To start off, this new X-Men movie {X-Men Trilogy (X-Men / X2: X-Men United / X-Men: The Last Stand)} is wonderful. It’s a tight story, that shows believable ways that the characters would have met, and it continues to grapple with the fascinating philosophical issues all the X-men movies have.  It’s a long movie, and I’m glad that they let it be as long as it needed to be.  Stories have natural lengths and I think Thor could have benefited from the attitude of letting it be the length it naturally wants to be.

Throughout the series I have always seen a lot of parallels between mutation and disability.  I think the X-men movies provide an amazing metaphor for the experience of disability, though I’m fairly sure that’s not what was intended.  Here are the parallels I see:

Invisible Disability

Some mutants have differences that are not immediately evident.  In the new movie, Mystique tries to get Professor X to see that he has an easier time fitting in because people don’t know he’s different.  He doesn’t work to hide it, it just isn’t visible.  He can use it at will, let people know if he wants to, or not.  On the other hand, different from disability, it is easy for Professor X to prove that he is a mutant and does belong to that group.  Invisible disabilities are often not believed.

Mystique is someone who is capable of blending in, but it takes a lot of effort for her to hide.  To me this is like high level leg amputees using prostheses instead of a wheelchair, even when a wheelchair would be easier and less restrictive, purely in order to look more able-bodied.  To hide the disability and look as much as possible like the average.

Then, of course, there are mutants who cannot hide at all, whose powers are obvious and whose bodies and skin look very different.

Many of the mutations are extremely debilitating, even while powerful.  Rogue, for example, who cannot touch human skin.

Cure v.s Acceptance

In all the movies, the issue of a mutant cure comes up.

In the previous movies it is something offered by the government and many mutants who have not come into contact with the mutant rights activists like Magneto and Professor X who believe that mutation is something to be embraced and something to love about oneself, line up to get “fixed.”

In the new movie Beast and Mystique struggle with wanting to fit in and be “normal.”  Beast develops something he believes to be a cure, and encourages Mystique to try it (this supposedly would not change their abilities, only their appearances).  However, by that time Mystique is longing to be loved and accepted as she is, not changed.  Magneto tells her that she is spectacular as she is, in her natural form, and asks if she would ever tell a tiger to hide her stripes?

Beasts “cure” doesn’t work as he expected, and causes him to become even more visibly mutated.

I know I have an unusual viewpoint on this one, but diversity in the world is a wonderful thing.  It is fantastic that we are not all alike and we have different strengths and weaknesses.  Disability is not, to my mind, something that one should waste her entire life trying to fix.  It is what it is and you learn to make life fit you, not the other way around.  Embrace being different, embrace abilities and strengths that many others don’t have.  I believe that we are all spectacular as we are.

Fear From Others

Non-mutants have a lot of fear of the mutants and it is that tension that creates these movies.  The conflict is multi-layered.  There is the fear from the non-mutants, who respond to their own fears in different ways, but often by trying to cure/fix mutation or wipe out the people who have it (sound familiar?) and then there are the two different approaches to dealing this fear that Magneto and Professor X have.  Professor X wants to work within the system to bring mutants and non-mutants together in peace and understanding, he wants to show non-mutants that they can be friends with mutants, that they don’t need to fear.  Magneto wants to create a society where all the mutants can live without interference from the non-mutants.

The fear non-mutants have is that they will be eliminated, that this evolution makes them obsolete (which, really, I think it does).  It’s a defensive fear.  I believe that many non-disabled people experience a very similar fear around those who have disabilities. For mutants the thought is “they could hurt me” and for disability the thought is “there but for the grace of God go I” (in other words, they remind me that I could be hurt).

My theory, based on observation, is that non-disabled people feel uncomfortable around disabled people because it reminds them of their mortality.  That they see vulnerability and it raises their own fears about their bodies.  I think the best approach is to embrace that fear, to see it and realize that yes, we who are able-bodied are only temporarily so.  Either age or accident or illness will move us from the able-bodied side to the disabled side.

The Fine Line

I have always said that disability is a spectrum and we are all somewhere on that line.  No one is perfectly able-bodied.  The idea of able-bodied is like something from the Plato idea world, it doesn’t exist in practical application.  From a twinge in the back all the way through to locked-in syndrome, we all have a push-pull relationship with our bodies.  They do not always obey us, they do not always do what we think they should be able to do.

Professor X seems to see this in his method for picking up girls in the new movie.  He tells them that they are mutants with a sexy mutation, and he picks something about them like auburn hair or different colored eyes, which are mutations, though not granting any sort of “power.”

So, there are the parallels, however I do have a problem with the way these movies use actual disability.

Professor X is paralyzed.  The movies use this as a metaphor to neuter him.  He is someone who is all about the mind, his mutant powers are mind-based.  His body is never in his thoughts. It’s as though he has no bodily desire or connection.  He embodies the stereotype of disability as neutering.  And it is absolutely untrue.

Professor X never has a girlfriend or a love interest, he just sits quietly and ponders things.  He doesn’t take part in action, he advises others what action to take.

In the new movie we don’t see much of this because he becomes paralyzed only at the very end, but even then as soon as it happens, he erases the memory of the woman who is interested in him and starts down the path of completely ignoring his body.

Many people have suggested that his paralysis is meant, by the writers, to balance out his immense power.  But in this new movie we meet Emma Frost, who can also read and play around with minds, as well as turn herself into diamond at will.  She’s also very adept at using her beautiful body to manipulate.  Where is her power cap?  Why is nothing done to balance her power, which is so similar to Professor X’s?

(The comic books are often much, much worse in terms of disability issues, though, so I suppose I should cut them some slack)  Edit based on comments: I have never read many of the comics, I read a few and found them difficult to get into, so I don’t know much of the story in them, so this post is based only on the movies.  I’m happy to hear that it sounds like some of my concerns are not present in the comics!


  1. Gina
    Jun 8, 2011

    This is an interesting take on the character/ storyline, as the X-Men were originally written alongside (and often thought to mirror) the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. The issue of mutants vs. non-mutants is generally meant to mirror the racial segregation issues that were most prevalent at that time.

    In the comics, Professor X had several serious love affairs, including one that resulted in a child. In the movies, he pines for Moira, they seem to be simplifying his love life down to the one main interest (they were engaged in the comic book version). So to say that the character deprives his body of all attention seems inaccurate; it feels more like he has determined that he can do more work with his mind and sets his priorities as a result.

    That type of story is told over and over again in all kinds of fiction (and frankly, repeated in history as well): somebody with power tries to help others, loses something important to him in the process, and redoubles his efforts in a different, more concentrated manner. Professor X lost the use of his body and redoubled his mental efforts to most effectively help those who needed his help.

    I don’t think it was meant to “limit” his ability (though there are some who may think that), it was meant to throw his abilities into sharper relief. In the comics, he was a gifted athlete and abandoned his athletic pursuits because he felt that his mind gave him an unfair advantage (being able to see what his opponent would do before it was done) and instead focused on his mental abilities. He made the mental vs. physical decision long before it was made for him.

    That’s just my two cents.

    • RuthMadison
      Jun 8, 2011

      You know much more about the original story than I do! That’s great. I know basically just the movies. I think, actually, that this story of mutants mirrors every type of civil rights struggle, racial or otherwise! So, that makes sense that’s what they had in mind, while it still fits disability civil rights too!

      I might have to read more of the comics. I tried them several years ago and couldn’t get into it.

  2. K*
    Jun 10, 2011

    Professor X is not really neutered by his disability, though. He makes a move on Moira Mactaggart at the end of the film, and she really, really enjoys it and still keeps that memory. She just doesn’t know where the estate is or what went down on the island.

    He’s very sexual in the comics. IIRC, he has more romantic partners and dalliances than Magneto. I think it’s the 2nd or 3rd movie that portrays him as having feelings for Jean Grey that he didn’t act upon because of his disability, but Professor X probably would have in the comics.

    • RuthMadison
      Jun 12, 2011

      Sounds like more votes for I need to read the comics! That kiss at the end of the new movie just didn’t seem like making a move to me. He had this face full of regret, like too bad I’m going to erase her memory and never really act on these feelings. 🙁

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