In X-Men: First Class, one young mutant-human tells another, "You have no idea what I'd give to feel ... normal." It's a moment anyone who went to high school can empathize with, though it might mean something more to those who grew up gay—the adolescent experience when you discover, like the X-Men, something in your nature that makes you different from the majority of the people around you.
Parallels between the mutant experience and the gay experience pervade First Class, which opened on Friday to a weekend box-office haul of $56 million. The film, a prequel to the modern X-Men movie series, tells the franchise's origin myth: Genetic mutations create a cadre of young superheros who use their powers for good—in this case, by attempting to defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis. The mutants are, unmistakably, a social minority. The film's catchphrase is "mutant and proud," a playful riff on post-Stonewall self-acceptance, and a "don't ask, don't tell" joke even finds its way into the dialogue.
In its own way, X-Men has become the most subversive modern comic-book franchise, translating for a country of summer moviegoers the entire theater of gay politics. The agenda was set with the original X-Men in 2000, directed by the openly gay Bryan Singer. "It's not just a fantasy story," Singer reportedly told actor Ian McKellen, a fervent LGBT-rights activist, to lure him into a starring role as Magneto. "It's a parable." And indeed, it has been. In the first film, the superheroes are opposed by a U.S. senator who cries out, in a nod to Anita Bryant's "Save Our Children" campaign, "I think the American people deserve the right to decide whether they want their children ... to be taught by mutants!" The follow-up, 2003's X2, made its point more boldly, in a scene that so closely resembles a "coming out" it borders on camp—the mother asks her son, "Have you ever tried not being a mutant?" before she gives up entirely and says, "This is all my fault."