Man of Steel: A Gay Allegory For Our Time

Advocate editor and lifelong Superman fan Jase Peeples reveals why the Last Son of Krypton's latest reboot is a gay allegory for our time.

BY Jase Peeples

June 14 2013 5:00 AM ET

“Are you listening, Clark?” the young boy’s teacher asks.

He is distracted, struggling to filter the thousands of sounds bombarding his auditory system. Her voice is one of many ringing in his ear. Confused by the scope of his developing super-hearing, Clark turns to face his elementary school teacher as his x-ray vision comes into focus. He sees her and his nearby classmates in ways he doesn’t understand.

Frightened, he runs out of the classroom, down the hall, and locks himself in a broom closet. Through the locked door, he hears his classmates whispering, calling him “weird,” and “freak,” even as he clasps his hands tightly over his ears. 

This scene from director Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel is one of many that will resonate with LGBT viewers, and highlights why the latest Superman reboot may have more LGBT appeal than any other iteration of the story based on Kal-El, the Last Son of Krypton.

Of course, it doesn’t take x-ray vision to see why many LGBT people are drawn to the colorful world of comic book superheroes. From characters who struggle with secret identities to mutants who are despised by society because they are born different, the genre is practically overflowing with queer metaphors. But Man of Steel integrates several of these into Superman’s mythology in novel ways.

Beyond the symbolism of a young Clark Kent locking himself in a closet as he struggles with parts of himself he doesn’t yet understand but knows he must hide, the new film reimagines the origins of Superman at a fundamental level. In this version of the story, children are not born on Krypton, they are engineered to perform specific roles within Kryptonian society. Kal-El is considered an abomination because he is naturally conceived by his parents Jor-El and Lara — an act that is illegal on their planet.

With homosexual acts still illegal in many nations around the world, this particular twist to the Superman mythos adds an even deeper dimensionality to a queer reading of Man of Steel. His status as an outsider who is born different positions Superman’s story as an LGBT allegory in the same realm as Marvel’s X-Men.

However, the film’s LGBT sensibility doesn’t end there. Numerous additional scenes also parallel common experiences in our community. 

“You have to keep this side of yourself a secret,” Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) tells his adopted son after Clark uses his abilities in front of his classmates. It’s a comment that is all too familiar for many LGBT viewers from well-meaning but misguided parents who fear for their “different” child’s safety and happiness. But it’s the following scene, a sort of coming out, that hits a familiar emotional note.

As Jonathan reveals young Clark’s otherworldly origins to him for the first time, the fear of parental rejection is clear on the boy’s face. “Can’t I just keep pretending I’m your son?” he asks, not wanting the nature of their relationship to change now that they are both aware of who he really is.

Tags: Film