The sexuality of Spiderman

Re-emerging Web leisurent Casey Newton expounded on sexuality and the X-Men yesterday, and made one particular point by referencing Spiderman: “When Peter Parker at last kisses his beloved Mary Jane, we all breathe a sigh of relief. Spidey is more than just a superhero: He’s a super-hetero.”

Though strong overall, I think the essay oversteps itself here.

To term Spiderman “a super-hetero” — because of one big screen moment — ignores Parker’s history and significant identity issues. He becomes a man through radioactivity, not puberty, and struggles to maintain one heterosexual relationship after another. They often have fallen apart because of his inability to balance his own life with his life as Spiderman.

Importantly, the problem hasn’t been so much the secrecy as it has been the identity itself. Even in revealing his identity to wife Mary Jane, the admission has only appeared to increase their marital tension. Countless comic strips have shown her at their apartment window, worrying about his mission. According to fan sites, the two are now separated.

When properly considered, I think Parker falls into a brand of asexuality unique to the singular superheroes. Teams such as the X-Men provide a social environment and degree of interaction, but superheroes like Spiderman, Batman and Superman must run as lone wolves. By accepting their superhero identities, they have entered into a moral contract with the world.

The Super Chicken theme song best stated the principles of the contract: If you’re afraid, you’ll have to overlook it / Besides, you knew the job was dangerous when you took it. In other words, the singular superheroes must supercede themselves. They are capable of expressing platonic love to literally the entire world and receiving it in return. Their responsibilities for action must come before every emotion — fear and eros included.

A Salon article argues that Parker is meterosexual, or in love with his citified self. Writer Mark Simpson posit this sexuality as one evolving from life context, an overwhelming rider on existing sexualities. “The typical metrosexual,” Simpson writes, “is a young man with money to spend, living in or within easy reach of a metropolis — because that’s where all the best shops, clubs, gyms and hairdressers are. He might be officially gay, straight or bisexual, but this is utterly immaterial because he has clearly taken himself as his own love object and pleasure as his sexual preference.”

But how often do you see Peter Parker hanging around shops, clubs, gyms, or hairdressers? And even if he had wanted to, how could he have borne it? The Greeks used the story of Narcissus to articulate self-love’s greatest pitfall: inaction. No singular superhero worth his or her salt would happily live a passive, meterosexual existence.

If anything, these heroes are fueled by self-hate, not self-love. Peter Parker became Spiderman after failing to prevent his uncle’s killing. Bruce Wayne’s young age kept him from saving his parents, so he became Batman. And Clark Kent found his Superman self far too late to save his parents and his planet. They all became misfits in the realm of human responsibility.

If Spidey stops to kiss the girl, I wouldn’t chalk it up to more than confusion. The kiss is just a taste of what he left behind. It only fulfills in that it satisfies a memory.

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