It’s Pride Month, which evokes all kinds of feelings in me, as a gay Jew. It brings about respect for the previous generations, who sacrificed so much for the rights we have attained today. It inspires joy in me, to see fellow LGBT people being themselves openly and celebrating it at festivals. It makes me sad to think of those who are in unsafe situations where they cannot be themselves–and makes me grateful for the support that I do have. But being the geek I am, I also think of the X-Men. The movie series (and the comics, also) are often seen as representative of the LGBT struggle. In the second film, X2, there is even a scene of a mutant talking to his family that is reminiscent of a coming out experience. However, the character that most resonates with me from the series is Magneto.
Although Magneto is painted as a villain on a basic level, a closer examination finds that he is hardly the ‘bad guy’ in the franchise. Magneto’s past is that of a Jew who lost his family in the Holocaust, and managed somehow to survive the concentration camps. His powers as a mutant are used to ensure that “never again”–as he tells Charles Xavier–will a minority be destroyed by “men just following orders.”
Rather than seeking to dominate the mutants with his power, Magneto seeks to unite them in a brotherhood, warning of the dangers of mankind. And time and time again, he’s proven right. Humanity tries to “cure” mutants; creates robots to destroy them; have all mutants register with the government; and otherwise seek to wipe them out. When humanity tries to cure the mutants, he reminds them that they need no cure. He unites with his rivals, the X-Men, to see off common enemies from humanity. Magneto works solely for the good of his people, niceties be damned. His past informs his worldview. Despite the appeals for more submissive or ‘peaceful’ approaches towards the humans, he wastes no time on negotiating with those who want his people destroyed or perpetually weakened. He acknowledges the sad reality that his people will forever have to “live by the sword.” Yet while Magneto will not shy away from using force when needed–and he does so to its most devastating effect–he also continuously seeks out a calm, peaceful, and relatively isolated life away from war.
Today’s oppressed communities — LGBT and Jewish, as well as others — could learn a good deal from Magneto in this regard. Too many are willing to throw members of their own communities under the bus due to ideological disagreements. Others are too eager for “peace at all cost” — ignoring the sinister motivations of many in the upper echelons of power. And many progressive organizations that seek to defend the oppressed (the Women’s March, or Dyke March, for example) themselves give in to hatred. That only creates tension amongst different disadvantaged groups, and cements the power of the alt-right and other bigoted movements to fulfill their agenda unchallenged.
Unlike many modern progressive movements, the Brotherhood of Mutants sees itself as nobody’s victim. Nor does it veer into complacency. Instead of blindly trusting that the oppressor will one day “wake up” and pay restitution, it sets its own agenda and relies only on itself and the mutant community. It seeks to uproot the current unjust world systems and replace them with better ones. Rather than bending over backwards to demonstrate that he’s “one of the good ones” to humans–as Professor X so often does–Magneto celebrates the differences of mutants and takes pride in his identity.
Communities that have suffered from systemic injustice need to enact some of these values, making this fiction into reality. Assimilation, capitulation, and emulation have poisoned the struggle for justice amongst those who are oppressed, and entrenched the unacceptable status quo. For real liberation–for Jews, the LGBT community, people of color, and so on–we need to stop begging the oppressor for acceptance or expecting them to mete out justice. Only agency, autonomy, and yes, pride, will bring about change.
Mutant & Proud indeed.