Deadpool: The Pansexual Superhero of the Queer Universe

Pop Culture

Deadpool: The Pansexual Superhero of the Queer Universe

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

When I watched Deadpool 2 on Friday, I was greeted by a sight I didn’t think was possible in a superhero film: the portrayal of the first-ever lesbian power couple. X-Man Negasonic Teenage Warhead introduces everyone to Yukio, her girlfriend, and nobody bats an eye. In fact, Deadpool seemed to find them rather adorable, and so did I. The filmmakers went the extra intersectional step in making their relationship mixed-race; a pasty white emo girl paired with a sprightly pink-haired Otaku.

This open declaration of alternative sexualities is the positivity that we’ve been searching for in superhero films, the representation of queer folk who grow up on these stories but have always felt excluded from them.

When I was 15, I voraciously consumed reams of comics; if they were available in India, I owned them. Fifteen was also when my towering libido collided with my desire to inhale every cute boy I saw, creating a convoluted patchwork of emotions. I knew I was gay, but I felt dirty about it. This was when the X-men came to my aid. A bunch of people, ostracised for a genetic factor they could not control, who came out of the closet as mutants and kicked ass doing it. They made me feel like I could do the same thing, they gave me the confidence to come out at a time when queerness in media was synonymous with slapstick.


This open declaration of alternative sexualities is the positivity that we’ve been searching for in superhero films

Image Credits: Den of Geek!

However, the X-Men were still only allegories for the queer experience. It took over 30 years from the first Marvel comic in 1963 for a superhero to officially state the once-dreaded words, “I am gay”. This brave person was the mutant, Northstar, who came out in a 1992 issue of Marvel’s Alpha Flight. Other writers had already introduced alternative sexualities a few years prior, such as Neil Gaiman’s complex portrayal of lesbian relationships and transgender struggles in the critically acclaimed graphic novel, The Sandman.

But Northstar was the first high-profile comic character to do it in a medium mostly consumed by straight men with delicate masculinities. Revolutionary as this was, Northstar remained the only openly queer superhero for more than a decade.

With the popular acceptance of queerness in film and TV over the past few years, more and more comic characters have come out, shared their first kisses, even gotten married. Batwoman was revamped from Batman’s love interest into a lesbian caped crusader in 2006. Marvel’s Iceman, one of the founding X-men, came out as gay in 2015. The writers explained away readers’ criticisms of Iceman’s many opposite-gender relationships with the fact he was deeply closeted, as he did not want the double stigma of being both a mutant and gay. Last year, DC writers confirmed that Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn were in a non-monogamous relationship. Many new characters are being made queer outright, like Hulkling and Wiccan from The New Avengers, transgender superhero Chalice, as well as Kevin Keller from Archie Comics.

Deadpool might be a happy exception, because other superhero movies have faced unwarranted cuts due to their depiction of non-heterosexual romances.

The biggest reveal, however, was the canonisation of Wonder Woman’s bisexuality in 2016 – hardly surprising when you consider that Wonder Woman was based on the two women in a polyamorous relationship with her creator, William Marston: his wife Elizabeth, and their life partner, Olive Byrne. You do not get queerer than that.

Then we have Deadpool, a zany, lovable mercenary with a ridiculously high level of self-awareness. So high are his meta-abilities that Marvel made a comic series entitled “Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe” in which he realises he is a fictional character, driving him to murder every superhero in his universe before breaking into ours to kill us, the readers. Deadpool also breaks sexual boundaries like they are the fourth wall. Co-creator Fabian Nicieza claimed that because his neurons are constantly regenerating, the cellular flux that makes him all meta also causes him to switch between sexualities. In 2015, he tweeted that “Deadpool is whatever sexual inclination his brain tells him he is in THAT moment. And then the moment passes”.

Many fans have taken this to mean that he is pansexual, which means that, as Deadpool writer Gerry Duggan puts it, he is “ready and willing to do anything with a pulse”. (An extreme case, of course, because pansexuals tend to be aware of consent while Deadpool is problematic in his wanton rejection of agency.) In the original comic books, he declares his attraction toward Thor, flirts with and occasionally fondles Spider-Man, hints at wanting to fuck Cable (with technical gay jargon), kisses Wolverine, and does a whole lotta inappropriate things to a whole lotta people.

The movie, on the other hand, has a watered-down take on the character, in an obvious attempt to make it palatable to as many paying customers as possible.

Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool does exhibit some hints of queerness in his attraction toward Colossus, but the scenes in question play out so ambiguously that they might easily be taken as comedic juxtapositions. Don’t get me wrong, film Deadpool – in no way, shape, or form – adheres to gender stereotypes. His flamboyance, his emotional generosity, all of them are symptomatic of healthy, unfettered masculinity. He casually asks his girlfriend, Vanessa, to bring out the strap-on during sexy time, indicating his comfort at surrendering control. When naming his troupe, he opts for the gender neutral term X-Force, eschewing the masculine coding in the name X-Men. At one point, he even brings up the gay dating app, Grindr.

There are other subtler references sprinkled throughout the movie’s expanded universe. Celine Dion’s “Ashes”, for instance, that plays during the opening credits. The video of the song shows dancer Yanis Marshall elegantly performing an interpretive piece in a Deadpool outfit replete with high heels (which Reynolds insisted he wear as it was something he thought Deadpool would do). Nevertheless, the only solid confirmation of Deadpool’s sexual diversity comes at the very end, when he tells Vanessa not to fuck Elvis and she retorts with, “Don’t fuck Colossus.”

Deadpool might be a happy exception, because other superhero movies have faced unwarranted cuts due to their depiction of non-heterosexual romances. For example, a scene in Black Panther showing a romantic interaction between Ayo and Aneka, female members of T’Challa’s kingsguard, was edited out, as was one of a woman walking out of Valkyrie’s bedroom in Thor: Ragnarok. Even in Deadpool 2, the lesbian couple seem to be diversity fillers for large parts of the film. There is some hope for the third instalment in the series, however, as Ryan Reynolds’ has gone on record saying he would like Deadpool to have a boyfriend.

I hear and read so many arguments against the representation of queer characters in the media, which claim there is a lack of relationship between a hero/heroine’s sexuality and the plot – that who the character wants to fuck has no bearing on the story. Theirs is nothing more than a thinly veiled and irrational fear of the things they like, being overrun by the things that make them the most uncomfortable. The 2016 trend #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend exemplifies this fear, with people whining about how the heterosexual and that facts should not be altered for the sake of representation.

But the thing is: Stories belong to all of us. We all desire identity and crave to see that identity reflected in the art we love. Enough with the heterosexual romance being rubbed in our faces, I say. The future is here, the future is queer. And as it is now becoming apparent, so is the past, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.