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Exploring intimacy issues with Gambit and Rogue

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Feb 4, 2019

The story of the X-Men is forever mired in a series of tragedies paired with fairly frequent unethical behavior from key players, and both Rogue and Gambit are among the most notorious X-Men in those regards. Both fleeing the rigid rule systems and amoral actions of their adoptive family, Rogue and Gambit are villains who turned their lives around as followers of Charles Xavier’s dream but experienced a lot of hard knocks along the way.

They are also among Marvel’s most convoluted and confusing on-again-off-again relationships, and that is really saying something for a couple that inhabits the same universe as Scott Summers and Jean Grey. Well known for being arguably the most important X-Men couple of the ‘90s, the complex nature of their interactions has varied and changed over time, but the root of their coupling has always been extreme physical attraction paired with their mutual intimacy issues.

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Art by Pere Perez, Colors by Frank D'Armata, Gambit & Rogue #2

Rogue’s Backstory

Rogue’s early days in comics would not indicate the character growth and eventual prominence of the character that would later take place. Instead, she was a B-list villain serving under newcomer Mystique. Otherwise known as Raven Darkholme, Mystique appeared briefly in the final issues of the Carol Danvers incarnation of Ms. Marvel to beat at least one member of her supporting cast to death, then later resurfaced to destroy Carol Danvers’ psyche by unleashing Rogue on her. Born Anna Marie, Rogue possessed the power to drain a person’s life force and to take on not just elements of their personalities but also to absorb their powers. She took it too far with Carol, accidentally stealing too much of her memories and putting her in a coma.

What Rogue took from Carol changed both women forever. Carol spent years in deep space, mass-murdering the evil alien species known as the Brood. When she returned to Earth, she had significant addiction problems and personality disorders that would mellow with time, but she was damaged badly by Rogue in a way that affected her appearances going forward for a long time. Meanwhile, Rogue was wracked with guilt over what she’d done to Carol and was plagued by her voice, her memories, and her desires. Although she lived with her two mothers, Mystique and Destiny, they were ill-equipped to handle the torture she was experiencing. She ran away and joined the X-Men, much to the dismay of most of the group, many of whom regarded Carol Danvers as a friend and a hero.

Gambit’s Backstory

Like Wolverine, Gambit is a character whose backstory has been told retroactively and with many reboots and retcons along the way, so the specifics are difficult to pin down, to say the least. Essentially, Remy LeBeau was an orphan in a very fictionalized take on New Orleans that was adopted by a league of thieves that held immense power in the underworld. The counterpart of the so-called Thieves Guild was the Assassins Guild. A young woman from that group named Belladonna was betrothed to Remy, but he was afraid of committing his life to a cause and a community he barely believed in, and he fled. Belladonna pledged vengeance against LeBeau, but he took to traveling the world and taking on increasingly dangerous jobs to maintain some semblance of personal stakes in a world he'd become disillusioned with.

The villain Mr. Sinister approached LeBeau to scout the tunnels under New York City where the mutants known as the Morlocks lived. LeBeau found out all too late that his doing so ensured the mass murder of the Morlocks. He briefly encountered Sabretooth, another employee of Sinister, who murder Gambit’s girlfriend of the time merely to prove a point. Gambit later encountered a de-aged Storm, helped her, and took her invitation to join the X-Men.

Explosive Chemistry

From the very start, Gambit and Rogue had a powerful attraction to one another. Having known only a brief flirtation with her former teammate Longshot and a brief, ill-fated relationship with Magneto, Rogue understandably spent much of her time in solitude bemoaning the limitations her powers put on her interpersonal relationships. When Gambit joined the team, he showed no concern for the pain and potential death Rogue could cause him, and let no opportunity to aggressively flirt with Rogue pass untaken. In the early days, Gambit’s refusal to take no for an answer was generally disturbing. With time, he evolved and proved his devotion to her by allowing her to lash out at him and responding to her with empathy and understanding. Rogue pushed him away again and again, and he was certainly a creep to her more than once, but in some strange way the paradoxical pairing of the team’s most emotionally troubled members shaped into a tender, caring relationship.

There were immediately major issues. Their mutual dark pasts came back often to haunt them. For Gambit, his ex-fiance Belladonna resurfaced to take vengeance on him and warn Rogue of his flippant, disloyal nature. Rogue, meanwhile, had Mystique, who writers have struggled to characterize in a believable way for much of her existence, and whose plans to ruin Rogue’s life by trying to save it have been convoluted and self-involved. Rogue and Gambit did ultimately consummate their love while in space, and Rogue had absorbed much of Gambit’s memories when they kissed before. Influenced by his own self-loathing, when she discovered the truth of Gambit’s relationship with Mr. Sinister, she left him to die in Antartica. Of course, he didn’t die, and it wasn’t terribly long before he returned, but the breach of trust damaged their relationship well into the present day. Although they enjoyed some brief stints of happiness, discontent and an inability to trust one another marked their interactions for some time.

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Pencils by Andy Kubert, Inks by Cam Smith, Colors Kevin Somers, X-Men (1991) #45

How Intimacy Issues Defined Gambit and Rogue’s Dynamic

Rogue’s intimacy issues were obvious — she was rejected by her parents, physically destroyed the first boy she kissed, was manipulated to cause extensive harm to herself and others by her adoptive parents, and had powers that made it seem impossible that she could ever be loved. Meanwhile, Gambit’s were a bit more subtle. The narcissistic bad boy who goes after the most unattainable woman on the team is a trope that can and has gone very wrong at times, but when we view Gambit with sympathy, he was just as badly betrayed and morally misled as Rogue. Becoming a heartless hedonist in response to his personal tragedy might not have been the healthiest move, but it was an understandable one.

Still, regardless of all of these things, it wasn’t the lack of intimacy that broke them apart. It’s important to note that it’s entirely possible that they were still relatively sexually fulfilled within their relationship even with the threat Rogue’s powers posed, and, as Rogue has often lamented, lack of heat was never the problem between them. Their inability to touch one another skin to skin added a weird thrill to a lot of their interactions, granting an element of the taboo to their flirtations and leaving readers to wonder exactly how they managed to remain not just attracted to one another but truly in love. Gambit’s self-proclaimed prowess as a lover and his preoccupation with sex makes it unlikely that there was no sexual contact between them whatsoever, and the inventiveness that would be required likely expanded more than one mind on the possibilities of low or no contact sexual experiences. Regardless, their attraction has remained strong and even added an out-of-place, generally inappropriate sexual dynamic to the X-Men animated series, where again Gambit’s status as an on-again-off-again creep was played up, much to the detriment of the character.

Sexual Healing

However, intimacy issues and trust issues aren’t intrinsically bad; they only become toxic when the people suffering from them are unable to grow around them. It took a very long time and it was a heart-wrenching journey, but the hardship Anna Marie and Remy suffered together and the many times they betrayed one another’s trust has allowed them both to develop into better people. Rogue is well known as one of the X-Men’s most troubled and tragic characters, but she’s developed a sense of confidence that never existed in her before she met Gambit. Likewise, Remy knew nothing of stability or his own surprising need for it, and his relationship with Rogue even more than his relationship with the X-Men overall allowed him to take root and develop a sense of morality he seemed entirely bereft of in his early days with the team. His flirtations became less shallow and his romantic side more heartfelt. Through mutual sexual healing, he and Rogue developed trust, family, responsibility, and devotion.

Gambit and Rogue are a couple that becomes infinitely more intriguing due to their ability to find stability with one another. The easier and more light-hearted the dynamic, the sexier it becomes. In more recent days, Rogue and Gambit have gone from being a hopelessly melodramatic and toxic pairing to being the X-Men’s most endearing couple. They worked through their issues together in therapy and reunited in a surprisingly healthy way. When Kitty Pryde left Colossus at the altar, Gambit took the opportunity to propose to Rogue, and they turned attention from an exhausted relationship to a promising new future together. Without question, Gambit and Rogue are at their very best now, and it’s refreshing to read a couple who are just flat-out good for one another in a mythos mired so often in frustration and personal tragedy.

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Art by Pere Perez, Colors by Frank D'Armata, Gambit & Rogue #4

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