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Comic Book Gene-ius!

Room for Squares

Not too long ago, a new comic book store opened up in the Castro. Little neighborhood bookstores like it are becoming increasingly rare, so it was nice to see, nestled among the tireless window displays of topless men with large packages, a haven for the comic book geek that suggests gay men are into more than just looking like superheroes. Itís not a relation thatís often thought about with more than derision, but comic books and gay men actually have a lot more in common than meets the eye.

It starts with the debate over whether or not we are born gay, which has gone on for as long as there have been gays over whom to debate. But no matter what may be said about the biological legitimacy of our sexuality, just how far does the argument extend to our interests? For example, how much of our biology determines what we like? And what is it about being gay that sets us in favor of some proclivities over others?

Just to be clear, I believe that we are born gay. There isnít any logical reason why anyone would choose to endure a lifestyle deemed taboo by the powers that be. Because thatís exactly what being a homosexual feels like sometimes: to live in constant fear of being outed and to be constantly aware of what makes you different from other people. True, we donít get that as much in San Francisco, but whether we chose to or not, we all had a secret identity at some point in our lives. A fact, I believe, which hard wires us for the appreciation of the comic book superhero.

Now, everyone knows that a superhero is only as good as his secret identity. Take Batman for example. How chivalrous would the Dark Knight be were the bumbling playboy Bruce Wayne not there to act as his fall guy alter ego? And how super would Superman seem without the added trappings of modern civilization? To be sure, if it werenít for Clark Kentís glasses, ties and suits, Kal El would appear alien 24/7, and his heroic abilities would be relegated to simple alien misconduct. And what of the X-Men, mutants born with extra powers and so shunned and feared by society, the same society they feel compelled to protect with those powers. You see, great secrets and great responsibility go hand in hand.

Think back to the time when you first made the connection between seeing He-Man in his furry skivvies to that little tingling you felt in your underpants. It didnít seem abnormal until you realized that the other boys in the playground didnít feel the sane way about him. From that point on, you donned your very own cape and cowl, and you wore until your decision to come out.

I canít speak for everybody, but I know that for me, my early interest in comic books stemmed from a desire to see other people who had secret identities but werenít tied down by them, who were different but found a way to parlay that difference into something they could use to rally against society. Well, that and comic books were the only place where you could regularly see grown men cavorting around in tights.

So letís be honest; sex plays a big part. We might not get to decide our sexuality, but a lot about our sexuality is bound by the invisible chains of society. In the comic book world, theyíre often translated literally into physical forms of bondage every time one of our heroes gets in trouble. I mean, look no further than the Folsom Street Fair to find the real world manifestations of this idea. In a sense, our affinity for comic book heroes and their troubles is deeply rooted in our sexual psyches.

Come to think of it, we should all be comic book nerds. Thereís nothing wrong with reading them. The marriage between comic books and gay men is as obvious as the relation between Batman and Robin. There is nothing ambiguous about it. Itís in our very genes.