You just needed me there to make you look good." This would be more convincing evidence, but it's presented as a baseless character attack from the former White Queen that Bobby dismisses with ease. So, you know, read into it what you will.
However shaky I thought -- and still think -- the "Uncanny" #331 reasons are, they stuck around along with the theory that Iceman might be gay. Now Iceman has managed to do something that Storm, a character whose secondary mutant power might as well be bisexual subtext, never has. Bobby Drake is out! He's "full gay," to use a Bendisism. Or -- is he?
The conversation between Jean Grey and Iceman is more than a little problematic, and I've seen a lot of varied reactions to this coming out scene. Of course one of the main problems is that it's a forcing out scene, since Jean just reads Iceman's mind and makes him admit it out loud. Not cool, Jean. There's also the accusation that teen Iceman being totally gay while adult Iceman has been depicted as straight constitutes bi-erasure or presents the dangerous idea that homosexuality can be forced into heterosexuality through outside factors. Heavy stuff for a scene that lasts just six pages!
To the first point, yeah, it is more than a little annoying that Bendis decided to dismiss the idea that Iceman might be bi. For one thing, bi-erasure is a huge problem and Marvel needs more visible bisexual characters. Iceman's also way less morally dubious than other out bisexuals Mystique and Daken. Making Iceman a 6 on the Kinsey scale feels like fitting a round peg into a square hole. It presents a continuity problem with his past characterization and it creates the need to address those problems head-on in the text -- which is actually something that Jean alludes to when she tells teen Bobby to ask his adult self about all this. And from reading the scene again, Jean doesn't explicitly say all that much about older Bobby; she leaves all that justification to teen Bobby.
To the second point, because of the very real threat posed by evils such as gay conversion therapy, a practice President Obama seeks to end, it is incredibly dangerous to depict a story where a young gay character is intended to be the one-hundred-percent same person as an adult straight character. But from these six pages, it's not possible to tell if this story is going down that road yet. To come at it from a different point of view, I think it's actually incredibly progressive to present a character whose sexuality might end up being genuinely and canonically fluid. People change, and orientations change too. Just because I don't think my sexual orientation ever will doesn't mean that feeling is universal; if this story ends up being one that can give comfort to those dealing with a change in orientation or fighting against the rigid sexuality boxes our culture has established, then that's a pretty great thing.
Both writer Brian Michael Bendis and Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso have made it clear that the time-travel nature of this story and these characters have allowed for this tale to be told. This is right there in the scene when Jean tells Bobby, "That's one of the good things about being here as opposed to back where we came from. I don't think anyone here cares." The Iceman we've known all these years literally grew up in the '60s -- or the '80s-ish, thanks to Marvel's sliding timescale. The fictional character of Iceman is probably around my age, so yeah, when it comes to outside expectations and cultural factors keeping you in the closet, I feel ya, Bobby.
I remember thinking other boys in my kindergarten class were cute. I remember elementary school me having what I now know were crushes on "Family Feud's" Ray Combs and Dr. Alan Grant from "Jurassic Park" (I've always had peculiar taste, geez). I also remember never seeing positive portrayals of gay men anywhere. When they started showing up when I was in middle school, they didn't look like me or talk like me or act like me. Middle school me couldn't be gay, even though he made Microsoft Paint collages of Alan White, Oasis' baby-faced drummer. College me thought it was completely normal for a straight man to be obsessed with Richard Dawson (my "Family Feud" crushes end there).
The point I'm trying to make is, I have no idea where I would be right now if one of the guys that I had a definitely-not-a-crush-on during my senior year of college hadn't turned out to be bisexual. When would I have come out? What would have made me realize it? I had dated girls before, like Iceman, but those relationships were hard work. I was also trying to date girls before and after the night that I told this guy-that-I-actually-did-have-a-crush-on that I wasn't "as straight as he thought." My journey to where I am now was long and confusing and tough; I wasn't born totally aware of my sexuality and I definitely shifted between identifying as straight, gay and bi for a year or so as I cut through twenty-two years of preconceived notions and faulty stereotypes to figure out who I am -- which is a gay man with a mustache and thick-rimmed glasses that will be at C2E2 all weekend for work (say hello!).
So that is where I'm coming from when I read that scene and see the discrepancy between teen Iceman's sexuality and his adult self. I read that scene and I hope, I hope that we will soon get a scene -- or, fingers crossed, an ongoing series -- where adult Iceman goes through what I went through in my early 20s as I figured out my sexual orientation. I want to see Bobby Drake deal with this, unlike Shatterstar and Rictor who came out while languishing in limbo. Yes, I selfishly want to see my story mirrored in an X-Men story, both because I love the X-Men but also because I see -- and have kinda always seen -- a lot of myself in Bobby Drake. As a gay man whose male friends are predominantly straight, I also want to see adult Iceman and Beast have a talk about this -- and then I want to see their kickass friendship keep on kicking ass. That's my bias. #mybias
I also see this coming out story as involving two very distinct individuals whose personalities dictated how this story was told, which has caused controversy. This Jean Grey has a track record of being way too cavalier with people's privacy. This Iceman's jokey attitude makes adult Iceman look like Dick Cheney. They are both transplants from a less progressive time. They are both young teenagers from a less progressive time. I said and thought astonishingly stupid things when I was 14. I think it would be wildly out of character for either of them to have even the slightest of firm grasps on the complexities of sexual identity. At least that's how I read it. I don't think it's fair to assume that the views of fictional teenagers are shared by the writer, and I also wonder about the feasibility and believability of inserting a character that is equipped to deal with that nuance into this particular scene. From his work with characters like Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Miles Morales and Kitty Pryde, Bendis has accrued a lot of good will with me over the past 15 years. I'll see this out.
All that being said, my bias and interpretation doesn't override anyone else's biases, experiences or opinions. Odds are bisexual or questioning readers will have a very different reaction to this storyline. Listen to those points and learn from them. It's possible to see the truth in other interpretations while still holding on to your own. It's hard, but it can be done. Personally, I'm excited to see what the seventh page of this new Iceman story holds.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He makes videos for the Upright Citizens Brigade as a member of UCB1 and writes for the sketch comedy podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).