Being gay is a trait, not a definition of character; far from a choice but not all-encompassing.
In June of this year, Marvel released X-Factor #45, written by scribe Peter David and featuring two longtime X-Men characters, Rictor and Shatterstar in their first "onscreen" kiss.
And, like listening to the RuPaul CD, I found it refreshing. Vindicating. It's far from all I am, but being gay is a part.
I can relate to various characters in literature, film and especially comic books. After all, I can fly. But in mainstream comics, Marvel in particular, I'd never seen a gay kiss. I'd never seen an established male character, with his own fanbase, with his own unique history, kiss another male.
I could see a part of myself represented in a medium I'd long respected and financially supported. It was instantly gratifying, some sort of small victory. Like, I imagine, a young African-American may have felt in May 1975 when the character of Storm first appeared in one of America's most popular comic books, Giant Size X-Men #1.
Rictor and Shatterstar first appeared in X-Factor #17 (vol 1, 1897) and New Mutants #99, respectively. They were brought together in X-Force #14, in one of the most speculated-about relationships in comic book history. The two shared chemistry undeniably post-platonic, their banter ripe with read-between-the-lines sexual tension and mutual admiration.
They were billed as friends, a Mutt-n-Jeff mutant duo, some of the rotating cast of writers bolder than others in the exploration of their relationship. In 1995's X-Force #43, it's revealed that Shatterstar has learned Rictor's native language, Spanish, in an effort to communicate "if necessary, in ways that others would not understand ... be it [their] enemies in the midst of battle, or [their] friends, when the topics of conversation are of a highly - personal - nature."
Reading between the lines became necessary with the duo. Even so, reading between the lines can easily morph into cowardice. If it's irrelevant, fine. As with any entertainment medium, if an element of characterization isn't serving the story, it's hindering it. But after over a decade of reading between the lines?
It should be noted that 1980's Marvel Editor in Chief Jim Shooter said that there were to be no gay heroes in the Marvel Universe though at the time Marvel still submitted its comics to The Comics Code Authority, each issue receiving a stamp of approval, much like the MPAA rates films. The CCA prohibited the depiction of homosexuality, and while it wasn't necessary for each comic to win CCA approval, the lack thereof often led to economic misfortune.
When considering Shooter and the Comics Code, it's entirely possible to consider the conception and cultivation of the two characters a baby step. One can only be grateful that in 1975 the Editor in Chief of Marvel Comics didn't find it too taboo to include a powerful African-American woman in X-Men. A good character is a good character, regardless of race or sexuality, and now Storm has been portrayed by Halle Berry in three films.
So while the baby steps were stifled, it is gratifying to finally see a baby walk, perhaps even jog. One of Shatterstar's creators, Rob Liefeld, made it public through his website that he wasn't thrilled about the so-called revelation. "As the guy that created, designed and wrote his first dozen appearances, Shatterstar is not gay. Sorry. Can't wait to someday undo this. Seems totally contrived. Shatterstar is akin to Maximus in Gladiator. He's a warrior, a Spartan, and not a gay one."
I won't call Liefeld homophobic, but I do think the writer behind the kiss, Peter David, responded best: "When you put forward comments that begin with, essentially, 'Some of my best friends are gay' [as Liefeld also commented] and end with 'I can't wait to undo this,' you have to be screamingly naive to not realize you're going to come across as a raging homophobe.'"
David also offered the following: "Are gay readers somehow less entitled to see two men being openly affectionate than straight readers are for a man and a woman? How in the world is parity remotely exploitative?"
Even more impressive is current Editor in Chief Joe Quesada's response to Liefeld's plan to "undo" the cementing of the relationship. In a series of interviews called Cup O' Joe, Quesada makes it clear that quality storytelling supersedes prejudice: "...if Rob is intending on flipping what Peter has written, he will have to wait to discuss it with the next Editor in Chief."
Like RuPaul's CD, like pop music in general, I can only hope that one day I won't have to over-think a gay kiss. In the meantime, though, I'm proud to do it. I'll take my baby steps along with Shatterstar and Rictor.
Because, like the characters, I'm ready to run.