Shunned by loved ones, persecuted by religious groups and forced to conceal their true identities, mutants in “The Gifted” experience struggles similar to queer people today.
And that’s intentional.
Ever since Stan Lee and Jack Kirby first conceptualized the X-men comics, which The Gifted is based on, it has served as an allegory for the oppression of marginalized people. “The X-Men are hated, feared, and despised collectively by humanity for no other reason than that they are mutants,” explains X-men writer, Chris Claremont. “So what we have, intended or not, is a [series] that is about racism, bigotry, and prejudice.”
In the 1960s, this prejudice was predominately associated with the civil rights movement. The plight of the X-Men, who were discriminated against simply because of their genetics, underscored the importance of racial equality. However, as time passed, other groups began to identify with the baseless disdain mutants were forced to endure, including the queer community.
“While LGBT people couldn’t be part of the X-Men’s text, the experiences of LGBT people came to dominate the X-Men’s subtext,” said Andrew Wheeler, editor-in-chief of Comics Alliance, a website dedicated to covering the comic book industry. Due to creative ambiguity and visual subtlety, queer people were given their first taste of representation in popular media. Suddenly, mutant was a codeword for gay and the queer themes strongly resonated with LGBTQ people.
When I watched X-Men: First Class, the fifth installment of the film series, I couldn’t stop thinking about Mystique saying the phrase: “mutant and proud.” [And it wasn’t because I’m in love with Jennifer Lawrence…although that definitely didn’t hurt]. I found myself writing it on sheets of paper, whispering it at random and replaying it over and over in my head. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this phrase offered me the ability to safely contemplate my sexuality. I could look in the mirror and say that I was a mutant without fear of accidentally outing myself. To me, it was synonymous with lesbian but, unlike the latter, I could say mutant as loudly as I wanted. In fact, repeating it so often was the precursor to finally being able to write that I was gay and proud at the end of a 13 page coming out letter to my parents. [Can’t ever claim I’m not thorough…]
Needless to say, I’m a huge fan of the X-Men. So, when I heard about The Gifted I binged all 13 episodes in a single weekend. (Judge me)
As expected, it was absolutely drenched in queer metaphors.
10 ways The Gifted is super gay:
The Gifted centers around the Struckers, your typical family living in a sleepy, nondescript American suburb. Reed, the father, works for a governmental organization that prosecutes mutants while Caitlin, the mother, works in the medical field. However, their perfect life is completely uprooted after discovering their son (Andy) and daughter (Lauren) are mutants.
The Gifted expertly evokes the confusion, sadness, elation and terror queer people oscillate between during the coming out process.
Just imagine these scenes a little differently.
1) When a loved one says something homophobic for the first time
It doesn’t even have to be malicious. Just an offensive joke, an offhanded comment or an ignorant observation, stings deeply when you’re not out. The night before I came out I had to endure arguments about how homosexuals are “just unnatural,” caveated by insistence that the argument wasn’t anti-gay. In this scene, I can literally feel Lauren’s fear of being rejected by her family.
2) The terror you experience around religious extremists
In The Gifted, purifiers believe that mutants are a threat to society and must be stringently monitored or eliminated entirely. Sound familiar to those religious arguments about how gay people are destroying the fabric of society? It’s no accident the purifiers are wearing massive crosses on their chest. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard people claim, in the name of God, that queer people are worthy of death.
3) Realizing your sexuality or gender identity during puberty
Mutants develop their superhuman abilities during puberty, the same time many queer people become acutely aware of their same sex attractions. Unfortunately, like members of the LGBTQ community, some mutants are disowned by their families when their abilities are discovered.
4) When you see another queer person in public
This wordless exchange of a profound and mutual understanding is a hallmark of the queer community. Whenever I see another openly gay person in public, I immediately feel connected to them. It’s like they’re a member of an exclusive club and I go out of my way to make sure they know I belong to it too. [I know, I need more gay friends]
5) Finally accepting your sexuality/gender identity after several years
Coming to terms with your sexuality or gender identity takes time. While most queer people recognize that we’re different from a very young age, sometimes it takes decades to fully embrace. In this scene, Lauren reminds Andy that they’re both mutants to which he replies, “I know, it’s still sinking in.” The literal rainbow across his face during this scene is an obvious nod to the LGBTQ community.
6) Learning about the struggles of your community
Due to Clarice’s physical appearance, she can’t “pass” as a human and is routinely denied employment. Unable to make a living, she’s forced to live on the streets and is a constant target for physical violence by bigots. Unfortunately, this parallels the experiences of transgender people today. If they’re unable to “pass,” then far too many are forced into poverty and must rely on sex work, drug sales and other criminal activities just to survive. Tragically, this vastly increases the likelihood of them experiencing physical violence or even being murdered.
7) Explaining how pervasive homophobia is to your family
Homophobia and transphobia are serious, deadly issues. However, those who exist outside the queer community are frequently unaware that it’s alive and well. Some people believe that because the US legalized same sex marriage, the fight for gay rights is over. Unfortunately, it’s still legal to deny LGBTQ people housing and fire people for being gay in 28 states. With the antics of our current administration, queer rights are less secure than ever before.
8) Being forced to discuss the religious freedom argument
Pssst….religious extremists, I have news for you. Not allowing you to discriminate against queer people doesn’t qualify as us discriminating against your faith. Shocking, I know. In all seriousness, there is nothing I hate more than religious people claiming that LGBTQ equality adversely effects them. You’re not noble for refusing to bake a cake or arrange flowers for a gay wedding, you’re just an ass hole.
9) Telling people that having a gay friend doesn’t mean they can’t be homophobic
“Actually, I can say [insert slur here] because some of my best friends are gay.” No, actually you can’t. My sexuality doesn’t give you a free pass to make homophobic jokes or perpetuate harmful stereotypes. [Just like having black friends doesn’t mean you can’t be racist, obviously]
10) Reminding people that your sexuality doesn’t define you
While I am extremely proud of being a lesbian and identify strongly with the queer community at all times, I am not exclusively defined by my sexual orientation. Coming out doesn’t suddenly alter a person’s personality. It’s not like we all take an oath to uphold the gay agenda and immediately abandon our prior lives for the rainbow road. We’re the same unique, loving and dynamic people we’ve always been, we’re just living authentically now.
This scene actually reminds me of a quote from Love, Simon: “As soon as you came out, you said, “Mom, I’m still me.” I need you to hear this: You are still you, Simon. You are still the same son who I love to tease and who your father depends on for just about everything. And you’re the same brother who always complements his sister on her food, even when it sucks. You get to exhale now, Simon. You get to be more you than you have been in a very long time.”
With all these metaphors, you’d think The Gifted would be filled with LGBTQ representation, right?
And yet, The Gifted isn’t actually gay at all.
For a show that relies so heavily on LGBTQ themes, it’s absolutely mind boggling that not a single character is queer.
When the X-men first debuted, nearly six decades ago, ambiguity was necessary to tell queer stories. It simply wasn’t an option to add an openly LGBTQ character, so writers were forced to get creative. They began to draw overt parallels between mutants and gays, which was seen as a revolutionary act.
We demand actual representation, especially from something that has built an empire on exploring queer themes. What kind of message does that send, Fox? That you’re okay with vague references to queer culture but terrified of actually making a character gay/trans?
With the growing number of LGBTQ people featured in popular media, there is no excuse for the Gifted to exclude us from their storylines. We don’t need more parables or allegories, we need to see ourselves actually reflected in this universe.
Hopefully, the second season of The Gifted, which premiers on September 25, will trade in these allusions for tangible storylines. The writers have already laid the groundwork for an incredible queer story, all they have to do now is tell it. And maybe, just maybe, it’ll help society realize that we’re not so different after all.