With the advent of House of X and Powers of X, both mutants and X-Pedagogy have experienced a paradigm shift. Even the ways in which the mutant-metaphor is discussed and engaged with has shifted as digital spaces such as “ X-Twitter” carve out their own Krakoan Community.
The mutant-metaphor has always served as a surrogate for the experiences for marginalized groups, despite the inexcusable lack of representation of those groups within the text. Among the many experiences reflected in the metaphor are those of the various intersections of the LGBTQIA2+ communities. In so many ways, this status-quo shift both within the text and on a meta level proportionately shifts this surrogacy. In some ways, it’s subtext; the way that we read various lines of dialogue and draw connections to our own lives, as Charles Xavier remarks on how many millions of mutant lives have been lost to hate. In some ways it is subtext, with reinforcement on the page that a polycule has formed between Emma, Jean, Scott, and Logan, but no real payoff in that regard. In other ways, it’s speculative; like how I’ve been screaming into the wind about the Queer potentiality of Krakoa’s resurrection protocols since House of X #5 hit the shelf (sometimes though, it’s just trying to determine who between Cyclops and Logan is the bigger bottom.).
Both within Marvel readership and the story itself, this shift for mutants is framed in a myriad of different ways. While I find all of them vital and worth investigating deeper, there are specific comparisons that have been drawn that I’m not in a place to comment on. I would absolutely recommend taking a trip over to Graphic Policy Radio and give their episode on Krakoa, Hickman, and the mutant-metaphor a listen. They do an excellent job in addressing the nuance and complexity present in Krakoa itself as nation-state. They’re also just wonderful humans.
A rather troubling conversation surrounding the new paradigm is the narrative that has emerged, that Mutants are now the aggressors, “the villains.” Within the text, there are factions that mirror this position, such as Orchis, a coalition of current and former members of mostly human-lead organizations such as SHIELD, AIM, Hydra, and Alpha Flight. Then in Dawn of X we see a number of groups emerging in every series, who perpetuate the false narrative that the mutants are now the oppressors. It’s a narrative that you run into often in our world though. It’s the ideology underpinning phrases like “more rights for ( insert marginalized group) means less rights for me,” “I’m all for organic diversity,” “if they have a seat at the table, then we lose a seat.” It’s the same thing as the “Grand Replacement” or “Replacement Theory,” a tenet of white-supremacist ideology, that providing equal rights for marginalized groups acts a foothold that these groups will ultimately use to make more aggressive moves to push out or replace white, able-bodied, neuro-typical, cisgender, heterosexual, christian men and women.
It’s ultimately a tactic of gaslighting; the aim is to reframe justifiable outrage as disproportionate aggression or oppression. In the conversation surrounding House of X and Powers of X, large bodies of Marvel readers are framing this paradigm shift as an act of aggression, claiming that the X-Men are becoming villains. Some outright claim the mutants are nationalist, rather than acknowledging Krakoan society for what it really is. What is it really? Like all marginalized groups: mutants, after a history of asymmetrical violence and oppression from the state apparatus and from civilians, seek out ways to empower themselves to act in self defense against these attacks and to use this new agency to gain access to the same rights and resources as the hegemonic political body.
But for every pile of hateful bigots, there are shining lights. Both within the text of the story, and in the readership, vibrantly supportive communities and networks have formed. In what is no surprise to some and a welcome shock to others, as Krakoa develops its own thriving community,on the page, emergent online spaces such as X-Twitter have formed. This Digital-Krakoa has formed a far reaching network where intersections of identities, experiences, and communities overlap in the discussion of House of X and Powers of X as it was released each week, all because of the investment we’ve made individually in the mutant metaphor. Much like Krakoa itself, which brings heroes, villains, and anti-heroes of the past together, under common purpose, X-Twitter has become a thriving community, built on and strengthened by difference. X-Twitter has become the meeting place of the many identities who see themselves reflected in the mutant-metaphor.
I don’t subscribe to hermeneutics, a field of study that positions texts as possession “correct” interpretations. Krakoa itself can represent so many things depending on the way you frame it. That’s both a strength and burden that it has to bear. There are some incredibly poignant ways to engage the idea of Krakoa as a nation-state, built around fundamental purism of identity, as a discussion of the sovereignty of land and colonization. I can’t personally speak to some of these; the way I frame Krakoa, comes from a line of dialogue from Cypher to Krakoan Council in House of X #6, “ Krakoa is alive. Not a place, or a biome—a person…So I’d be careful how hard you want to lean into the whole property rights thing.” I’m always reading Krakoa through this lense, as a sentient, conscious, subjective being. A mutant. That’s not to say that the other readings are not viable, but we should recognize within the text, Krakoa is moved out of the conversation of land-ownership.
So, Krakoa itself is a living being. But it is also a body that serves as a body of land. There are certainly ways to look at that along frameworks that observe and dissect the parallels between the preservation of sacred land and the spiritual connection to land that many cultures hold. Again though, I’m framing Krakoa as a sentient being for the sake of specificity of analysis, not erasure of alternative or conflicting readings. When you overlay the lens through which we read mutants as queer and/or trans , and the lens through which we frame Krakoa as a mutant, we are looking at a queer body that also serves as the physical space where other queer bodies make their home.
House of X is a book centered around building a home and community on this body, determining its own boundaries of access based on models of consent, which is why humans (and apparently Kate Pryde for a certain period of time) cannot enter Krakoa alone. We see Krakoa grow and evolve throughout House of X. This raises a question of naming the series, because of the parallels with hox genes. Hox genes ( a contraction for homeobox genes) are essentially road-maps for genetic growth. It’s not in charge of building those individual limbs or places of genetic development, but House of X genes are the genes that serve as blueprints for other genes. Hox genes are responsible for defining the contours and boundaries of the body’s form, much in the same way that House of X is a story about defining the contours and boundaries of Krakoa’s body itself, Krakoa’s emergent society, and for the body politics of mutation. Do I think Hickman planned this? We can’t say for sure. Are Pox genes (Pox viridae genes) connected to overarching themes of invasion, replication, sublimation that the Phalanx present? Pox genes are essentially a family of viruses characterized by their capability for rapid dissemination and replication, so there certainly are parallels to made here.
House of X is about the blueprint for building a communal body and therein its own body politic, as well as developing a governing political body. It raises some very complex questions about Krakoa’s autonomy moving forward. As the story goes on, how will Krakoa’s bodily autonomy be respected? Will the emergent governmental bodies infringe on this body’s autonomy? There’s nothing more queer that a government that tells you what you can and can’t do with your own body.
For a lot of the queer and trans community, Krakoa embodies the idea of Queer Separatism. Krakoa becomes a place where we can put aside the struggle for acceptance in a hateful world. It’s a radical vision of a queer society; instead of attempting to assimilate into the structures of oppressive, imperialist white-supremacist societies. All separatist movements require nuance to uncover. And certainly, there are instances within House of X, Powers of X, and Dawn of X where we see mutants who fall on opposing sides, though early in DoX and through House of X Powers of X we don’t see a lot of political development of the counterpoint to the movement. I hope we come to develop those points over time. We certainly see hints at an early one in the confrontation between Cyclops and the Fantastic Four, who points out that Franklin Richards, “…has family on Krakoan waiting for him.”
This presents some of the first hesitations to separatist movements: the need to revoke or denounce certain relationships along the way. We don’t see Franklin’s take on this, but what if Franklin doesn’t want to leave behind his given family for a found family? What if this all-or-nothing approach is incompatible with a person’s connections to their world? Yes, there are people for whom the choice is simple, as a result of the experiences they’ve had. But there are certainly many who aren’t compelled to abandon their lives within hetero-cis-normative white-supremacist society.
What does Queer Utopia mean? If it existed, what would the political and ethical edges of utopia be? Can it exist intangibly? Do you have to live on Krakoa to be a Krakoan? Is a habitat on the moon a valid extension of the Krakoan society? Is it a network of cells spanning geographical bodies? Or is it embodied in the land itself of a nation, rooted in a physical community? Queer Utopia, like queerness itself, is personal, and no one person’s vision of this utopia will fully align with the next. So the thought comes to mind, if the idea of a true utopia is pre-emptively problematized by an instability in how we define utopia, how could utopia itself even exist? The veracity of this question is strengthened by considering that not everybody is seeking a separatist utopia.
For many, separatism means an abandonment or resignation, a failing. When asked, “What if queer people formed their own society?” many respond with the reasonable question: “Why should we have to?” Some do not want to build a separate society. Why should they be driven out of a society they have every right to be a part of? Why not dig in, and fight for long lasting radical and structural changes to this society and its dominant ideologies? Why alienate the allies they have within this society by excluding them from this utopia? People shouldn’t have to limit the scope of their lives, their careers, and their relationships to those possible only in an isolationist society. For people and communities who have been fighting for acceptance for so long, it can feel like compromise or defeat to remove ourselves from the society that we are trying to fight for our right to live and thrive within. In isolating ourselves, aren’t we allowing through inaction, the perpetuation of these hateful and unjust ideologies to be. The individuals who hate and fear us, some of them may even see our isolationism as confirmation of their biases against us. So, why let them validate their hate in these ways?
Why should we be forced out of this society that we have every right to be a part of? In response, one could ask: “Why should so much of my life be dedicated to this fight?” Why should every day of a person’s life be devoted to recovering from the damage caused by a hateful society? Why should they be forced to conform to contours of a cis-het society? Aren’t they constantly killing parts of ourselves just so they can safely navigate this society? Why should they have to fight so hard just to be accepted? Shouldn’t they aim for something beyond acceptance? If it concerns them to alienate themselves from allies outside of their community, shouldn’t it concern them more to consider how little time they spend examining the ways in which trying to navigate within this society has alienated them from their communities? What about all the lives that have been cut short by the bigoted violence those communities are subjected to? If they could be safer and happier, why shouldn’t they?
“One cannot create a distinct culture without it.” These are Magneto’s remarks when questioned by a human governmental representative.
Through a Queer lens, the development of a distinct and unique language is not without precedent. Particularly the fact that Krakoan was developed as a way to distinguish Mutant and Human cultures and spaces. To some extent, Krakoan is oppositional, defensive. As much as it emerges as its own linguistic structure, it is in some part defined by an intention to exclude humanity and insulate and guard mutant culture. Unsurprisingly there are numerous accounts of queer and trans people all over the world, creating their own protective cryptolects, in order to shield these subterranean communities from homophobic and transphobic societies.
Polari is a secret language which has largely fallen out of use, but was historically spoken by gay men and trans women, specifically in the UK. It developed from an earlier form of language called Parlyaree which had Italian roots, supplemented with a wealth of slang terminology from different sources, including Cockney Rhyming Slang, backslang (pronouncing a word as if it was spelt backwards), French, Yiddish and American air force slang.
But Polari is not a full language, nor just a collection of slang words. It’s most like what linguistics calls a pidgin; a language improvised for a particular functional purpose.
After the end of the Second World War, Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation in 1953 marked the beginning of a “clean-up campaign” that sought to eradicate queer-life in London. If you were found to be queer by law enforcement, you would receive a minimum sentence of two years in prison, and upon release be subjected to a process of “chemical castration,” much like was done to Alan Turing in 1952. As if this were not enough to force a community underground, there was also a massive spike in homophobia-driven assaults and murders. Polari and other cryptolects became a means of building a covert community, just below the surface of hetero-normative society.
Polari speakers “christened” themselves with camp names like Scotch Flo or Diamond Lil, affording themselves alternative identities that reclaimed the representations of them as effeminate in positive ways. We can see a striking similarity in this tradition of adopting chosen names to the ways in which many mutants, assume a Krakoan or mutant name. Queer and Trans cultures have a strong history of using the mantle of a chosen name to reaffirm and assert themselves within an oppressive society.
Unfortunately, a historiography of intensely colonized queer theory and queer history has constructed the narrative that Polari is one of the few queer cryptolects that have existed in the world. This is untrue. The Krakoan language can be compared to a number of “ lavender languages” such as IsiNgqumo (IsiGqumo); a queer argot used by Bantu speakers in South Africa and Zimbabwe. As is the case when discussing a field of study heavily infected by colonization, this cryptolect has not been researched with the same veracity as Polari. What we do know is that it was a creation of indigenous gay men in Zimbabwe.
There is also Pajuba, a Brazillian cryptolect, used by LGBTQIA2+ communities during a period of militarized governmental control between 1964 and 1985. Pajuba itself means “news” or “gossip” and is comprised of inserting words and partial phrases from various French, Spanish, and, West African languages (Umbundu, Yoruba, Kimbundo, Kikongo, Egbam Ewe, and Fon) in the Portugese language. Much like Krakoa, the dissemination of Pajuba is rooted at the intersection of identity and place. Most commonly, queer and trans people learn about and come to understand Pajuba in spaces called Terreiros; temples and spaces dedicated to Afro-Brazillian religious worship. We know that in some capacity, Krakoan is telepathically encoded into the minds of mutants, so it typically requires the speaker to have journeyed to Krakoa at least once.
While we don’t see many instances of Krakoan used in human spaces, we do see House of X opening with a group of human officials and leaders brought into Krakoan habitats. They encounter written Krakoan and it immediately serves as a grounding sign that they are outsiders. It would be interesting to see Krakoan being utilized outside of Krakoan territory, by passing mutants navigating human controlled spaces. We know that whoever speaks Krakoa would have to have ventured that least once, so there is also a literal and ideological level of gatekeeping. You can access this language that allows you and your kin to communicate safely and covertly in human controlled spaces, but only if you had the access and privilege necessary to get you to Krakoa in the first place. But what about the individuals who navigate these hostile human spaces without access to the Krakoan cryptolect?
When I first learned of The Five, their relationship, their purpose, their process, I was immediately overwhelmed by the radical potential this planted in the text to tackle concepts of gender, body, and identity (as well the complexity of unpacking that as a polycule). At the time of its release, I had just begun major work on an upcoming museum exhibition, focusing on reproductive design, reproductive rights, child-care, and child-raising support in the world. So much of my involvement in this project is providing a trans lens through which to challenge the ways in which birth, pregnancy, child-raising, and reproductive rights are subject cis-occlusion and trans-erasure. And I could not help but read House of X #5 through that lens.
At the outset, I take immense interest in Goldballs (Fabio Medina). Fabio Medina is an egg-producing man. Fabio even goes on to adopt the new chosen name “Egg” in Dawn of X’s Excalibur # 1. I read this immediately as an explicit signaling of Goldballs/Egg as a trans man. Now, there is certainly a framing of this, where while still reading Goldballs as cisgender, we can really dig into a deconstruction of masculinity, child-care, birth, reproductive rights, and paternity, but I personally find it to be infinitely more interesting to read Egg by the literality of his mutation: he is an egg-producing man. His identity becomes tethered to his reproductive capacity. When we read the mutant-metaphor as a stand-in for the trans experience, providing a character like Goldballs signals a number of experiences. There are a lot of trans men who do make the choice to become pregnant, and this is a form of trans representation that we rarely see in any form of media, let alone a major superhero comic book.
There’s also the consideration of who injects viable genetic material into his eggs: Hope. If we read Goldballs as providing the egg, there’s a similar lens through which we can read Hope a sperm producing woman. While, many trans women are effectively sterilized by some measures of their transition, there are absolutely some who make the choice to either preserve their sperm or do not undertake those transition measures until after they have had a child.
It’s interesting to frame this dynamic between Goldballs and Hope, and consider the ways in which they provide some explicit and subtextual forms of trans representation. The Five themselves exist as a polycule. There’s text on the page discussing the way in which their synergy in the rebirthing process has allowed the blossom of a newfound form of shared intimacy. So, the five effectively become an iterative bio-machine. They form the apparatus within which we observe the only birthing process to be on the page in some time. Rather disappointingly though, we really don’t see the trans potential of this apparatus delivered on the page. However, as always, queer mother-superior Leah Williams’ newly announced X-Factor, promises to ex post facto provide a delivery on this potential.
I write a lot on trans-futurism; the problematizing of the “natural” body, the deconstruction of determinism between body and identity. When we see a bio-machine, with the potential to transfer the “anima” or mind of an individual into a new body, my mind races. We see so many clear signs on the page that these bodies are in no way the “natural bodies” of the individuals in question. First and foremost, in Hickman’s in-text writings, we know that each body is developed along the standards of “optimal aging”. This alone is a non-neutral choice. Logan comes back with his adamantium in tow, everybody comes back with the same hair length and style. Logan’s facial hair comes pre-styled. So we know that there are some very deliberate choices being made about the bodies that come back.
Much further back in continuity, we have it established that the ability to make edits during the sex determination and differentiation phases of gestation exists in the world. This of course comes from queen of butch energy Laura Kinney’s origin, which involved genetically modifying a sample of damaged sample of Logan’s DNA. At a later date, I promise to write about the ways in which this clearly defines Laura as intersex within the text.
It stands to reason that any genetic sample that exists on Krakoa could be edited in the same way, at the phases of development known as sex determination. So there is a potential for any single individual to be reborn in a body that possess sex characteristics that were not present in the previous body.
The rebirth scene itself holds some very specific parallels to certain trans experiences, the seed of which is planted at the opening of House of X #5 when Polaris poses the question to Magneto, “Isn’t it just their bodies? It’s just a shell?” It’s a question that Storm anticipates after the rebirths are all complete. As the revived mutants stand before their community, naked, laid bare, Storm poses a question: “I see them; do you? We see them. But do we know them?” Given the potential that this rebirth process has for trans characters, the first time I read these pages it reminded me so much of the first few months of my transition. It may remind others of the beginning of their own transitions. Storm is quite literally leading a call and response to affirm and validate the stable identities of her revived family members. It becomes a spectacle.
This a common experience for trans people as they begin to navigate the spaces and communities they were a part of prior to their transition. There often is a very real pressure felt by trans people to appear “ stable” and “constant”. Your community, your friends, and your family can often seek reassurance that you are “still the same person they know”. This scene carries so much of this tension within its subtext. Often in the beginning of transition (whether social or physical), one is approached by others with a suspicion of whether or not “you’re still you”, and the onus is placed on us to “prove” we remain “unchanged.” As Storm goes down the line, publicly questioning each of the revived mutants with pointed questions, they are being tasked with placating the anxieties of their community. Storm even explicitly asks Jean; “ And how do we know it’s you?”.
The revived mutants stand before their community nude, vulnerable, and are asked to prove their identity. It’s this type of spectacle that can be a truly traumatic time for trans people; where their every response to any statement or question is being used to evaluate their authenticity. Every action will be used by friends and family to either confirm or deny the fact that they are still themselves. But, in House of X #5, we gain another vision of Trans Utopia. The revived mutants are nude, but not exposed. They are subjected to spectacle, but they do not recoil from it, there is no anxiety. The scene shows us not interrogation and scrutiny, but affirmation and celebration of their identity, their belongings.
These questions are not asked to Scott, Jean, or Monet in bad faith. In fact, they’re nearly rhetorical, ceremonial even. The crowd of mutants stands expectantly, prepared to welcome their newly reborn family back home from the beginning. Their role and the role of Storm’s questioning not to confirm their identity but to affirm it. Through this we can glimpse a community whose role is to help be a grounding force for the transitioning individual. For many trans people, an immersion into queer and trans spaces can be majorly reaffirming as they begin their transition. Our identities become rooted in our community and the ways in which those relationships surround and embrace us, as is often the case when we come out and transition within our own communities; we are embraced and celebrated. This scene gives us a vision of community who has literally come to ritualize this process, in some ways challenging us to continue supporting future generations, as they take on the challenge and privilege of their transition.