Thursday, June 21, 2012

"You Were Always Meant to be Batgirl, Barbara."

Until yesterday, I had a Tumblr.*

Batgirl isn't afraid to show a hero questioning herself.
Granted, it hadn't seen much mileage; I had only created my account the week before.  I had always shied away from creating a Tumblr, even while reading the blogs of friends or artists that I greatly admire, such as Gail Simone.  My hesitation was simple: I had seen vicious arguments erupt within fandoms, brutal personal attacks, and even death threats lobbied at creators.  And I know myself well enough to know that I lack the emotional stamina to handle that sort of drama.

When something holds my interest, be it Harry Potter, Yu-Gi-Oh!, manga, or comics, it holds so tightly that it's hard for me to tell where I end and my hobbies begin.  Thanks to Asperger's, or maybe thanks to growing up with only a handful of friends that weren't fictional characters, my interests are more than just pass times.  I could write scholarly essays on all symbolism I've pulled out of throwaway lines from The Dark Knight.  When I was still in college, I would shoehorn comic references into any paper or assignment I could (thank you, Jason, for not only accepting but enjoying my philosophical essays on Batman and Superman).  It's difficult for me to hear criticism of my interests sometimes, because so often that criticism feels like an attack on me, too.

But eventually, I caved.  My craving to be able to hold conversations with the amazing people on Tumblr outweighed my trepidations.  I steeled myself for any tomfoolery to come, and I made an account, following only those I was sure I would enjoy and learn from.  And all went well for about a week.

And then your coffin begins to leak.

Last night, I checked my dashboard and found a reblogged picture set of Barbara Gordon, my all time favorite DC character, as Oracle, a representation I love just as fiercely as the current Batgirl.  I was admiring the images of the badass redhead until one of the comments quoted below it caught my eye: "#not meant to be just Batgirl kthnxbai."  And in my sleep-deprived state - it was well past midnight - I misread it, catching only:

"#not meant to be Batgirl kthnxbai."

And that was the end of my relationship with Tumblr.

An overreaction on my part, to be sure, but given all the ire I've seen directed at Gail Simone's Batgirl series, what I thought I'd read became the straw that broke the camel's back.  Ever since the series started, back in September, I've seen a contingent of readers seemingly determined to find fault with each issue.  "Batgirl shouldn't be so weak," the detractors argue.  "She shouldn't be hesitant.  She shouldn't dwell so much on The Killing Joke; I'm sick of hearing about her being fridged.  This isn't the real Barbara Gordon.  DCNu ruins everything."


If people dislike the current Batgirl series, that's fine.  Far be it from me to crown myself Queen of Heaven and announce that it's not okay to dislike what I like.  I understand the debate about restoring Barbara's mobility; I still can't work out exactly how I feel on the decision myself.  I understand not liking Batgirl.

But with that said, I still feel that the previous reasons listed for dismissing the series are complete and utter crap.

"The bullet never beat me."
One of the greatest things about Oracle - and there are many great things to choose from - is how inspiring and relate-able a character she is.  She suffered a terrible trauma and, what's worse, her tormentor considered her assault a mere footnote in his day.  But that never stopped her.  Instead, Barbara took all her awesomeness and applied it in a new direction, kicking ass, taking names, and letting everyone know she would never give up.  Oracle is an inspiration to thousands of readers, myself included.

But Barbara as the New 52 Batgirl is every bit as much an inspiration to me.  And the reason she's so inspiring is because of what others dismiss as weakness.

To explain why Babs-as-Batgirl holds such a special place in my heart, I need to give a brief bit of back story, both for her and for myself.  In the current comics, Barbara was paralyzed for three years before a spinal implant gave her renewed use of her legs.  Reclaiming the mantle of Batgirl, she struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder from her assault, as well as survivor's guilt for regaining what so many still lack.  She questions if she is really helping the city as Batgirl, and in her civilian life, she is searching for a job and trying to figure out her place in the world.

The Batgirl series started at the beginning of my senior year of college.  I spent months fruitlessly job-searching - I didn't find a job until yesterday, nearly a year after I began sending out resumes - and struggling with depression.  I would lay awake in bed at night, berating and abusing myself for my feelings.  How dare I be sad?  What did I have to be depressed about?  There are people starving, you know.  Here I was in the first world, going to college and having health insurance.  Why should I deserve all of this?  Someone else should take my place, someone who would appreciate it instead of crying herself to sleep.

Things got worse as graduation approached.  I didn't know how I could survive in the real world.  Forget finding a job - how was I supposed to fit into society?  I've always been at the bottom of the pecking order.  I've always been the girl people laugh at.  I'm the one who got her school picture defaced in Photoshop, who got asked to dances just so boys could laugh at me when I took them seriously and accepted.  And I was terrified that the career world would be just as bad.  As May approached, I was prone to sobbing and cutting.  I gave far too much consideration to seriously injuring myself just to get away from my reality.  If I were in a hospital, after all, I would be sequestered, safe, more concerned with making it through the day  alive than holding a job and fitting in and so many other impossible things.

Cliche as it sounds, Batgirl saved me.  Month to month, twenty-two pages worth of another depressed redhead struggling from day to day gave me the strength to keep going.  It meant the world to me to see a hero who didn't have all the answers.  Who was depressed and traumatized and full of self-doubt.  Who wanted to move on but was haunted by her past.  Who questioned how to fit in and how to make a difference.  Who had an estranged parent she didn't know how to deal with.  Batgirl is as if someone were showing me my own life, a few months ahead of me.  And watching Batgirl try to pull herself out of the same quicksand I've been buried in gave me the push I needed to make it through the day.

In the sixth issue of Batgirl, my favorite issue of the comic so far, Barbara rescued Bruce Wayne, who was under mind control from the villain of the issue.  Bruce thanked her, hugged her, and whispered in her ear, "You were always meant to be Batgirl, Barbara."


The amount of debate sparked by that line was astounding.  Some found it insulting to the other ladies who have borne the Batgirl mantle in comic history, namely Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown.  Some found it dismissive of Oracle, or infantalizing, reducing a grown woman to a girl and a sidekick.

But that one sentence brought me to tears.  It felt as if I were the one getting the hug, like one of my favorite heroes and my favorite author were reaching through the page and saying, You matter.  Don't doubt yourself, you can make it through this.  Sometimes, we need to hear the right thing to keep on going.  And Batgirl always offers exactly what I need to hear.  "Um, wow?" was Barbara's response to her mentor's encouragement.  "I feel like I could fight lions."  And so did I.

Things are better now.  I'm still depressed, still terrified at the thought of starting a career, and I'm still haunted by painful memories I can't seem to shake.  But I am able to hold on from day to day.  And I can honestly say, without a hint of melodrama or exaggeration, that Batgirl is what helped me to hold on when I was too afraid and self-hating to speak.  And she still helps me now.  Batgirl, with all her self-doubt, her fear, her emotional baggage.  And that's why misreading a post as "not meant to be Batgirl" is enough to make me delete an account.  That's why I can't wrap my head around criticism of the series calling Barbara too whiny.

That's why I will forever love the DC relaunch and Gail Simone for giving me the story I needed most, right when I needed it.  Batgirl saved my life, and for me, she was always meant to be Batgirl as well as Oracle.  She will always be an inspiration, no matter what.

*EDIT: Since I deleted my Tumblr due to a misunderstanding, I've set it back up.  You can find me on Tumblr as lauralot89.

3 comments:

  1. Well thats really impresive, i started reading comics last year and of all the reboot of september my favorite one was batgirl, i found it really interesting so i started to look for more about barbara gordon and i read the year one, birds of prey, some oneshots aand anuals and much more stuff, she is my favorite character too and i love what gail simone is doing with the character. Also i am asexual so i think that i can understand you very well.
    Is good to know that we can count with awesome inspirations even when they are fictional characters, after all the comfort is real....

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    1. Nice to hear from you! Thank you for commenting.

      I used to get teased a lot as a kid (and some times even today - thanks, ex-roommate!) about how strongly I cared for and I identified with fictional characters. I'll never understand why people find that so strange. Sure, they aren't real and I can never meet them, but so what? A well-written character can be just as compelling and interesting as any real person, and I can still see them, any time I open their book or watch their movie.

      It was a fictional character that helped me come to terms with my asexuality as well. The Dark Knight came out right before I started college, and I was afraid of attending and dealing with a roommate, as well as still feeling like a freak for my lack of attraction. Ridiculous as it sounds, seeing the Joker with his "upset the established order" and "You're not one of them, even if you'd like to be" really inspired me. Sure he's a terrorist and a murderer, but he blatant and unapologetic "This is me, no matter what" demeanor resonated with me. He's like if Lady Gaga became a super villain and rewrote "Born This Way" to talk about blowing things up as well as acceptance.

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  2. What a lovely story to go along with that wonderful line! I had no idea anyone else felt the same way about having more fictional friends than real ones. I know it strikes my family as strange and childish that I have "imaginary friends" in fictional characters, but it's just kind of second nature to me. Perhaps they don't exist as actual, breathing people, but that by no means makes them any less real. In my hours of darkness, I have always been able to retreat to where I won't be judged: the company of the best friends I ever had.

    And they're all pure works of fiction,

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