Powers, Pentecost, & Protests - Oh My!
Trigger warning: I discuss aspects of my faith which include a bit of terminology from the Christian religion in this essay. Please know my intentions for sharing aspects of my faith practice are NOT to persuade others to become Christians. As an Exvangelical, close to post-Christian mystic, my exploration of faith is to connect with others - NOT to drive them away or perpetuate the trauma caused by the organized religion of Christianity.
I have written about my proclivity for playing with ‘girl’ toys in the past in order to discuss broader issues of identity, and I am going to continue that trend by discussing a favorite character from one of my all-time favorite superhero teams - the X-Men! - as we explore the intersection of my faith and current events.
This superhero team was made up of “mutants.” They had powers, but unlike most other superheroes, what set the X-Men and the mutants in their world apart was that they were not viewed fondly by mankind. Unlike Superman, Captain America, or Wonder Woman they were outcasts and marginalized characters for a variety of reasons. Depending on the creative team behind the specific comic, show, or movie, they are appearing in at the time, there might be subtexts of racism or queer discrimination because of how the mutants were despised and oppressed by others.
Another aspect that set the X-Men and mutants apart was that their powers weren’t always desirable traits and skills like the more popular superheroes. You could get lucky and be the guy with sharp claws and healing ability, or come out with translucent skin, three faces, or the ability to vomit acid. It was a crapshoot.
Why Did I Love the X-Men?
First and foremost, the reason why the X-men were a favorite of mine was due to the epic 90s cartoon that did a decent job bringing their comic storylines to life and is generally respected within the industry and the fandom. Comics weren’t necessarily welcome in our house due to the violence and specifically for the way the female characters were drawn in such a sexualized way. Little did my parents know, desiring female bodies wouldn’t be a temptation for me at all!
As a young closeted queer kid, I saw parallels with aspects of my own life experience hiding and maneuvering interpersonal interactions carefully in order to not be found out just like many of the mutants had to do.
Additionally, it was most common for one’s mutant powers to manifest during adolescence often times during traumatic experiences which again, seemed to mirror my own experiences not only as a person who was starting to develop sexual feelings that I truly believed would be sending me to hell but also the general “you don’t understand me and you never will!” attitude that many teenagers have at some point no matter their identity or specific struggles.
Finally, what drew me most to the X-Men was the extremely deep bench of strong, well developed, and all-around badass female mutants, the stories spotlighted. The female X-men are so impressive that they are generally mentioned as the comic franchise with the best female representation.
I’m still obsessed with the X-Ladies and hope to continue to foster that fandom as I age after many years of putting it away as “immature” dismissing how influential the characters and messages have been in my development as a human. In the spirit of honoring that practice, I’ll be sharing a specific character in a few of my upcoming posts to help me paint a picture of how they shaped me into the proudly queer person I am today.
This post will be focusing on what I would have to say is one of my top 3 favorite X-Men of all time: the goddess of weather herself, Storm.
Storm (aka Ororo Munroe) is one of the lucky mutants in terms of power and actually ranks as an "omega level" meaning there really isn’t an upper limit to her powers. Her mutant abilities include weather manipulation, flight by way of her control of the wind, and ecological empathy. That last power is so strong that Storm developed an ‘Earthlink’ or bond to the earth’s biosphere which elevates her powers to a spiritual level while creating a vast amount of empathy for all living creatures on earth. Right up my alley as a baby empath!
She’s a strong leader on the X-men team with the position of second in command for leadership when they are on missions and is generally regarded as one of the noblest and honorable characters on the team with hyper-developed willpower. Storm is also a Black character from northern Africa and was actually being worshipped as a Goddess in Kenya when Professor X (the bald telepath that put the X-men together) found her and convinced her to join his team.
I started watching X-Men in the early-90s meaning I was around 5 or 6ish when I started getting into the show, and thanks to Storm, I was exposed to a Black female character with many admirable traits which I think was so important. In fact, the ‘uniqueness’ of Storm is what drew me to her most as she was routinely referred to as both a Goddess and a weather witch multiple times which resonated with me for whatever reason. She had a striking look with white hair and a white costume with dark Black skin - something I have since learned is rare in terms of Black female representation in media even today.
The woman who voiced Storm, Alison Sealy Smith, was a Canadian actor originally born in Barbados and was one of the few Black female working actors in the 90s. It was her decision when reading for the part to go with more of a Shakespearean tone for Storm rather than the North African accent the casting directors were asking for. This resulted in a voice that was distinctly Storm's that was accentuated in one of her main catchphrases of the series “Winds, HEAR MY CRY!” Which she would usually follow up with a tornado or lightning strike that would take out her opponents handily.
Here's a quick video of Storm's speeches and powers in the series if you want to get more an idea of the character's portrayal in the series. My fave comment is that Storm's other ability was to narrate her powers in capslock. I was always here for it.
Needless to say, I HAD to have an action figure of Storm and it was something that I would look for quite regularly when we would get that sweet sweet treat of being able to buy a toy. Unfortunately, it took years to find a Storm action figure in small-town Texas. Years of looking in Walmarts, dollar stores, and toy shops until I eventually found one, and it wasn’t until much much later in my life that I figured out why that was.
The answer to why it was so tough to find a Storm action figure was that Executives within the toy-making industry at the time didn’t think little boys would want to play with female actions figures - even within the X-Men series where many (not just female superhero enthusiasts like me) would agree the women overshadowed the male members of the team in many regards.
This all said, it is worth noting that out of all of the female characters, the first one to get an action figure, was the Goddess of the Winds herself, and through some miraculous happenstance, I stumbled on a fictional strong female Black character years and years before I would be able to get to know any Black people in my own life due to an insulated rural upbringing.
“Winds, hear my CRY!”
Pentecost & The Mighty Rushing Winds
May 31st was the day of Pentecost this year for members of the Christian faith, and my pastor, Bonnie at St. Luke, delivered a message on the importance and meaning of the holiday this year. She shared that unlike many of the other Christian religious holidays such as Christmas or Easter that have commercialized components attached to them which increase their visibility and ultimate importance in a capitalistic society like ours, Pentecost often gets overlooked. Even with my pretty extensive upbringing in the Evangelical Church, I still didn’t have too much familiarity with it potentially due to this very reason.
In short, Pentecost is the holiday associated with the Holy Spirit descending down from Heaven to be with the Apostles and other followers of Jesus. It’s actually described as a “mighty rush of wind,” that comes down and compels Jesus’ followers to “speak with tongues of fire” or what is believed to be the practice of ‘speaking in tongues.’
That same day of Pentecost this year was the day when Social Justice Austin was planning a peaceful protest in coordination with the Black Lives Matter movement that my friend Courtney and I had decided we wanted to attend in support of that cause. We both had real hesitations due to the potential of contracting COVID-19, but we were also coming to realize the extreme amount of privilege that is associated with the fact that - as terrible as the virus is - was still our biggest concern or risk factor. That privilege is a direct result of a mutant 'power’ we both have, but have spent much of our lives being ignorant to the fact that the power was present.
That mutant power is due to us having White skin in a society that has been built on the very real but man-made construct that is racism which favors White bodies ahead of Black bodies for a variety of nuanced and complex reasons. Like the mutants, this power was not chosen and we did absolutely nothing to deserve it. Also, like the mutants, I’ve learned through learning, listening, and soul searching, that there are many ways in which that power can be used for good or for evil.
The reason I opened this essay with my exposure to Storm as the first example of a female Black character in my life wasn’t to celebrate and give the impression that I was somehow “woke” before it was cool. Not the case. I am learning from listening to Black voices that type of rhetoric is all too often the narrative that many White people use when trying to discuss racism and privilege. Especially moderate to progressive White people who think that solely voting for a certain political party makes them “not racist.”
Unfortunately, I’m learning - and realizing firsthand when examining my own thoughts, feelings, and actions - that is not the case for me. While Storm definitely gave me an example and entry point for some form of Black leadership or power, I share this story more to shine a light on how much of a problem that lack of exposure to Black lives and voices created. Not only was I benefitting from a large amount of privilege due to a racist society that was stacking things in my favor, but the forcefield of protection my White skin afforded me, mixed with the lack of exposure to Black life experiences and voices created blindspots in my self and situational awareness. That lack of awareness meant that I perpetuated many racist actions, thoughts, and opinions over the course of my life that I am not proud of.
Now that I have taken a deeper dive into studying racism, privilege, equality, and equity from a number of Black experts, creatives, and educators, I realize it will take a very long time to deconstruct from the racist elements of my worldview and continually work to be aware of my multiple privileges (White skin, able body, cis-gendered, male, etc) as I learn how to make anti-racism part of my regular personal work.
Now that I am zooming out quite a bit from my lived experience (also called de-centering) as I am working to assess all that I have mentioned up to this point, I am starting to think - what else have I been wrong on?
With Pentecost and the Social Justice Austin protest coinciding so sharply around the same time, I decided to start there to investigate. First - I have known in theory for some time that Jesus most definitely was not the White-skinned, blue-eyed, golden brown-haired man I had imagined when growing up.
Next - readings and experiences listening to Black faith educators like Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes and Lisa Sharon Harper have helped me realize that if we decenter Jesus’ story further away from the westernized White Christian narrative, it does look a lot different.
A more historically accurate imagining would be a Jesus with brown skin, living as a minority while Israel was under Roman control who was causing a lot of commotion for radically going against many traditional norms of his Jewish culture and religion as well as Roman law. Radical acts like valuing women’s voices and even letting them touch him (a no-no back then) and lifting up the poor and marginalized as equal voices to those who have power and money.
When examined in that way, it seems as though Jesus wasn’t anything like what White, heterosexual Evangelicals are preaching at all!
While I have deconstructed so many aspects of my faith, I still have something there holding strong against all the external forces this world throws at us. That faith is in values that I learned growing up as well as those that I have learned once I started to allow other voices - voices I was taught to keep out as ‘other’ - inside my headspace. Like the belief that we can experience the Divine in the presence of others, or that we are created in God’s image.
Those beliefs, mixed with what I have learned from de-centering so far, is that we are mistaken when we apply only male pronouns to God in the very same way that we are wrong when we only view Them as White because the Bible was written and handled by men for thousands of years who undoubtedly centered God in their experience.
With all this in mind, I do wonder what God would think about the Black Lives Matter movement. Ultimately, that is between each of us as individuals and our conception (or lack thereof) of the Spirit, but it is interesting to ponder…
What would a Black Goddess, with the ability to tap into the emotions of all living things on the planet, want us to do? Sit complacent on the sidelines or be compelled to act as the forces of nature She controls? What would She say with Her beautifully powerful voice? I think I have an idea…
“WINDS, HEAR MY CRY!”
Note: If you'd like to discuss any of the ideas explored here, I would love to hear from you at email@example.com. Specifically, if any elements of this essay brought negative emotions or discomfort as a BIPOC individual, I want to listen, learn, and improve as a writer moving forward.