A Coda to Episode 34

In Episode 34, we answered a question from a listener looking for textual evidence that Nightcrawler isn’t homophobic (we pointed them to Amazing X-Men #13, in which Nightcrawler and Northstar explicitly address that question). But Rachel also responded to the question from a somewhat different angle–and at considerably more length–on Tumblr; and we want to reproduce that answer here, as well, because it covers some ground we feel pretty strongly about:

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Dear Anonymous,

Miles and I addressed the textual evidence—which lands firmly on your side, by the way—in Episode 34, but I’d also like to take a moment to talk to your friend directly:

Dear Anonymous’s Friend,

You seem like someone who works hard to consider the cultural context and ethical implications of the media you consume. That’s really cool, and it’s something I try very hard to both practice—as a podcaster, as a critic, and as a consumer—and to encourage in our audience.

Here’s the thing, though, AF—this is not black-and-white, it never has been, and it never will be. It’s not a rigid objective rubric. It’s a deeply personaljudgment call. And when you attack your friend because they like a fictional character you find personally problematic, you are being an asshole.

AF, it is absolutely okay for your friend to find enjoyment, value, and points of personal identification in things that don’t perfectly mesh with their identity or personal beliefs. To tell anyone that they’re not allowed to have those things because fictional entities in which they find meaning don’t measure up on a rigid real-world rubric is—as far as I’m concerned—incredibly uncool.

I also want to address another point that your concerns about Nightcrawler bring up—about members of marginalized groups searching for points of identification in mass media. I don’t know anything about you, but your friend mentioned that they’re queer, and I know from experience that when you’re reading from a position anywhere on the margins—say, as a sexual minority—one of the first skills you learn is to identify with fictional characters who aren’t like you and sometimes even profoundly conflict with your personal identity and values. You learn to do this because when you are coming from that position, if you strike from the list every character who doesn’t precisely reflect your values and identity, you are denying yourself the overwhelming majority of the options available.

And having those footholds, those points of affection and identification and fandom—that matters. It matters so much. Cyclops and I don’t have a ton in common superficially—in canon, he’s portrayed as a straight male-presenting person who grew up in an orphanage and shoots force beams out of his eyes; and I’m a queer female-presenting person who grew up with two (very cool) parents and no superpowers whatsoever. Cyclops is also often a total jerk a lot of the time; and especially in the Silver Age, he says and does somecompletely fucked up shit, including some things that are unambiguously sexist or racist.

But you know what? He’s still my favorite character, because there are things really fundamental to who I am and how I experience the world that I find reflected in Cyclops and almost nowhere else in fiction. Because having him available to me as a metaphor helps me parse shit that I otherwise do not have the tools to handle. Because I am never, ever going to find a paper mirror that reflects all of the complicated, faceted aspects of my identity and experiences—and guess what? no human being is—so I find and cobble together points of identification where I can.

Ultimately, though, that’s secondary to my main point. You do not get to decide what other people are allowed to like. Independent of action, liking things—or disliking them—is not itself an ethically charged act. What you are doing here does not serve a greater good. It does not speak to ethical consumption of fiction, or ethical anything. It’s just petty and cruel.

Look, AF, it’s okay if Nightcrawler’s Catholicism is a deal-breaker for you, personally. That is just fine. You are absolutely not obliged to like everything your friend likes, and you shouldn’t have to answer to their preferences or personal rubrics for the fiction they consume any more than they should have to answer to yours. But part of being a friend is recognizing that you are not the same person. Of the fictional characters and real people in this scenario, there’s only one trying to impose rigid dogma aggressively enough to do harm—and it’s not Nightcrawler.

(Also, your understanding of both Nightcrawler’s historical portrayal in X-Menand the relationship between Catholic dogma and the politics and personal views of individual Catholics is just spectacularly off-base.)

Sincerely,
Rachel

11 comments

  1. WizarDru says:

    [Rachel drops the mic, shatters it with optic blast, walks off stage]

    Bernard the Poet stands nearby, gob-smacked.

    Fade-to-black.

  2. David says:

    YES! My new fave essay on the site. Thanks, Rachel (Edidin)!

    (See how I was careful to disambiguate, so you wouldn’t think I was thanking Rachel Summers? 🙂

  3. Greg says:

    Thank you for this. I am Catholic and I find that my growth in my faith is often hindered by what I think my friends and peers would say if I were to talk openly about certain subjects. I think it’s extremely important that everyone keeps dialogue open and not cut out opinions and beliefs that we feel strongly opposed to. Nightcrawler has been my favorite comic book character since I was 8 years old and reading Excalibur. I think he is the most consistently written and always intriguing character. I wouldn’t want someone to say “OF COURSE you like Nightcrawler, you’re Catholic”. No, I like Nightcrawler because he is a great character.

  4. Jon says:

    I really appreciated this response from Rachel (Edidin) for two reasons. One, Kurt’s a favorite of mine as well, and it rubs me the wrong way that somebody else would be put off him for an assumed POV that I can’t recall ever having seen in the books.

    More than that though, of my friends who aren’t LGBTA themselves, some of the ones most supportive of LGBTA rights and issues are, wait for it, devout Catholics.

    Oh, third reason, always like support for people being allowed to like things for their positive aspects while acknowledging the problematic ones. It’s a cool, nuanced view of the world that I wish I saw more often.

  5. Defenestrator says:

    It is possible that the Nightcrawler from “Ultimate X-Men”, who was explicitly homophobic (and also more than a little crazy), might be helping Anon’s friend come to this misunderstanding.

    Yes, I know, it’s Ultimate Marvel. There are many, many sins to atone for there.

  6. Anj says:

    Just wanted to add to the chorus of people saying that this is a perfect, super-thoughtful response. I especially like this line:

    “Independent of action, liking things—or disliking them—is not itself an ethically charged act.”

    That line can/should be used to defuse so many unnecessary arguments.

  7. Kelvin says:

    Living in conservative, small town Rocky Mountain America, I have seen many many situations like this before. This may be a case of AF trying to justify their world view through reading things into idols, fictional characters and literary friends in their lives. It seems to me very similar to Sigrid Ellis’s assertion that Kitty was queer. We all want to see a bit of ourselves in those we look up to, like the black Santas in African American neighborhoods or the painting of Jesus that my grandma has that depicts him as a white guy with blue eyes. In Ms. Ellis’ case, when this tactic is used to help self esteem and self worth, it can be powerfully helpful. But when it is used simply to squash dissent… it needs to be squashed in turn. Well done Rachel! When someone’s bigoted, outdated world view is getting less and less acceptable by the day, they look for justification and allies, even fictional ones, wherever they can. And as we all know, prejudice needs little if any basis in fact to be staunchly held to, even unto death. I hope you (R&M) can see that you aren’t just X-Perts X-plaining, but are helping complete strangers by doing what you do so well. So again, bravo.

  8. Ken Smith says:

    *blinks back happy tears*
    Thank you so much Rachel. This touches on my life in so many ways.

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