June 18, 2011

Mutant and Proud: The X-Men Allegory and Genetics, Part I

This will be the first part of a two-part post, discussing my amateur genetics enthusiasm as it relates to the "nature versus nurture" argument on homosexuality. This post will first describe the LGBT themes in X-Men: First Class and the societal implications, and the next post will look more at the propositions of biology and genetics on homosexuality.

Spoiler alert: For those who have not seen the movie, I may give some things away. You've
been warned.

Yesterday, I watched the movie X-Men: First Class, which outlined the beginning of the X-Men, particularly the rise of Charles Xavier, also known as Professor X, and Erik Lehnsherr, or Magneto, and the disparities in their philosophies on mutants with the human race. As I watched the movie, there were many things that alluded to homosexuality that I never knew. Perhaps the most obvious scene is when a CIA official escorts Professor X to the CIA compound where a young Hank McCoy, a.k.a. Beast, is one of the scientists working on mutant technologies. As the two mutants are introduced, Professor X remarks on how wonderful it is to find another mutant, yet the official is unaware of this fact. When he asks McCoy why he never informed him that he was a mutant, McCoy replies, "You didn't ask, so I didn't tell." This is one of the more "in your face" references, but there are more subtle instances, so I encourage you to watch the movie and find them.

The general premise for the X-Men is the notion that genetic mutations in an individual genome causes the powers the mutants possess, whether that is telepathy and telekinesis, adamantium claws, or storm-conjuring abilities. Some of the genetic mutations cause a phenotypic variation, as seen with Beast, Mystique, or Nightcrawler, to name a few, while others may not cause such a physical abnormality. The majority of mutants discover their abilities either as a child or a teenager, often without control or in anger.

While mutants like Beast and Mystique try to cover up their visible mutations from the rest of society, other mutants with non-visible powers still hide their abilities, for fear of the power they possess and for fear of society's view on their powers. For one example, Beast did not originally take the blue form most of us know, but rather a more human form with over-sized simian hands and feet. However, with his superior intellect and understanding of biochemistry and genetics, he tries to create an antidote for himself and Mystique so they can revert to more human qualities while retaining their mutant powers.

Mystique rejects the antidote, even though she expressed the most interest in being "cured," as Magneto helps her to realize that her true form is beautiful and there is nothing to be ashamed of as a mutant. Beast, on the other hand, takes the antidote, and unfortunately, the antidote enhances the mutation as opposed to repressing it, thus giving us the more familiar Beast. One might draw the comparison between these mutations and what people have called "the gay gene," and how Beast tried to create a cure for his "mutation," yet failed. His attempts to hide his mutant form, analogous to being "in the closet," failed, and he had to "come out" with his improved powers.

The mutants, spearheaded by Professor X and Magneto, decide to help the CIA against the communists of Russia around the beginnings of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Professor X wants to gain the acceptance of human civilization, while Magneto wants to pursue the Hellfire Club, notably Sebastian Shaw, a Nazi scientist who tortured Magneto as a child in a concentration camp so he would use his mutant abilities. During their collaboration, the feelings and philosophies between Xavier and Lehnsherr start to diverge.

One may consider Professor X's philosophy to be based on nurturing while Magneto's is focused on the natural order. While the consensus between the two is that genetic mutations lead to the powers, Professor X wants to train young mutants on how to properly use their powers and to hone in on their abilities, while Magneto wants to gather mutants so they can be the ultimate beings on Earth. In my opinion, this reflects the two sides of the "nature versus nurture" argument, perhaps with more dramatization to reflect the super powered beings. The differences between the views of Professor X and Magneto are not those of "nature versus nurture" of the creation of the mutants, but rather a parallel to "nature versus nurture" argument for homosexuality. In addition, Professor X is also optimistic about
humans accepting mutants if they help prevent a war with Russia, but Magneto is angry with humans, and thinks that, no matter what, humans will turn against mutants so to avoid extinction. (I have heard hypotheses on a possible relationship between the two, and the movie does show a scene with both of them lying together in the same bed at a strip club as they are finding Angel, so this is very possible. There is another scene when the first two first meet and Magneto says "I thought I was the only one." I don't want to give away too much more, so you'll have to watch the movie.)

Skipping a few scenes, we're at the end where Magneto has achieved his mission, and he establishes his new order to foster the superiority of mutants. Magneto wants to be very out and open about being mutants, while Professor X believes that this is inappropriate and will only further provoke the human race. He decides to create his School for Gifted Youngsters to brings mutants who are bullied at home because of their mutations and provides a safe haven for them, thus leading to the creation of the X-Men. This poses many analogies to the LGBT community, including acceptance into the community, degree of openness, and bullying.

The allegory of genetic mutations and the differences they cause in the X-Men can be seen as comparative to what may be the genetic disposition for homosexuality. The debate on the causes of homosexuality always boils down to a "nature versus nurture" argument. Are we born this way? Is being gay due to our nature, our genetic code, a gene or something of the sort, or does parenting and our childhood cause homosexuality? When it comes to the X-Men, genetics dominate, with Juggernaut being an exception. There are plenty of biological markers that lead to a genetic predisposition, so why have we not isolated a gay gene? Why don't all identical twins have the same sexual orientation? Why is it that many gay guys say they spent more time with mom growing up than dad? Or is it more than "nature versus nurture"? I will explore more of these questions and other genetics and biology in my next post, so please be on the lookout for that.

I leave you with a line from the movie. As Mystique decides to go with Magneto at the end, she tells Beast to remember one thing. Our friend Beast, who once rejected his exterior form and even devised a cure so he could be normal. Mystique utters these words to him:

"Mutant, and Proud."

7 comments:

  1. As an X-Men fan since childhood, it pains me to have to mention that adamantium claws are not a mutation but rather something overlaid on James Howlett's (Wolverine) bone claws which are a part of his mutation.

    With that being said, you make a great point how this could be seen as an allegory for the gay experience in the US. It could also be seen as an allegory for the African-American experience or the Jewish experience, groups which have a history of members who have been able to "pass" as the majority. In fact, the African-American community may in fact be the better connection with Charles representing Rev. Martin Luther King and Eric representing Malcolm X. All the more so in cases like Mystique or Azazel in the movie since their natural forms make it clear that they're not "baseline normal" much as a Nubian skin tones makes clear that a person isn't European. Charles and Eric can "pass," just as a light skinned African American could whereas by the end of the film Beast and Azazel clearly cannot under any circumstances (spoiler warning - let's take odds that Nightcrawler will be the child of Azazel and Mystique in a future film) and therefore would be cast out of society. While you do make a good point about Beast wearing shoes to hide his nature being analogous to being in the closet, it's no different than a light skinned African American "acting white" and "talking white" to be accepted by white society.

    "Mutant and proud" is much more like "Black Power" than "Gay Pride."

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  2. Are there really "more than" in the question of being not part of the majority?

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  3. There's a great amount of research that shows clear genetic and physiological differences between heterosexual and homosexual men (When I last researched this topic myself, not much had been found pertaining to women. However, this had probably changed, and more information has most likely been found about this topic and probably other topics such as bisexual/transgendered individuals). Some include the "gay gene," more formally known as the XQ28 region in chromosomes. Size differences between a certain region of the brain in homosexual and heterosexual men (Discovered in a double-blind experiment because the researcher, Simon LeVay was gay himself). Varied responses of heterosexual/homosexual men and women to pheromones coming from human sweat. Additionally some hypotheses suggest that homosexuality has remained in humans, and such behavior is seen in other animals due to neutral variation, as homosexuality does not inhibit a person physically from reproduction, especially not in the past due to the social stigma against it. Another hypothesis, "the gay uncle hypothesis," suggests that homosexual men (or women, forgive me) may have contribute their resources to the children of their siblings, so that twenty-five percent of their DNA they share with each of their nephews/nieces will be successfully sent to the next generation of individuals. It's very clear that homosexuality is clearly not solely a result of "nurturing" (However, by homosexuality I mean the actual sexual/emotional attraction, not how the individual descrbies himself). However, I am unsure of whether specific causes of homosexuality have been determined (Though there have been some proposed ideas such as the explanation behind the "birth-order effect" observed in male siblings.) Cameron I think this is a great start to what should equip the members of the LBGT community to defend themselves from the "homosexuality is a choice" claim. The nature vs nurture parallel is a bit confusing, considering that the concept seems to have two very different meanings for the two concepts you are comparing. However, the allusions to homosexuality were very apparent in the movie. I can't wait for your next post!

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  4. OMG! I thought I was the only person that noticed the parallels between X-Men and the LGBT community. I've been saying this same thing for years! Part of me thinks that it's because of these underlying parallels that I've loved X-Men ever since I was a kid. I do think that this movie really drove home those parallels. Some of it was just so blatant that I wonder if they're secretly trying to push some kind of pro-LGBT rights sentiments. But that's just me speculating. I love this so much! Great job!

    However, I do have to agree with anonymous poster 9:52. I don't really know how you can call yourself an X-Men nerd when you slip up and say Wolverine's adamantium claws are part of his mutation. The claws themselves are but not the adamantium covers. Jeez. :P

    Also, to Anonymous 9:52, I was thinking the same thing about Nightcrawler! That would make so much sense!

    Ok. Done geeking out now.

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  5. anon 2:19...i identify as gay, but don't feel like i was "born this way." perhaps you are saying be same-sex attracted has a biological basis, but it is important to recognize that gay as an identity term is a modern invention. identity is complicated and doesn't always perfectly correspond with thoughts, fantasies, behavior, and actions. where do i fit in the studies you mentioned? they suggest i'm just a faker which i'm not.

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  6. It is not possible to understand any phenomenon by relying on the subjective claims of individuals. Undoubtedly some people may feel like they were not born gay, and that they chose their identity. However, the notion that sexual orientation is a conscious choice goes against everything we know about the biology of reproduction. It important to realize that sexual behavior has its roots in reproduction at the same time understanding that reproduction is not all there is to the story. For example, the classic Kinsey studies of sexual choice showed that about 10% of the individuals surveyed felt that they were always gay, and that they only had sexual attraction for members of their same sex. Another 20% of those surveyed felt that they could have sex with either males or females, and 70% surveyed were only attracted to members of the opposite sex. Indeed, we know that sexual orientation is very difficult to change. This is counter to the claims and practices of physicians in the 1960’s who used gender reassignment surgery to “decide” the sex of babies with poorly formed penises at birth. Most of these individuals were castrated and transformed into girls via hormone therapy. These gender reassignment surgeries were massively unsuccessful, in that the surgically altered males maintained their attraction to females, despite the ongoing treatments with female hormones. These individuals lived tragic lives because their doctors did not realize that sexual orientation is very hard wired. Indeed measurements of the crucial brain areas involved with sexual orientation show that the brains of gay men and straight women are similar, and the same areas of lesbians and straight men are similar. Thus the brain is determining which individuals a person is attracted to, and this has happened throughout the history of our species and is observed in non-human species as well.

    ReplyDelete
  7. It is not possible to understand any phenomenon by relying on the subjective claims of individuals. Undoubtedly some people may feel like they were not born gay, and that they chose their identity. However, the notion that sexual orientation is a conscious choice goes against everything we know about the biology of reproduction. It important to realize that sexual behavior has its roots in reproduction at the same time understanding that reproduction is not all there is to the story. For example, the classic Kinsey studies of sexual choice showed that about 10% of the individuals surveyed felt that they were always gay, and that they only had sexual attraction for members of their same sex. Another 20% of those surveyed felt that they could have sex with either males or females, and 70% surveyed were only attracted to members of the opposite sex. Indeed, we know that sexual orientation is very difficult to change. This is counter to the claims and practices of physicians in the 1960’s who used gender reassignment surgery to “decide” the sex of babies with poorly formed penises at birth. Most of these individuals were castrated and transformed into girls via hormone therapy. These gender reassignment surgeries were massively unsuccessful, in that the surgically altered males maintained their attraction to females, despite the ongoing treatments with female hormones. These individuals lived tragic lives because their doctors did not realize that sexual orientation is very hard wired. Indeed measurements of the crucial brain areas involved with sexual orientation show that the brains of gay men and straight women are similar, and the same areas of lesbians and straight men are similar. Thus the brain is determining which individuals a person is attracted to, and this has happened throughout the history of our species and is observed in non-human species as well.

    ReplyDelete