To say I did not enjoy high school is a bit of an understatement. My experiences during that time are so woefully cliché that I sometimes wonder if John Hughes was secretly following me around, taking notes. Being placed in classes open only to the “academically talented” went a long way toward ostracizing me from the rest of the school; my own awkwardness and insecurity did the rest. My handsome, popular older brother feigned ignorance of my identity as I walked down the halls while my mother accused me of actively trying not to fit in. I knew, with the iron certainty that only the young possess, that no one would ever understand me.
Then I discovered the X-Men.
I don’t remember how I first stumbled across the tales of Professor Xavier and his School for Gifted Youngsters, but they spoke to me in a way that nothing else had. Within the pages of The Amazing X-Men and Uncanny X-Men, I found kids my own age who felt as out of place and alone as I did. I saw a school where no one was made to feel different or out of place, where everyone was weird, so no one was. I met students that were so different they made their own families uncomfortable. Page after page, panel after panel, I discovered people who wished for just one thing, the same thing I wished for every single day: to be normal.
I clung to those characters the way a drowning man clings to a floating branch. I read and reread each issue, the colorful pages acting as a salve on my perceived wounds. Eventually, however, they did more than simply ease my pain. Within those pages, between the fights with Magneto and the Sentinels, I realized that some of the mutants were actually happy to be different. Rather than wishing to be normal, they reveled in their individuality, embracing that which made them unique. They saw being different not as an obstacle, but as an opportunity.
Yet another cliché, I know; but to a teenager constantly in fear of being laughed at for committing a crime no greater than simply being herself, it was an absolute revelation. The idea that I was OK just as I was had literally never crossed my mind until I read those comic books. I never did figure out the “right” way to wear a polo shirt (collar up or down?) and I wasn’t suddenly voted to be Prom Queen, but for the first time in years, I didn’t spend every day wishing I was someone – anyone – else.
Join us for this week’s issue of The Escapist, which celebrates those “Superheroes” who save the world in so many different ways.