Storm was my first X-Men action figure.
I remember walking down the toy aisle at a local store with my mom only to find a sea of Storm action figures. Cyclops, Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Magneto — all of the popular characters among my friends – were sold out.
Nobody wanted Storm.
I couldn’t understand why. She had one of the coolest superpowers around (manipulating the weather? hello!) and she could fly. Was it because she was a woman? Black? A combination of the two? Did little boys think they’d be perceived as being gay for playing with a Storm action figure? It didn’t matter to me. I wanted Storm because I thought she was awesome. And my mom bought it for me because she was awesome and never judged my taste in toys.
As I matured into a pre-teen, I started to fully understand the story of X-Men – especially once I began to realize that I was “different.” It was no coincidence that the comic book launched during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The series was about more than superpowers. It was about facing prejudice and seeking acceptance. The mutants (people with superhuman abilities) were marginalized by society for being “different.” Many of them chose to keep their superpowers a secret out of fear of being persecuted.
As a young gay man, I identified with the mutants. I knew what it felt like. I kept thinking back to that day in the toy aisle and wondered if I would one day end up like a Storm action figure – just sitting there alone and unwanted. Then I’d think about who Storm is – a powerful, black, female mutant. If anyone knew how to stand (or fly) in the face of adversity, it was her. And she inspired me to use my powers for good.
X-Men celebrates its 50th anniversary this month. As an adult, I’m happy to see that the series is still at it, providing social commentary when we need it most. Just last year, two gay characters in the series, Northstar and his partner Kyle Jinadu, were married. This past summer, my partner proposed to me on the streets on New York City. The photo of our proposal, which made the rounds on social media, received a fair share of hateful comments. It didn’t matter though. We still felt like superheroes.