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Free Thoughts #1: Superheroes And Disability

So this is the first in a new series of shorter, unpolished posts based on my frequent twitter rants.

Yesterday, some webcomic writer dude named Aaron Diaz (@dresdencodak) made the assertion on twitter that superheroes, as a genre, are fundamentally at odds with representations of disability.

Say what?

There are a good fifty reasons why asserting that superheroes are in conflict with disability is, like, The Stupidest Thing Ever Said About Superheroes.

For starters, there’s the very obvious fact that the genre has represented characters with disabilities. Quite frequently. And often these have been some of the strongest characters in the genre. Oracle, The Chief, Robotman, Professor X, The Horsewoman and Daredevil all immediately come to mind. I don’t even have to think very hard.

But it becomes even more telling when we consider what, exactly, would compel anyone to make that ridiculous argument in the first place. The only possible explanation I can think of is that this person views ability as a straight line, a single variable. A binary spectrum with “superhuman ability” on one end and “disability” on the other.

I’m fucking sick of binaries. Even the spectrum kind.

But ability doesn’t work like that, and the entire genre of superheroes in fact is fundamentally based on the fact that there is more than one kind of ability. That our bodies and minds, and what they’re capable of, are immensely diverse, demonstrating a wonderfully broad range of possibilities, even without bringing superpowers into the equation. But when we do imagine a world with superpowers, the diversity of ability becomes even more explicit.

Can you imagine how intensely boring the genre would be if every superhero had the same powers as Superman, and the same weaknesses? Even if it shifted in degrees?

Yes, superheroes are extraordinary. But they’re extraordinary in different ways. Just like real human beings.

And having a limitation in one particular regard (or a few) does not by any means make someone “disabled” in some broad or essential sense. It just means that their abilities don’t quite fit into normative expectations.

There are numerous superhero books that directly deal in these themes. In addition to the presence of characters who are disabled in similar ways to real life people (such as being parapalegic, like The Chief, Professor X or Oracle, or being blind like Daredevil, or having had amputations, like Robotman or Cyborg), many books have used superpowers as a metaphor for disability, or being possessed of a non-normative body.

The Doom Patrol dealt with these themes quite a bit, all of the heroes being “crippled” in some way by the accidents that granted them their powers, and decidedly NOT being the kinds of characters anyone would ever want to be like (except perhaps Elasti-Girl… I never quite understood how she was supposed to be a “freak” and “outsider” like Robotman and Negative Man were). Later on, Doom Patrol also addressed other themes of marginalization like queer-ness, transsexuality, mental health, and so on. There’s a wonderful speech where, even as he’s in the midst of a horrifying face-heel turn, The Chief describes how becoming outsiders, “cripples” and “freaks” allowed all of them to become more compassionate and more human.

Just like in real life.

The X-Men also went down this road (another team of outsiders and “freaks” led by a super-smart man in a wheelchair), the premise being that all the mutants would in someway be “cursed” by their mutant powers as much as they’re granted extraordinary abilities, and that they’re treated as an oppressed, marginalized minority, second-class citizens, regardless of the immediate negative consequences of their mutations.

Extraordinary abilities… hmmm…

The word “extraordinary” offers a whole lot of ways to re-interpret things. Couldn’t we just as easily call a “person with disabilities” a “person with extraordinary abilities”? It wouldn’t be a false thing to say, just a rarely employed way of looking at it.

And, of course, Oracle / Barbara Gordon is pretty much my favourite character in the whole DC Universe. Not much more I need to say about that. At least not right now.

But even when superhero comics aren’t directly dealing in themes of marginalization, oppression, non-normative bodies and disability, the truth is that such themes work their way in regardless, if we’re willing to see them.

Disability is always relative. Always relative to a defined cultural normativity. Always. Blindness, for instance, would cease to be regarded as a disability if we lived in a society where everyone was blind. It’s also likely that a sighted person would be reviled and distrusted, and certainly outcast, in such a world. But we don’t live in such a world, so relative the normative level of human ability, it’s totally reasonable to think of blindness as a disability. And it does make life harder than it is for those of us with the privilege of being sighted.

As said, we don’t live in such a world. But what if we lived in a world where some people have superpowers? Relative to the standards of that world, suddenly I’m not quite sitting at the more-or-less “optimum” level of human ability anymore, am I?

Take for instance the Justice League. Within that dynamic, each character, relative to the others, has some form of disability. Batman, for instance, doesn’t have any superpowers whatsoever, but he more than makes up for it in being the most intelligent and resourceful of the Justice League. The Flash can’t fly, but he’s the fastest. Wonder Woman doesn’t exceed the rest of the characters in any particular regard, but she’s DETERMINED as all hell. Cyborg doesn’t have all of his body anymore. Aquaman’s extraordinary abilities are only useful in certain particular environments (such environmental limitations, of course, play out in the actual dynamics and politics of disability in the real world. Not every location is accessible for everyone). And even Superman is dependent on the yellow sun, weak to kryptonite, and easily manipulated.

Disability is relative.

I wonder if people with disabilities sometimes regard us the same way Batman regards the Green Lantern? We have the abilities, but we take them for granted and don’t really know how to use them properly.

You know Bruce Wayne would use that ring a lot more effectively than Hal Jordan does.

There’s a lot more I could say on this subject, but for now, I feel pretty confident that saying contrary to the original assertion, superheroes are actually a genre that’s fundamentally GREAT and well-suited for addressing representation of people with disabilities, and the nuanced, complex nature of ability itself.

So read some Doom Patrol. Read the classic Birds of Prey. Read the stupid bloody X-Men. And STFU with your able-ist bullshit.

<3

Natalie

Comments

  1. Mym says

    I think he’s been talking lately about doing his own interpretation of the X-Men, so clearly he knows about Xavier. His own main character lost multiple limbs saving the world and built her own replacements. I can’t think of any way he could say something like that besides “did not actually give it even the barest modicum of thought”.

    • A. Person says

      I don’t know. This quote from his recent X-Men reimagining gave me pause.

      Xavier is pretty much the same here, though I elected to have the “wheelchair” look be a PR move on his part rather than an actual impairment. While morally earnest, Xavier is a person who has had little hardship in his own life and sometimes comes off as overly idealistic in his pursuits. Given his power, too, Xavier tends to frequently abuse his telepathy to achieve his ends, putting him often in morally ambiguous position.

    • Nentuaby says

      Yeah, seriously, I read that tweet and the VERY first thought through my mind was “Wait, @dresdencodak? The superhuman protagonist of Dresden Codak is operating on three prosthetic limbs!” I just don’t even get what he was thinking, other than the fact that it obviously involved one-dimensional ability.

  2. says

    Oh boy…

    Look, it is a good entry in general and I’m not even going to ding you for not mentioning Hawkeye and the Blue Ear. But seriously, Batman being more effective with a Green Lantern power ring? He’d be awesome with a red or yellow ring, or if they invented a new color for guilt. It isn’t that Batman lacks will or the power to overcome fear, but those aren’t the dominant aspects of his personality.

    … yes, I am actually wearing a Green Lantern T-shirt right now. Don’t judge me.

    And some of the best superheroes are the ones where their power is either caused by their disability or causes them a disability. The best example I can think of off the top of my head is Batgirl, the Cassandra Cain version, whose fighting skill was partially based on the language centers of her brain being hijacked to read body language and left her more or less mute.

      • says

        Well, yeah… especially since “shapeshifter” would be a bit clunky and on the nose. I mean, a trans Martian Manhunter could work, but it might feel a bit obvious and trend towards unintentional camp or lazy writing.

        A trans Green Lantern would have enough natural narrative substance that being trans could feel like an organic part of the character without it being pandering in the way that “Earth 2 limited series no real reason except we need a gay character here” Alan Scott Green Lantern seems to be. I’m all for inclusiveness and making the fictional world better reflect the real world(or even lean towards more diversity than exists in the real world) but as a reader there’s nothing I hate more than when a story drops in a token “character” that has little arc other than “Minority Character X”… and then usually gets stuffed in a fridge.

  3. Robert B. says

    I’m a big fan of Diaz and Dresden Codak, but… yeah. You refuted him like crazy there. Especially since, as Mym pointed out, his comic centers on a character who is, to close approximation, an amputee superhero. (Or, it might be more accurate to say, amputee superantihero or even amputee supervillain. It was kinda her fault that the world needed saving in the first place.)

    That said… now that I think about it, his character Kimiko is contrasted somewhat with two of her friends who are explicitly superheroes – and are white, blond, able-bodied and neurotypical, not to mention being pretty two-dimensional characters, none of which describes Kimiko. So I could make the case that Diaz’s work interprets the superhero mythos as being this deification of normativity, and contrasts this with a very different atypical outsider type who makes for actually interesting stories because there’s so much that’s unique about her.

    If we look only at a few big superhero icons like Superman and Captain America, Diaz could have a point. Indeed, I think his work still stands as a sort of refutation of that “perfect hero” motif. But if he thinks that applies to all superheroes, he’s ignoring quite a lot of the genre, including those parts that deliberately deal with those insider/outsider, normal/abnormal, superpowered/disabled theme, like Doom Patrol and Oracle and all the others Natalie mentioned.

    • Crip Dyke, MQ, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

      Robert –

      I think you mean the deification of “normal” not the deification of “normativity”. Nothing you describe constitutes a celebration of the process of enforcing standards of normal. I think your confusion comes from the fact that the deification of normal is one aspect of normativity.

      normativity != normal

  4. Jaecp says

    Anyone forwarded this post to him yet?

    I’ve loved his work for years and would love to see a greater dialogue about this.

    @Xavier abusing his abilities, its been flirted with in the comics here and there and made rather explicit in the ultimate universe.

    And his superhero types aren’t quite typical, they’re basically the wonder twins with the power to conscript physics terminology to apply to themselves.

    • A. Person says

      It wasn’t the Xavier abusing his abilities that I was highlighting, but the ableist reframing of his character by making the wheelchair a cynical ploy for sympathy.

  5. amitymeans says

    ‘I wonder if people with disabilities sometimes regard us the same way Batman regards the Green Lantern? We have the abilities, but we take them for granted and don’t really know how to use them properly.’

    I have Duchenne muscular dystrophy and you’re god damn right I do. Smoking, for example. I have people very close to me who smoke regularly, while I sleep with a ventilator eight hours a night and struggle to breathe during the day. I would kill to have the lungs of people who choose to destroy them.

    • No Light says

      This.

      My pet peeve is people who whinge incessantly about having to work, or go to uni. OMG the rage, stop taking your physical and mental abilities for granted people!

      I’ll swap. I’ll use.my gimp-skills and strategies in a CABby’s body, and wow everyone.

      I wonder how long it’d be before they were begging to swap back. Probably after hearing “LOL I wish I could sit down and be pushed around alt day Hahaha!!” and “You’re soooo lucky. I wish I had an excuse not to work+ three thousand times a day.

        • No Light says

          Constantly.

          I’m lucky I don’t have to work, or do housework, or walk everywhere.

          I’m lucky to get discounts at the cinema, leisure centres/swimming pool (a moot point since my body rebelled further a few months ago, leaving me bedbound)

          I’m super-duper lucky to get free gubmint munneez and “all the best drugs”.

          Lucky old me! Why I’m almost glad of the pain, limitations, poverty, dependence on others, depression, isolation and boredom. Because drugs!

          I could write. a book about stupid shit people say. Especially the oneswho knew me when I could pass as one of them.

      • Sassafras says

        I’ll use.my gimp-skills and strategies in a CABby’s body, and wow everyone.

        This made me think of Marvel’s old Cloak & Dagger series, where Dagger’s sight was blocked by a darkness-manipulating villain, and she stayed that way for a year or two. Not only did they show her getting tutoring for navigating the world without sight, but when her eyesight was eventually restored, she was explicitly stated to be a better martial artist because of the spatial-awareness and movement skills she learned.

        I’m sure the writers have long forgotten that, but it always stuck with me.

  6. carolw says

    These thoughts must be in the collective unconscious or something. My husband and I were talking about differently abled superheroes because of a news story about the Blue Ear, and we both, right away, both said Daredevil. Then Professor Xavier. It’s cool that other people are having the same conversations. Talk about “hive mind.” :)

  7. says

    Disability is always relative. Always relative to a defined cultural normativity. Always. Blindness, for instance, would cease to be regarded as a disability if we lived in a society where everyone was blind. It’s also likely that a sighted person would be reviled and distrusted, and certainly outcast, in such a world. But we don’t live in such a world, so relative the normative level of human ability, it’s totally reasonable to think of blindness as a disability. And it does make life harder than it is for those of us with the privilege of being sighted.

    Glad to see you’ve come around on the social model of disability. I remember arguing this point about disability to you a while back and you were very resistant to it. =P Anyway, I agree that this is a great genre to explore issues of dis/ability.

    • says

      Um… you must have misunderstood my position. I never said that disability wasn’t relative to social conditions, I simply said that that subjectivity / relativity doesn’t invalidate its usefulness as a model, and that the social models we have for things like that don’t modify the underlying physical realities. If I recall correctly, at the time you and Wren were arguing that it was ableist simply to suggest that illness or blindness makes life harder, on account of that social relativism. But you’ll notice that in the paragraph you quoted, I still believe that yes, sightedness operates as a privilege, and makes life easier, and I don’t think it’s ableist to acknowledge that (though if any PwD would like to weigh in on this, I’m happy to defer to your opinion). In fact, I think it would far more creepy to erase that fact and act like it’s no big deal. That would strike me as being as naive and useless as, if you’ll pardon the coincidence of metaphor, the “color-blindness” approach to race, or the “why get so hung up on labels?” approach to sexuality, or the “why don’t you just accept yourself?” approach to transsexuality.

      • says

        I recently was in a discussion where a friend wanted help not being ableist. One thing I had forgotten before, but remember after that, was that even when you think in terms of “what makes life harder”, the perception of disability still revolves around what social accomodations are regarded as “ordinary” and which are “a big deal”.

        So for example, instead of thinking “has bad eyesight” we think “needs/uses glasses” and treat that as no big deal, something to be expected. Yet if there weren’t glasses, or they don’t work well enough, or when playing sports etc., one might call it a disability. With a hearing aid, the technology has been improving but there is more stigma, so people really want hearing aids to be invisible, and at this point I’d rather compensate than use one. And we can think about what a fully wheelchair accessible society would be like.

        And then something I’ll have to paraphrase:

        “Disabilities are usually called that because they make it hard for a person to do and be what is expected, whether or not they have good effects. One shouldn’t assume a given person regards their disability as negative, and if they have some extraordinary lifestyle one shouldn’t see this as a bad thing either. But even if someone clearly has an intrinsically harmful disability, to see that as the problem itself, with the implication of “fixing” the person, is still ableist. It comes from the idea that the person should be fixed to fit society, rather than the other way around.”

        (not sure if this adds anything new, but it helped me a lot at the time, and made me suddenly realize when I’d been the target of ableism.)

      • No Light says

        I’m with you on this.

        The social Model is very worthy and well-meaning, but it’s too simplistic and reductive.

        Sure, cover the whole world with ramps, I’d still need help using them.

        So, either a full time carer or a power chair that can be operated with my thumb.

        Both options are expensive. Full time carer means very little privacy, power chair will get me to my destination, but then how will I perform whatever task I’ve left the house for?

        I could have both, if I won the lottery. But like most PWD who are unable to work, I can afford neither.

        OK, YAY! My numbers came up, I can go where I want! Oh, I didn’t mention my sensory disabilities, did I? My bad, Like a lot of PWD I have multiple health problems.

        So I’m in my chair, off to the supermarket. I’m sure they’ll be fine with disabling any fluorescent lights, muting background noise, eliminating strong smells, and ensuring these are no smokers anywhere in the shop.

        The thing is, the social model assumes PWD are blind OR D/deaf OR have a physical disability, usually with the assumption that the problems are present from birth.

        What about the woman who’s blind, but unable to read braille? The deaf man who can’t lip-read and doesn’t know sign language? How would they be catered for?

        Finally, the massively disabling, debilitating thing that the social model can never hope to deal with -pain.

        Pain incapacitates me far more than my physical or sensory impairments do. Ramps, low lighting, scent/smoke free, quiet venue is set up for my night out, but that’s irrelevant if I’m in a corner, screaming and puking, because even my fentanyl isn’t helping.

        I’ll poiwt out that, for simplicity’s sake, I haven’t even mentioned my mental illnesses, or the difficulties caused by being non-neurotypical.

        I’m not dis/abled I’m not handicapped or ‘handi-capable *puke*. , I’m not differently-abled, or ‘inspirational’, or ‘special’. I’m disabled, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

        What is wrong, is when well-meaning CAB people think that PWD could seamlessly integrate into society with some ramps, or Braille signage, or by teaching more people BSL or Makaton (for people with Downs Syndrome or other learning disorders than can impair verbal communication)

        It’s just not that simple sadly. So CAB people, however well meaning they are, need to remember what disabled activists say, “Nothing about us, without us”. Listen to us, work with us, and accept that there is no single model that’s applicable to every PWD.

        PWD – person with a disability
        CAB – currently able-bodied, The C reflects two things, that some people have impairments that relapse in and out, some days they may appear abled, sometimes they may need a lot of help.

        it also takes into account that nobody can rely on their abilities forever. Everyone is roughly seven seconds from a life-altering disability. That’s all it takes, a traffic accident. sporting injury, slipping in the bath…

        I really want Xavier’s chair though. WANT.

      • says

        If I recall correctly, at the time you and Wren were arguing that it was ableist simply to suggest that illness or blindness makes life harder…

        You’re conflating two different conversations, one on a post on Skepchick and one on a post on Ian Cromwell’s site. That’s also not at all what was argued. What I said in Ian’s post was that equating “disabled” with “bad” was ableist, not that suggesting that disability makes life harder is ableist. On Skepchick, where Wren and I were discussing disability, I repeatedly explained the social model of disability, differentiating between physical/functional impairments and disability (a social construct). That’s where you put up resistance to the social model.

        On Skepchick, you said: “Again, no matter how we may define, articulate, or think about physical disability, physical disability is going to go right on existing, and continue to have consequences for those who live with it. The experiences won’t be exactly the same, no, nor shall how they or we think of those experiences and bodies. But the hard reality itself will remain.” This is a medical model of disability. Under this model, the underlying issue is not that a person is blind in a sighted world, but that a person is visually impaired, regardless of the world they live in. So even if being blind was the norm, the lack of sight would still be a disability.

        That stands in stark contrast to the passage I quoted above. Your example of blindness is also pretty much exactly what I said when defining and defending the social model of disability on Ian’s site. Being blind, as you rightly point out here, would not be considered a disability if blindness was the norm and society was structured for and the built environment created for blind people.

        This is why I said I was glad to see you’ve come around on the social model of disability. It appears to me that you’ve moved from a medical model of what constitutes a disability (physical/functional impairment) to a social model (social/cultural norms of what constitutes a dis/abled body). Granted, in past conversations you did say that how society treats disabled people is important, but you always came back to the idea that it was the physical impairment that created the disability and not the way society is structured.

        I’m, of course, not arguing that physical/functional impairment is never an issue for people, but it’s not always (and I would argue usually is not) the determining factor in what disables a person–a point you did not concede in previous conversations on this topic, but something you seem to be advocating in this post:

        And having a limitation in one particular regard (or a few) does not by any means make someone “disabled” in some broad or essential sense. It just means that their abilities don’t quite fit into normative expectations.

        I could not agree more. ;)

        • says

          I haven’t come around on anything, Will. Nothing you just quoted from the Skepchick conversation is at all in conflict with anything I said here (and what you quoted, btw, does not fit into the “medical model” as you described it, and I’d appreciate you NOT putting words in my mouth like that by going ‘you said “this” but that means blarghy blarghy’).

          It’s not an either/or situation between disability being relative to social conditions and there being a hard, underlying physical reality. Those AREN’T in conflict. Like with, oh, EVERYTHING, there’s an interplay between phenomenological factors and socio-cultural context. Even if being blind were the norm, the lack of sight would still be disability relative to the existence or hypothetical existence of a sighted person (who would have a “superpower” in such a context), whether or not it was framed or considered as such. Just like our lack of flight is still a disability relative to hypothetical flying superheroes, even though we don’t widely think of that as a disability. But we still live with the consequences of not being able to fly.

          Whatever you think I meant there, or think I mean here, you must be seriously misunderstanding something. Which is a big part of why I find discussing this with you so frustrating. And to be honest, I’d rather not continue.

        • says

          Just to try to prevent this from being a he-said, she-said style argument:

          You actually did misread Natalie pretty badly there, Will. As in, ignoring essentially all of the context, nuance, and implications. All of those affect the practical semantics. Everyone does it on occasion, so it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It would be a good idea to admit the misunderstanding and retract your interpretation, since it’s much too close to trying to speak for someone else.

        • says

          Also, the “so glad you agree with me now, let me dredge up this debate from six months ago” thing feels really quite insulting and a bit arrogant and presumptuous.

          And I also don’t think it’s all that cool for two able-bodied people to sit here and have a theoretical debate on “disability is a social construct”. I know I HATE watching cis people debate “gender is a social construct”, so I can certainly imagine how icky this could look to PwD reading this.

          I do think, though, that “disability is just a social construct” has just as much dangerous implications, and just as much potential to dismiss, belittle and erase the lives, experiences and suffering of PwD as “gender is just a social construct” can for trans and gender variant people.

          Furthermore, the good intentions motivating it strike me as very similar to the “if we didn’t have gender roles, no one would need to transition! They could just accept themselves!” kind of patronizing “good intentions” motivating the transphobia of the TERFs.

          Yes, how we model disability, and what we do and don’t consider disability, how we frame it and consider it and speak about it, is all contextual, socio-culturally mediated, and partly arbitrary. I NEVER claimed otherwise. Yes, disability is relative. But pain is still pain, and always will be. Mobility is still mobility. Senses are still senses.

          I don’t think the problem is terms like disability, or the fact that we perceive such a thing. I think it’s reasonable, given the context we live in, to regard some things as such. And that’s OKAY. It’s OKAY to have a disability, a disorder, or to be sick, or to require medical intervention. That doesn’t make anyone less human, or less anything. We don’t need to pretend someone doesn’t “really” have a disability in order to consider them worthwhile, deserving of respect and possessed of lives worth living, and implying that we do only reinforces the negative attitudes. The problem isn’t the fact that we acknowledge disability, pain, suffering, limitations, etc.

          The problems, I think, lie in how we stigmatize, ridicule, dismiss, belittle, patronize and ignore that. As well as all the stupid “positive discrimination”, like saying someone is “brave” just for existing… the insulting implications beneath that are pretty awful. I know, because it’s something trans people deal with too.

          Instead of playing Foucauldian word-games to try to theorize disability out of existence, I think we should just acknowledge this is something that some people deal with, listen to them, respect their experiences, do whatever we can to make life a bit less difficult for them, and try our best not to be assholes about it.

          And that said, I am going to bow out of this conversation, because I do not want to speak for PwD. No Light and hall-of-rage have already offered some great insights on this (thank you!). And I’d be really, really happy to hear more PwD perspectives, if anyone else cares to chime in.

        • Erista (aka Eris) says

          First, I’m going to put it out there that statements that generally come down to, “I’m so glad that you’ve stopped being wrong and have started being right like ME, and isn’t it too bad that you were wrong unlike me before?” don’t generally go well.

          Second, if I am understanding your “social model” of disability (and I may not, for this is the first time I have ever heard of it), then it makes me frothingly angry. I have cyclothymia. Most of the time I function pretty well. Sometimes I do not. Like the last couple of months, where it has been a coin toss as to whether or not I’ll be able to muster the emotional and mental energy to microwave of a bowl of soup, or if I’ll sit in bed and fight not to hyperventilate all day without eating. God, I don’t know how to describe buying nutritional (diet) meal replacement drinks because they’re the only thing that I have enough energy to prepare. What I just described to you? There is no society that anyone could build that would make this good or even neutral. My condition is bad, and that’s why I am throwing medications at it even though those medications have effects that are such that I must be periodically checked to make sure they haven’t shut down my internal organs. Having to struggle for hours to manage to take a shower because you’ve become so dirty from the past days of not taking showers that you are now uncomfortable is not solved by making it the norm.

          Fuck the idea that my problems are caused by society viewing them as disordered. They are fucking disordered and I want them to stop.

          And to be honest, the whole “differently abled” thing rubs me the wrong way. I don’t get some kind of additional ability to compensate for my cyclothymia. Do I have my own abilities that are worthwhile? Yes. But they aren’t different from the abilities that a person without cyclothymia might have. There is no bright side to my cyclothimia.

          I will however add a disclaimer that I may be unduly angry and hostile right now. Today is one of those days where I wanted to cook something (dorayaki) but could not bring myself to do more than reheat some leftover soup. I also wanted to go for a bike ride (it was a beautiful day), but I lacked the stamina for that, too. I am not feeling particularly charitable or understanding towards the idea that this would all be fine if society just said there wasn’t anything wrong with it. I may be calmer tomorrow.

          • says

            Thanks.

            Your point about no society being possible in which your cyclothymia wouldn’t have the negative consequences it does for your life makes me notice the parallels with awful, cissexist “gender is just a social construct” theory even more. Like how there’s no society that could ever exist in which I’d feel okay having a penis, chest hair and an endocrine system full of testosterone.

            The “it’s all just, like, society, man” thing is dismissive, patronizing, belittling and really really insulting for those of us who have to actually LIVE with the disorders, dysphorias, disabilities, and non-normative bodies.

            But perhaps most dangerously, it directs attention to all the wrong places. It creates a situation where the privileged sit around trying to imagine worlds where these things don’t matter rather than addressing the hard realities many of us live with, or trying to actually do anything on our behalf. Worse, it creates a situation where people assert that if we simply don’t acknowledge the problem, if we plug our ears and close our eyes and say “lalalala! It’s not really a problem! lalala!” it will all magically go away. And worst of all, it can lead to believing that we’re the “real” problem just for actually trying to negotiate our lives and have our experiences heard.

            So yeah… rather than having “come around” to Will’s position, I actually find it even creepier and more messed up than I did back in December.

            I’d rather try to make the world we live in a better place for the people who have to live in it than sit around playing Who’s Hypothetical Utopia Is The Utopiest.

          • Bia says

            Re: “gender is a social construct”

            Is this reference to Butler? Gender Trouble is something I’ve been pondering for a while now. I’ve come to the conclusion that gender isn’t innate like knowing how to breath, but that there is something innate in the human mind that is later attached to what we understand as gender. This makes for two different things in my mind, gender as a social construct and gender as something that is innate but not as of yet isn’t clearly understood.

          • says

            @Bia: Yes, basically it is; but it’s more that a lot of people use Judith Butler’s ideas, of how gender is constructed, to say that gender is only a social construct. And thus anyone inclined to express gender in ways other than they’ve been taught, but ways that don’t put them at an advantage, is inherently a challenge to that theory. To put it bluntly, this is why radical feminists (who usually want gender to not exist because they see it as inherently hierarchical against women) usually hate trans women.

            With respect, though it’s good to explore theories of gender, when it comes to how gender is created it is truly best not to draw any firm conclusions in my opinion. It’s too easy to move from conclusions based on evidence to enforcement of gender, or discrimination, based on wishful thinking. There isn’t a compelling need for absolutes in knowing how gender is formed and performed. There is a compelling need to account for the diversity of people’s experiences of gender, when trying to make sure everyone is treated equally well.

          • says

            Also Erista, seriously, thank you for that comment.

            I think of myself as in-between able-bodied and being a person with a disability, but don’t know how to label that; I have almost no pain, and no loss of ability to get around, but have to expend a lot of energy compensating, and can suffer stigma and other ableism. I’m still not sure how or if I should be talking about it, because I don’t want to minimize the serious problems “real PwD” face, or play into the idea that most people should be “normal” in ability.

            Here’s an obvious-in-retrospect-but-radical thought I had recently: we don’t need even one able-bodied person to make the world work as it does, or much better. All we need is cooperation among people with a diversity of abilities and talents. That kinda comes back to the comics theme, X-men for example.

            (sorry wow I made so many comments here. I swear I have a life.)

          • Bia says

            Thanks Hall of rage

            I found Butler’s message to be inspiring in many ways. I agree that absolutes don’t help anything. I don’t mean to imply that self discovery is something a person does and is done with, but I’m still working out my opinions on the matter and it’s still a part of my self discovery at the moment.

            Every time I try to understand the rad-fem position on gender, their interpretation of Butler or their opinions on trans* issues in general I find it rather difficult to cut through the transphobic rhetoric.

            I didn’t find anything in Butler’s work that actually silences or discredits the trans* experience, which is why it’s confusing to me. I’m mostly surrounded by epistemologists, gender queers and DIY GLBT folk and Butler’s conclusions mostly ring true when the topic is discussed.

            Anyway I don’t mean to take away from the original discussion anymore than I have to, this just stood out to me. So I’ll conclude with if anyone has written about this on FTB or anywhere similar I’d love a link.

          • says

            My condition is bad, and that’s why I am throwing medications at it even though those medications have effects that are such that I must be periodically checked to make sure they haven’t shut down my internal organs. Having to struggle for hours to manage to take a shower because you’ve become so dirty from the past days of not taking showers that you are now uncomfortable is not solved by making it the norm.

            Speaking as someone with chronic depression and anxiety…Holy fucking shit, THIS.

            And, yes, “differently abled” is twee as all hell. (And “temporarily able-bodied” is really fucking passive-aggressive, isn’t it? “Nice legs ya got there. Shame if anything happened to ‘em.” But I digress.)

            The “social model” and the social-justice wankers who think that no disability is bad outside of stigma can go fuck themselves.

          • Happiestsadist says

            I think this is a really good comment.

            I’ve had crushing, major depression for as long as I can remember. And later on PTSD and OCD joined the party, and so did severe chronic pain. Being a miserable shut-in who hurts relentlessly and has to avoid their own balcony (no sunset-watching for me!) because it brings very bad thoughts isn’t something that would be improved by changing how it’s all viewed socially. I fucking hurt and I want it fixed,which I suppose means I’m participating in my own oppression.

  8. says

    I’ve taken to referring to things neurotypicals can do and I can’t, that seem particularly inexplicable and impossible to me as “neurotypical superpowers.” Just changing the framing like that has helped my self esteem a lot, so I’m glad the concept of superpowers exists.

  9. says

    This is kind of off the subject–I mean, I agree with all of this, so go Natalie–but are you familiar with the concept of a color solid? I mention this because the use of the phrase “spectrum” to define a linear binary drives me up the wall, predicated as it is on the notion that color is such a thing. It’s only a linear binary if you think of the classic ROYGBIV order when you break white light into its components with a prism or lense or raindrops. As a means of defining color, it’s not very useful. I much prefer the Munsell model, in which color has three dimensions: hue (the actual name of the color, like green), chroma (the color’s purity and intensity), and its value (how light or dark it is). I think the color solid is a more useful metaphor for identities, too, by the way, because it allows for greater flexibility for defining intersectionality.

    I don’t have a point, here.

    Also: glad you like Demon Knights.

  10. Jeremy Shaffer says

    You might have addressed this and I simply missed it but there is also the prospect that many of the superpowers found in comic books are disabilities in that they have drawbacks that require considerations on the holder’s part that the average person without would never have to bother with. For example, a character with super- strength would have to be far more careful in their physical interactions with other people and objects than someone with average strength. Other powers, such a super- speed or telepathy, could have similar issues in the character’s relationships with others or the world around them.

  11. says

    I double checked the Wiki page to make sure, but as for Elasti-Girl

    Rita Farr is an Olympic swimming gold medalist turned Hollywood actress[3] who is exposed to unusual volcanic gases while shooting a film in Africa. When Farr recovers, she discovers that she can expand or shrink her body at will — from hundreds of feet tall to mere inches in height. When she gains greater control of her powers, she discovers that she can enlarge one limb at a time. Although not physically disfigured, Rita initially has no control over her size changes, is considered a freak and a menace, and becomes a recluse, leaving her Hollywood career in ruins.

  12. ik says

    @ Natalie Reed: OH WOW. THank you so much for that argument. The whole ‘ It’s just socially constructed anyway’ thing is such a problem, and it’s also something which is unneccesarily threatening to the privileged. Meaning that it 1. hurts your movement for no reason, and 2. is not really acceptable to me if you win throughout society. Although I guess could found the 24-7 Fetish Group for Social Deviants Who Like Norms.

    Not sure if somebody who could see in a blind world would actually be disprivileged. They would probably have some costs, but vision is so powerful that I imagine they might actually end up in a privileged position.

  13. sharkjack says

    I tend to read more manga than comics, and in manga abilities do tend to get linearly tied(just look at power levels in Dragon Ball), but all the interesting stuff happens when they don’t. One Piece is a manga that does this very well. eating a devil fruit will grant you a certain power (ranging from becoming a rubber man to being able to turn into lightning and fire huge blasts of the stuff like it’s nothing). Most people see their ability as a huge plus, but there is one guy who accidentaly ate a fruit. He gained a pretty decent ability, that allows for flight (kinda) and invulnerability to slash attacks. Yet all devil fruits also make you lose your energy when you swim in sea water. The guy was a great diver and all of a sudden he could no longer do what he loved. Another character got kicked out of the herd (he is a reindeer), because he was too different.

    Fights between people with different abilities allow for lots of creative fights that are naturally unpredictable. Depending on how much you know about your opponent, you might not use your ability effectively, or something that someone relies on all of a sudden becomes useless (for example a one hit killing technique might be extremely usefull to the bad guy, but when he turns good and no longer kills, he has to try very hard to keep it nonlethal). Figuring out new things about your ability, finding creative ways to deal the cards you’ve been handed, that is at the core of good superpowered people.

    The legend of Korra basically uses the whole non benders are people with disabilities thing as its premise. It was used in the last airbender with Sokka, but it has moved to the main focus in Korra.

    More on the topic of disabilities, I have glasses. Without them I can still do pretty much anything I can with them, but it will give me a headache if I exert myself too long. I guess you could call that a disability, but it doesn’t compare to anything mentioned in earlier posts. I don’t like to speak about disabilities, because I have way too much privilege and I don’t have much to contribute. Disability also carries a lot of negative connotation with it, which is one of the reason people avoid using it to describe themselves.

    Models of reality are useful because reality too complex for us to grasp and put into words coherently. sometimes it is useful to look at things from a particular perspective. However models have limits. They always simplify, using assumptions that aren’t always valid. Sticking to only one model of reality and dismissing others sets one up for making wrong conclusions when you try to apply your model where it just doesn’t work. That is an inherent property of models and how we understand the world. When you have to invalidate the experiences of other people just to maintain the validity of your model, that should start raising alarm bells in your mind.

    • Sassafras says

      Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is an older manga (that’s still ongoing!) that does the not-about-raw-power powers like One Piece. In it, people can have Stands, psychic projections that have bizarre super powers. For example, one Stand can make zippers appear on any surface, and another lets its user open a person’s head like a book and read their memories. Some Stands are very powerful, but almost every battle is fought by cleverly using powers, not with raw strength. In fact, the main villain of the series singles out a Stand whose only power is to force groups of people to fight to the death as the weakest Stand ever, because it lacks versatility.

      Slightly more on-topic, the series has featured Stand users with physical disabilities and it is never portrayed as making them less effective in battle. They might even be more effective in battle because they use their Stands in ways that the CAB characters don’t expect.

  14. says

    Blindness, for instance, would cease to be regarded as a disability if we lived in a society where everyone was blind. It’s also likely that a sighted person would be reviled and distrusted, and certainly outcast, in such a world.

    This reminded me of a quite famous short story by H. G. Wells called The Country of the Blind. In it, an explorer discovers an isolated village of blind people and expects that they will revere him as a god/king. However, it turns out that his sightedness only earns him mistrust. I remember thinking that it could be read as an interesting metaphor for how people with genius, special talent or even religious inspiration can be rejected for being different.

  15. Crip Dyke, MQ, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Y’know, I feel like I comment most on your blog, Natalie, when I disagree. Mostly it’s because I’m perfectly fine with quite a bit of what you say and have no need to amplify it. You do quite a good job on your own.

    So, here I am disagreeing again, but please know it comes from a place of appreciation…

    I find myself annoyed at the superhero=disability metaphor, yay! thing going on here. Also, your statement that PwD’s should be described as having “extraordinary ability” because that never happens (or vary rarely happens) is both laughably off and part of the problem with the metaphor.

    When people with disabilities get attention it’s for one of two reasons.

    1. We’re pitiful.
    2. We’re superheroes.

    I think we all get #1, but number 2 got lost when this post got written. For example:

    Despite losing his vision at the age of 13, Erik Weihenmayer has become one of the most celebrated and accomplished adventurers in the world. Re-defining what it means to be blind, Erik has opened up the eyes and minds of people around the world. In 2001, Erik became the only blind climber in history to reach the summit of Mount Everest. In 2008, he completed his quest to climb the Seven Summits – the tallest peak on each of the seven continents. Since then, he continues to inspire others through actions and deeds

    There are lots of people who’ve climbed those 7 Summits. Why was Weihenmayer all over the media in the US in the early 2000s? Because he was *blind* and climbed Chomolungma. Didn’t matter how he’d had lots of support. DIdn’t matter that climbing everest is a struggle for lots and lots of people. Weihenmayer’s struggle earns media fame, others’ don’t.

    Why? Because Weihenmayer’s a superhero.

    We’re trapped into this crap. We can be pitiful. We can be extraordinary. What we can’t be is normal.

    In that sense, the superhero genre is a terrible place to explore disability. You can be one of those pitiful cripples that suffer from the actions of some villain or the mistakes of some hero. You can be a superhero with the power to f*n FLY to the top of Chomolungma.

    But you can never be normal. The superhero genre has no time for normal, and thus is has no time for the one thing we’re not allowed to be. We have Weihenmayers in and out of superhero comics. We have Jerry’s Kids in & out of superhero comics.

    But how the hell are superhero comics going to help cripples like me move into normal? They can’t even have normal girlfriends take up character development time unless it’s to make getting stuffed in a fridge more shocking. When will there be space for a crippled child or an elderly Aunt May to be normal and not a MacGuffin in need of rescue?

    Superhero comics are and have always been a terrible place to explore disability.

    • says

      I think you might be misreading what I meant by extraordinary? I didn’t mean “oh, you’re so inspiring and brave with your awesome perseverance!”. The “extraordinary” is in reference to the disability itself, as in “apart from the ordinary”. It might be a lack of context that’s creating the confusion, but this stems from a related conversation I had recently in regards to how we describe the conditions that cause someone to be trans (like “atypical neurological body map” or “atypical prenatal endocrine levels”). We were discussing implications of terms like “atypical”, “uncommon”, “abnormal” etc. and I eventually realized “extraordinary” means pretty much the exact same thing (as in “not what is usually the case”, or “something that happens less often than not” or something like that) but that it had a positive connotation rather than a negative one.

      So yeah, my meaning with “extraordinary” isn’t in reference to any compensatory “bravery” or “strength” or “improved other abilties” or whatever, in the way someone would typically describe PwD as “extraordinary”. It’s in reference to the condition itself that marks a person with disability as distinct from other people. Such as parapalegia itself being “extraordinary”, not someone’s ability to live a normal life despite being in a wheelchair (and believe me, I totally understand how calling such things, like the capacity to simply live one’s life, “brave” or “incredible” or “inspiring” is extremely insulting. As though the expected, understandable thing is to just give up and die? I understand this because trans people deal with that EXACT SAME MENTALITY on a regular basis)

      How many comics have you read, btw? Have you read any of the ones I mentioned? I find it interesting that you say “they can’t even have normal girlfriends…” which belies you thinking of superheroes as inherently male and heterosexual. That suggests to me that you might have a biased or narrow perspective on what “superheroes” is, as a genre. It’s a lot more than just the “A-List” like Superhero, Batman, Spiderman, Green Lantern, etc.

      • Crip Dyke, MQ, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

        How many comics have you read, btw? Have you read any of the ones I mentioned? I find it interesting that you say “they can’t even have normal girlfriends…” which belies you thinking of superheroes as inherently male and heterosexual. That suggests to me that you might have a biased or narrow perspective on what “superheroes” is, as a genre. It’s a lot more than just the “A-List” like Superhero, Batman, Spiderman, Green Lantern, etc.

        The gender thing was intentional: I wasn’t saying that women superheroes can’t have normal human love interests that develop as characters, I was saying that **girlfriends** specifically, in the sexist environment of comics, are not allowed to develop unless they are also superheroes.

        I do NOT think of superheroes as inherently male or men or heterosexual. I haven’t seen any unpowered dykes get developed without getting killed or otherwise messed with just to further the plot. That’s what happened with Detective comics with that detective whose name I can’t remember, right? DIdn’t her girlfriend/partner/wife get killed by someone. (Twoface, wasn’t it?) I was commenting in a gender specific way, not a gender-naive or ignorant way (though you couldn’t know that of course).

        I know about Oracle and have watched the whole Birds of Prey TV series, as short as it was. (On youtube- free! And still available!) But I never read those comics. Aside from a flirtation with Legion of Super-Heroes when I was a kid (because a best friend in elementary school liked them), I’m decidedly a Marvel-and-independent woman. My favorite comic, like, EVAH is I Was Kidnapped by Lesbian Pirates from Outer Space by the amazingly wonderful Megan Rosalarian Gedris. Matronize her. NOW.

        In Marvel, I was a reader of X-Men from the Giant-Size X-Men #1 which introduced the “New X-Men” (I bought it at a local 7-11 as my first X-Men comic, I couldn’t have made a better choice). I read through the Morlucks and Storm v. Callisto (why didn’t they ever hook up? They would have been an awesome couple and did they ever have some bad-ass chemistry!) and maybe a bit beyond. I was familiar with Xavier, obviously, and Rogue was totally bad ass, while clearly having a “disability” in being unable to touch anyone. I died my hair to match hers – white streak included.

        My favorite heroes of the 70s and 80s were, in no particular order, Rogue, Luke Cage, T’Challa, Shrinking Violet, Storm, Rachel Summers, Ms. Marvel especially as Binary in StarJammers (don’t get me started on how bizarrely incomprehensible and disturbing the Ms. Marvel-raped-by-the-Beyonder storyline was in the Avengers), Hawkeye, Callisto, Thor, Wasp, and – last but perhaps first in how I empathized with the character – Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat. I can’t tell you how much I was hanging on my seat when she was captured by Ogun and then trained to assassinate Wolvie, nor how when she got back from japan she singlehandedly rescued all the other X-Men with her newly mad skills.

        You’ll notice that as I went back and counted, there are a total of 2 white guys in the list, and I was mostly interested in Thor on a theoretical level (I liked mythology) not in the Marvel-implemented version.

        So, yeah. I’m down with the mad comic book thing.

        But, and I get you that you were saying “exceptional” just in the sense of “different” without a value judgement as to whether that difference is better or worse, *I don’t want to have to be exceptional*.

        Being exceptional is a burden. Either I’m exceptional because, y’know, I’m not dead. Yay? Or I’m exceptional because I ________________ and holy heck I did that while **crippled**!!11!!111!111!!!!!

        You were saying we don’t get to be exceptional. I think we’re always the exception. I’m not fighting for people to not see ability anymore than I’m fighting for people to not see gender. But being seen as the exception – good, bad, or neutral – isn’t a victory in this context. At least it doesn’t seem so to me.

        BTW: I tend to be down on DC, but I’m not completely closed minded. I just hate the lazy writing and the impossible contradictions built into some of their most important characters – which then makes the entire rest of the world difficult to engage with suspended disbelief. I mean, if Superman travels faster than time and can hear everything happening within tens of miles (in some versions anywhere on the planet), how does anyone ever hatch a plan against him? Even if he decided to be lazy, the crook is standing there, “Hah! Now I will open this box with the Kryptonite and…” and that gives Supes all the time he needs to go back in time, track down the meteorite fragment that would have gone in the box, approach it in a lead lined suit, snatch it up, fly it into the sun, put the suit back in the Fortress, and head back forward in time again to foil the villain’s plans in 10*10^-42 seconds under no threat whatsoever.

        Superman is the stupidest character ever and I won’t read anything with him in it…save the vintage Giant-Size LSH which was my first introduction to Superboy and LSH when I was like, 5 (and the comic was already old then). That has sentimental value, but seriously, if you can go back and forth in time, have Kryptonian smarts and tech, can be essentially everywhere at once through super-speed and can move planets from their orbits with your strength, what, precisely, could ever be a threat? Darkseid? Just wait for his plans to become apparent then go back in time & subtly sabotage them. Go back in time & spend 72 years inventing a defense against Omega Beams. Do something that shows you’re not a complete idiot.

        Srsly. Supes has to be the dumbest time-travelling genius with omni-present hearing that ever existed.

        • says

          Also, I’m not sure you’re looking at DC superheroes in the right light. Like, at all.

          There is not ONE Superman, who is always the same, and has all the same powers and abilities every time. He gets interpreted and reinterpreted and recreated and renenvisioned by different writers and artists, all of whom see something different in him.

          One thing he never is, by the way, is a genius.

          That’s the reason there’s an actual tension between him and Lex Luthor.

          He’s not always some boring, all-american brute who punches the world into submitting to his All-American whitebread values. When done right, Superman is the archetype of superheroes themselves. He represents the strength and decency hiding beneath every single “ordinary” person, and the power of a single person to make a difference for the better. There’s a reason the most iconic image of Superman is Clark Kent pulling open his shirt to reveal the S underneath. Clark Kent is us, as who we are. Superman is us, as who we could be.

          Like, try Grant Morrison’s Action Comics or All-Star Superman sometime.

          There’s pretty much no such thing as a superhero who is DEFINITIVELY boring. None of them. Some are better suited for certain kinds of stories than others, and some will appeal to certain kinds of tastes more than others, so…like… I’m probably always going to like Wonder Woman, The Flash and Batman more than Aquaman and Green Lantern, because I like mythology, science and psychological-noir detective stories better than space aliens and…the ocean. But still, it would be completely idiotic for me to say “Aquaman and Green Lantern are boring!”. Sure, they can be. But Wonder Woman, The Flash and Batman can ALSO be boring if written by a writer who doesn’t know how to use them well. But it’s the writer that counts.

          Superheroes aren’t fixed. Their templates. Archetypes. Ideas to be interpreted and reinterpreted. There’s no “correct” version of any of them, and they don’t “belong” to anyone. We share them. And each new generation of writers and readers will find something new there.

          For instance, one of my absolute favourite things about the New 52… the repeated suggestion that Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne could do A LOT more good for the world, as a journalist and billionaire, than they ever could as vigilantes. So Clark Kent becomes a passionate reporter, always writing on behalf of the vulnerable and downtrodden. And Bruce Wayne invests himself in a (perhaps ill-advised and gentrifying- which does get talked about in the comics) attempt to “revitalize” Gotham and address it’s crime by trying to address the poverty and social issues that generate it.

          In the most recent issue of Action Comics, Batman says to Superman: “I don’t want us to become some group of deployed American living weapons, going into other countries to try to ‘fix’ problems we barely understand!”

          That kind of thing is possible because heroes can be reinterpreted. Because we make them our own. That’s a dialogue between Supes and Bats that could only occur in the 21st century.

        • says

          Also… you think DC has worse writing than Marvel?!

          -ahem- Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Gail Simone, Peter Milligan, Alan Moore, Darwyn Cooke, Greg Rucka, Jeff Lemire, Scott Snyder, Jamie Delano, Paul Dini, Paul Cornell, Tony Bedard, Ed Brubaker, Dwayne McDuffie, and, soon, Christy Marx!

          Marvel has had some great writing… Dan Slott, Marjorie Liu, Brian K. Vaughn, Terry Moore, Kelly Sue DeConnick and Joss Whedon all come to mind. And of course most of all these writers have all worked for both of the Big Two.

          (It’s a sad thing, though, that while DC does a much better job than Marvel of having titles featuring female protagonists and leads, who are often VERY while written -despite being men, Dini, Cornell and Rucka are all very, very good at writing three-dimensional, believable, relatable women-, Marvel does a much better job than DC of actually hiring female writers and artists)

          But when DC was bringing in the “British Invasion” and revolutionizing comics with rich storytelling, Marvel was all Scott Lobdell and Rob Liefeld and Todd McFarlane and cheap angsty-angst-angst knockoffs attempting to capitalize on the “dark age” without understanding that it was the depth of the writing that allowed Karen Berger’s team to be such a success and gave birth to Vertigo, not just “darkness”.

          DC had Sandman and Shade and The Doom Patrol and Swamp Thing and Hellblazer while Marvel was coming up with… Venom. Carnage. The Clone Saga. Onslaught.

          Come on.

          I’m not going to plant my flag firmly on DC territory. I grew up with Lobdell-era X-Men comics as a kid. That was what first got me into comic books. And there are lots of Marvel characters I really deeply love, like She-Hulk, Dr. Strange, Magneto and Mystique. And also, there’s some stuff Marvel consistently does better than DC. For one thing, Marvel has a much more youthful and energetic feel, and does a much better job of writing for young audiences (DC’s current Young Justice family is hilarious… it’s basically ALL the same writers and styles that Marvel used in the 90s. You don’t pull in new 21st century youth by using creators whose heydey was 20 years ago, and let them write in a 20-year-old style). But still… to say DC, relative to Marvel, is defined by bad, lazy writing is just… well… the closest to “objectively wrong” a subjective opinion can possibly get. ;)

          It sounds like a lot of your perspectives are based on thinking of the characters as aggregate concepts, not on the actual stories that actually get written by actual writers.

  16. Crip Dyke, MQ, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Oh, and off topic, I guess, but I remember now it was Detective Montoya – don’t remember her first name. She dated the woman who became Batwoman, but she also had another girlfriend, I just don’t know who. And either the original gf or Kane/Batwoman was attacked by Twoface who wanted Montoya for himself. I don’t remember at all how this worked out. A friend told me about the storyline and I read a couple of his back issues with the story, but I didn’t read the whole storyline & dont’ remember it well.

    But I suppose you could say that Montoya was Kane’s vulnerable gf as much as whoever TF attacked (Kane or the first gf) was Montoya’s.

    Anyway, I was saying that no superhero can have a decent, normal gf who gets actual character development regardless of the gender of the superhero… unless it’s a prelude to making the gf a victim to motivate the hero.

    I’d love counter examples. There must be some. I just don’t know them.

    • says

      That’s a lousy example for your point. Both Montoya and Kane have had a huge amount of characer development.

      And the reason superhero fiction doesn’t feature “normal” lives? Because normal is kinda boring. Fiction generally requires conflict. And “normal” and “character development” don’t go very well together.

      But you want examples? Sure. Batwoman’s current girlfriend, Maggie Sawyer, gets a decent amount of development and they have a nice relationship. Then there’s Flash’s girlfriend Patty, who gets a fair bit of attention and development. Animal Man has a wife who is an extremely competent and developed character in her own right. And Saga, although not exactly a superhero comic, is following the story of a very healthy, committed couple, neither of whom takes center stage over the other. And those are just from comics I’m actually reading (most of the other characters I follow are presently single).

  17. says

    I think it’s pretty clear that Aaron Diaz doesn’t know what “inherently” means. I think what he meant to say is that disability issues are often handled poorly, which is true, but his own work seems to be worse than average in this regard.

  18. sarahsmithetal says

    You’ve heard the stories: Man with Two Prosthetic Legs Climbs Mt. Everest, Schizophrenic Genius Teaches at Harvard, Autistic Woman Saves Beef Industry, Blind Man Sparks Scientific Revolution, WheelchairBound Man Wins World War, Woman With TBI and History of Slavery Creates Underground Railroad….the list goes on. I’m not making these up. People with disabilities have overcome their personal obstacles, achieved fantastic greatness, and made evolutionary contributions to society. People with disabilities have changed the fucking world.

    And then there’s Superman. He was orphaned at a young age, never quite fit in to the human race, and had Kryptonitis – an episodic disabling condition! But he saved the fucking world, too. He worked full time, had the usual dysfunctional and stilted romantic relationship with a pretty girl, and flew, like through the air, on incredible missions to save the lives of common people. Truly, he was not DIS-abled, he was DIFFERENTLY-abled.

    But then he fell off a horse and suffered a spinal injury becoming paraplegic. The world was crushed, but oh-so-ready to watch him fight the good fight, push himself to the limits of human capacity and then beyond, and overcome his disability and walk. Or, better yet, FLY. Everyone was cheering him on and everyone believed it could, would, HAD TO happen. America’s real life Superman – Christopher Reeve – just HAD TO make his way out of the wheelchair and prove that “disability” was a myth, that with the right amount of fortitude and hard work and heart and soul and blood/sweat/tears anyone could pull themselves up by their bootstraps and fucking not only walk but fly through the air like a bird or an airplane. He tried. We all watched him and cheered him on. He never got out of his wheelchair and he used a breathing apparatus. Then he died, sans fluttering cape. Everyone was super disappointed. What a fucking failure.

    What a fucking mean and crushing myth – that the only good disabled person is the one that pushes themselves beyond the normal capacity of humans to achieve a superhuman power be it x-ray vision or flying with a spinal cord injury. I’ve watched the movies – A Beautiful Mind, Temple Grandin, blah blah blah. I have to admit I cry at them. I read the books too. I WROTE a book about it. But it’s a myth. The myth part isn’t that people with disabilities can achieve great things, the myth is that people with disabilities SHOULD achieve great things. Everyone celebrates the poverty stricken Mexican who crawled across the desert and slept in the streets of America only to become the dashingly handsome TV star with oodles of money and a hidden disability mitigated by his faithful service dog. Everyone celebrates the woman with MS who fights her way to the summit of Mt. Everest. The message is clear: If you have a disability then you can overcome it and not only be more than a hum-drum mortal but a fucking inspiration to hum-drum mortals. Plus, it’s your duty to do so.

    I have a secret I’m going to let you in on. People with disabilities generally don’t climb Mt. Everest. I bet most of us don’t even really want to. People with disabilities just want to do the best they can on any given day. I wonder if Christopher Reeve ever wished he could just sit in the fucking wheelchair and “be.” I wonder if ever he was proud that he made it through another day without killing himself. I wonder if he felt obligated to try to climb Mt. Everest. To be honest, I have no desire to climb Mt. Everest and I am not particularly smart and although I wish I could save the world I only have enough energy to get myself through the day, one day at a time. Sometimes I’m proud of myself for not killing myself. But then, the myth of the disabled superhero pops into my mind and I beat myself up because that’s such a stupid thing to be proud of. I beat myself up because I not only won’t ever climb Mt. Everest, I also won’t get my Ph.D, my black belt in Tae Kwon Do, or even a leadership position in my school. I’m a failure as a person with a disability because I won’t follow my dreams, won’t achieve my life-long goals, and actually have ended up losing ground in my career. I’m a failure as a person with a disability because I’ve settled for who I am. I’m a double failure because I’m lying about settling for who I am, I actually detest myself most of the time.

    If you want to heap insult onto injury, you could say I’m not only not a disabled superhero, I’m the antithesis of a disabled superhero. Christopher Reeve, though he didn’t ever “succeed” in getting out of his wheelchair, is still reluctantly honored because he “lobbied on behalf of people with spinal cord injuries, and for human embryonic stem cell research afterward. He founded the Christopher Reeve Foundation and co-founded the Reeve-Irvine Research Center.” (Wikipedia) So a nice honorable mention goes to those persons with disabilities who at least become activists for their disabilities. Only I don’t. I’m afraid to. I hide my disability because I don’t want to cause waves at work. I want to keep my job, thank you, until I retire or such a time comes that I can no longer work. According to the myth of the disabled superhero, this is the worst possible offense. It’s a disservice to quietly exist among the hum-drums, sort of blending in but not really exceeding in any way, shape or form. It’s Clark Kent without the cape.

    I’m sick of the myth of the disabled superhero. I am, from this time forward, going to not stand up for Dissociative Identity Disorder except for under a pseudonym, rather anonymously in blog form. If I have the energy and I feel like it, I’ll write another book and hope it magically sells because I sure as hell am not going to publicize it. I will continue to be a mediocre teacher in a small-ish town, not because I can’t be a great teacher but because I don’t want to personally invest in my career as I’d rather use my precious free time sleeping or hanging out with people I like. From this time forward I am not going to push myself so hard I fucking resent the rest of the world, rather I will do what I can with what I have in a reasonable effort at maintaining my sanity. Furthermore, should I start losing my sanity, I’ll take a nap. I will not sacrifice myself in a bold effort to not be a burden on my friends, family, and society. Oddly enough, that usually results in me being a burden on my friends, family and society. Rather, I’ll try to be as nice to myself as I am to others when I’m feeling well. When I’m not feeling well, well, I’ll take extra meds, nap, and lean on my friends, family and society. They genuinely seem to think I’m worth it, so what the hell.

    Christopher Reeve died never getting out of his wheelchair. The myth of the disabled superhero would have us believe that’s a tragedy, only mildly mitigated by the service work he did for the future of all people with spinal cord injuries. Fuck the myth of the disabled superhero. Superman was a paraplegic. Period. He hoped and hurt and tried. I’m tempted to say he never gave up, but I bet there were plenty of days he gave up and SO FUCKING WHAT. I bet there were days he cried his eyes out in despair and frustration and just plain old sat in his wheelchair. And if that’s true, then that’s what made him human. And that’s exactly what he was, human. Anything else is a myth.

    I’m going to nap.

    (sarahsmithetal.blogspot.com

    • says

      I’m writing about fictional super-heroes. Like Superman himself, not Christopher Reeve. I think you misunderstood my point? It’s certainly not about applying a “heroic” expectation onto real people.

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