I used to pray to the devil at night.
I had tried God before, but after a brief stint of conversion at a Baptist bible camp where my entire cabin prayed the gay out of me, I had become a little wary of the idea of a God. The Devil though, The Devil held promise. A trickster seemingly always willing to make deals with someone when their own personal stakes became just desperate enough. I would think about The Devil and how to conjure them to my domain* (*bedroom) and barter with them until we could find an opportunity that worked well for both parties. Could I play the fiddle? No. Could I beat The Devil themself at Street Fighter II and barter on my well-earned and righteous victory that they might manipulate reality itself and find fit to remake me to better fit in the world? I’d like to think yes.
I wonder a lot about the “regular” people in comics. The person waiting for a hot dog from a cart on the street on a brisk autumn day while Spider-Man is off in the distance punching a fella wearing an overcoat with arms coming out the back. Do they look at Spider-Man and wonder what their reality might look like if only they could get just a little radioactive blood? Does Jane Lunchpail sit at her desk and think about the very real existence of magic and aliens and alien magic in her world and wonder why not me?
Do they ever think about The Devil, or rather the very real Devils of the Marvel Universe and prepare their soul for tradesies* (*no give backs) in order to elevate themselves to a plane upon which they feel they would be best represented?
Spider-Man, or rather Peter Parker, was married — for a very long time — to Mary Jane Watson Parker when I was a kid. Peter Parker is among the first of the famous Wife Guys, Fred Fintstone and the dad from Dinosaurs before him. Theirs was a love for the ages. No matter how much of a wallop he took from Doc Ock or the Vulture, MJ was there to ease him to bed, soothing his bruised and battered body, help sew his torn costume and the fractured parts of his psyche back together.
In 2007, Peter and Mary Jane Watson Parker traded their love, their marriage, and the life of their as-yet unborn child to one of the Marvel Universe’s many devils: Mephisto. In return, Mephisto would make it so that Peter’s Aunt May would survive the gunshot wound that had taken her to the precipice of death itself. Peter had lost his uncle before — famously the event that spurned him to superheroics instead of selfishly becoming a professional wrestler — and wasn’t ready to say goodbye to his aunt as well. Mephisto agrees to their deal and rewrites reality to erase their marriage, their love, and their deep and long-abiding connection to one another. He also shows them the daughter they would have had in the future, now never to be born. Devils are always more cruel than you expect.
Aunt May lived, and Peter and MJ awoke in a world freshly remade in the craven image of their reluctant desire. Never married, never in love. Spider-Man was not only no longer a wife guy, he was erased of the very thought he had ever been one. He only knew reality as it had been rebuilt and was content for things to be the way that they were, loveless, sad, and lonely — but still full of bad guys named after animals with whom he could tussle throughout the five boroughs.
I used to wonder a lot about what would happen when I told my family I was trans. How they would fight me on it and how everything in my world would change in an instant, turn to despair and ruin and cast me out of my life. When I prayed to the devil to appear before me, willing to make a deal, I was praying I could have the world remade with seemingly no consequence to myself or the people that I loved. If a deal could be struck and I could wake up in the morning with the body and soul and mind I desired, then I would offer anything in trade, and no one would have to remember who I had been, our past erased and rewritten to reflect a future I thought was better suited for me.
In the last fleeting moment before the world Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson Parker knew is warped and changed around them, Mephisto shows them the unseen promise of the future. Even though the present is an urgent wire being pulled so taut it might snap, there is always a future where some slack is let into the line and we can let our backs fall and relax into what happens to the selves we don’t yet know. When they see the child they might have had right before the snap, I have to wonder how it would feel to know the loss of future possibility in order to have a somewhat better present.
The devil never appeared before me to make a deal. I never had to barter on my immortal soul in order to see my life be warped into a reality that was never truly mine, it was just the mine that I wished I could hold in my hands for even a moment. That reality discounts and ignores the bumps and twists along a line that lead to the very real present, one where I didn’t have to trade my most cherished reality in order to see change happen in the world. I just made reality my own, told my family and friends and the world what reality I would prefer to see in the future. I will never know what a false life would have looked like. I can only recall the often urgent and difficult present that hints at an unknowing future.
Every week, I’m going to end with a little wrap-up of comics and comic-related bric-a-brac that I’ve been digging lately. There’s no homework or anything here, just some stuff I’ve been digging that you might too.
Niko’s Pull List
This week I have been incredibly busy. Like, Big Mac busy. Reading comics has slipped a little but I’ve got a few choices all the same.
I did read a comic that I dug partially because it required nothing of my but having a good time. X-Terminators #1 with Jubilee, Boom-Boom, Dazzler (the X Men’s pop star and secretly the best character), and the Wolverine who I believe to be a trans woman and not the Wolverine who might also be trans. Who’s to say. X-Terminators involves 4 women going out for drinks and maybe to fuck and then having to fight their way out of a death trap. It’s fun, it’s breezy, it’s written by Tini Howard, who is one of my favourite writers in super hero comics. Take a look.
New Mutants #30
Also, New Mutants #30, which is the last issue written by Vita Ayala before Charlie Jane Anders steps in to write a few. There will be a canon trans character called Escapade debuting in this series starting in issue #31, but honestly New Mutants has always been the best X-Men book, and there is no better time than now to get on board.
Gutter Talk is a biweekly series by Niko Stratis that looks at comic books from a queer and trans perspective.