Every kid growing up wants to be a superhero, having a superpower is something that we all dream of, but as any fan of comic book fiction will tell you tho, while having a superpower is pretty impressive, people with superpowers don’t always have an easy ride. Those without such powers fear and frequently hate them and their abilities and seek to control them. One of the most interesting illustrations of how people have dealt with superpower repression comes from the X-men (sic).
In the 1960s, there was a division in how the difficulties and discrimination that mutants faced should be tackled. Xavier and Magneto, originally good friends, eventually part ways in their view of how the discrimination mutants face should be tackled. Xavier favours an assimilationist approach, promoting the commonalities that mutants have with humans, playing down their unique abilities, while Magneto favours a more radical approach, celebrating the unique abilities and differences that they hold. Of course in order to discriminate and control those superpowers, first you must identify those who hold them, and one of the ways in which that can be done is through requiring registration. The Mutant Registration Act, of the 1980s, which required all those in possession of such an X-gene to register with the government.
As might be imagined in a society hostile to and prejudiced against mutants, the fear that such a registration would only enable the identification and targeting of those with known superpowers lead to substantial protests and the proposal was eventually dropped, but not without substantial differences of opinion within the mutant community.
In the fictional X-men, the X-gene may give you quite a wide range of superpowers, in the real world, possession of a secondary X-gene gives only one, albeit a pretty impressive one. The mutants with this X-gene are able to gestate and give issue to new life. That’s a fairly impressive superpower and its no wonder that those without that ability fear and seek to control these mutants.
A Short History of Mutant Liberation
Throughout history, attempts by mutants to control their superpower have seen huge waves of violence, legal restrictions and social control unleashed. Although it is believed that in pre-history those with the superpower were revered and valued, by the middle ages, they were feared and shunned. In pre-capitalist society, life could be sustained through non-commercial means which did not require access to the labour market and formal employment, however most mutants were expected to be owned by a non-mutant, who then controlled the activation of their abilities, those who refused to be owned in this manner, activated their superpower without such ownership or who assisted others to control and manage their it were burned.
In Victorian times, as capitalism developed and industrialisation grew, self-sustainance no longer became a viable option. In order to obtain the essentials of life, employment was required. Mutants were systematically debarred from a wide range of professions, sometimes legally, sometimes socially and had little option but to rely on entering into a slavery arrangement with a non-mutant who was able to labour and bring in money to support them, in exchange for giving up control over the activation of the superpower and any resultant offspring who then belonged to their owner. One of the justifications given for these legal and social barriers to mutants supporting themselves was that their superpower would be irrevocably damaged should they attempt to undertake such activity.
The turn of the 20th Century saw mutants admitted into more and more professions as war took its toll and additional labour was required. Pressure from within the mutants to be able to control their powers through procedures and techniques which would limit the activation, saw the nascent birth control movement grow and increasingly activation of powers was returned, in some cases overtly, while in other cases more clandestine approaches and underground knowledge was shared to return that control.
The late 20th Century saw more militant demands from the mutants – demands that actions which could result in unwanted activation should be treated seriously; that the new medicines which allowed mutants to control activation be made available to all who would need it and that unwanted activation could be terminated. As the mutants grew in confidence, the assimilation approach favoured prior, which emphasised the similarities between the mutants and the normals fell away in favour of a movement which actively celebrated mutant ability.
Modern Control of the Mutants
In the 21st Century most formal barriers to mutant self-sustenance have been removed, although an ongoing war rages against the powers of the mutants, with the normals continually seeking to reassert control over the circumstances of superpower activation, manifestation and termination. Its worth looking at the ways in which this control is manifested.
Firstly, all such mutants are required to be registered. When ever a mutant creates life, they must within a defined timespan register the birth, and declare, on the advice of doctors, whether that life is a mutant or not. Registration as a mutant instantly demarcates the upbringing. Massive amounts of social pressure then come to bear to mark out mutants. From birth, it is encouraged to dress mutants in pink – the colour of mutant suppression. While its not obligatory in any legal sense, transgressing this expectation will see social disapproval.
Gifts given to baby mutants frequently conform to this colour coded demarcation. Throughout childhood, clothes designed for mutants also follow this code, while toys frequently come in a mutant or normal version. While mutants are on occasion allowed to use a normal version, any attempt by a normal to play with toy designed for a mutant will see them come in for ridicule and shunning. Toys designed for mutants also frequently allude to the responsibility of raising new life and maintaining a domestic environment that society accords to mutants.
At the onset of puberty, the time when the superpower becomes active, mutants are carefully warned about their abilities and how they are to control them. Their ability is only activated through the impregnation by a normal, and teen mutants are given careful advice on how they must protect and guard against the unwitting activation of the superpower, a failure to properly control the superpower, indiscriminate use or unwanted activation is a failure of the mutant to properly conform to the expected norms of the mutant to protect their superpower and use it for the good of society.
Adult mutants are required to signify their mutant status both socially and formally. The form of address given to a mutant differs from that of a normal and oftentimes also signifies their ownership or the lack of it. The dress expected by a mutant differs from that of a normal, with clothes designed for mutants reveal more bare skin, and tend to emphasise shape and form more clearly than that of normals, particularly clothes designed for “special occasions”, where the mutant form is expected to be displayed prominently. In formal applications for a range of services from bank account, to state benefits, mutants must declare themselves.
The primary way in which this identification and registration of mutants is manifested is though gender. Anyone holding a mutant superpower is expected to conform to a gender of “woman” which then dictates both how you are expected to behave, dress and conduct yourself, and also how others, both mutants and normals, react to you. Many mutants, particularly since the middle of the last century have railed against this social construction which publicly, socially and formally declares mutant status. Some entered relationships only with other mutants as a means of subverting the ongoing hangovers of ownership still prevalent it in its cultural, if not legal form; some sought to self-activate the superpower subverting the domination frequently associated with such activation; some sought to subvert the cultural rules guiding how mutants were expected to dress and behave.
Hiding the Superpower
A major new opportunity for mutant liberation has just come onto the horizon. Some, both mutants and normals, have thrown off the traditional association between mutant status and gendering. Decoupling the two, they seek to define themselves as the gender not traditionally associated with their genetic code. These revolutionaries are not well thought of in general. The demand that gendering must match genetics, as reified in bodily form, has seen them come under massive pressure to have expensive and dangerous surgery to conform to social expectations of how those publicly identified as mutants can be privately identified through bodily appearance.
Mutants have long suggested that were those gendered as non-mutants and holding the social and economic power associated with that gendering, to experience the kind of oppression that mutants undergo, things would change pretty damned quick. The subversive revolutionaries who publicly identify as mutants while without the critical X-factor, and the mutants who hide their genetic status under the gendering of the normals present us with just this opportunity.