The X-Men are a subject very close to my shitty nerd heart. They may be stuck in perpetual adolescence and their serialized adventures may be constrained by a corporate system caught between the desire to milk a nostalgic status quo and the desire to not overly reward a competing movie franchise owned by a different corporation, creating a hollow mess of recycled stories and cynical attempts at transferring their audience to other IPs regardless of tone or interest… But still, I love ’em. Look, I have tourettic OCD, a neurological disorder that emerges strongest during puberty, much like the fabled X-gene. When you’re a teenager who is grappling with a body that is not just changing in the normal sense but is literally moving in ways you cannot control or understand, it is VERY easy to identify with escapist fiction featuring nerds who can’t control their laser eyes or vampire skin but still get to look hot and have kinky sexlepathy battles. As a kid, I WAS a mutant, only my crappy mutant power was a physical twitch and it didn’t come with any psychic bdsm subplots.
The X-Men have survived for so long because they can so easily be allegories for many conflicts. From their origins as metaphors for cold war fears of communism and ongoing antisemitism, to their reemergence in the 70s as a metaphor for race relations, to their later status as queer icons and archetypes, to the fact that even today they are still a perfect metaphor for “millennials are the worst” whining from an older generation terrified of a future they can’t control, Marvel’s merry mutants can neatly fit into almost any role. Its not always perfect, mind you. The original WASPy looking X-Men work great when dealing with the reality of being a white Jew and hearing every other white person around you talk shit about your people (and other minority groups!) because they think you’re “safe” to reveal their shitty opinions to. They work less well when Kitty Pryde starts dropping the n-word like its her goddamn mutant power or Havok gives a speech about why Avenger lives matter. There is so much continuity to choose from that it comes down to which characters are used and how the creators use them. Even considering Marvel’s attempts to curb their population, there are enough mutants of various ages, backgrounds and powers to help skilled creators tell nearly any of X-Men’s archetypal stories effectively, aside from one. Despite the fact that X-Men have so often served as vehicles for queer stories, there are a shocking few number of openly queer mutants.
Why do the X-Men work so well as queer icons? Well aside from the obvious “hated and feared for being different” and “explicitly targeted by conservative and religious leaders” aspects, there are quite a number of other X-Men tropes that resonate. Their identities as mutants emerge around puberty, the same time many people in the real world begin exploring questions of sexuality and identity. There are MANY scenes featuring mutants “coming out” to their families that explicitly mirror real world lgbt coming out stories. Comic book homo sapiens often seem obsessed with the fact that many mutants “pass” for humans, that you can’t tell who has elemental-kinesis or adamantium knife hands based on who you’re checking out at the cafe. At the same time they’re super judgmental about any mutants that are obviously “othered” by their appearance or behavior. There’s also the simple fact that many of the X-writers’ had a not-so-subtle predilection for certain kinks that would appeal to groups that historically were either lumped in with all “deviants” or genuinely found acceptance within those kink communities when others rejected them. The fact that the first Marvel characters to come out as lgbt were Northstar and Karma, both mutants, is certainly no coincidence.
Yet there has still never been a trans mutant, and that is ludicrous.
You already know who I’m going to suggest as one trans mutant based on the title of this piece, so I might as well jump into it. I believe Hank McCoy, one of the original X-Men, is one of the best candidates. Now, there is some problems with this choice as well. Trans women are already all too often portrayed in the media as monstrous, unfeminine men, easily identified by their body and hair. Picking a mutant famous for the fact that they can’t pass as human, and one covered in body hair, invites a lot of hurtful commentary and readings. It could contribute to the idea that trans characters in fiction exist as spectacle, something to be consumed by a cis audience, rather than for trans readers to see themselves in. This is the number one reason for not simply having one trans X-character, but several, as having multiple trans characters means not any single character has to be seen as the “default” trans experience or look. However, there is one aspect of Beast’s body that does ring true with at least some trans experiences. Beast’s actual mutant powers have nothing to do with their current form. Originally, Beast was just a husky human-looking nerd whose powers were limited to ambidextrous toes and acrobatic skill. What happened was that Hank McCoy was so desperate to not be a mutant that he experimented on himself and became a blue furry ape/cat-man through science. Remember, Beast was originally part of the X-crew that easily “passed” as human. No one looked at Beast and thought “ew” or othered them in any way. In fact, Beast could even be called handsome or cute for a human, depending on your tastes. There was no reason for Hank to want to “cure” his condition in the sense of wanting to pass or physically fit in better. Instead, Beast’s desire for a “cure” came from an internal feeling of wrongness that could be seen as internalized self-loathing from being surrounded by bigotry, but could also be interpreted in a different light.
Remember that tourettic OCD I mentioned? How as a child the fact that my body would twitch and move on its own created a disturbing dysphoria? How I felt a strong alienation between my sense of self and my physical body? Well…as an adult it now turns out that I may have another reason for this dysphoria. Growing up, the only trans narratives I knew from the media were that of “jokey, hairy pervert in a dress” and very rarely “someone who knew from birth and never had any doubts and then has to suffer and die so the main characters of the story could learn something”. Neither of those felt like someone I was or wanted to be. While the representation of trans characters in the media never really improved, the number of trans people I knew in real life changed. Turns out there’s no single “way to be trans” and the expectation we as a society place on lgbt people to perfectly understand their sexuality, gender and identity before we acknowledge it as real is kind of fucked up. Turns out you can be trans and not hate yourself. Turns out you can be trans and not have realized it, or even doubted it sometimes. Turns out most people don’t get paralyzed with existential dread when looking at photos of themselves, to the point where they actively avoid appearing in as many as possible. Turns out you can be trans and not really attracted to men. Turns out being trans doesn’t invalidate who you like, period. Turns out that feeling completely alien from your body can take many forms, and my own experience with that was not unique. Turns out I might be trans.
Beast is generally written as the smartest X-Man in the room, but also as kind of a colossal fuck-up. Beast can recite the periodic table by heart, create nanotech machinery on the fly, rereads the classics in the original Greek while hanging upside down for fun, and holds at least ten doctorates probably including at least one that is from another planet. But Beast also broke the timestream, almost destroyed his own species a few times, helped contribute to every bad idea every other Marvel scientist has had from “clone Thor” to “murder universal embodiment of life with a laser” to “build extra-judicial prison in literal dimension of madness”, and once told the world they were a gay man in the hopes it would make their ex-girlfriend feel bad. Beast is an idiot, only too smart to realize they are an idiot, and that is a huge part of why the character is so appealing. When you know you are intelligent, it is easy to not consider anything outside what you already know. If Beast had no knowledge of trans people (and remember, there ARE no other trans mutants or avengers right now), they would never consider it as a possible reason for why they they felt so wrong in their body. At the same time, Beast seems to feel IMMENSELY more comfortable in their furry monster body than they ever did in their passing cis male body. Sure, Beast can wave his hands and say “oh science can make me furry but it can’t UNmake me furry, that’s just…science” but we all know the real issue here is that Beast has no motivation towards changing back. Beast would rather be a monster than obviously a human dude, and sees themselves as too smart to have to admit they don’t really know why. Beast felt like a monster before, and now other people see them as one, but its still better everyone see you as the monster you think you are than feel like there’s something wrong with you when no one can understand or see it. At least now everyone else sees something “wrong” with Beast too. Beast’s feelings of wrongness are justified in a way that doesn’t require thinking about something scary and outside their considerable knowledge.
Lets go back to that infamous “I’m gay (not really)” moment from New X-Men. Now, I’m a big defender of Grant Morrison’s controversial but hugely successful run on the X-Men. When I first read that bit, I assumed it was intentionally written as another example of Beast being a big fuckup. That we were supposed to look at Beast being an idiot and laugh, same way we do every other time the brilliant fuck-up does the least helpful thing they could’ve done. Then I read the interviews where Morrison states that Beast was actually making a “great point” about how labels don’t matter man, and how the straights can be queer just like the the gays so why worry about names, bro? Look, I’m not going to defend that. Instead, I’m going to ask what if Beast really IS gay, just not cis. Suddenly, that dumb idea takes on new context, right? Suddenly a lot of Beast’s self destructive choices take on new context. Beast isn’t just someone so smart they act like a dummy, they are someone so smart they’re not quite the dummy they want you to think they are, but instead a different kind of dummy.
Trans representation matters because if people are told there is only one way to be something, they will believe it. They will not only deny people who don’t fit what they are told people “have” to be, they won’t believe themselves when it becomes possible they are that as well. They will hurt themselves without knowing why, turn themselves into monsters or be terrified of themselves and it will be horrible for them. Of course, representation alone isn’t going to fix anything. As I already said, it wasn’t a wonderful upswing in trans media representation that eventually helped me, it was knowing and experiencing the work of real trans people. More than trans X-characters, we need more trans X-writers, artists and editors. Trans actors and actresses in the inevitable movie versions. Same goes for every marginalized group the X-Men have been used to represent. In fact, the quickest way to get more fictional representation into our corporate nerd media is to fix the problem of diversity among who is allowed to play in the official narratives for these corporate properties. Honestly, I could (and should) be spending more time talking about queer creators and the huge renaissance of creator owned and controlled work we are lucky enough to live in right now. That representation I’m asking for in corporate media characters already exists elsewhere. We have one of the most amazing generations of diverse creators working right now working well outside of “mainstream” superhero comics. The future of comics, and media in general, is a future of diversity both in content and creators that I was never lucky enough to experience as a kid, as long as we support and celebrate these creators.
So why focus on Beast here? Well, because I’m not actually talking about Beast, isn’t that obvious? I’m talking about a different fuckup who was too clever to notice the obvious about themselves but knew they’d rather be a monster than a husky nerd boy.
Plus, Beast could change her name to Belle. That is EXACTLY the kind of dorky thing she’d do and come on, it’d be cute.