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Zucker ’24: What I have in common with the X-Men

In the X-Men fictional universe, mutants are people born with something called the X-gene, a gene that confers superhuman abilities of various forms. Yet these mutations also generate unique physical traits — metal claws, blue skin and maybe a tail — which lead to mutants being ostracized from society. However, most people at Brown don’t realize that an X-Man walks among them: me. In class, in the Ratty or on Thayer Street, people may notice my unique physical traits but not realize my superpowers. I was born with ectrodactyly, a genetic mutation inherited from my mother that caused me to be born with one finger on each hand and two toes on each foot. As is true for all X-Men, my mutation has conferred upon me a series of both abilities and weaknesses.

My weaknesses, while minor, are real: I am afflicted with the curse of being universally recognizable. For example, this past June, I was traveling through Prague after my semester abroad when I was approached on the street by a short, curly-haired guy who I assumed to be a stranger. He then asked me: “Are you from New Jersey?” When I said yes, he told me that he was from a nearby town and knew me from a day camp that I had not been to since I was nine years old. In fact, he wasn’t even in my age group at camp and we didn’t know each other at the time. I had to awkwardly apologize that I didn’t remember him and ask for his name. Being an X-Man means that I can forget about ever remaining anonymous since pretty much everyone in my life remembers me because of my physical condition. 


There are other minor weaknesses that plague me on a day-to-day basis: I can have some difficulty opening tight water bottles (who doesn’t?) and it can be hard to use sharp knives safely.

However, my challenges pale in comparison to my superhuman strengths. Aside from always winning thumb wars (my fingers are exceptionally strong), my greatest superpower is my ability to filter —  not just words, but also people. A few months ago, I was having a deep conversation with someone who felt utterly disillusioned with their friends for being superficial. While I expressed my sympathy and compassion, I couldn’t personally relate. Because I walk in this world with a notable physical difference, it creates an automatic barrier — a forcefield of sorts — between me and the most superficial people. If someone was solely focused on having the “perfect” life and surrounding themselves with “perfect” friends as part of their image, they likely would not want to be anything more than a friendly acquaintance with someone like me. Instead, I can be confident that the people in my life are not superficial and are unconditionally accepting of me. What a gift! 

Having ectrodactyly enables me to trust in the sincerity of my friends’ intentions while being authentically myself. In the age of social media, where we are all bombarded by judgments online, this isn’t something I take for granted.

The ultimate irony I experience in my life is that I am often pitied by strangers for having only two fingers. But it’s quite hard for me to take that pity seriously — in my mind, it’s like pitying Wolverine for having retractable metal claws. While I was fortunate enough to be born with an obvious mutation that constructs a forcefield against insincere people, I know that not everyone is so lucky. It is my belief that students on Brown’s campus would be better served by redirecting their sympathy elsewhere. Pity those who do not live authentic lives, those who are instead driven by insecurity and a desire to fit in. That, in my opinion, is the real disability that exists in our society. 

So maybe the real X-Men are the people who are impervious to judgment and live for themselves. And every day I walk this Earth, I never forget that my powers, my X-gene, come from the unlikeliest of sources: my single finger on each hand.

Ethan Zucker ’24 can be reached at Please send responses to this opinion to and other op-eds to


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