“You were never my age professor. 16 million mutants died in Genosha while you were planning new ways to do nothing.”
All images are taken from “Riot at Xavier’s” New X-Men #135-138 (2002), Written by Grant Morrison, Pencils by Frank Quitely, Inks by Tim Townshend and Avalon Studios.
I’ll admit, for a time I was delighted at Quentin Quire’s many deaths in the modern era. Even if I understand where his pain is coming from, he still expresses it like a little shit. I credit working with writer, critic, calligrapher, knitter-for-good, and all around amazing human Jay Edidin, for helping me pivot my frustrations with the character to a curiosity. In our prep for our Flame Con Panel “We Hope You Survive the Experience: The Mutant Metaphor and Youth Advocacy”, we returned to the Morrison era a few times.
It was hearing Jay talk about this character through the lens of seeing Quire not as a “school-shooter” as many fans reductively label the character, but as a traumatize minority youth, that opened the door for this re-reading of Riot at Xavier’s. Of course Quentin Quire is a little shit, he was never allowed to be anything else. If anybody adult had approached him as something more than a nuisance, perhaps the Riot could have been avoided. If Prof. Xavier had made him feel seen and heard, if Xavier had celebrated Quentin’s commitment to defending the mutant community instead of passing judgment on the methods of a child, maybe Quentin would have been kept from going to the extremes he did. Xavier though is not a good man. He’s not even a good educator. So…the riot happened. People got hurt. Someone died.
Let’s set up the pins of Quentin Quire’s breaking point.
- Genocidal Violence Enacted on the mutant community in the attack on Genosha
- The world’s institutions of power respond by ultimately increasing hostility towards mutants
- Xavier only doubles down on his neo-liberal, almost centrist, “both sides” narrative, going so far as to invite humans to this mutant safe space
- Quentin Quire finds out he is in fact adopted, and thus “neglected” by his biological parents.
- Jumbo Carnation is thought to have been killed in an anti-mutant hate crime.
- Quentine Quire, desperately seeks the protection of the leaders of his mutant community, only to be continuously written off and mocked
- Quentin Quire, feeling helpless turns to substance use to offset these feelings of powerlessness
Quentin Quire did not fail the Xavier School, it failed him. If you focus too much on the riot itself, and not the contextualizing story around it, you may not see it that way. I’d like to make an argument for curiosity and empathy. Not just for this character, but for every real life Quentin Quire. For the children who are written off, pathologized, and neglected because of the pain they feel and their inability to process that pain in ways that did not cause others’ harm. There are many Quentin Quires in my community, people who were failed by their communities, their families, by the institutions of power in the world that we’re told should protect us.
As I write this, the trans community continues to face an explicitly genocidal campaign of eugenics. Our aggressors seek to criminalize gender-affirming care and therefore shutting down access to life-saving resources for trans youth. States like Idaho are attempting to make it punishable by life in prison to provide this life saving care. Texas, passing similar legislation, has officially begun investigating the families of trans children, both presently and families of people who provided their children GAC , even if they are no longer children. The international trans community watches on in horror, as something grimly similar to Days of Future Past begins to ramp up.
Given that most of this legislation falsely claims to being attempt to protect children’s normative reproductive “ability”, it’s easy and accurate to call this a campaign of eugenics. This coordinated attack on youth is no accident. It’s known that when you withhold gender affirming care from people, their mental health declines. I need not quote suicide rates here. Trust that this legislative campaign will result in the deaths of trans people, and categorically is an act of genocide. And trans people? We’re left to just cope, as our allies continuously fail to stand up for us in material ways big & small. ( author’s note: in the weeks since writing the initial draft of this piece multiple states have begun to push and in some case have passed bills forcibly detransition trans folks up age 25 and criminalizing gender affirming care. I tried to track it all to keep updated links, but the tragedy is that would be a daily task. You need only do a quick google to see the rising waves of anti trans eugenics legislation.)
I reread Riot at Xavier’s feeling like the page and the world outside my window are not that different. Trans people are in pain. We feel hopeless, we feel despair, we feel rage; we cry out in agony while our “allies” could barely rally enough to retweet an article, let alone read it. We’re forced to clock into work, where the pain we’re feeling is painted-over and suppressed to keep ourselves safe. Trans rage has no place in a cisnormative society and we face being demonized if we let slip even a sliver of that rage in the wrong space, to the wrong people. Our government fails to meaningfully intervene, despite promises that they’ve “got our back”. We’re watching our own genocide be debated like a conversation about how you take your coffee. As I watch comics spaces online rage on with discourse after discourse about the most inane and trivial bullshit, I feel Quentin’s pain.
Almost every trans person I know finds themselves grappled in a loop of psychic agony and the dissonance of the passive reactions of those in their environments. We have been failed by those who continue to claim to protect us. To see leaders who are supposed to protect us talk about “ peaceful resistance” or “patience” while you know the lives of everybody like you are being threatened. When people who should have kept you safe fail you, what options do you really have?
I know there is an aesthetic of pro-fascism present in this story about Quentin Quire. But are Quentin’s actions those of a reactionary? No. Not if you’re using the term in its correct context. Quentin’s politics are radical for sure, but reactionary politics are typically in service establishing a return to tradition or fundamentalist framings, often conservative aligned framings.
Quentin is not a reactionary. He is radical and extremist in methods and separatist in his leanings. It’s a politics of insurrectionism, though poorly executed. Or more accurately, it executed commensurate to Quentin’s emotional capacity, as one caught between several overlapping dynamics of privilege and marginality. Quentin’s actions are dangerous, violent, misplaced, and ultimately lethal, but the values that underpin his actions are not those traditionally understood as “reactionary” values. They are a temper tantrum; they are an attempt to utilize the means of communication one has to seek out a means to fulfill their emotional needs. Quentin has been systematically let down and written off by everybody he trusted to protect him. He is dealing with feelings of rage, abandonment, and powerlessness. Well… hurt-people hurt people. That is what this story is trying to say.
It takes work to reframe this story. You have to believe that there are no bad kids, there are only kids whose needs are not being met. You need to have a sense of how minority stress is one of the leading catalysts of intra-community harm. You need to get curious, not judgemental. I spend a lot of time surrounded by therapists, ones particularly with an abolitionist, anti-carceral framework to their approach. Through these lenses, I see the callous and violent actions undertaken by Quentin not as a supremacist movement, but a literal minority grappling with an immense amount of pain, fear, and disappointment.
Being a minority is messy, messy stuff when the world is trying to wipe out everybody like you. You will not react “rationally” to anything you encounter, especially if what you encounter is more pain. When the story opens, we find Quentine Quire as the recipient of some world shattering news; Quentin Quire was adopted. And we see him struggling to process this in the very next scene. Like the hurt child he is, Quentin immediately turns to lashing out at those around him. Quentin does not have a support system, and so he processes his pain in one of the only ways he understands, by making somebody else feel his pain. It may not be fair or “right”, but emotions aren’t clean and tidy, nor are the people feeling them. We have all had experiences like this: somebody hurt us and we attempt to process that pain by inflicting it outside of ourselves, to attempt to regain a sense of control over one’s life and environment.
When he is brought before Xavier and Beast, instead of getting curious about the root of his behavior, they get judgemental. They even go so far as to literally pathologize Quentin’s emotional state. They handwaive away his concerns about Xavier’s endangering liberalism and they side-step the pain he is feeling over finding out he was adopted. His pain is written off as the result of his brain “burning sugar fifteen times faster than normal.” In this moment, they don’t approach Quentin as caretakers in an emotional sense, they act as school administrators, and poor ones at that. This encounter, rather than de-escalating Quentin’s feelings of alienation, only pushes him further down the path towards his breaking point.
On the very next page we see Quentin taking “kick”, a fictional drug that not only elevates one’s abilities but also seems to provide feelings of emotional power & control. It’s an elevating drug, very appealing to somebody who, like Quentin, feels increasingly powerless inside. In a moment of reflection, Quentin takes a puff. Immediately after, three strangers cruelly kick through the flowers left at Jumbo’s site of death on the sidewalk. Quentin continues to see a world that not only hates mutants, but makes a mockery of the pain trans people— I mean mutants, are communally feeling.
Substance use is not an uncommon coping mechanism for marginalized youth. I say this as a recovering addict, who is in community with a number of other recovering addicts. Numerous studies have uncovered an array of health and well-being issues among trans adolescents, including elevated rates of depression, suicidal ideation, sexual risk behaviors, and self-mutilation. When compared with their peers in schools, trans students have reported higher rates of physical victimization, verbal harassment, and cyberbullying, as well as lower social support from peers and school staff.
Trans youth’s inclination towards substance-based-coping strategies is increased when these youth do not have the support of their parents or caretakers. There is nobody looking out for Quentin Quire’s emotional needs and few people will make an earnest effort until Jubilee and Chamber lead the next Generation X team. It is no surprise that Quentin, and so many marginalized youth like him, turn to substance use and this coping mechanism is arguably one of the leading catalysts to Quentin’s actions, second only to the following scene.
The scene where Quentin, Charles, and Emma intellectually spar is a fascinating one to me. Remember that everybody who Quentin is seeking validation and support from is in this room. He’s expecting Xavier to support his emotional needs, he’s expecting validation from his peers, and in some ways Quentin is trying to establish himself as their caregivers. He is trying something that many adults grow to do, expressing love and care in the ways they wished that they had received love and care.
Quentin rightfully takes issue with Xavier’s “non-confrontational” liberalism, which leads him to invite humans to school in a performative piece of stunt politics referred to as “Open Day”. Consider that the school is positioned to students as a safe-haven and many come to this school looking to escape the trauma inflicted on them by an inherently anti-mutant society. Many of the children here can be assumed to have been victims to anti-mutant violence within their previous environments. You are essentially granting access for the oppressor class, to the oppressed class by way of turning this safe-space into a thought experiment. Quentin says as much within the scene, posing the question very explicitly to Xavier. Xavier plainly side-steps Quentin’s critique and instead plants his flag in addressing the classroom to discuss the legitimate though, less relevant here, dangers of “Kick”.
Quentin makes a final attempt to press his concern, citing the recent murder of Jumbo Carnation. There is a reveal in the later story that will reframe Jumbo’s death, but keep in mind that at this moment Quentin and much of the mutant community believe he was the victim of a violent anti-mutant assault.
These types of communal traumas are regular occurrences for the trans community. For the last 5 years, each subsequent year has set a new record of anti-trans murder; and we know the reported numbers are lower than the actual death toll due to the transphobia of the media and law enforcement. However unlike in Grant Morrison’s story, this epidemic of transmisogyny fuel murders disproportionately target trans women, specifically trans women of color, and more specifically Black trans women & trans feminine folks who face greater threats of fatal violence, Intimate Partnee Violence, micro-aggressions, discrimination in housing & employment, among countless other manifestations of transmisogynoir. This is the news cycle the community is dealing now and always.
We scroll social media: child protective services is investigating the families of trans children, a bill is being pressed that would make providing gender affirming care a felony, a Black trans woman was murdered in cold blood, another state is banning trans children from sports, another trans person is murdered in in a “trans-panic” killing, a major new outlet platforms another bigot to turn trans lives into a thoughts experiment, another trans person murdered. It’s an endless loop that we do not escape. Mix that up with the apathy of our cis “allies”, who ignore it all at or at best “send love” or offer empty affirmations of how they “see” us. Know this, allies: being seen isn’t the problem your inaction is. We don’t need “allies”, we need accomplices”.
How any trans person stays sane and balanced during these times is a mystery to me. I can’t help but see Quentin through that lens. Rather than being systemically disenfranchised, he has actual power through his mutations and the mutations of others and so, he uses what he has to do what he sees as right. Now, we could attempt to further dissect the concept of “what is right ” for a traumatized minority teenager dealing with personal & communal trauma, alongside substance abuse or we could lead with empathy.
Quentin’s actions are dangerous, they are violent, and they are largely unproductive as a path towards building collective power for mutants. He in fact, is really only endangering mutants with his actions. This is his tragic irony at the end of the story. Bleeding from every orifice on the steps of the school at the moment the bubble bursts, we see the scared and hurt child. We see a child who lacked a support system to safely de-escalate his actions through curiosity and compassion. We see a child who was ignored, whose pain was ignored and who is so clearly seeking out any course of action that will give him a sense of control. I’m not asking anybody to excuse the character’s actions, instead I’m asking that we understand them within their context.
There is a narrative that Quentin is a “reactionary”, which as we’ve touched on, is not an accurate use of the term. Instead of demonstrating a fundamentalist or “supremacist” ideology, he’s more in line with a sort of violent sepratist thinking. There is also a narrative of Quentin as a “proto-fascist”, which I believe really has its roots in aesthetics. If you drop Quentin’s look into our own world, he closely resembles a proud-boy wannabe, or what I refer to in my Marauder’s essay as “pin-stripe fascism”. Those aesthetics however, were not as widely associated with far-right movements during the time this story was released. I suspect though, that even if they were, Morrison would be utilizing them to play on our conceptions of fasci-aesthetics. I think these ways of seeing Quentin are valid, especially if you’re not sympathetic to Quire’s character.
Riot at Xavier’s (for me) will always be a cautionary tale about the unchecked rage produced by minority stress, compounded with the neglect felt from those we expect to care for us. I’ve been there and I’ve lost things and people along the way. But, I keep trying. I put in a lot of effort to try to learn from my failures and to do better in the future. It can be hard to convey that at the source of all my rage and anger, there burns a deep love for all in my community. I like to believe that we’re all more than our worst day. We’re all more than what systems of neglect and oppression have turned us into. We can always come back and we can always heal.
I didn’t know if I’d ever write this piece, but there are a lot of trans folks I know, who look at this story and see reflections of our own pain. I don’t know, but suspect other marginalized communities may as well. In leftist communities, we have a tendency towards disposability that can be truly, truly toxic. I’ve seen it destroy careers, lives, and relationships, because for some reason it’s easier for us to permanently ostracize community members for their failures, rather than building communities that cradle failures and heal from them.
I see this in the text of Quentin’s story, I see this in how the character is discussed, and I see it in the ways we navigate our own communities. Perhaps that’s what hit me about this story. It’s seeing a kid at their lowest and wishing for something better for them. It’s the prayer that we can fuck up and be understood as human rather than “bad” or “dangerous” or any of the other labels we throw at people when they fail us.
There is no easy conclusion to had. This story and this character is messy and there are really justifiable and nuanced reasons to stand on either side of it. There’s just as much reason to straddle the story with suspicious appreciation.
This is a traumatic story, with a literal body count and like all those who do harm, it’s about cycles of trauma that are too complex to easily untangle. Another notable facet is that it was written by a closeted non binary author in the early 2000’s. That alone is a set of relationships that could easily warrant another 3000 words. Maybe one day I’ll write that essay, but not here.
I’m not expecting anybody to leave my essay having had their entire view of Quentin Quire shifted, nor am I defending the characters choices or the author’s in constructing them. I hope though, that I’ve added a question-mark to your thoughts in this story and engendered a lens of curiosity into a character who is often too easily written off. Because that has stakes in the real world, to allow for the pain and suffering of masculine folks and those who are or are culturally read as men, to have space to be understood rather than sublimated.
As somebody who spent 25 years being read as a man, I’ve seen the way people reacted to my pain, which only became culturally “ valid” when I revealed the truth of my identity to that ignorant world. It reframed what everybody thought they knew about my pain. This is also an experience that continues on well after I’ve come out, due to much of the cultural transmisogyny, that leads many to still read me ( a trans women who does not pass ) incorrectly as a man. This is something that plagues many AMAB trans folks, and particularly targets AMAB people of color; as the ideals of feminine beauty that trans women and trans femmes are held to, is a Eurocentric mode of beauty that is rooted in whiteness. As a result trans feminine people of color, are exponentially more targeted by transmisogyny than white trans feminine folks.
The lens of how racial identity informs our response to an individual’s pain and frustration is absent from this story. In fact the few people of color in the story are victimized and exploited by Quire. Perhaps, if this lens’ presence is felt by the reader, it is in a marked ignorance of this lens, which informs Quire’s racist actions, particularly the way he disempowers characters of color.
I’d begun this essay sometime in the early spring months of 2022, and I’m here wrapping it up in Fall. A lot is different and a lot is the same. The attacks on the trans community are becoming more and more alarming. Threats of violence against hospitals that provide gender affirming care, fascists storming community events, politicians and writers openly discuss “the transgender question” in the media. New legislation keeps being proposed, in the hopes of wiping out trans people, all the while we fail to see our “allies” even acknowledge the existence of the threat let alone its scope.
Along the way, I’ve been doing a lot of trauma-work. I’ve confronted the sad, angry, shivering Quentin Quire within, desperate for anybody at all to take them seriously. Balancing familial trauma with the CPTSD of living in a world actively lobbying for the genocide of everybody like you…Well, it’s a lot.
Quentin’s “riot” has become even clearer to me. He’s not rebelling against Xavier as a figurehead or even the school’s faculty. He’s rebelling against hopelessness & apathy in the face of genocide. He’s rebelling against a culture of internalized liberalism that declaws the mutant population at the moment where they’re most vulnerable. I see that fear behind every word-bubble of his in this story.
This essay turned into something else here at the end. Or maybe it didn’t, maybe it was always about addressing the cultural gaps in structures of caretaking for the emotional needs of those who we have written off previously. Quentin Quire is not a villain. He is a victim. He is hurt; and hurt people hurt people.
By night, Sinead Kinney is a trans rights activist, patient advocate, comic writer, artist, dungeon master, major dyke, and comics journalist.