Iceman is gay because a straight telepath said so.
If you’re a comic book fan you probably already know that Iceman of the X-Men has been outed as gay. It’s been covered extensively in the press and that, I think, is a good thing representation.Or rather it would be in any other circumstance.
In the past I’ve felt ambivalent toward other super-outings. When Prodigy of The Young Avengers was outed as bi I was ambivalent. The context read like the authors were trying to generate unnecessary friction between the “flagship” gay couple of Hulkling and Wiccan, a comic couple as over-exposed as they are sexless and boring. When an alternative universe version of Wolverine turned out to be gay and in an adorable relationship with Heracles I was left wondering why this couldn’t just be the “normal” Wolverine. (And don’t even get me started on Ultimate Beast pretending he is gay for the sake of some weird moral crusade)
The Bobby Drake announcement happened in Earth-616, the canonical Marvel Universe which means that this is a bona-fide, baseline Iceman. The only problem is that this isn’t actually the adult Iceman/Drake, it’s his younger self dragged to the future from the 1960s. In a move that was simultaneously par for the course in superhero comics and gobsmackingly short-sighted for a genius, Beast, the animalistic inventor of the X-Men brought the five, original, teenage X-Men from the past to the future to fix the world. Perhaps he was after some super-60s idealism? Regardless, the move destroyed time (somehow?) making time travel impossible, stranding the past X-Men in the present with their future selves.
All of this is fine and dandy as far as super-heroics are concerned and will likely get resolved when the Marvel authors get bored of having the past kids in the present It’s fairly simple until you toss identity politics in. So they did, leaving us with newly outed gay character who can be erased with a flick of a time paradox. I don’t know if that was intentional but the setup makes this version of Iceman absurdly vulnerable to the “Bury Your Gays” trope.
The most problematic thing about the Iceman reveal is, however, not that the character can be erased easily. The problem is that this outing is a clear example of bi-erasure. Bobby Drake does not choose to out himself in the comic. Instead, of coming to terms with himself and choosing to reveal himself to his friends he is mentally violated by resident telepath Jean Grey who then pressures him into admitting it.
At this point in the arc of the comic Bobby and Jean have both met present-day Bobby Drake. Jean read his mind and didn’t detect any homosexual feelings. Present-day Drake has also had a series of relationships with women that often didn’t end well. Bobby rightfully asserts that that means that he could be bisexual. Jean, using her telepathic powers, insists that young Bobby reads to her as “full gay”. All evidence in the comic points to Bobby agreeing with her assessment. In other words the authors, through psychic Jean Grey, assigned Bobby a gay identity instead of allowing the character to develop on his own. In the process they might have re-cast the present-day Drake’s relationships as beards. I say might have given the way Jean staunchly denied present-Drake’s homosexuality. This not only offers some really weird fodder to the gay conversion therapy supporters it also presents forcing somebody out of the closet and into a strict binary sexuality as “okay” when it’s NOT okay to do.
What I see here is a really awkward attempt to make comics more inclusive, one that happened to exclude a different, marginalized identity. It didn’t have to be this way. Iceman/Bobby has been the subject of “gay rumors” for years, even going so far as to date a character who was both a man and a woman. Iceman in the movies became the character who made the X-Men a parable about orientation instead of race. In X2: X-Men United when Bobby outs himself as a mutant to his parents they respond with “have you tried not being a mutant”, in the process spawning a generation of pro-gay reaction memes.
I would be fully on board for a gay Iceman. He’s is a long-running character who has a long history and is unlikely to fall into the trap of cancellation/marginalization that so many other LGBT heroes succumbed to. If it weren’t for the weird time-travel circumstances that brought us here or the strange bi-erasing manner in which his identity was established this would be positive. If this were another character, one that wasn’t white, cis and male I’d be doubly ecstatic because, lets face it, white cis gays are at the top of the “exposure and privilege pyramid” among LGBTQ people. I’d love for more, long-term LBGTQ comics and I applaud mainstream comics for trying to be inclusive. I just wish they’d think before they out.
Update: The Mary Sue has a story about this in which the author, Brian Michel Bendis denies any intention of erasure. Unfortunately bisexuals disagree. Maybe you should, like, listen to the bisexuals to see if the portrayal is respectful? Maybe?
Even Family Guy mentioned the Iceman gay rumors, which tells you how ubiquitous it was.
I will say, in X-Men’s defense, that, given the time Iceman grew up in, he probably internalized a lot of stuff about how ‘the homosexual’ is a cartoon character, waiting around locker rooms and men’s rooms, giving out candy to boys. 50s/60s sex education was notoriously bad about, well, everything, but especially homosexuality. Bisexuals, of course, didn’t exist. I mean, to be honest, you’re lucky if your sex education didn’t include all the evils of masturbation.
Jean’s following the X-Men tradition of psychics who are just like (the name’s not even ironic at this point) Empath. Honestly, Xavier may have been the worst about it, often deliberately triggering Magneto’s PTSD, erasing memories, and other lovely behaviors.
They’ve spent 40 issues in the future. That’s more than enough time to figure out that people don’t have the same hostile reaction to homo or bisexuality. Furthermore, this is a modern author who is really good about identity politics. Bendis is responsible for giving us an awesome, adorable, black Spiderman modeled on Childish Gambino and for a vocal, anti-erasure speech by Kitty Pryde in regard to her Jewish and mutant identities. The author has done good work and should have known better.
Yeah, it’s…complicated. But you know as well as I do that prejudice (in this case, Bobby’s own internalized prejudice) doesn’t just go away.
Yeah, it’s irritating for a particularly progressive comic. TBH, if X-Men has a gay character, that means people shouldn’t be making these mistakes.