Why I’ll never stop wanting to be a superhero
Everyone…everyone at some point in their adult life has wanted to have super powers.
Come on — admit it.
Are you seriously trying to tell me you’ve never fantasised about using the power of thought to scatter those slow-walking commuters like skittles as they shuffle through Bank station at 8:30 on a Monday morning?
Tell me you haven’t, just for a split second, imagined casually nudging the air with your fingers at the arrogant cyclist who just jumped the lights while you were trying to cross and sending him flying onto his sweaty, pedestrian-startling backside?
Not even a little bit?
OK, maybe I have anger issues, but superheroes rock. Superheroes are HOT. They never get sick, they can dispatch six or more bad guys simultaneously with ease. They don’t feel pain and they heal instantly. What’s not to love about them?
When I was a kid, I’d spend all my spare cash on growing my library of Spider-Man, Iron Man, Fantastic Four and X Men comics. I’d happily lose myself for a whole afternoon in that hyper-real world of bright colours, loud explosions and ass-kickings on every page.
I’ve never grown out of this — OK, maybe the ass-kicking bit — but at the ripe old age of 31, I’m not ashamed to admit I still have fantasies of waking up one day with the power of telekenisis or something.
Yes, I know now that my interest didn’t just end with the storylines and the cool drawings. The baby-homo in me was attracted to their perfect, lycra-wrapped torsos. They were like a schoolboy’s version of Tom of Finland — jaw-droppingly erotic, but safe in the sense that Ma and Pa stayed blissfully unaware that their son was appreciating the artwork on a whole different level.
But as well as the obvious sexual element, superheroes appeal to anyone who’s ever felt different. As a young gay man, I walked around feeling like I was somehow separate from the world. An outsider who didn’t understand why.
When you feel you have to protect something about yourself, it’s only natural you gravitate towards characters with a secret as well, their solitude resonates with you and in some way, makes you feel like you’re not alone.
And to see someone whose secret doesn’t make them weak — in fact, quite the opposite — should be comforting to anyone who’s hiding and feeling vulnerable.
I love that look they get in their eyes right before they unleash hell on the bad guy. That cool appraisal of their opponent and the faint, knowing smile that says: “You have NO idea, do you….?”
Who wouldn’t want to have that unbridled confidence? That feeling of invincibility?
For us homos, the first experiments with the scene, and the wonderful, terrifying feeling you get when you step inside your first gay club isn’t a million miles from the feeling Spider-Man must get he hears the crowd cheering him on. The feeling that finally you’re no longer an outsider — that you belong somewhere.
Is this why gay boys like our tight t shirts? After so long spent hiding, feeling different, scared and alone, do we subconsciously pick this childhood image of strength to make us feel protected in the outside world as we walk along with our pecs and biceps rippling under a thin layer of fabric?
When I was diagnosed with HIV at the age of 23, I went on a mission to prove I was superhuman. I partied from Thursday to Monday, stayed up for days on end, threw pills powders and booze into every orifice I could find and generally tried to push my body to its absolute limits. I wanted to prove I could withstand anything and that I was stronger than this thing that had invaded me: “You’ll see, body of mine! I can take this!”
It didn’t work. HIV was my Kryptonite, and pretty soon I realised if I carried on, I’d end up going to that great Batcave in the sky sooner rather than later.
And then there’s the other crappy part: No matter how many times a superhero saves the world, he or she is always alone. Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, all of them have to sacrifice love and relationships to protect their secrets, and the lives of those they love.
And no matter how many wounds they heal from, their hearts can still break.
So when you think about it, are we really all that different from superheroes? OK, so we can’t fly or shoot lasers from our eyes, but we all have our strengths and weaknesses. We all love and get hurt and we all feel alone at times.
And anyway, who needs powers? I’ve seen human beings do some pretty amazing stuff in my time.
What about our armed forces in Iraq, who risk their lives daily in the name of peace?
Or the New York firemen, who saved hundreds of people from the burning wreckage of the Twin Towers in 2001, or the doctors and nurses who treated the victims of the London 7/7 bombings in 2005?
What about the single mother who works night and day to provide a home and food for her children and never takes a break?
Or how about the man who spent his life raising awareness of HIV, in the hope he could spare others from hearing the words: “It’s positive”?
Are we so different from the characters in the comics?
I’ll never look good in lycra, and I’ll never be able to read minds or hurl boulders (although I really wish I could), but despite this, are we not all — in our own small way — real-life heroes?