Representation and Health 101: It’s a Cold, Cold World

Sometimes comics can get a bit too real. Iceman #3 was released recently and within its pages is dialogue that is strikingly similar to what we have been hearing since the early election results on November 8.

Or, maybe we’ve heard them all of our lives.

So, for this long-awaited return to Representation and Health 101 we will be unpacking the reality of bigotry in the realm of comics.

Iceman #3 interior art by Alessandro Vitti

“You get to be ‘you,’ all the time, no one’s mad about it anymore,’ William Drake tells his son over dinner. “Maybe that’s why he’s got mutant powers!”

Bobby’s mother soon follows, mocking her son’s discontent over her husband’s words.

Zoo animals, rodents, little boy are all names that a Purifier has for Bobby, and his final words are that the X-Man will always be a target.

On a day like today, where Egomaniac-in-Chief Trump has tweeted an executive order barring transgender people from military service, after months of increasing anti-trans violence in America, the dialog in Iceman is chilling, if you will pardon the pun.

This entry of the column will not be a happy one, which is regrettable since I have not written in quite some time. Yet, it important to examine these words in relation to our world and point out why they may not necessarily need to be avoided. Putting up a mirror to the reality of a bleak world can be cathartic, upsetting, always in some way evocative, and though we need to be in the right head-space to take in these words, there’s no denying that they mimic something very real and something many of us experience on a daily basis.

Creators must understand that putting oppression and bigotry into their stories does not need to be treated lightly. As we’ve seen with comics like Divided States of Hysteria, using oppression for what amounts to hateful torture porn, under the guise of “progressive” sensationalism, helps no one at best and actively harms people at worst.

Howard Chaykin’s portrayal and transmisogynistic and racist violence has no purpose for his narrative but to serve as intellectual and creative masturbation for cisgender and heterosexual white men, and to treat it as anything other than that is so deeply disingenuous, it is almost not worth engaging the sentiment.

These are the moments that, unlike other recent series which I will discuss, use oppression as a convenient prop for privilege people’s work without a true examination of what they mean.

No, Iceman #3 may not fully dive into the nuance of Bobby’s predicament, but it does at least put these standpoints into a place where you have no choice but to see them as heinous and without putting Bobby’s marginalization solely on the chopping block.

Comics like Calexit, Godshaper, and American Way: Those Above and Those Below all take oppression and change the dynamics from what we see with Chaykin. Rather than marginalized people only being cast as recipients of danger and dehumanization, these series examine them as agents of power in their own right, even if the bigoted forces against them are smaller pieces of a larger machine.

Calexit #1 interior art by Amancay Nahuelpan

Each of these comics guide readers through the difficult and intimate context through which oppression can manifest. In these places you can find both the painful reminders of marginalization, but also what it means to navigate these spaces.

However, one of the most vital elements of this entire discussion is the fact that not everyone has the range to use oppression as a meaningful plot element. To be completely frank, this reality should rest squarely on the shoulders of privileged people. Knowing your lane is as good a writing skills as plot, pacing, and character development, yet many creators do not see this and may vehemently fight against it once critiqued about their problematic writing.

I don’t believe that these kinds of stories can only be written by people belonging to the group affected, but I’m also not going to lie and say that other people have a higher likelihood of doing them well. Marginalized creators telling such stories on their own terms is a powerful departure from the status quo and we need there to be room to tell these tales, and more, when it comes to comics.

Here, oppressed people aren’t victims, though they are affected by dehumanizing systems. I’m an advocate of happy stories, especially for queer characters, where we get to have happy endings and don’t deal with oppression. I also see where stories of pain and marginalization can help us process the experiences in our daily lives, especially when done well by someone with the range, knowledge, and/or firsthand experience, rather than said stories only being the function of bigotry through the often limited understanding of privileged creators.

Calexit #1 interior art by Amancay Nahuelpan

When it comes to these difficult stories, people’s health can be enhanced by the choice of not engaging. Everyone has the control to turn the page and process on their own terms. There are always unpleasant surprises that can confront readers in the next page or panel of a comic, but this medium gives them a way to say “I’ve had enough,” allowing anyone to put a book down for as long as they need.

Processing any difficult emotion or experience inevitably involves knowing what your lines, your boundaries, are, and this skill gives people a method of understanding how far they can reasonably go into their feelings before such exploration becomes more hurtful than beneficial.

Marginalized readers should not be expected to read or absorb any and every story that relates to negative experiences. Many people do not understand this, ranging from constantly asking folks how they feel about an issue to expecting them to perform outrage without considering that their existence can already be difficult enough.

So, having the freedom of saying “I can’t handle this right now,” can be a small way for people to have some relief rather than adding that One More Thing to an ever-growing list of grievances.

Justice League of America #12 interior art by Ivan Reis

What do you think of recent comics portraying bigotry and oppression and the valuable narratives that can arise from some of them? Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter at @80Grey.

In the meantime and between time, it’s always great to donate to #TransCrowdFund, #FemCrowdFund, and #DisabilityCrowdFund, all started by our very own J. Skyler. You can find folks who could use your support through these tags on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Trans Lifeline, Lucie’s Place, and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project are other organizations in service of our trans siblings that can use your help. As we confront bigotry in our lives and on the page, a donation can be one of many drops in the bucket for people who need the help.

And, as House Bll 2796, which threatens the lives of our trans fam in America, has been buried under the tire fire that is our country, it is still out there, so if you have the spoons, make a call to Congress at (202) 224-3121.

The world is dark, and we’ve known this for a long time. Find your way to be a light.


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