Does it matter if Apollo and the Midnighter from Warren Ellis' THE AUTHORITY are gay? It makes all the difference in the world if you've been waiting for a hero all your life, says Andrew Wheeler. Reprinted from PopImage.
02 July 2001

This article was originally published at PopImage in October 1999 as part of the regular column 'The Reader'.

When I first came out as gay to my University friends - some minutes after midnight one New Year's Day - they all responded the same way. "That's okay with me. It's not a problem".

I should be grateful they took it so well. They could have spat in my eye, or punched me in the face, or worse, walked away. I should be grateful they were so open minded and liberal that they could shrug it off and not let it affect out relationships.

Well, bollocks to that. People are so keen to appear liberal-minded these days, it's getting impossible to get them to respond or react to anything different or controversial. So here's a clue; if ever one of your friends comes out to you, don't say, "That's fine, you're still my friend". That's the very least they should be able to expect from you. What you need to do is ask them; "So who do you fancy?"

Prove you're still their friend by having the conversations with them that you'd have with all your other friends. Make an issue of it. Make it something big. If we shrug it off and say it doesn't change anything, then guess what? Nothing changes. Well, some things need to change.

If I tell you I'm gay, it means I spent years hating myself, doubting myself, changing my attitudes to what's right, what's normal, and what's love. It probably means I wept for weeks or months or years. There's a good chance it means there were times I wanted to die, and times I was willing to try and make it happen.

'If you're young, gay, and in need of heroes, it makes a difference.' More than half the suicides among young men are thought to be due to concerns about homosexuality, and reports suggest that more than a third of gay men make some attempt at suicide during their youth. Young people growing up with homosexuality go through a hell of a lot, so when we come out, we deserve some whistles and bells.

A bit heavy? OK. Then let's talk about comics. Warren Ellis recently declared on his Delphi forum that two of the characters in his superhero series THE AUTHORITY - namely the Midnighter and Apollo - are not only gay, but lovers. His own comment on this revelation? "So what?"

Well, no offence meant to Mr Ellis, but really, you would have to be straight to think it didn't matter. It would be nice to think it didn't matter, but if you're young, gay, and in need of heroes, it makes all the difference in the world.

When I was a boy, I was terrified I might be gay. This was partly because I'm Catholic, and believed being gay was a mortal sin that would lead me to hell, but also in part because it would make me a second class citizen. No right to marriage, no ability to have children, no "perfect family". A different set of rights, a different set of laws, a different set of cultural mores.

Worst of all, there was no positive identification. There was nothing and no-one to tell me I could be whoever I wanted to be. I thought I would be restricted to the stereotypes of pop culture, such as John Inman, Boy George, and Harvey Fierstein in drag.

When I was still a teenager, Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government passed an amendment to their prohibition of political publicity bill declaring that local authorities "shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality, nor promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship".

'When you're twelve, a comic about prejudice will shape your attitudes.' Through the passing of this law, my existence was effectively made publicly unacceptable. My school was not allowed to let me learn anything that would make me feel good about myself, or allow me to believe I might be useful, human, or capable of being unique or falling in love. In fact, the law still stands to this very day.

Yet I had another world to escape to, where no such laws exist. When I was a child, I could turn to my superheroes. I grew up reading their stories every week of my life from the age of eight, and naturally enough, they had an impact on me. This is especially true of Chris Claremont's X-MEN, which taught me about tolerance and diversity.

People may scoff at that now, but honestly, when you're twelve, a comic book about the fight against prejudice is bound to shape your attitudes. The biggest change from reality wasn't the spandex or the superpowers, but the fact that the victims of oppression were strong, and refused to settle for second-class status.

They were great heroes. Yet as far as I could tell, not one of them was gay. Not one of them ever loved a same-sex partner. It would have made all the difference to me to have had just one positive gay role model. It would have given me something to cling to. It would have given me hope for myself. Hope that I wouldn't need to be Boy George. I could be a superman instead.

From what I knew then of homosexuality, the idea that two gay men could have a devout, loving, genuine relationship was completely alien to me. When I was young, I had never seen that. For all I knew, it didn't happen.

'I don't want a hero on a soapbox, telling the world to change.' So, Apollo and the Midnighter make a real difference. Two gay men, neither of whom are "gay stereotypes", who we can safely assume are devoted and in love. Young gay kids today can look at them and say, "Hey! I can be Batman! I can be Superman!". How fucking cool is that? Now comes the testing time. There's an argument to be made for not letting this become an issue, and allowing it to simply "be true" rather than "be seen". It's been done before, most famously with ALPHA FLIGHT's Northstar.

I don't think it's an experiment that needs to be repeated. What young gay comic readers need now is an open statement, an incontrovertible declaration. I don't mean Apollo and The Midnighter should become "gay superheroes". There have been a few of those before, especially in the GAY COMIX anthologies.

I don't want a hero on a soapbox, telling the world to change its attitudes. I just want it to be seen on paper that these heroes are gay and in love. Once that is finally confirmed, it means whatever they do next, they will be doing as characters "who just happen to be gay". Just like me.

Apollo and the Midnighter are gay and in love. Good. Let's shout it from the rooftops. With any luck, the echoes won't ever die away. And all around the world, young comics fans with questions about their own sexuality will hopefully hear the message and take a look at the book, and say "these people are cool!"

Ladies and gentlemen, these young comic fans will finally have some hope.

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