In Issue #5 of the new series, “Uncanny Avengers”, written by Rick Remender, Havok, the newest appointed ‘spokesperson’ of Mutants everywhere by the previously, unadmitted, anti-mutant Captain America, declares that he doesn’t want to be referred to as a mutant. As Havok explains, “I see the very word ‘Mutant’ as divisive… we are all humans, of one tribe. We are defined by our choices, not… our genes. So, please, don’t call us mutants. The ‘M’ word represents everything I hate.” On the face of it, it comes across as a very forward thinking move. There are strong critics, though, and I don’t believe they are unfounded.
The X-Men were created in 1963, the same year as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous March on Washington and in the midst of the Civil Rights movement. In the decades since, the struggle of their fictional minority has drawn many parallels, most of which don’t appear accidental, to various real world minorities and persecutions. At the same time, the, er, ‘M words’ have also represented a great deal of diversity, with mutants of various religions (Nightcrawler as Catholic, Shadowcat as Jewish, Dust, the niqāb-wearing Muslim, among many others) and of various nationalities (the Israeli Legion, the African/African-American Storm, the Cajun Gambit, etc), indicating not only a lack of linkage to a single real-world group, but also a sense of multiculturalism one should aspire to.
The most obvious analogy the ‘Homo Superior’ have represented is perhaps that of racism towards those of colour skin. They are, after all, a group of people often identifiable by their appearance who are discriminated against via racist comments (including the term previously used as an analogue for the ‘N word’, ‘mutie’), beratement at the hand of non-powered humans and the constant threat of violence, apartheid and slavery, as was seen in the island nation of Genosha early on. Though it may seem as referring solely to the struggle of African-Americans, it also has links to the treatment of Latinos and all minorities. As Xavier has said: “[New ‘M words’] will… be mocked, feared, spat upon and accused of stealing human jobs, eating human food, taking human partners…”, thus drawing an obvious link to various incidents of racism in the past.
Parallels are also found in the links of religious bigotry, perhaps seen most of all in the connection between the treatment of ‘M words’ and anti-Semitism that is so often referred to by Magneto, the militant crusader for the ‘M words’ who is also a Jewish-gypsy Holocaust survivor. After all, not all mutants are obvious to the eye; like in Genosha or in the famous story “Days of Future Past”, they may be tested by the Government to ascertain their ‘true nature’ before being branded with numbers and sent to camps for work (in the former stories) or genocide (in the latter).
Another real world minority’s intolerance that the ‘M words’ have a connection to is that of homosexuals and the LGBTQ community. This is firstly evident when one considers non-heterosexual members of the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Mutants; for instance Mystique was once in a relationship with the female Destiny, for whom she changed into a male during sex, Northstar who married his boyfriend in 2012, the bisexual Bling, the lesbian Karma and the shapeshifting Courier, who despite having an unknown sexuality, willingly shared a kiss with Gambit when he was a woman. And, if you saw X2, you may recall this obvious reference to the notion that non-heterosexuality is a choice from Bobby “Iceman” Drake’s mother: “Have you ever tried… not being a mutant?”
The fact is that the X-Men represent not a minority, but the struggle of all real-world minorities. So why, then, is the recent statement by Alex “Havoc” Summers drawing such controversy? For a few reasons. Firstly, as you have probably noticed, repeatedly using the phrase ‘M word’ to refer to the ‘M words’ is rather awkward. On a purely linguistic front, how is one to refer to a group of people when they aren’t allowed to, well, refer to that group of people? Secondly, many members of minorities are proud of who they are. There are communities and pride parades, they are proud of being different – and everyone should be. The issue of intolerance isn’t fixed by assimilation, but by acceptance.
Imagine if a single gay man or woman who barely anyone has heard of takes to a podium after being appointed spokesperson of the LGBTQ community by a group of people with a track record of being 99% heterosexual (in this case, the Avengers) and declares: “stop calling us gay, or homosexual”? Yes, people in the LGBTQ community are human, and yes people outside of the community are human too, and yes we are equal: but to deny that the community exists comes across as an attempt at assimilation, not equality.
Finally, the move is also somewhat confusing, in terms of continuity. Before now, the term ‘mutant’ has never been seen to cause any offense; for that effect, the term ‘mutie’ was created, which was, somewhat ham-handedly, compared to various other real offensive terms on occasion in the comics. Additionally, as many movie-goers will remember, the brilliant film ‘X-Men: First Class’ had Beast use the phrase ‘Mutant and Proud’, a phrase that was, in essence, a sort of catchphrase. Though it hasn’t appeared as such in the comics, the fact that it is seen in a positive light by non-616 (i.e. characters not from the main Marvel Universe) characters seems to highlight the fact that ‘mutant’ has never been seen as an offensive term.
The criticism was someone contained early on, when it was postulated that Havok’s stance of staying away from the term was meant solely to contrast with the morally dubious hero/anti-hero/villain Cyclops, his brother, who seems to be working under the flag of ‘Mutant and Proud’ a little more strongly/militantly. This was apparently hogwashed, however, when Rick Remender, the author of the story, tweeted that “If Havok’s position… really upset you, it’s time to drown yourself hobo piss. Seriously, do it. It’s the only solution,” in essence confirming that Alex’s statement is meant to be the ‘correct’ opinion.
Fellow author Jason Aaron backed him up, explaining that the X-Men can’t solely be seen through the lens of a metaphor for race, sexuality or other minority status. While this is true, the parallels are quite obviously there, and are often encouraged by the writers. The ‘M words’ are not the LGBTQ community, or the African-American community, or the Jewish community, or the Muslim community, or the Latino community, or any real-world minority: but they are an icon for them, and, though not intended as such, this move can quite easily be seen a statement from a company with a high percentage of heterosexual Caucasian male characters and stars that minorities should not be proud of their differences.