How Marvel’s Iceman superhero exhorted me to come out

A writer finds commonality in reading the comic book series to expose the scene that includes telepathy, ice walls and a friend who knows the truth

Thursday, 22 October 2015, was the day I realise just how foreigner I really was.

Id come home from work to read the most astounding blog headline Id ever believed I was misreading: Olympic Freeskier Gus Kenworthy: Im Gay.

I sent my best friend six texts in a row that each said OH MY GOD even though, long gone from the homophobic church days of my childhood, I still felt guilt about taking the Lords name in vain and still avoided employing OMG by writing OMGosh.

An attempt to describe Gus Kenworthys good looks would be an insult to God as well as the gods Id been told were false idols( Buddha, Allah, Katharine Hepburn ). Thus, at the risk of being smote, I will simply say that his is an impossible beauty Gus is a grinning, blond, jocular jock, a golem of eugenics involving a Disney prince and a Ralph Lauren model.

But this resplendence of his wasnt quite the cause of my paroxysm. Before that moment of revelation, Gus was someone Id not only fawned over but had examined. Over the years Id scrutinized even his most casual interviews in the hopes of imitating what he seemed to be: gregarious, kind, chill.

In short, he was a dude.

When I was a boy, I didnt know I was gay but I did know I was the opposite of a dude: bookish, sensitive, shy. I was also the son of prime ministers in the Bible Belt, a place as conservative as it was homogeneous. To adapt, I gradually took on palatable mannerisms and interests until, by the time Id graduated from the glass-closeted world of an Ivy League school, new acquaintances inexplicably treated me like what Id once thought was my antithesis the bro.

Along the route, Id changed the route I talked and strolled and played( Id taken up rugby, surfing, lacrosse) until I couldnt quite discern the difference between what was fun and what was survival.

And so it was with an alarmed possessiveness, and then an unnerved bewilderment, that I watched as the newly out Gus absorbed global acclaim as he hurled off his hard-won dude-isms to appear like other gay guys whose effeminate pride I had never quite understood. Somehow, Gus had skipped the quasi-closeted stage of his journey where he and I were finally in the same place: waiting outside a strange home but hoping to be invited in.

Instead, Gus was more remote than ever: out, proud, less masculine-acting and a member of the preposterously attractive gay phalanx that made me feel that I had none of the requisite traits that enables you to me connect with my tribe.

It was in these throes of discombobulation that I assured, just two week ago, a headline on the New York Times homepage that read Marvels Iceman Cometh Out. It was not about Gus but, to my tepid delight, a member of the fictional X-Men.

Earlier that year, Brian Michael Bendiss comic book series All-New X-Men which brought the original, 1960 s-based team of superheroes day traveling to the present day featured the adolescent Iceman being outed by a telepathic teammate. What the Timeshad just reported, though, was a new development: the adolescent Iceman eventually fulfilling back up with his older, present-day self to ask why the hell his adult counterpart had spent his whole life pretending to be straight.

At first, adult Iceman is speechless, and then defensive, but then runs silent: there is a panel of adult Iceman seeming down; the next panel, teen Iceman waiting for an answer; the next panel, just a shot of adult Icemans sneakers; and then, the same panel but with something reaching the floor next to adult Icemans shoes and making a tink noise as it bounces up. It took me a few moments to realize what the falling object was: one of adult Icemans tears, frozen before it could even reached the ground.

Id read comics as a kid but didnt think they had a place in adult life. In fact, I thought their increasing influence on modern art was one of the main causes of what literary critic James Wood referred to as the infantilization of our literary culture. Yet after Icemans showdown with himself, I put a intermission on reading Cormac McCarthys Blood Meridian which I had been boasting to everyone was likely the great est prose I have ever read! to try and uncover every freeze fractal of Icemans life.

At first, it was merely ensure him: to observe exactly what he had to say, to watch just how the addition of superpowers allowed him to handle the quandaries of life. But then my project broadened to getting a feel for his personality. And the more I read, the more I detected, with a feeling not unlike pride, that the route I imagined myself was the way Icemans novelists imagined him, too: hilarious, loyal, agile yet powerful, and willing to acknowledge his sexuality even if he didnt yet know how to embrace it.

In the restless intervals between the release of X-Men issues, I caught up online with its further consideration of past narratives that included Iceman. I learned about the characters inception and subsequent, more powerful mutants over the decades. I found out that he had a conservative upbringing, too. I even bought a vintage Iceman shirt on eBay.

What really entranced me, though, was how the reveal of Icemans sexuality intersected with something called retcon( short for retroactive continuity ), which is when a story previously established facts are altered from a later time in the tales chronology its some element of a narrative, in other words, thats supposedly always been there even though its not uncovered until later.

After learning of retcon, I spent night after night trying to find a textual causality, from decades of X-Men comics, that hinted at Icemans sexual identity. And for every vitriolic comments segment of a comic book blog in which some commenter would inevitably remark that “theyre not” homophobic but then still ask why a character who seemed straight had to be made gay there were also annotated hypothesis from others that supported why Iceman had, in fact, always been a homo.

Every time I found one of these particularly compelling thesis, sometimes from comic book novelists themselves, I felt satisfied: Insure, I would think to the critics in the ether, this has always been a part of him, even if he couldnt show us.

It was a few months into my ice-ploration, after a particularly fruitless Friday night out at some gay bars the kind of night where you believe that gay cultures merely viable currency is an extreme, unobtainable beauty that I came home alone and dispirited, to really feel the weight of my imagined disconnection from the gay community.

There had been other nights like this, even one a few months before that when my sense of isolation was so unbearable that I drafted Gus a note, telling him how similar “were in”, even though I knew we were now such disparate species that I would never actually send him the message.

So on that night I came home alone, with the miasma of tequila still strong at 3am, I appealed to a different idol: I took All-New X-Men # 40 from my bookshelf and read the scene that Id merely ensure until then in bits and pieces on the internet. It was a six-page dialogue of a girl building her friend come out to her. The friend is resistant and angry and ashamed, but hes also, ultimately, grateful, because he becomes a little less alone.

The scene included telepathy and ice walls but it also had the most realistic dialogue I suppose Ive ever read and I cried over its words until I fell asleep.

Knowing Iceman the route I now know him, what I feel is still not a crush , not even in the playful route readers swoon over Heathcliff or Holden Caufield or even, Christ forgive us, Christian Grey. What Ive somehow procured is a commonality. I can only assure very little of Iceman: hes made up of ink dots and plot phases and, in his ice sort, is just tints of white with a minimal but evocative smirk. And yet, when I look at him and let myself feel our natural similarities, I dont mind that neither of us is not the most beautiful one , has still not been the dazzling image of a fully fleshed-out sort. In the ice of his face what I see is myself reflected. Im grinning, Im chilling, Im mutating.

Jonah Wynne is a pseudonym for a novelist who lives in New York City. For other essays in this series, go on the You Changed Me page .

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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