Magneto: You don’t have to hide. Have you ever looked at a tiger and thought you ought to cover it up?
Mystique: No, but…
Magneto: You are an exquisite creature, Raven. All your life the world has tried to tame you. It’s time for you to be free.
The movie X-Men: First Class was one of my favorite X-Men movies. One of the reasons I loved it so much was Mystique’s character. She had a lot going on with her and I think there are some profound lessons we can learn from her story about being ourselves…
- Embrace who you were in the past
Mystique had a past. She was originally a thief who snuck into Professor X’s house to steal food, but he had compassion on her and took her in like a sister.
I also have a past. It’s not a Hollywood horror story like some people—I wasn’t born in a crack house and I had my first drink this year at 25. And that’s another thing—my life is not dramatic so I don’t have to dramatize it. I just embrace the ordinariness of it and go with it. But even still, I’m not perfect—I used to be addicted to porn. It’s part of my story so the more I share it, the more freedom I have to be myself and the more freedom others have to be themselves. You can’t move into your future by trying to ignore your past. Sometimes you have to go backwards to go forward…
We all have a past, but you have to remember that your past is a shadow—it has no real power over you. It follows you everywhere you go, but when you bring it into the light, you’re free from it. And when you embrace who you were in the past, you’ll be free to be yourself now. Which leads us to the second lesson…
2. Embrace who you are now
There’s a scene where Magneto walks into Mystique’s room and she’s bench pressing in her Jennifer Lawrence form. Then he interrupts her with this classic line: “If you’re using half your concentration to look normal, then you’re only half paying attention to whatever else you’re doing.”
Let’s face it, it takes a lot of energy to change yourself to fit in. How much time do you spend trying to change the way you laugh, the way you talk and the way you walk so that people will accept you? All of that energy could be channeled into doing things that you actually love. There are parts of you that you might not like, but you can’t change them. So just embrace them. I speak really properly, I can’t dance, I sing like a Disney character, I grew up Pentecostal, but preach like a Baptist. I sit and weep in worship instead of jumping and shouting. I’m not into cars, football or wrestling and would rather read books, watch documentaries or play music. I like Seinfield and The Office, Hillsong and Jesus Culture, Andy Mineo and Lecrae, Eminem and Macklemore, Spongebob and The Amazing World of Gumball. The more I try to change these things, the more miserable I become and the more I miss out on life. So I just learn to embrace them.
3. Embrace not knowing who you will be in the future
Mystique spent most of the movie shifting between her mutant form and her Jennifer Lawrence form. She never stayed in one consistent form until near the end of the movie when she finally accepted her mutant identity. But for most of the movie, she had no idea who she really wanted to be.
It’s okay to not know who you are at this stage in your life. I have no idea who I am or what I’m like yet. A good friend once told me that we’re all a “mixed bag of things”. That’s reassuring because sometimes I feel schizophrenic or like I have multiple personalities. I’m Steve Urkel and Stephan. I’m a nerd, but I love sports. I’m black, but act white. I’m mature, but childlike. I don’t know who I am, but I don’t have to because none of us really do. And it’s okay. Half the fun is in figuring it out, anyway. So if you’re confused because you don’t know who are yet, don’t stress it because that just means you’re still alive—once you figure out who are, the movie’s over.
So remember, embrace who you were in the past, embrace you are now and embrace not knowing who you’ll be in the future. Your freedom will come when you stop trying to be everyone else and you finally start being yourself.
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson