Thursday, December 27, 2012

So I Entered A Writing Contest

Terror Tortellini, the awesome creepypasta blog and forum that anyone into creating or enjoying short and sweet horror should check out, recently hosted a Christmas writing contest.  The theme was gifts.  And guess whose entry was chosen to be featured on the blog?

(It was mine.  You probably figured that out, just making sure we're all on the same page.)

My entry, now hosted on the blog, is called The Cat's Gifts.  It's very short, with a very simple premise.  Sometimes a cat may bring you unwanted presents.  If you've got a few minutes to spare, check it out!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

In Which I Make the Joker Talk About Gail Simone

Edit: Gail Simone has been reinstated as the writer of Batgirl!  That renders this video as kind of pointless now, but awesome news nonetheless!

I've talked a lot about DC's dismissal of Gail Simone, a lot of it in anger, so this week the Joker and Batgirl are here to demonstrate appropriate ways to express disgust, and inappropriate ways.  There is also mention of their upcoming marriage and women in refrigerators, but mostly it is the Joker irritating Batgirl over Skype until she loses her temper.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Gail Simone Appreciation Day

This is my response to the appalling decision by DC Comics to remove Gail Simone as the writer of Batgirl.

Because I can hold back my tears if I keep typing, because DC clearly didn’t know a great thing when they had it, and because my heart feels like it got slammed with a concussion Batarang.

That’s Gail on the right, and myself as Wonder Woman on the left.  I’m holding a Jacob’s Ladder that I made for her, with the Secret Six on one side and various members of the Birds of Prey on the other.
Some things to know about me in order to underscore what a wonderful experience this was:  I had only been reading monthly comic issues since September, a few months earlier.  This was the third annual C2E2.  The two years I attended before, I had only read the odd trade paperback and watched various cartoons and movies.  This was the first year I really spoke to any creators, and I was nervous as hell, and beating myself up inside for being one of those “fake geeks” the Internet loves to rant about.

This was also before I had actually read Gail’s excellent run on Wonder Woman, which featured the Terry Dodson Wonder Woman I was cosplaying.  The only Wonder Woman books I had read when I attended C2E2 as Wondie were from the Golden Age, and so not only was I terrified of speaking to Gail Simone because she was totally awesome and I was some nerd who barely knew what I was talking about, I was also some nerd who hadn’t even read the work from that author that I was cosplaying.

This was the first year I had ever done a cosplay with my face visible.  You can see in the picture that I had an underbite (it’s since been corrected with surgery), and I was incredibly insecure about that, as well as my face not being that of a perfect DC princess.

Finally and most importantly, I am autistic.  I can communicate verbally and generally I have no problem doing so, but when I am nervous, I begin to have a lot of trouble making myself start speaking, speaking coherently, and not stuttering or rambling awkwardly before trailing off.  When I met voice actor Kevin Conroy at the first C2E2, I just stood there with a stupid smile frozen on my face because I couldn’t speak to ask if I could shake his hand.

So we went into the convention on Friday afternoon and the first thing I did was make a beeline to her table in Artist’s Alley because issue six of Batgirl kept me from killing myself, damn it, and I was not going home until that issue was signed.  And then I got up there and remembered that I was a socially inept trainwreck who could barely stammer out a hello, let alone a “Hi, your comics mean more to me than I can possibly put into words, and also I made you this gift and I hope you find that cool and not creepy.”

And so cue the rambling and the stammer.  In the back of mind I was aware that I was talking to my favorite writer ever and most likely blowing it, but I was like Ralphie on Santa’s lap in A Christmas Story.  My brain and my mouth were not connected properly, and I couldn’t make one respond to the other.

But she understood me.  I don’t know how, from that incoherent mess of an introduction, but she understood.  The guy beside her (whose name I’ve forgotten, unfortunately) thought I was asking her to sign the Jacob’s Ladder for me, which wasn’t an unreasonable conclusion to draw, given how bad I am at explaining myself, but she understood it was a gift and that alone almost made my legs give out from under me.  She liked my Wonder Woman outfit - GAIL SIMONE liked my Wonder Woman outfit - she signed my book, she somehow managed to get me to say my name and speak in something resembling understandable English, and when I asked for a picture with her, she wanted one too.

In that moment, my life was perfect.  I wasn’t an insecure autistic girl with an underbite who felt like she wasn’t a real enough geek to be here.  I wasn’t someone who was afraid to show my face in cosplay.  I was Wonder Woman.  I was on top of the world.  Five minutes into the convention and I’d already had a moment that could never be topped.

Later than night I checked Twitter from the hotel room and she had tweeted about the gift I gave her.  I still don’t know how my roommates managed not to go deaf from all the jumping around and squealing I did as a result of reading that.

She was the only creator at the convention I successfully spoke to.  I was too afraid to speak to Tim Sale or Cliff Chiang, and Scott Snyder’s line was so long I was afraid to even attempt it.  But something about Gail was approachable.  She made me realize I wasn’t some loser imposing on important people.  She made me realize that I had a place in this community, that I mattered.

I don’t think DC realizes what a wonderful asset as a creator and as an amazing human being they’ve cast aside here.  I just hope they realize it and come back to her, begging on their knees.

And hey, turns out writing didn’t hold back the tears after all.

Friday, December 7, 2012

In Which I Make the Joker Talk About Satire

Last week, when I was compiling instances of recent misogyny in geek culture for my blog post about the Joker responding to Tony Harris's attack on cosplayers, I brought up an article from writer and director James Gunn, who is set to direct Marvel's film Guardians of the Galaxy.  The article, now removed from Gunn's blog, was entitled "The 50 Comic Characters You Most Want to Have Sex With."  It stated, among other awful things, that teen moms are "easy," lesbians can be "turned" by the right man, and that daddy issues are hot.  The post went up in February 2011 in response to an Internet poll, and was rediscovered after Gunn's involvement with Guardians of the Galaxy was announced.  The list went viral, people responded with outrage, Gunn removed the blog post, and the situation quickly devolved to hell in a hand basket.

The post, or the portions of it that I was able to see, is appalling and indefensible.  But there is a silver lining: James Gunn apologized, which in situations such as these is sadly all too rare. A real apology as well, not a weasel-worded "sorry you don't get my humor" excuse.  I was thrilled to hear that someone in such a position had realized they were wrong and publicly admitted it.  I thought that maybe people were finally realizing it isn't okay to make horribly offense remarks toward women or minorities.

I forgot about the ever-present circle jerk of dude-bros clinging to the misogyny in their subculture like a life line and hissing at anyone who dares question it.  "Why can't you have a sense of humor?" they'd whined when the post went viral.  "They're just fictional characters!  It's clearly satire!  You feminists just want to stop people from being able to ever make jokes!  If a girl made a list of heroes she wanted to fuck, you wouldn't complain!"

Was it pointed out to them that the article's premise wasn't the problem, but the execution?  That the "jokes" made toward fictional characters were leveled at real human beings as well, and often?  That satire doesn't work if it's indistinguishable from what it's meant to mock?  Of course.  Did it matter?  Of course not.

But I thought at least they'd stop when Gunn himself said the post hadn't been funny.  Apparently I expected too much.  Instead, they just whined that he should never have had to apologize, and that we evil women forced him into it.  They complained that we were trying to silence Gunn, while they tried to silence us.

And so with that, I brought back Lady Joker (and Wonder Woman!) back to tell us what comedy is and what it isn't.

As the clown says, if you have to explain a joke, there is no joke.  It wasn't a joke when supposed comedian Daniel Tosh responded to "rape is never funny" with "wouldn't it be hilarious if you were raped right now?"  It wasn't a joke when James Gunn said teen moms were easy.  There's no punchline, no subversion of expectations.  There's not even a pun.  Comedy can deal with terrible things, but just saying terrible things is not comedy.  It's simply being a dick.  Much like it's being a dick when you jump to the defense of hateful statements and try to silence dissenters, claiming that criticizing someone is censoring them.  It's not.  You have the right to be an asshole, and no one can take that away.  But that sure as hell doesn't make your bullshit comedy, and it doesn't mean you can't be called out.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

In Which I Make the Joker Talk About Sexism

Anyone with interest in the geek community and access to the Internet in these past few weeks has probably noticed a disturbing trend: male creators and enthusiasts telling women where they can and can't belong in the subculture, or making godawful comments about female characters, only to have their comments waved away as satire or lauded as speaking the truth. Whether it's creator Tony Harris blasting attractive women for daring to be at comic conventions in costume, CNN giving Joe Peacock space to complain about how women who don't know enough about geekdom are "poachers," or the recent unearthing of writer/director James Gunn's appalling post about "The 50 Superheroes You Most Want to Have Sex With" - which featured, among other things, calling teen moms easy and a "joke" that was either about the corrective rape of a lesbian or the idea that homosexuality is a choice - which was dismissed by dudebros and even industry professionals across the board as "satire," it's a hostile world for women who like comics.

While Gunn issued an apology, the outcry from female fans and creators and men who aren't jackasses has done little to shame either Tony Harris or Joe Peacock.  Peacock actually wrote another blog post talking about what a great guy the sexist, transphobic Harris was, while upholding his own belief that women who are at comic cons for reasons that don't meet Peacock's arbitrary standards are predators and bad people.

The geek community has already responded far better than I ever could, from comic writer Gail Simone countering Harris's hate by starting Cosplay Appreciation Day to author John Scalzi's brilliant post "Who Gets to Be a Geek?  Anyone Who Wants to Be," among others.  Webcomic creator David Willis also graced cyberspace with the Shortpacked! strip "Courage," demonstrating just how low the jerks who think they're taking a brave stand against evil womenfolk really are.

But small and poorly worded though my voice may be, I know what it's like to be viewed by pigs in my fandom as a piece of meat who exists only for their sexual fantasies.  I know what it's like to slave over a costume for a convention only to find pictures of myself online afterward mocking my looks and ogling my ass. I know the paralyzing fear of walking into a new comic shop for the first time as a woman, waiting for the other shoe to drop the whole time I'm shopping.  Thank you, thank you, Bob's Comic Castle and Empire Comics, for not being the sort of shop that drives female fans away.  So as a cosplayer, a female geek, and a decent human being, I knew I wanted to speak out, and to do so in costume.

So I chose the most unlikely of my cosplay creations to do that.

Why the Joker?  Why not speak out as Wonder Woman, a feminist icon, or as Harley Quinn, a character who already gets fandom hatred, being viewed by some as a female Joker knock-off or an annoying victim who serves to normalize domestic abuse?

First and foremost, I just love the Joker.  He's the quintessential comic villain, Heath Ledger gave him the best performance I've ever seen in a comic to film adaptation, and he's my favorite of all the cosplays I've made.  And I intended that cosplay as a female variation of villain, so I spent a lot of time during its construction imagining the Joker as a woman, and how the other criminals of Gotham and comic fandom itself would view a Clown Princess instead of a Clown Prince.

The Joker is not the intuitive choice to talk about sexism.  My genderbent incarnation is still crude, hateful, and sadistic.  She makes the cissexist assumption that sex and gender are the same thing, and is concerned less with the negative impact of misogyny on women as a whole, and more on how sexist treatment affects her alone.  She is interested in violence rather than education, and counters hatred with more hatred.  She may have traded her Y chromosome for an X, but her newfound sex doesn't make her any less of an asshole.

And even she can see that holding women in a subculture to a different standard than men and ascribing nefarious motives based solely on affecting men to women's actions is not okay.

Or, to make a long explanation short: When you've crossed the line so far that even a homicidal super villain says, "Dude, not cool," it's time to re-examine your life choices.

I hope I've made it work.  The Joker is a beloved character who constantly graces the top of Best Villain Lists.  Theoretically, turning the character female shouldn't cause that respect to waver, but in a world where female fans are constantly questioned about having the "right" knowledge or being too pretty to conform to stereotypes, who knows?  Maybe she'd prove herself as a "real" villain girl.  Certainly enough women who've spoken out against this chauvinistic stupidity have been told that they're not the ones being talked about, that they're the real fans.  But the thing is, no one has the right to declare himself King Geek and say who can and can't live in the kingdom.  Bullshit like that hurts us all, and if you engage in it, I may not shove a Diva Cup down your throat, but I will lose all respect for you.
Special thanks to Ryn Bailey for helping out while I was writing the script!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Batgirl 14: A Courtship of Razors

This review will contain all the spoilers imaginable, including in images.  You have been warned.

 As I mentioned in my post on The Killing Joke, the Joker is back and he's creepier than ever.  This clown isn't playing around, which he made clear in last month's Batman when he stopped by Wayne Manor for some good old fashioned butler-napping.  But in today's release of Batman 14, the Harlequin of Hate showed us that things like murdering nineteen police officers in one go or pouring ammonia in Alfred's eyes is just kid's stuff, and made clear his end game: Batman's support network has made him soft.  Therefore Batman's support network must die.  Moreover, Batman's going to have to help with the familicide.

 In short, we're in for a feast of nightmares, and things like seeing Commissioner Gordon bleeding through his skin are just the appetizers.  The wonderful creative team of Scott Snyder and Gregg Capullo made this clear in Batman, but over in Batgirl, Gail Simone and Ed Benes have hardly been stingy with their supply of nightmare fuel.  The terror is gushing forth like the Overlook Hotel's elevator full of blood.

The plot of Batgirl 13 is simple, though the terror and awesomeness contained within makes this issue more than memorable.  Barbara Gordon's mother has been kidnapped by henchclowns.  Barbara receives a phone call from her sadistic brother, making threats and bizarre demands.  When she is attacked by more thugs in clown masks, she fights back, suits up, and makes her way to the location her brother directs her to, a local roller skating rink.  There she finds the Joker holding her mother hostage.  The issue concludes with the revelation that the Joker's twisted scheme involves Batgirl joining him in holy Batrimony, and he was even sweet enough to propose with her mother's engagement ring.  What girl could say no?

The Good:  Where to start?  Holy dismemberment, where to start?

Simone's Joker is flat-out horrifying.  from the skating rink full of grimly grinning corpses to Benes's disturbing, detailed rendering of the clown's new face.  But he's darkly comedic as well, rolling around on the floor in pink, pom-pom'd skates.  It's said that the Joker should frighten you, make you laugh, and make you hate yourself for laughing all at once, and this Joker is a roaring success.  Gail Simone said on Twitter that the Joker of this event caused a nightmare for her, and it's not hard to see why.  Look at him.  There's a face that will be burned into my retinas and stalking my dreams for a lifetime.

But the Clown Prince of Crime isn't the only villain at work in this issue, despite his talent for hogging the spotlight.  James Gordon Jr., Barbara's deeply disturbed younger brother, has been biding his time in the shadows of Gotham for months since his escape from Arkham Asylum, and finally revealed his presence to his sister in this issue.  He taunts with her over the phone, makes demeaning and nonsensical demands - "Make a sandwich or your mother dies" - and sends henchmen after her designed to echo her past trauma and trigger her deepest fears.  By the issue's end, we're still not sure of just what he hopes to accomplish, but we know that he's cunning enough to use the Joker's schemes to his own benefit, and if that doesn't point to his competence and threat factor as a villain, I don't know what does.  He's like a younger, ginger-ier Hannibal Lecter, minus the cannibalism.

The coloring in this issue pops off the page, complimenting the intensity of the storyline.  Previous issues of the series have featured washed out colors, but this issue is as vivid as could be.  Benes's work here is superb,  from his Hammer Horror-esque Joker to his action scenes, but most of all he sells it in Barbara's facial expressions.  I was nervous upon seeing that the focus for the bottom third of this issue's cover was Batgirl's breasts, knowing that Benes has a propensity for cheesecake art.  I awaited Batgirl 13 with concern that Barbara's confrontation with the man who shot her would end up sexualized.  But the focus here is not fanservice.  It's Barbara, with all her fears and anger and determination, Barbara rising up against any challenge her foes with throw at her.  And it is glorious.

Which brings me to the greatest part of this issue: Barbara Gordon.   This issue is her tour de force, the moment the book has been building to ever since she froze upon finding herself at the business end of a gun back in Batgirl 1.  Over the course of fourteen issues we've seen her working her way back in the world of crime fighting, and strive to regain her confidence after regaining the use of her legs.  She's struggled with depression, PTSD, survivor's guilt, and ethical questions about what it means to be a hero and how much good she's really doing.  

But now she's found her footing.  And she takes all of her insecurities and fears, in the midst of a panic attack, even, and decides that enough is enough.  "They thought I'd be terrified, I'm sure.  Beyond repair, maybe.  Victim of a full traumatic breakdown.  And yet I find I am something else entirely.  Something darker.  Elated."  This is Batgirl, operating at 110 percent, and she's had enough of clowns at the door.  Come on inside, if you don't mind having your bones shattered.  This is the Batgirl that critics have been complaining Barbara should have been back in issue one, but she's all the stronger and more engaging for having seen the build up.  Constant nerves of steel, with a witty quip for every situation?  Boring.  A real human being who fights through her fears and kicks every ass on her way up?  Awesome.

Which brings me to a brief aside on certain critics of this issue, the sort of anti-New 52 Batgirl commentators that dislike Barbara just because she's not Stephanie Brown, or because she's not the "real" Barbara anymore.  The ones who are making misogynistic "make me a sandwich" jokes based on the preview (apparently missing the irony in telling the girl who will make a sandwich and then break your legs to get in the kitchen), or saying that "Mary Sue Batgirl is just going to beat up the Joker, who cares?".  Hey guys?  You can stick a batarang where the sun doesn't shine.  No one complains when Batman overcomes his struggles and punches the Joker in the face, despite Bruce Wayne being the ultimate power fantasy.  If you've reached the point where you have to tear a woman down for kicking ass, then you've officially broken through the bottom of the barrel.  Barbara's here, she rocks, and no amount of sexism or screaming "self-insert!" is going to cancel that out.  Too bad, so sad.

This issue leaves us with tons of questions, and all of them awesome.  Is James going to get Alysia now that Barbara left her at the apartment?  How does the marriage play into the Joker's Death of the Family scheme (and what role, if any, will Bruce play in the ceremony)?  Is James working with the Joker, or does he just know enough of what's happening to twist things to his advantage?  Will Knightfall's new recruits make an appearance?

The Bad:  The coloring on Batgirl's suit was inconsistent toward the end.  Is the yellow ribbing a permanent feature or not?  It keeps coming and going.  Also, I don't know what the writer for Nightwing 13 was thinking, saying that Barbara's cameo in that issue came after the events of Batgirl 14.  That makes no sense, given this issue's ending.  What, did the Joker let Barbara wander around the city for a bit to think over his offer?  That's considerate of him.

Other than that, there was no bad.  This issue was greatness personified.

The Verdict:  Go buy this.  In fact, buy all of Batgirl because Barbara Gordon and Gail Simone are awesome.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

"The Suit Wasn't Cheap": Halloween 2012

I probably should have gotten around to posting the pictures from Halloween a couple of weeks ago, but it's Cosplay Appreciation Day, so you're getting them now.  For a more detailed look at how this costume was created, check out this thread.  An extensive post about the scar creation and possible materials is coming at a later date.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Why We Can't (and Shouldn't) "Just Forget About The Killing Joke"

Thirteen months ago, the Joker made his first - and until today, last - appearance in The New 52 DC Comics, gracing the pages of Detective Comics 1.  Over the course of the issue, the Clown Prince of Crime did what he does best: wreak havoc, taunt Batman, and terrorize Gotham with his personal brand of comedy.  After the book's shocking conclusion - the Joker allowing newcomer villain Dollmaker to flay off the skin of the clown's face - the Harlequin of Hate disappeared for the next twelve months before reappearing this week in Batman 13.  Returning to reclaim his face and his city, the Joker revealed his new goal: Feeling that Batman has let himself grow soft, what with the sidekicks, fellow heroes, and the whole "being kidnapped and tortured by Owls" incident, the Joker has decided to attack and destroy everything Batman holds dear, so that the Dark Knight can return to being the hero he once was and direct his focus back the most important homicidal clown in the Bat's life.

Canonical picture of Batman and Joker kissing unrelated.

So why I am starting a post about Alan Moore's 1988 graphic novel The Killing Joke with a summary of the first issue of Scott Snyder's 2012 Batman arc "Death of the Family"?  Well, apart from "Death of the Family" looking to be totally awesome and something that everyone, comic fan or not, should check out, it's because "Death of the Family" is a crossover event focusing at least in part of the Joker's schemes for the rest of the Bat family.  And in particular, his upcoming confrontation with Barbara Gordon.

The upcoming Batgirl 14
If you've read my blog at all prior to this post, you know that I adore Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl or Oracle, depending on the time period.  I particularly love Gail Simone's current Batgirl series, which has dealt heavily with the most infamous scene of The Killing Joke: The Joker crippling Barbara Gordon with a bullet to the spine, then stripping her clothes off and photographing her bleeding body.  Barbara's shooting and subsequent paralysis in comics lead to her creating a new alter ego, the hacker Oracle.  Outside of comics, the story's treatment of Barbara was not well received by feminist critics.  Despite the major impact of the shooting on Barbara Gordon's life, she was little more than a plot device in the story itself and was only targeted to hurt her father, Gotham's police commissioner.  Barbara was yet another victim of Women in Refrigerators Syndrome, a disturbing trend in comics of female characters being killed, mutilated, and de-powered.  Usually, as was the case with The Killing Joke, women experience these horrors not for their own development or story lines, but to motivate a male character.

Why? Because the editor said "cripple the bitch," that's why.
The first year of Gail Simone's Batgirl run has revisited The Killing Joke extensively, dealing with themes of Barbara's post traumatic stress disorder from the shooting, and her struggles with survivor's guilt regarding the regained use of her legs.  The four issue arc that ended this week, which revolved around Batgirl's fight against the murderous vigilante Knightfall, focused less on Barbara's mobility and emotional stability than the previous installments.  However, with "Death of the Family," Barbara will face the Joker with the use of her legs for the first time since 1988, a confrontation which Simone promises will be intense and cathartic.  Revisiting The Killing Joke will be inevitable under such circumstances.  Some fans, such as myself, can't wait to see Batgirl's part in this twisted story arc.  Others are not exactly looking forward to it.

The original scene.
One of the criticisms I've seen time and time again of the current Batgirl series is that the comics bring up The Killing Joke too often.  It was referenced within the first few pages of Batgirl 1 and the shooting has remained a major factor in the story lines ever since.  Some Barbara fans are sick of hearing about the time she was stuffed into the fridge, sick of Barbara's nightmares about her shooting and her constant thoughts regarding her ability to walk and her time in the wheelchair.  They've already seen Barbara work through her trauma once as Oracle, and they want Batgirl to kick ass and have fun, not mope.  They want to drop The Killing Joke and move on with Barbara's story.

As I've said before, far be it from me to tell people what to like.  But regardless of whether one loves or loathes the New 52 Batgirl,  I will vehemently argue that we should never forget The Killing Joke, not in Barbara's past, and not in comics history.  Whether, like Alan Moore himself has grown to, one regards the comic as needless, dreary dreck, or thinks it's a brilliant piece of writing and a definitive Joker story, "moving on" from the book and its impact of Barbara's history is not the answer.  I've seen many arguments to the contrary, and I'll try to address them all here:

1.  Barbara already worked through her trauma while she was in the wheelchair.  There's no sense in revisiting it again.  

The Killing Joke, revisited.
Barbara came to terms with the shooting and its impact on her life in the previous comics continuity.  The Barbara Gordon of the New 52 is younger, and has not had all the experiences of her pre-relaunch self.  Furthermore, even if she did come to terms with the shooting during her time in the chair in the New 52, regaining mobility would bring the experience back to the surface, raw and irritated all over again.    Especially when she's returned to physically fighting crime, risking the renewed use of her legs with every villain she encounters.  And especially when she's about to be confronted by the Joker again.

2.  The constant moping about her paralysis is dragging down the story.  They should have removed The Killing Joke from continuity entirely.

This is one of those instances in which the relaunch was damned no matter what it did.  When it was announced that Barbara would walk again, there was immediate outrage that her time as a disabled icon would be erased.  When it turned out that she'd still been a paraplegic and the time still affected her, there was ire about how she focused too much on that experience and that it should have been left out completely.

Even if you think that The Killing Joke should have been removed from continuity, it hasn't, and it's not about to disappear.  Being irritated with the character for having PTSD over a terrible experience and working through the impact the trauma had on her life strikes me as more disrespectful to the character than revisiting her horrible experience ever could be. 

3.  No one but Gail Simone wants to see Barbara confront the Joker again.  Been there, done that.

Oracle vs. Joker

Yeah, no.  I've been waiting for this moment since I heard Barbara would walk again, and I know I'm not the only fan who feels this way.  If you're not interested in seeing it, fine, but I'm sick of hearing about how Gail Simone can't let go of the past and is writing her own self insert fan fiction and so on.  She's treating the character with the same respect she's always shown Barbara Gordon, and attacking her as a supposed deluded fan girl just because you aren't enjoying the arc is gross and uncalled for.

4.  The Killing Joke isn't about Barbara.  The story fridges her and tosses her aside.  I don't want to see her dwell on something that wasn't even about her.

Batgirl 15
The Killing Joke wasn't about Barbara.  One of the things I've respected most about Simone's writing is that she's taken a story that used Barbara as a plot device and then ditched her and turned it into a story that is Barbara's in her own right, showcasing how she's lived with the experience and how she's recovering.  The creation of Oracle used The Killing Joke in a similar way, and Oracle was also met with protests that DC ought to just throw Barbara in a healing Lazarus pit and move on.

The Killing Joke wasn't Barbara's story.  She was the equivalent of the opening kill at the start of a horror movie.  But today The Killing Joke is as much Barbara's story as it is Bruce and the Joker's.  She's not the opening kill.  She's the girl who takes a beating, feels the pain, but refuses to stay down.  And that, as Oracle or as Batgirl, is awesome.

5.  The Killing Joke is a gross and problematic story, and even Alan Moore regrets writing it.  Let's move the hell on already and forget about it.

This, for me, is the big one.  The problematic elements of the story are exactly why we shouldn't toss it aside.  When Gail Simone realized that the treatment of women in comics tended toward the gross and problematic, she didn't forget about it and focus on positive portrayals.  She started the Women in Refrigerators web page and ended up working in the comic industry, writing all the badass female characters all the time.   The treatment of Barbara in the story should not be forgotten.  It should be remembered, discussed, critiqued.  We should make it clear that the casual maiming of female characters is not okay, and not something that we as fans will tolerate.  If we ignore stories like these, if we decide that what's done is done and we should just let it die, nothing will change.  We'll still live in a world in which an author can ask, "Is it all right if I cripple this woman?" and an editor can answer, "Yeah, okay, cripple the bitch."

I don't want to forget The Killing Joke.  I want a world in which Barbara remembers it, in which readers can't dismiss the terrible impact it had on a character's life, and can't tolerate the same casual cruelty happening to a female character again.  I want readers to remember it, and further to remember how despite the trauma, Barbara is growing and recovering.   How, despite the attack that she will carry with her for the rest of her life, she's still strong.  And most of all, be it paralyzed or walking, you can't keep a Batgirl down.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

"But Isn't a Cure for Autism a Good Thing?": On the Edge of Destruction

I'm terrified.

I'm more frightened than I've ever been in my life, more than I ever thought was possible.  More scared than I was before I graduated college, so afraid of failing at adult life that I considered suicide and extreme self-mutilation.  More scared than I was in my freshman year of college, when I was so lonely and isolated that I spent months alone in my dorm room, fighting back tears.  It feels like the bottom's dropped out of the world and everything I've ever cared about is crumbling beneath me, and I'm hovering over the abyss, not knowing whether I'll fall.  And it's the not knowing that hurts the most.

You see, today I found out that the FDA approved clinical trials using cord blood to "cure" autism.

Those of you who've read my previous posts on autism will know that I am not a supporter of the movement to cure autism spectrum disorders.  Those of you who haven't may be wondering why I'm being so melodramatic and pessimistic about such a good thing.  Now those poor autistic children will be able to communicate, you may be thinking.  Now they can make their needs known and they won't be upset or overstimulated and they can go into mainstream classes. Now they can function in society.  And Lauralot, no one's going to force the cure onto anyone!  Why are you being such a naysayer?  Only good can come of this!  Even if it fails, it can pave the way for stem cell break throughs to help treat cancer or AIDs!  You should be happy!

No, I shouldn't, and no, I'm not.  It's a horrible feeling, realizing that your culture, your community, and everything that makes you the person you are is just a few scientific discoveries away from genocide.  My universe has a very real threat of complete annihilation and it's terrrifying.  It hurts to feel this helpless.  It hurts more than anything I've ever known.

If you are the parent, sibling, other relative, friend, or caretaker of an autistic individual, and you're reading this in indignation, disgusted that a high-functioning individual such as myself who can communicate and hold a job is daring to speak for the autistic community, please, please read this post to the end before you pass judgment.

I know how hard it is to have autism.  I know how it feels to seem trapped in your own body, upset or in pain and unable to express it.  I know the frustration of missing social cues or motor skills that everyone around you seems to grasp so easily, I know how much it hurts to be the odd one out despite your best efforts and the support of others.  I know how it feels to see someone you love in pain, to wish that you could rid the world of obstacles for them and make their lives easy.  I know how much it hurts to see someone suffer for things they can't help.

But that's the thing about autism.  For all the things it makes difficult, there are also positives.  They may not seem evident, particularly if the individual can't communicate verbally, and they may not even be recognizable as a result of autism, but they exist.  My attention to detail that helps me in writing and costuming.  My ability to memorize which has given me a life long love of books and the skill to recite everyone's lines in the class play.  The seemingly endless amounts of knowledge I can store about things that matter to me.  My wit, my humor, my passions.  They're all a part of me, and they're all a part of my autism.

Autism isn't  like epilepsy or asthma, or other disorders.   Autism literally molds a person's mind.  Everything about how I view the world is in part due to autism.  Autism isn't something that happened to me.  I wasn't a normal little girl until autism snuck into my crib one day and changed my life.  I am autism, and it's me.  We are inextricably linked and we can't be separated.

Which brings me to my greatest fear about a potential cure: Curing autism will effectively kill the autistic person.

Their life won't end, of course.  They'll go on breathing and talking, they'll go to work or on dates and take vacations to Disney World.  But the person that you knew, the person with autism?  That person is gone forever.  Autism shapes everything about us, and to take us off the spectrum would be to take us out of our bodies entirely and put a new person in our place.  Now, there are autistic individuals who are fine with this idea.  They are so unhappy as they are at present that they would willingly become a new person before they would continue living as they do now.  And that's fine.  If a cure is available to them, and they are willing to sacrifice themselves to reap its benefits, I have no right to stop them.  But that's their choice, and theirs alone, to make.

But if a cure were to be available, it won't be just their choice.

I've been told that no one will force this cure on autistics.  But in these clinical trials, they already are.  The 30 children being tested range in age between 2 and 7.  I don't know where others draw the line, but I say that to consent to a procedure that would completely alter a person's brain structure and absolutely everything about their personalities and how they perceive the world, they ought to at least be eighteen years of age.  Instead, they are guinea pigs for the government and for parents wiling to subject them to unproven, potentially dangerous treatments.

But those are their parents, you may be thinking.  Parents have the right to make medical decisions for their children.  Yes, they do, but that doesn't mean they will always make the best or most informed choices.  Organizations such as Autism Speaks love to frighten parents into believing they need a cure by painting autistics as burdens who will tear families apart, as helpless children who can never care for themselves.  Parents are so frightened of their children "catching" autism that they are willing to skip vaccinations - buying into a proven false myth linking immunizations to autism - and potentially let their children catch fatal diseases as a result.

Just because a parent can make a decision doesn't mean they should.  If I had a son,  I could choose to have the child’s legs replaced with prosthetics on the chance that he may develop arthiritis when he grows up, but that wouldn’t make it a reasonable thing to do. And if you find that comparison ridiculous, well, I think rewriting a person’s brain so they can have an easier chance at life is just as absurd as replacing limbs so they can have an easier chance in case they develop arthiritis.

Still, the fact that an autism cure is being sought proves that my opinions on this topic are not the mainstream view, and so if a cure is found, many parents will cure their children.  Autistic people will become a dying breed, and autistic parents who choose not to cure their children may have their ability to provide for a child brought into question.  Government accommodations for autistics will dry up, because why should valuable money be wasted on those who refuse to be fixed?  Attempts at integrating and supporting autistic individuals in society will be abandoned, leaving us even more ostracized and feared than we already are.

My question is, why should money and limited medical resources be wasted to "cure" something that people can live long and fulfilling lives with?  Why are we as a society so afraid of autism?  This isn't a hypothetical discussion for me.  It's my life.  It may not be perfect, and sometimes it may be hard and painful, but it's the only one I've got, and I still love it, rough edges and cracks and all.  It is not that I don't acknowledge that autism can make life hard and painful.  It's not that I don't acknowledge that some autistics want a cure.

But I don't want my life and community to die to make things easier for others.  I don't want to have to destroy who I am or watch people like me be destroyed in order to better "fit in," to make everyone's lives easier.  And the thought that these things are all too likely chills me to the bone.

Please listen to the autistic community.  Please take our considerations in mind before you hope to cure your loved one.  Please remember that, autistic or not, we are still people, and this choice should be left up to us, and only us.

And please, please, contact the FDA and let them know that the autistics should be the ones making this decision. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Special Snowflake Shut-Down: Silencing Tactics of "Social Justice" Bloggers

Snowflakes: a sign of natural beauty since the dawn of time, until the Internet said "Screw that."
Way back in February, in my post "I Can't Ride in Your Little Queer Wagon," I mentioned a debate in Internet communities - chiefly the blogging site, Tumblr - about whether or not asexuals could claim the queer identity (too make a long story short for anyone who doesn't want to read the link, they can and anyone who says otherwise is being a bigoted jerk).  I made it sound as though the debate had ended.  It hasn't.  Discussing asexuality - or any minority identity - on Tumblr these days will more than likely lead to arguments, personal attacks, passive agressive tagging on a reblog of the post, and so on and so forth.  There are entire Tumblrs devoted to mocking people who dare identify in a way the other bloggers dislike, usually enveloped in social justice language, as if that makes it all right to kick a marginalized group in the face.  For an example, you can Google the Tumblr "Privilege-Denying Asexuals," since I'm not going to link to such prejudiced drek on my blog.

I was given a harsh reminder of just what a trainwreck Tumblr is when it comes to minorities and invisible communities on Sunday, when I dared to post about my sexual identity.  I was sick of seeing posts that suggested a person could not possibly be asexual if they had ever had or enjoyed sex, watched porn, sought out a sexual encounter, and a bunch of other nonsense that has nothing to do with whether or not an individual experiences sexual attraction.  I was especially sick of these posts coming from people outside of the asexual community.  So in my irritation, I put together a list of things that did not, no matter what others claimed, invalidate asexuality:
  • You can know that you’re asexual when you’re a teenager, just like you can know that you’re gay/straight/bi/pan/etc. when you’re a teenager.
  • You can masturbate and still be asexual.
  • You can have sex and still be asexual.
  • You can enjoy sex and still be asexual.
  • You can desire sex (sexual desire is not sexual attraction) and still be asexual.
  • You can watch porn and still be asexual.
  • You can write porn and still be asexual.
  • You can know you’re asexual without trying sex or masturbation first.
  • You can know you’re asexual without “getting your hormones checked.”
  • You can find people attractive and still be asexual.
  • You can make dirty jokes and still be asexual.
  • You can have kinks and still be asexual.
  • You can and should ignore dumbasses who tell you you’re too young to know if you’re asexual, or that you have no consistent definition of your sexuality, or that you’re an overly defensive special snowflake because you won’t allow them to police your identity.
  • You can and should tell the aforementioned dumbasses to pull their heads out of their asses and think before they speak.
For most of the day, the post went over well, receiving many likes and positive reblogs.  Then, toward the end of the day, an influx of negative responses rolled in, with various ignorant non-aces posting in ALL CAPS about how it was impossible to be asexual and have willing sex.  I had people respond to my post with pictures of snowflakes and mockery of my sexuality.  I had an extremely ignorant asexual poster (there is no shortage of bigotry and elitism in the asexual community, a topic I will eventually devote a post to) whine on and on about how asexuals can never, ever enjoy sex, and imply that because I suggested willing sexual encounters did not negate asexuality, I really just wanted to be as promiscuous as possible while still claiming a "cool" minority label.  When I responded that I was a virgin, a non-asexual blogger who I later found out also hates trans people and complains that trans women are appropriating the word "woman" (how charming) jumped on that, stating that I was admitting I hated sexually active asexuals by making a point to bring up my virginity.  When I denied that bit of idiocy, the poster kept harassing me until I apologized for daring to mention my celibacy, and, upon getting me to admit that it had been an irrelevant thing to bring up, called me a massive hypocrite.

Did I mention that the aforementioned poster carrying on about how much I hate sex-having aces was also one of the posters screaming in ALL CAPS about how real asexuals can never screw unless they're coerced?

After that experience of "what is even the hell," I washed my hands of the whole mess, blocked the bloggers who refused to stop harassing me, and deleted the posts from my personal page because I didn't want such bigotry and all around shitty behavior in my space.  That would have been the end of it, if not for a similar post today with responses from some of the same bigots, in regards to demi-aromantics and demi-asexuals, reading simply "no1curr."  Responses included the tried and trite "special snowflake," as well as whining about how asexuals, demisexuals, and the like were claiming that they experienced the exact same oppression as LGBT individuals, and trying to "steal the spotlight" from those with real issues.  Again, I started to walk away from the whole mess and possibly delete my account from the absurdly toxic environment that is Tumblr, but two things stopped me: the invocation of "special snowflake," and the claim of "no one cares."

But to get into that, I need to start a bit further back:

What Business Is It of Yours?

For any readers of this blog who don't spend a lot of time in queer spaces, you're probably wondering what I'm talking about when I mention demisexuality and demiromantics.  Again, readers of my "Little Queer Wagon" post will remember that I talked not only about asexuality, the lack of sexual attraction, but also about different types of romantic attraction, such as heteroromantic, homoromantic, or aromantic - experiencing no romantic attraction at all.  I myself identify as aromantic.  What I neglected to mention, however, is that are more variations in romantic attraction and within the asexual community than I had mentioned.

Under the asexual umbrella, there are the orientations demisexual and gray-asexual.  Demisexuals identify as between asexuality and sexuality, only experiencing sexual attraction with those they have a strong emotional connection to, such as a partner in a romantic relationship.  Gray-asexuals also consider themselves between asexual and sexual, and can refer to a multitude of identities, such as those who occassionally experience sexual attraction, those who have sexual attraction but a very low sex drive, or those who experience sexual attraction and drive, but not strongly enough to act on them, among others.  Likewise, demiromantics are those who only feel romantic attraction after forming an strong emotional connection.

"Now, wait," you may be thinking.  "Lack of sexual attraction, I get, but this is getting ridiculous.  Only feel romantic attraction after forming an emotional connection?  So just because they don't believe in love at first sight, they need their own orientation?  And now low sex drive gets its own orientation?  They don't need a label, they need Viagra.  And lots of people don't want to have sex until they know someone - what, are they saying everyone who experiences sexual attraction is just dying to screw everyone they come in contact with?  What sort of stupid, attention-whoring nonsense is this - "


Before you invalidate someone else's identity because it doesn't fit in with your worldview, think about it.  What business is it of yours?

There are lots of people in the world who love football.  They never miss a game when the season starts.  I have never in my life been able to wrap my mind around the appeal of football.   I don't understand how the game works, I don't understand the appeal of playing it, and I certainly don't understand the appeal of sitting and watching other people play it.  They only move the ball for a few feet at a time before they have to start and stop again!  How can anyone enjoy that?

But I don't seek out football blogs and tell the posters how stupid football is.  I don't post in the football tag in Tumblr about how football fans really hate the game and just want to look cool and knowledgeable about sports.  If I had an acquaintance who called himself as a football fan, I wouldn't call him a liar who wants to be special.  Because it's not my business how anyone else chooses to identify.  It may not make sense to me, it may seem stupid or silly, but it all boils down to one simple fact: it's not my business.

Demisexuality, gray-asexuality, demiromanticism, they may all sound strange to you.  But you aren't the one identifying that way.  To those who claim those identities, they feel that their experiences are different enough from the norm to merit a label and discussion.  And it's not your place to say that they should feel differently.  The only time that someone else's identity becomes your business is if they are using their identity to deny the rights of others.

But They're Using Their Identity to Deny My Rights!

This is the argument used by those claiming that asexuals, demisexuals, and gray-As are forcing the queer community to cater to them, and stealing the spotlight from important issues.  No.  No, they are not.  We don't want the community to bow to us.  We don't want our issues to take precedence over marriage equality, or hate crimes against LGBT people.  And we do not (short of very, very rare exceptions which should not be used to judge the majority) think that our issues are the same or equal to those faced by others in the queer community.  No one is saying that I can't get married.  No one will beat me for going out in public in clothing that matches my gender identity.  But the argument that those on the asexual spectrum are somehow "stealing the spotlight" is so absurd that it's laughable.

There is not a limited amount of attention that can be given to queer issues.  When the asexual community says "We exist and we have problems too," we are not somehow detracting from gay/trans/bi/etc. activism.  We don't want to take over the queer community.  We don't want to make everyone stop talking about sex or other issues because we think they're icky.  This is what the asexual community wants:

  • We want to be able to say "I am asexual/demisexual/gray-A/etc." without being met with blank stares, told that we are lying, repressed, religious zealots, abused as children, just got out of a bad relationship, just need a good screw, or any of the other ignorant statements used to belittle aces.
  • We do not want to be represented in the media as "lepers" or "dead, sick, or lying" (Thanks, Fox network!).
  • We want to be able to disclose our sexuality to medical or mental health professionals without said professionals blaming every problem on our sexuality.
  • We want hypoactive sexual desire disorder (a disorder with no use beyond pathologizing asexuals) removed from the DSM, just as homosexuality was removed from its list years ago.
  • We do not want to be threatened with "corrective" rape. (E.G., I'm going to force you to have sex to prove that you need it.)
  • We do not want asexual minors to be forced into therapy due to their sexuality by their families.
  • We do not want our sexuality to be denied because we're "too young to know."
  • We want discussion about relationships between asexuals and those with sexual attraction that does not boil down to "asexuals are frigid monsters trapping normal people in sexless relationships."
  • We want discussions of sex positivity and enthusiastic consent to discuss how these issues affect us.

Those aren't the whole of the community's goals, but they're a good overview.  Asexuals don't want to take over.  We don't want people to say "You have it just as bad as the gays!"  All we want is to be recognized and to have discussion given to our unique problems in addition to everyone else's.  How we identify is not up to you to police, and we are not out to steal your thunder and support.  So then why is the asexual community met with such vitriol?

No One Cares, Special Snowflake

Which brings me back to the Tumblr discussions that provoked this post.  "Social justice" communities, be it on Tumblr or any reach of the Internet, are often less about justice and activism and more about forcing one's view onto everyone else and shaming those who disagree into silence.  There are many tactics these bloggers use to shut up their opposition, ranging from saying that anyone who disagrees is a whiner who just got their "fee-fees" hurt to death threats.  I'll go over three of the most popular:

  • Oppression Olympics:  The idea that an oppressed group has more say in a discussion about oppression than a privileged group ( a valid idea in and of itself) taken to absurd extremes.  "Oh, you're a homeless blind lesbian but you're white?  Well, I'm a homeless blind lesbian of color!  Your opinion is invalid!"  This is often used to silence those on the asexual spectrum, because  these hateful bloggers will often claim that asexuals are not oppressed.  Never mind the very real discrimination we face; if it's not institutionalized oppression, it doesn't count.
  • Special Snowflake:  A perversion of the idea that "everyone is unique and beautiful just like a snowflake" by Internet jerks who think they're Tyler Durden, this is a way of dismissing a person's argument by claiming that they just want attention without addressing their arguments.  "I'm demisexual and you're making ignorant statements about my identity."  "LOL whatever, you special little snowflake!"  This tactic is stupid and it should feel stupid.
  • No1curr:  Another dismissal of an argument without addressing the point.  "No one cares, you loser, and if I don't care, I don't have to respond to any of the topics you brought up!"  
I'm using the asexual community as an example here, mostly because I'm a part of it and that's where I've seen the most stupidity online lately, but this applies to any group that people want to marginalize.  But here's the thing, and the point that got me started on this blog post in the first place:

No, Tumblr, you clearly do "curr."

The people who want to silence us insist on responding with hatred to our posts.  They invade our tags to tell us how little they think of us, or to laugh at our discussions.  They devote time and energy to following bloggers that they hate just to mock every post that challenges their prejudices.  They care.  They obsess over the identities that they want to belittle.  They claim, when their victims fight back, that they're the ones being put upon by special snowflakes trying to claim oppression.  Or they laugh and say they're above it all and just mocking idiots for fun.

But whatever their excuse, it couldn't be clearer that they care very, very much.  If it weren't important to them, they wouldn't make our identities their business.  They wouldn't waste time to make posts telling us that we're liars, or thieves, or that they don't "curr."

The truth is, they care about us.  They're afraid of us, afraid that by giving us attention, we'll somehow take the rights they fought for, or steal the attention that they want to keep to themselves.  As Dr. Anthony Bogaert states in the fourth chapter of his recently published book, Understanding Asexuality:

  "...An additional reason why some gay men may be opposed to accepting a 1 percent (or more) prevalence rate may concern justice sensitivity. Gay and lesbian people have often fought hard for the right to be accepted in Western society as a visible minority. Thus, although most gays and lesbians seem very accepting of sexual variations, some may be justifiably sensitive to issues related to their own rights and recognition. Now there is a new kid on the block, perhaps encroaching on their hard-fought and hard-won space. Does yet another sexual minority in some way diminish the status of the original sexual minority group? Perhaps some gays and lesbians believe so, if only on an implicit level. Relatedly, I expect that all humans, as social psychologists have argued, have a tendency to dislike the “out-group” and, sadly and concomitantly, to force to the back of the metaphorical bus ever more marginalized groups, even among those who believe that they themselves are near the back of the bus already."

 Well, sorry, ace-haters, but you don't get to tell me where I can sit on your magical bus of oppression.  You can treat us as badly as you want, but we're here to stay until the world recognizes us, and we're not following your seating chart.  And if that means you'll sneer at us and call us special snowflakes?  Well, coming from bigots like you, "special snowflake" is a badge of pride.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

On Autism Cures and Amazing Spider-Man Spoilers

Because I’m sick of hearing the ongoing Tumblr debate about how a cure for autism would be such a great thing and we are terrible people if we’re not all for it, let me try my hand at an extremely nerdy metaphor:

Remember The Amazing Spider-Man?  Remember Dr. Connors, who had lost an arm and would give the world to have it back?

Good for him.  If that’s what he wants for himself, more power to him, and if he were a real person, I would sincerely hope that his quest to restore that arm would be successful.  I would feel nothing but happiness for him if he succeeded, just as I would feel nothing but happiness for a person who lost an arm and felt perfectly whole without it.


Remember when Dr. Connors shot himself up with lizard DNA that ended up completely altering his mind and his body?

That, minus the lizard genetics, is basically what a cure for autism would entail.  Completely rewriting a person’s brain.  Our brains being the things that give us our personalities/interests/ways of behaving.  Basically, everything that makes us what we are.

Now, if there were a drug that could cure a person of their disability, that would rewrite their mind in the process, well, again, if that’s what they want, that is their choice.  If they truly believe their lives would be changed for the better by changing everything about themselves, I’m in no position to tell them otherwise.  If Dr. Connors felt his life as a lizard-human hybrid was much improved over his life as a human, then he can feel free to enjoy living his own life that way.

But that’s not what he did.

Instead, he decided the world didn’t know what was best for themselves.  He decided that his superior condition gave him the power to make that choice for everyone else, and he tried to inflict his cure on humanity, without giving anyone a chance to opt out.

That is what groups like Autism Speaks wants.  They don’t want to help us, they don’t want to make our lives easier, they want to force us into their way of living without considering what would be lost or if we want it.  They want to rid the world of people like us and make a world of just people like them, because they “know better.”

So don’t talk to me about curing autism unless you are autistic and speaking of a cure for yourself and yourself only.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Disney Princesses: Not Actually Out to Brainwash Your Daughters into Becoming Stepford Wives

Apologies for my absence, I'm still settling in at my new job.

With the release of Pixar's Brave, Internet communities are abuzz with discussions about Disney princesses and the ideals they reflect to their young audience.  Some of these discussions are thought-provoking and engaging.  Some of them...well...

There must be something in my eye...all I can see is red.
I'll admit my own bias: I grew up on Disney movies.  They were a major aspect of my childhood, and it isn't always easy to separate my nostalgia from my present day observations on the movies.  But with that said, there's criticizing legitimate issues in a film, and then there's forcing an interpretation just to make princesses look as bad as possible.  And lately, I've seen far too much of the latter.  So I'm taking a moment to counter the more irritating aspects of the Disney Princess hatedom.

Note:  I am not claiming that these movies are shining beacons of perfection and feminism.  They are not.  Many of them have massive flaws.  But Disney Princesses, much like Barbie, have a reputation as pure evil tools of patriarchal oppression, and frankly, I find that ridiculous.  If that means I have to turn in my feminism card, well, so be it.

I don't have much to counter about views on Aurora and Snow White as princesses with near to no agency of their own.  Still, the Sleeping Beauty haters forget that Flora, Fauna, and Merriweather, as well as Maleficent, are the ones who move all aspects of the plot, and all of whom are pretty bad ass ladies.  Not that it makes the film immune from criticism, but it is one of the positive aspects I feel gets brushed aside in these debates.

Cinderella:  All I ever hear about Cinderella is that she's subservient and rescued from her misery by a man.  No one seems to keep in mind that her goal was never to meet a prince: she wanted time away from her step-mother's oppression, not true love.  She didn't go to the ball thinking, "Oh, if only a man will love me and rescue me from this life!"  Also, her fairy godmother, much like the fairies from Sleeping Beauty, rocked.

Ariel:  "I gave up my voice and culture so that I could have sex with a boy I saw for five seconds!!!!"

No.  Bad.  Go watch the movie again and come back when you have an argument that wasn't low-reaching enough to provide a Youtube comedy sketch.  I am genuinely baffled by the people who make this point.  Were they not paying attention during the movie, or are they being painfully disingenuous on purpose?  Ariel wanted to be human long before she saw a prince.  The first thing she is shown doing in the film is studying humans' belongings.  "Part of Your World" is sung before Erik's ship catches her eye.  Erik is the tipping point into her quest to join the society she's always longed for.

(God, I'm surprised there aren't Social Justices Sallies screaming about Ariel's cultural appropriation.)

Ariel is rebelling against a patriarch - and a racist - trying to force her into expected roles.  Her decision to leave her culture was sixteen years in the making and initiated by an impulsive choice made after her father terrorized her and destroyed her prized possessions.  Yes, she gave up her voice, but the movie itself criticizes that choice in "Poor Unfortunate Souls," with Ursula's stanza about "it's she who holds her tongue that gets a man."  Ariel's choices are rash, but in the end, they enable her to change her father's mind, both about humanity and her place in society.  And don't start about the seashell bra.  Baring your midriff does not disqualify you as a strong female.

Tangentially, am I the only one who views Ariel as a transgender metaphor?

Belle: "Stay with your abusive lover!  You can change him!  Stockholm Syndrome rocks!"

Again, have the people saying this ever seen the movie?  Seriously.

Belle was hardly the Beast's lover when she made the choice to take her father's place as his prisoner.  She was doing what she thought was best to save her elderly, sickly father's life (And if you want to argue that taking a role you don't want for your father is anti-feminist, someone better go tell Mulan).  She never bowed to his abusive treatment, and in fact left, "promise or not," when his behavior became more than she could bear.  Yes, she returned to the castle after he saved her life, but it wasn't a decision along the lines of "He punched me repeatedly in the stomach so he won't leave marks on my face; maybe he's not so bad after all!" as some detractors seem to think.  He rescued her from the wolves (a situation that she rightly tells him was his own fault) and is bleeding and unconscious as a direct result.  She returns him to the castle so he won't die from the elements, not because she's suddenly in love.  In fact, she's even telling him off for being horrible while cleaning his wounds.  Belle only starts to feel for the Beast after he sincerely changes his behavior, rather than making token efforts at politeness as he did before.

People also give Belle flack for being viewed as a feminist character because "all she does is read and not want to marry a jerk," forgetting that, while such things may not be odd in the present day, they really were shocking choices in her time.  And then there's the argument that she was reading books about a Prince Charming - dude, seriously?  We have no idea what course the story took.  Talk about reaching.

Jasmine:  She stopped Jafar by kissing him!  And she barely has a shirt!

So, being pragmatic and using your brain to distract a villain who can overpower you with magic if you use a physical attack, while having only a split second to come up with that plan, makes you a bad woman if your distraction involves kissing.  Um, okay.

This is Jasmine we're talking about.  Jasmine, who gave us the line "I am not a prize to be won."  Jasmine rocks.

Pocahontas:  Why yes, her movie is historically inaccurate and arguably racist.  No, that does not make her bad from a feminist standpoint.

Mulan:  Let's get this out of the way right now.  Yes, I know she isn't a princess.  No, people are not including her on their Disney princess lists to make the company appear more feminist than it actually is.  They're including her because in terms of merchandizing, she is classified by Disney itself as a princess.

Some have argued that Mulan only had power by disguising herself as a man, completely ignoring the ending in which she saves the emperor as a woman, and the entire country, emperor included, bows to her.  Yes, the movie's depiction of the Huns as monsters and the stereotypically Chinese scribe as an unpleasant jerk is problematic, but Mulan as a role model will never not kick ass.

Tiana:  That the black princess has to work herself to exhaustion to achieve her goals while the white princesses all get what they want easily in comparison is something to think about, as are the movie's portrayals of voodoo and Cajun people.  But looking at Tiana alone as a character, without intersecting her with other Disney heroines, gives us an awesome girl who achieves her goals through sheer force of will and rescues the prince multiple times.  You go, Tiana.

Rapunzel:  I have actually not heard of any complaints about Rapunzel being anti-feminist.  I'm sure they're out there, but I haven't heard them.

Weird how Giselle and Eilonwy never come up in discussions of Disney princesses.  Or Esmeralda and Megara, for that matter, if we're talking in terms of marketing.

The bottom line is, Disney movies, princesses included, are far from perfect.  If you don't like them or choose not to expose children to them, fine.  There are many flaws in the portrayal of their heroines, and many legitimate points of contention with their stories and marketing.  So why don't we focus on those instead of stretching the facts to the point of absurdity?

(While we're talking about Disney princesses, why does it seem like the Internet has decided that Merida's a lesbian?  Because she doesn't want to get married?  That could easily make her asexual, or heterosexual, for that matter.  Since when does not wanting to be forced into an arranged marriage make someone gay?)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Why I Don't Want Autism Speaks Speaking For Me

It has been mentioned to me that my position on fighting/curing autism in my "I'm Autistic" post could probably use some clarification.

My words on the subject were as follows:

"On a similar note, there are autism research organizations that talk about "fighting" and "curing" autism, which I find extremely uncomfortable.  My AS is as much a part of me as my love of writing or my hair color.  The idea of eliminating autism spectrum disorders is essentially the idea of eliminating the people who have them.  I don't want a world without us; I want a world in which society accommodates and understands us,  and helps us to thrive in a mostly neurotypical world without trying to exterminate what we are.  So please don't send me links to Autism Speaks or talk to me about raising awareness so a cure can be found."

Of course, I am what they call high-functioning.  I can communicate verbally.  If I feel pain, I can go to a doctor and clearly state where it hurts, rather than suffer in silence and possibly even die as a result of my inability to express myself.  But what about those who can't speak?  What about those who are low-functioning and can't advocate for themselves?  Shouldn't I be happy that there are groups like Autism Speaks fighting to help them, to break them out of the prison their own bodies have built?


Or, to be less general, I am not happy or thankful for Autism Speaks.  There are organizations that I am proud to support, such as the Autistic Self Advocacy Network or the Academic Autism Spectrum Partnership in Research and Education.  I am not against all advocacy and education regarding autism spectrum disorders.  But I am against Autism Speaks and their method of "advocacy." and I always will be.

Here's why.

For starters, that's Autism Speaks' budget as of 2010.  Notice that only four percent goes to Family Services, i.e. the programs that would actually improve the quality of life for an autistic person.  The majority of the budget goes into research, and the majority of that research is devoted to things such as finding a cause for autism or exploring possibilities for preventing autism, such as prenatal testing.  The focus of their research is not to find educational strategies or therapies to help those who can't communicate in the neurotypical sense.  Their focus is on eliminating autistic people.

Also of note: Using funds to help families is not a priority for Autism Speaks, yet their rates of executive pay sometimes exceed $400,000 annually.  Charity Navigator only rates Autism Speaks' financial health at two out of four.  And Autism Speaks' fundraising expenses exceed their spending on most of their other programs.  If you're thinking, "So?  Fundraising helps autistics and raises awareness," well...

Autism Speaks has some of the most horrifically offensive fundraising and advertising tactics of anything ever.  They use scare tactics and threatening language to demonize autism.  In one infamous and now pulled ad, "I Am Autism," Autism Speaks compared autism to pediatric AIDS and gave us gems such as

"I am autism.  I’m visible in your children, but if I can help it, I am invisible to you until it’s too late.  I know where you live.  And guess what? I live there too.  I hover around all of you."
"I am autism. I have no interest in right or wrong. I derive great pleasure out of your loneliness.  I will fight to take away your hope. I will plot to rob you of your children and your dreams. I will make sure that every day you wake up you will cry, wondering who will take care of my child after I die?  And the truth is, I am still winning, and you are scared. And you should be."
among others.

Autism Speaks loves to perpetuate stereotypes that autistic people are completely helpless, and a burden on society.  They display autistics as an anomaly that needs to be eliminated.  They prey on parents' fears and exacerbate them in the hopes of gaining money.  In a documentary created by Autism Speaks, families with autistic children featured in the film were told to take their children off of therapy during the filming, to ensure that everyone watching would see what a living hell the families' lives were.

Not a single member of the Autism Speaks Board of Directors has an autism spectrum disorder.  The organization is made up of neurotypical people, imposing their own standards of normalcy and healthiness onto a community that they are not a part of, and that often speaks against them.

This is not the norm for disability activism.  Most disability advocacy organizations and charities include those with the disability in question in their decision-making and leadership processes.  But not Autism Speaks.

Still, what about the low-functioning autistics?  The ones that can't communicate?  Don't they need groups like Autism Speaks, when all the higher functioning people on the spectrum are busy arguing that they don't need a cure or advocacy organizations?  Aren't their struggles being ignored?

First of all, people can communicate in non-verbal ways.   Groups like Autism Speaks ignore this, because they're too busy trying to eliminate autism rather than help those on the spectrum function in a mostly neurotypical world, which makes it even harder for these people to communicate clearly.  And it makes them feel broken and useless.  As a Tumblr poster, the-goblin-king, stated, when responding to another poster expressing pity for her brother, who was "stolen" by autism:

"Please, I hope you listen: People can communicate in non-verbal ways. Verbal communication isn’t the only communication, and it is not the superior way of communicating.
I was non-verbal throughout childhood. People felt sorry for me. Family members felt sad for me, people just like you.  They felt I was stolen, felt I was less of a person because I could not voice my thoughts like they could.
At first, I was angry at myself. I felt broken. To this day, I still feel broken sometimes, and you know why? Society, for the most part, makes me feel this way. In society, I am something to be pitied, I am something to be ridiculed, I am something that others have to defend, never myself. I am one of the many adults who were “stolen” by autism as a child, from birth.
Don’t feel sad for him. Autistic people don’t need pity. I don’t need pity, and I’m sure your brother does not need pity. He’s not the problem here. The way we, the supposedly broken, stolen people, are viewed, are stereotyped, that is the problem. The way we are seen as a burden on not just our families, but the entire state and nation, that is the problem. Your brother is a person, someone deserving of love, understanding, and acceptance, not pity."

And this is why I can never support Autism Speaks, or any such organization or individual who ignores what the ASD community, even the low-functioning members of that community, really wants in favor of eliminating us from the future.  I will never fight or advocate for a cure, just understanding and assistance, which Autism Speaks completely lacks.