I'm a guy that is big on anniversaries and assigning meaning to events that more rational people would call "coincidences." That's why I'm writing about "Uncanny X-Men" #600 this week -- that and the fact that the six hundredth issue of "Uncanny" is a big deal. It's also a big deal because of a "coincidence" (AKA the narrative that I'm imposing on my life because writers gotta write). "Uncanny X-Men" #600, the issue where time-traveling-teen Iceman finally has a talk with his modern, adult self about being gay, has been released a day before my ten year gay-versary. When I realized that, I became retroactively pleased with this issue's many delays. With that major life moment approaching a major anniversary number, I've already been spending time reflecting back to November 5, 2005. I'm glad -- and slightly emotionally compromised -- that I have an X-Men comic that hits this close to home come out at this time.
A gay Iceman means a lot to me, and it's why I had the optimistic response I did to the previous scene in "All-New X-Men" #40, wherein Jean pulled Bobby aside to talk to him about his secret. That's not to say that other people's negative reactions were invalid; I'm all about recognizing the missed opportunities and complicated nature contained in the previous scene while also acknowledging that it resonated with me. Humans, complex opinions we can have!
The exchange in "Uncanny" #600, a follow-up chat that we've waited six months to read, will most likely be as heavily critiqued, pulled apart, scrutinized and possibly panned as the previous one. But dammit if it isn't the exact thing I needed to read this week and double dammit if it doesn't ring true to me.
The six-page scene by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mahmud Asrar, the same creators behind "All-New" #40, gives an awful lot of insight into adult Bobby Drake's headspace. Spoilers ahead if you haven't read it -- but like, it's six pages, so check it out and I'll see you in five? Cool? The scene in question is, like the majority of my favorite X-Scenes, a quiet one. It's just the two Bobbys (and teen Jean, for support reasons) talking. Teen Iceman has realized that he doesn't want to hide his sexuality and asks why adult Iceman has chilled in the closet his whole life. Then we hear from adult Bobby, who admits that he wanted one part of his life that he wouldn't be persecuted for; he didn't want to deal with being a mutant, a superhero and being gay.
Of course the scene isn't without problems. I'll hold off on getting intensely personal (the IN YOUR FACE JAM guarantee, every week!) for a sec while I run through some cons. Teen Jean doesn't need to be there. Jean was the point of contention amongst the queer community in that original scene, so having her here in this scene feels a little like pushing it, a little like daring all the people that were miffed the first go-round. I also say that because, again, Jean reads someone's mind without their permission; when teen Bobby asks what his adult self is thinking, Jean tells him. Granted, what she says is encouraging, and it's canonically canon that this Jean can't filter out a lot of thoughts around her. But even though I didn't read that first "All-New" scene as an outing, plenty of people did. Having her here was a little distracting and I don't think it won over her previous detractors.
It's also hard not to read this scene -- right now -- without that six-month wait hanging over your head. This is the scene and when it amounts to one page per month spent waiting, it could feel a bit underwhelming to some. And when that wait was multiplied by a number of "wait-and-see" style answers regarding Iceman's sexuality -- man, I kinda wanted to read a 20-page talk between these guys. Gay characters and queer themes have slipped out of the spotlight at Marvel, and waiting six months for this development was... not fun. But, it's here, and this specific problem is one that will be rectified now that new readers can follow-up "All-New X-Men" #40 with this scene as quickly as their fingers can swipe and point on a tablet.
And here's where I do it honest, now that I've gotten the criticism outta the way, and I give into the joy of seeing my specific gay experience unfold in the X-Men, my favorite comic series of all-time. All this rings true to me and the identity/emotional seasickness I went through exactly ten years ago when I came out to myself (and a handful of others) for the first time. The thing this comic doesn't get right is time travel. What if I could pull off the reverse of this scene and have my adult self go back in time and make my teenage self realize that straight boys don't spend their spare time making MS Paint collages of guys they "admire"? What if 13-year-old me got pulled from 1997 to 2015? Would he realize that it's okay to be gay after seeing how much attitudes have changed since Ellen's "Time" magazine cover? Time travel wasn't a part of my coming out story, Bendis!
Other moments in these six pages, big and small moments, though...
I know what adult Bobby's going through. The frustration he feels at being called out by his teenage self, that's how I reacted all throughout high school when people would ask me the gay question. Defensive, frustrated, hoping that the attention would just go away and I could focus on being the man I had to be. Then the single ice-tear, tinking to the floor from above and off-panel, was a lovely, accurate choice. Because yes, yes I cried more than once about my sexuality ten years ago (and nine years ago, too, probably eight...). And then there's the speech.
Brains are weird to begin with, and then brains have to deal with information coming from wildly different external and internal stimuli. Brains trick you, especially about sexuality. Bobby's brain tricked him by focusing on other things, rationalizing that being a mutant was hard enough. Being gay was a choice; he didn't have to deal with it right away, or ever, "and then you do things to see if maybe you're straight." This is why I can't dismiss this story. This is why the -- valid, mind you -- critiques that I have of this story get pushed aside when I read it. At the heart of it, it's my story, and that's the origin story of my hot take.
Coming out wasn't easy. Coming out as late(-ish) as I did was painful, it was nauseating, terrifying -- it completely tore apart my identity and way of thinking, necessitating that I put in the hard, long work of building myself back up again into the kind of gay man that I really am, and not the straight man I thought I had to be or the gay man I thought I would transform into against my will. I hear so many other gay men talk about always knowing, when they were in elementary school or younger, and never telling anyone. When I say that I came out ten years ago tomorrow, I mean that I came out. I first said the words out loud -- "I'm not as straight as you think," said by 21-year-old me from behind the wheel of my car, directed to the guy that got me to rethink everything I thought I knew about myself. Ten years ago I told myself, The Guy, and my three best friends (who were all drunk at a rock show at the time... what a surprise I gave them!).
My brain had convinced my heart that all straight guys like like other guys. Later, my brain would convince me that being gay was just a hurdle my straight self was given. To quote grown-up Bobby again: "And the years go by and it gets easier to put that part of yourself away." I figured that's what I would do. Being a liberal, creative-minded, sports-hating, alternative/mod/garage rock proto-hipster in suburban Tennessee was enough, right? My parents couldn't handle the fact that I liked John Kerry over George W. Bush, how would they deal with the fact that I really liked Colin Meloy over Tina Fey? And yeah, it's always been glasses with me.
But the moment that caused me to pause, that brought back the feelings I had that night ten years ago after I dropped The Guy off at his van, was when Bobby said, "I'm shaking." As disorienting as coming out was, as hot as my face got and how wobbly my legs felt, as untethered from my own continuity as I felt that night, it ended with me driving back home, my skin burning with excitement, my muscles shaking as I sang along to the gayest music on my U2 iPod (Roxy Music, "Could It Happen To Me?"). Shaking. Nothing about coming out was easy that night, and the next year would be next level confusing/horrible, but I was shaking as if, finally, the real me was shaking its way out of a cocoon -- sorry for the Inhumans imagery there, X-Fans!
"And then so much time goes by that... you say to yourself late at night: one day, maybe."
Ten years later, I'm in "one day, maybe." I've been in "one day" definitely, for the last nine years. I've been out out -- meaning to my family and online to all of my followers who are definitely sick of seeing pictures of my crushes -- for just over four years now. Turns out you kinda have to come all the way out if you're going to start writing about what gay representation means to you. And now here we are, with a gay Iceman. A teenage gay Iceman and an adult gay Iceman. Two different versions of the same character going through two different coming out experiences. They aren't perfect, they won't be for everyone, and that's all right. But I can't deny that this story, this issue, this week, means the whole gay world to me.
Thanks Bobby, Brian and Mahmud. And also, I guess, thanks Jean -- but like, really try to cool it on the invasive mind reading, okay?
Brett White is a writer and comedian living in New York City. He made videos for the Upright Citizens Brigade as a member of UCB1 and writes for the podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).