Superhero speedster, 20 years after coming out, finally gets to say “I do”
Jean-Paul Beaubier, the mutant speedster better known as Northstar, is marrying his partner, Kyle, next month in a much-ballyhooed Central Park ceremony. All you need to do to RSVP is buy Astonishing X-Men issue 51, slated to come out on June 20.
You’ve probably heard about the wedding. Not since that Kardashian tied the knot has so much attention been paid to upcoming nuptials. Rolling Stone. USA Today. Huffington Post. The View. Not to mention the comic book-related outlets that have been hinting since March that something major was about to happen. Northstar’s handlers have made the rounds, making sure you know that an openly gay superhero is getting married. The first same-sex wedding to take place, on or off panel, in a comic book, Marvel or otherwise.
The last time Northstar generated this much press was when he was killed, brainwashed, and then resurrected. Before, one of his many Olympic skiing records — because what else but skiing should a mutant speedster do when he’s not saving the world? Even earlier, around 1992, when he came out, which most of us had already guessed, but his coming out made him the first openly gay active superhero.
I moved to Massachusetts six months before same-sex couples were given permission to get married, my move unrelated to the legal fight. Not sure I want to marry my boyfriend, but knowing I can is, I guess, comforting.
Fifteen-year-old me is pleased that Northstar is getting married; 35-year-old me wonders how the wedding, and the subsequent marriage, will play out in the pages of Astonishing X-Men. Readers weren’t given the chance to fall in love with Kyle as Jean-Paul did, though we were given ample opportunity to watch the evolving relationships of straight superhero couples: Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman (nee Girl); Jean Grey and Cyclops; Spiderman and Mary-Jane Watson; Storm and Black Panther. I hope Marvel doesn’t shy away from showing us the ins and outs of marriage, which is the same regardless of the gender of the person to whom you’re married.
President Obama would come to my same-sex wedding, if he and I were buddies, as would the 53 percent of Americans who, in a recent poll released on May 23 by ABC and the Washington Post, came out in support of giving same-sex couples the right to get married.
As for those who would RSVP no, an all-time low, according to the poll, with 39 percent of Americans opposed to letting same-sex couples get married.
Despite the large number of Marvel superheroes who will be in attendance at Northstar’s wedding – based on the cover of the issue, revealed on May 22 – at least one superhero will not approve, according Marvel’s editor in chief Axel Alonso.
That Northstar, always a trailblazer.
During my thirteenth year, I discovered something that set me apart from most people in the eighth grade: I love comic books. My first, since you never forget your first time, was Uncanny X-Men 273, the first comic book I bought. The X-Men teleport into space to rescue Professor X. I was in eighth grade. Most comic books were a dollar. I could buy three or four a week if I skipped after-school snacks. The most expensive comic book I bought was Excalibur, which was $1.75. Set in England, so worth the extra money. Alpha Flight, another comic that cost $1.75, but that I didn’t buy. Had I known, when I started buying comic books, that Alpha Flight began as a team the X-Men could defeat during a two-issue arc in the late 70s, I might have picked up an issue, just to see.
That’s a lie. Alpha Flight took place in Canada, so not worth the extra money. At least not worth the extra money until the beginning of 1992, when I read in Previews – the print version of what has become several places online where comic book companies post descriptions of forthcoming issues – that a character in Alpha Flight might come out as gay.
Not that those were the words used. Not then. But when I think about learning that in an issue of a comic book, albeit a comic book that I didn’t read, a hero would come out as gay, the words I remember reading are come out as gay.
As if gay was something else he – or she, since we didn’t know which character was gay – had to hide behind a mask and a codename.
1992. March. Bill Clinton in office. Real World San Francisco, which would cast an openly gay HIV-positive housemate, was more than a year away. In Alpha Flight 106, Jean-Paul came out as gay. I turned 15. Near the end of my freshman year of high school, and I weighed 230 pounds.
During the summer dividing my freshman and sophomore years of high school, my pediatrician told me and my parents that something needed to be done about my weight. I agreed to eat less and exercise more, though I refused to give up cheese-and-peanut-butter sandwiches.
In a 10-month period during my sophomore year of high school, I went from 230 to 120 pounds. Too much too quickly, my pediatrician told my parents, but I wanted to be thin. Initially, people encouraged, and even applauded, my weight loss; then, as I started shrinking faster than people liked, I was taunted. The people with whom I went to high school wouldn’t walk on the same side of the hall with me. Rumor was that I had AIDS, and that I was dying.
I was 10, the first time someone called me a faggot. I said I couldn’t be a faggot, because I liked girls. And one girl specifically, a girl named Brandy, who had the biggest breasts I had ever seen. No one believed that I liked girls. I was also 10 when I learned about sex. Being able to keep the diagrams with the numbered parts felt like I was being let in on a secret.
We were allowed to anonymously ask questions. Mr. C, our guidance counselor, put a box on a desk in our room, and anyone could add a question to the box.
“There are no stupid questions,” Mr. C told us. “You shouldn’t feel embarrassed about anything you don’t know.”
I put one question into the box: Could two men make a baby?
I think Mr. C knew I was the one who asked the question, because when he answered – No, two men cannot make a baby – he looked at me.
Where my guidance counselor’s weeklong course on sex education ended, magazines like Playboy and Bedplay filled in the rest. Positions and erections and orgasms.
One photo spread in an issue of Bedplay, stolen from the closet of my then best friend’s father, described a bride on her wedding day, who, after being abandoned by her groom, made do with the man who brought her room service.
I think the essay was called Room Service.
But what I remember most about that essay is one line describing the man: Once, he’d even filled in for the bride; he’s a very versatile boy.
I thought about those words often, and about the events described by the words, and I wanted to be the one getting room service.
During my junior year of high school, when our class went on a field trip to see the film, Gettysburg, one of the few openly gay kids in the entire school, sat next to me, and put his hand on my leg. I didn’t know this boy as more than just someone in my grade. We weren’t friends, despite being friendly with several of the same people. I think I may have talked to him once or twice.
But in this theater, while North fought South, he put his hand on my leg, and I got hard. After, he told his friends who were our friends, separately, that he had felt my hard-on. And his friends, our friends, separately, laughed. I skipped school the next day.
A year earlier, before the weight loss, nearing, if not over, 230 pounds, at a comic book convention in a mall in central Florida, and the only place where I could buy a copy of Alpha Flight issue 106. The small bookstore where I bought my comic books didn’t order “the issue with the gay guy in it,” and Wal-Mart, the other place that sold comic books in the town where I lived, didn’t stock the title. The convention was a week after the issue came out, and the dealer from whom I bought the issue had a stack. Already, in the week since its release, it had gone up to $7.
I bought the issue, and three others, just so the dealer wouldn’t think I was there just for the gay comic. Northstar on the cover, angry, yelling something. His coming out happening late in the issue, after everything else, almost secondary to the story that had become the story, at least in terms of comic book news. Marvel outs gay character. Northstar comes out. The dead baby with AIDS was probably included, in the stories written about the risky decision to have an openly gay hero in an ongoing monthly series (which ended about two years later, with few additional references to Jean-Paul being gay).
My father, who collected baseball cards and understood my interest in comic books, and who brought me to the comic book convention, asked if I was going to read the gay book, and I told him that I didn’t know what he was talking about. Already, my copy of Alpha Flight 106 bagged and boarded and put at the back of one of the boxes in which I stored my comic books.
After reading the issue three times – in a row, because I couldn’t figure out why so much was being said about the issue – I thought that I had missed something because Jean-Paul coming out felt like such a non-issue. 1992. March. Bill Clinton in office. Real World San Francisco, which would cast an openly gay HIV-positive housemate, was more than a year away.
And Northstar’s happy ending, or his current happy ending, is 20 years away, which will happen in an issue of a comic book that I will no more need to hide than I do that issue of Alpha Flight, which I still have. Still in its bag, still with its board, the pages yellowing, the words, in some places, blurry, and Northstar always adopting a baby with AIDS and always coming out, regardless of the outcome.
Photo—One From RM/Flickr