shadowcat-lockheedjpg.jpg

Why the erasure of queer Kitty Pryde matters

Contributed by
Jun 7, 2018

Due to marry her longtime teammate Colossus after an on-again-off-again relationship that now spans several decades, Kitty Pryde has been an X-Men mainstay since her first appearance in Uncanny X-Men #129 in 1980. This was during the infamous Dark Phoenix Saga, in which the X-Men left Earth and witnessed who they thought was Jean Grey die on the moon. It was a bit of a turbulent introduction to the team, to say the least.

Kitty first came to the Xavier Institute, home of the X-Men, because her parents believed her to be in need of special care. Her power was phasing, the ability to become both invisible and intangible, and she not only experienced debilitating headaches as a result but would wake up in different places than where she went to sleep, having accidentally slipped through the floor of her bedroom into the living room while unconscious. Her parents were involved in their own lives in a way that made it difficult to offer her understanding or help with her problems, and they sought to send her to a school that might do for her what they couldn't.

This mostly well-meaning action by her parents left a 13-year-old Kitty in the middle of one of the most infamous story arcs the X-Men have ever known, caught between a predatory Emma Frost and the Phoenix Force all while trying to save the X-Men's lives. As the X-Men trope goes, “Welcome to the X-Men, Kitty Pryde — hope you survive the experience!” Survive she did, and from then on out, Kitty was an X-Man consistently into the modern era, in which she was not only a leader but a professor. Now known by a charming nickname, Professor K, she's been a presence at the Xavier Institute, even if occasionally on other X-teams, all this long while.

Kitty was the point-of-view character for a lot of young kids reading X-Men in the '80s, much as Jubilee would later be in the '90s, and she came to define what the X-Men stood for in the minds of a lot of readers. She was initially scared of Nightcrawler, but learned to see past his appearance and developed a strong friendship with him. Wolverine took her under his wing and helped train her in martial arts. She developed a crush on the previously mentioned Colossus, following him around like a puppy for dozens of issues. Colossus, aka Piotr, eventually called off their relationship, observing that not only was she too young, but he was in love with another woman. Kitty, of course, was crushed by this information in a way that only a teen girl could be.

In an article for Comics Alliance, however, SYFY WIRE writer Elle Collins asserted that it was Illyana Rasputin, not her brother Piotr, who was truly Kitty's first love. Collins makes a compelling point. When Kitty Pryde first saw Colossus, she developed a hard crush on him to be sure, but she was significantly younger than he was, and that was a constant point of contention for them. They only barely dated, and he broke up with her because he'd had a sexual and emotional awakening with an alien on another world.

Theoretically, this was the best place to lay their relationship to rest, as creator Chris Claremont intended. Meanwhile, Illyana, despite her many demons, was Kitty's peer. They were both the same age. They were both struggling to fit in at the Xavier Institute, feeling younger than the other X-Men but older and more experienced than the New Mutants. When Illyana died, Kitty was shattered, and she continued to reference it as being hugely traumatic for her for many years. Although never fully confirmed, many X-fans believe she and Illyana were, at least briefly, in love.

sub_kittymagik.jpg

After Illyana, there was Rachel Summers, an alternate reality child of Jean Grey and either Cyclops or the Phoenix Force. Full disclosure, Rachel and Kitty are my OTP. I can't really talk about them objectively, and I'm not going to even pretend to try. They were strongly hinted at as having an ongoing flirtation for years throughout X-Men and later Excalibur history, and in an interview with Claremont on the Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men podcast, he revealed that he intended for Rachel to be the love of Kitty's life.

All this in mind, watching them interact as “gal pals” for 30-plus years has been mostly excruciating. Small hints have been dropped, like Rachel's complete lack of interest in anyone else when Kitty was around, or the fact that a future Kitty referred to Rachel using intimate pet names. There's also the moment when Colossus later came back from the dead. Rachel's immediate reaction was to be upset that Kitty wouldn't be sleeping in her bed anymore. That happened! Still, to this day, a single kiss in Excalibur #75, immediately before Rachel vanished from the comics for years, is the extent of the physical affection we've seen between the two. The relationship remains unconfirmed.

xw1.jpg

During Kitty's time in Excalibur, when Kitty was canonically still a teenager, there was another crush and a possible fling with an older woman, presumably in her late 20s. The woman in question was Captain Britain's ex, Courtney Ross, a regal blonde woman with paradoxically similar features and style to Kitty's nemesis, Emma Frost. What can I say? Kitty has some pretty weird stuff going on inside. Courtney charmed Kitty by buying her expensive gifts, including a car, after Kitty spent the night at her house one time. I'm not sure if that comic book is even legal, and the relationship definitely wasn't, but regardless, that all happened, and no writer since has referenced it. This is possibly out of an understandable sense of weirdness, but it's just another moment among many others that have gotten swept under the rug.

After whatever was going on with Courtney Ross ended and Rachel vanished into the ether, Kitty reappeared in the Mechanix miniseries. While the quality of said series is certainly questionable, it's important because Kitty actually legitimately becomes canon bisexual. She and the out mutant Karma develop a strong attraction to each other, and they very nearly act on it, though circumstances aren't ideal and it ends with their relationship up in the air. After studying her history, a common theme emerges: Kitty has really close, bordering on sexual, relationships with pretty much every woman she's ever been close to (with the exception of Storm), and writers never, ever bring it up.

There is no question that marrying Colossus doesn't mean Kitty can't still be queer. That's absolutely not the purpose of anything being written here. There are plenty of queer people that have never had same-sex relationships and maybe never will, and they are unquestionably just as valid as any other queer person. The problem is that after Claremont's departure, Kitty's queerness is almost entirely stricken from the record, making small appearances usually in comics penned by, well, Claremont, and nowhere else. That part of her simply stopped existing, and, from the perspective of queer fans, it can read as being disingenuous to her character and limiting to her personal growth. Often, her queerness feels like the elephant in the room — unmentioned, never commented upon, but, strangely, still always there.

The reason this is such a huge problem is that Kitty is famous for being incredibly vocal about her heritage. She's proud of being Jewish, and being a mutant. Out of all the X-Men, she's the one perhaps most tied to her own identity politics. Despite the significant and frequent missteps she's made in her commentary, such as utilizing racial slurs in order to prove a point in God Loves Man Kills, she's still one of the only X-Men to center her identity around things that aren't specifically tied to being a mutant. In this way, her sense of pride and her ownership over her own story has always been inspiring. “I tell people, because if they're going to have a problem with it, I'd like to know,” she has said, which can read a bit strange for queer fans that grew up seeing themselves in Kitty's awkward flirtations with the men and women around her, as she continues not to acknowledge that specific part of her character.

tumblr_mplu5ibig71s5xt2fo1_500.jpg

Even Kitty's power set is a strange double entendre for erasure. She can become invisible, and, at one point, very nearly faded out of existence when she incurred battle wounds that were nearly too great for her to heal from. Wandering the Xavier Institute as a ghost, she tried and failed to communicate even with the X-Men for several months before going to Muir Island to eventually heal and join Excalibur. Having almost been erased from life itself, it's been fascinating to watch her brashness and occasional abrasiveness increase in the years since. It's another reason why it seems so strange that her crushes on women have gone almost completely without comment.

When Iceman, aka Bobby Drake, recently came out, he and Kitty had a heart-to-heart over the matter. She revealed a great deal of understanding for his situation, stating that now, instead of being an angry ex, she felt capable of being a friend. This is certainly a more appropriate way to deal with his homosexuality than some others, specifically Jean Grey, who outed him inappropriately and against his will just to prove a point. On the other hand, the conversation between Kitty and Bobby left a question mark over many readers' heads, as we wondered: where is Kitty's coming out story? When does Kitty discuss her sexuality? Where do we read about her many crushes and flirtations on various women in her life?

As a fan, I'm opposed to Kitty's marriage to Colossus, not because it's not with Rachel (okay, a little bit because it's not with Rachel), but mostly because so much of Kitty's personality has yet to be examined or revealed. A marriage to her childhood sweetheart, who broke up with her to have sexual adventures among the stars, seems redundant at best and limiting for her character at worst. Nor does it do any favors for Colossus, who has always seemed to be interested in undefinable, unattainable concepts more than stability. The choice to get them back together at all felt like a mischaracterization, but, as always, I'm happy to see where it goes, and have the best of hopes. If these two can be married and continue to grow with and apart from each other, I'm more than here for it. If it's a reductive decision dooming them to repeat the mistakes of their teen years, well, what can I say? That's rough.