by Nicholas DiSabatino
With the recent release of Brian Wood and Oliver Copiel’s X-Men #1 with an all-female cast (featuring Storm, Kitty Pryde (aka Shadowcat), Rogue, Rachel Grey, Psylocke, and Jubilee), I’m reminded of how relatable some of these women are to me. Like many children of the 90s I was drawn to the X-Men through Fox’s animated TV show. But if I could pick one member of the X-Men who resonated with me the most it would have to be Rogue.
It wasn’t just because she had an awesome power set (flight, super strength, invulnerability) or that she said ridiculous things like “You look as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs” in that cool Blanche Dubois-like drawl provided by the great voice actress Lenore Zann, it was because Rogue suffered not just as an outsider, but because of her inability to touch someone without irrevocable damage. This fear of intimacy and its repercussions is something many gay men, myself included, have struggled with our entire lives.
Created in 1981 by Chris Claremont and Michael Golden, Rogue started off as a villain working with her stepmothers Mystique and Destiny to make Carol Danvers’s (aka Ms. Marvel) life a living hell and then single-handedly trashed the Avengers and the X-Men on more than one occasion, before begging Professor X and the other X-Men to take her in to help her control her powers. She wasn’t met with approval. All of the X-Men threatened to quit and it was only till she threw herself in the line of fire and saved Wolverine and his fiancée that they even began to give her a chance.
Rogue’s gone through various incarnations throughout the years in both comics and visual media from the headstrong tomboy type of the Chris Claremont years to the Goth girl in X-Men Evolution to Anna Paquin’s fragile, timid rendition in the X-Men movies, to the endless soap opera romance with Gambit in the 1990s, to the recent power-controlled, independent woman of Mike Carey’s X-Men: Legacy, and now as the angry, brash member Rick Remender’s Uncanny Avengers.
Yet every incarnation is based off of one character trait—her desperate need to be loved, to be touched, and to be approved of. It’s something I could relate to growing up as a young gay man in Ohio.
Like Rogue, I felt like an outsider in my small hometown, going to a Catholic high school during the Bush years, without any other gay people to talk to. Resorting to the sordid world of internet dating, I made countless bad choices just in the name of finding some kind of physical and emotional intimacy. Like Rogue, I hungered to be touched, yet also had to wade in the potential risks of STI’s and HIV, both possible scary consequences from having multiple partners. Rogue’s power is unique because while she gains something from physical contact (either in the form of abilities, powers, memories), she could also possibly put someone into a coma, or even death from too prolonged contact.
This idea that death is a possible side effect from intimacy is all too common knowledge in the gay world (and was especially prevalent in the 1980s with the onslaught of AIDS), but one we risk from having unprotected sex. In Rogue’s early days before she joined the X-Men, she felt an almost insatiable need to touch someone—to absorb their powers, to feel anything outside of a gloved hand, and I could relate with this when I first became aware of my sexuality and acted on it.
Like Rogue, I needed to learn control and to value myself enough to resist instant gratification and wait for something more substantial. It wasn’t an overnight process and I still made mistakes along the road. However, a lesson I needed to learn (and one I think all gay men could benefit from) is that the power of touch shouldn’t be taken for granted—it carries with it both physical and emotional ramifications.
Rogue finally has control of her powers, and yet instead of jumping into a relationship with her either of her two off-again, on-again boyfriends Magneto or Gambit, she decided to make the refreshing choice of being alone. Rogue is a resilient character, who has grown over the years into a more self-assured woman, who calls on intimacy on her own terms. It’s something I think we can all aspire to, sugah.
Nicholas DiSabatino has an MA from Emerson College, and has been previously published in Blast Magazine. As the publicity assistant to Beacon Press, he always brings his own sassy Rogue-like charm to the workplace.