Sunday, August 10, 2008

"Superhero or Sidekick: Which one are you?"

Needless to say, that teaser on the cover of the Hub's copy of the August Instinct caught my eye, so I had to turn to page 56 right away. I'm not a particularly big fan of the magazine (and there goes my shot at a plug in its pages!)--the models, Photoshopped pictures of which constitute the bulk of the "content," are almost all twinks, the articles are generally glib if not mindless, and would it kill them to hire a proofreader? Even so, I was hooked, and it seemed a good sign that the story was written by a psychologist rather than a staff writer.

The page-and-a-half article itself is basically a Reader's Digest-style paraphrase of Dr. Keith Swain's theory (expressed at greater length in his book Dynamic Duos: The Alpha/Beta Key to Unlocking Success in Gay Relationships) that long-lasting gay couples tend to unite alpha males with beta counterparts. One tends to lead, the other to follow; one takes care of the finances, the other nurtures the emotional bond ... not unlike an idealized 1950s style heterosexual marriage, in fact.

It's hard not to chuckle when Swain begins a sentence, "If we think about this idea on a gut level, it makes sense, like Batman and Robin seem natural" -- one can hear old Doc Wertham spinning in his grave -- but he continues "If we put Superman with Captain America, less so." And it's true, I have never been that interested in the whole Clash of the Titans dynamic, often seen in comic book crossovers, like the one pitting Batman against Captain America or the Punisher. Even the banter and clashing egos among Justice League members (and all other superhero teamups) bores me.

For Swain, this comic book metaphor has its parallels in other "variations in masculinity among gay men--we have even developed our own terminology for this: daddy and son, bear and cub, even, to a degree, top and bottom." To a degree?! That last one seems to me the ultimate example of the dynamic, taken almost to the point of parody.

A natural-born skeptic, I don't want to buy into the theory, or any formulaic approach to human behavior for that matter, but Swain's premise does seem to make sense--not as a surefire recipe for happiness or "key to success," but at least as a potentially useful way to deal with male/male interactions. (Butch/femme archetypes aside, I don't see this operating as blatantly in lesbian relationships, nor does Swain bring up women in the article, but then maybe an actual biological female might want to weigh in here. You reading, Teresa?)

I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that, taking the 5-obvious-question quiz in the sidebar ("A or B ... Or Somewhere In Between?: Test Your Inner Superhero!"), I was a 5-for-5 Sidekick and the Hub is a 5-for-5 Superhero. Well, maybe not 5-for-5: a true Sidekick, I suppose, I took the test for him, and thus I don't know for sure whether his second and fourth fingers are the same size or not. That question was kinda wacky anyway, given the others, which were easier to guess the "correct" answers to. ("Which is more attractive to you, a man with a rugged, masculine face or one with a fresh, youthful face?" Well, duh! But hey, I know my answer and I'm stickin' to it.)

The reason that's embarrassing is that I prefer to think of myself, in bat-land, as a lone Batman, with no sidekick myself and no use for one, and 90% of my roleplay adventures pit me against a villain, mano a mano, and it's a bit of a blow to my ego to be revealed as the underdog. I have no interest in playing Robin to someone else's Bat. That said, I should point out:

1. When the '66 tv series was first airing and subtly creating the pervert that I am today, I totally identified as the Boy Wonder. I was 6 and my older brother, 10 years my senior, was clearly Batman. (More on that relationship--one of the most important in my life--in future posts, the kind I keep meaning to write here but have never quite gotten around to.)

2. There is a Robin in my own personal mythology (or rather was, for years ago he hung up the yellow cape in a favor of his own batsuit). Ironically enough, while I was working on this entry we had a bit of a scene together, during which he totally topped me for the first time. Didn't see that coming, but totally enjoyed it--way more exciting to me than the standard mentor/mentee dynamic, though Doc Freud might point out that this latest twist is entirely within that "standard."

No matter what, real life, even real fantasy-life, is a lot more complicated, and therefore more interesting, than any theory. But bring capes and cowls into your theory and I'm bound to pay attention.

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