His partner. His girlfriend? Whoa! (Over the Edge)

It’s May 23, 1998. Tomorrow, I turn 17.

Topping the charts, we have Mariah Carey with “My All”; Next, Janet featuring BLACKstreet, and Savage Garden also chart. In the movies this weekend, Godzilla (the bad American one) opens at No. 1; Deep Impact, The Horse Whisperer, and Quest for Camelot also make the top five.

In the news, on May 11 and 13 India conducted its first nuclear tests in nearly 25 years. In response, Pakistan will detonate its own test devices on the 28th. In Indonesia, a week after riots against Chinese-Indonesian people killed around a thousand people, long-reigning President Suharto resigns on the 21st. He is succeeded by his Vice President, B.J. Habibie.

Batgirl’s greatest fear is that her father will learn the truth about her.

That’s not subtext. It’s text. Even the way she tries to tell her father at the end plays like a coming out: “Dad, have a seat… this is important. It won’t be easy for you to hear…” Gordon’s response strongly resembles a (more or less good) parental response to the same: “Sweetheart, you’re capable of making your own decisions. You don’t need me to approve or even acknowledge them… All you need to know is I love you. All of you.”

Barbara Gordon is not, as far as we know, any flavor of queer–all of her relationships are with men, and there is nothing to suggest she isn’t cis. She is, as established earlier this season, kinky, but that’s more queer-adjacent than queer. Nonetheless, there is a powerful reading there of the superhero’s obsessive defense of their “secret identity”; we have generally viewed it as a trauma metaphor, but it works well for being closeted, as well.

I am far from an expert on the closet. I spent the first 36 years of my life so deep inside it, I didn’t even realize the closet existed. Once I did, I was fully out barely six months later.

But I spent those 36 years convinced there was something inside me. Something terrible, that could ruin everything, something that must be kept contained and hidden at all costs. The truth of my monstrosity. (The monster’s name is Jenny, and she turns out to be awesome.)

But we’ve talked about monsters, and queerness, and we know that heroes are monsters facing out. It makes sense that superheroes have their queer readings as well. Far more interesting are the details of Barbara’s fear: that her father’s discovery of her monstrosity will lead him on a trail of vengeance against her lover. In reality, he sees her as a grown woman capable of her own decisions, but her fear is (understandably, seeing as he’s struggled with this in the past) that he will seek a man on whom to blame her choices, and then seek vengeance against that man.

Her fear, in short, is that she will not only die but be fridged; that her death will be an excuse to create conflict between male characters, and opportunities for them to emote, while her character and her agency are effaced from the narrative. “It was all just a dream” is unfairly maligned as a plot device, and “Over the Edge” is an excellent example of why. First, the “just a dream” informs Barbara’s character and pushes her toward taking a major step, one which in turn illuminates Commissioner Gordon’s character as a better father and less clueless than we’d previously been led to believe. But more importantly, it emboits the fridge within her nightmare. It turns what is inherently a sacrifice of a woman to advance men’s characters into a sacrifice of men to advance women; without Barbara, Commissioner Gordon and Batman destroy each other, and the fear and pain engendered by their deaths is what drives Barbara to confess.

To be clear, simply making it a dream does not undo that it’s a fridging. All fiction is equally fictional; the story-within-a-story that is the dream is still a story told by the writers. They still started this story by fridging Batgirl. But its emboitment transforms it; the fact that Barbara’s death was just a dream does not unfridge her, but the fact that her father and lover/mentor are killed as well, and her actions at the end of the episode are motivated by this death, makes it much more interesting. Or to put it another way, this story inverts both aspects of a fridging: at the end of the story no one is dead, and a woman’s story has been advanced via her emotional response to the deaths of two men she was close to.

There is, of course, still the issue that seemingly every story about Batgirl has to be a psychosexual drama of some kind. If it’s not about tensions between her current lover and his estranged, adopted son who happens also to be her ex, it’s about tensions between her lover and her father. Certainly there’s plenty of psychosexual drama to go around in stories about Batman, too–pretty much any time Catwoman or Poison Ivy is around, for instance–but Batgirl seems to get little else. Batman: The Animated Series and The New Batman Adventures stories are, as we’ve observed before, rarely about Batman; the pattern shared by Batgirl, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and hell, let’s throw in Harley Quinn, too, is that the stories turn sexual when women are involved. The DCAU has come a long way from the misogynistic, gynophobic femme fatale depiction of Poison Ivy in her introductory episode, but it still struggles to position women as anything other than sexual objects, even when it’s about them.

This is, unfortunately, a problem it will never entirely overcome.

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Retroactive Continuity: Devilman Crybaby E8 “I Must Know Myself”

Content warning: Discussion of transphobia, TERFs, and abusive parents

There are two ways you can go with the revelation that devils are people.

Last week (as of this writing), Lisa Littman, an assistant professor at Brown University, published a methodologically questionable* paper on “rapid onset gender dysphoria,” essentially a transphobic claim that kids are “catching the trans” the same way homophobes in the 90s claimed that kids were “catching the gay”. The “theory” originates with transphobic parents of trans children convincing themselves that their children’s dysphoria does not arise from actually being trans, but is rather a kind of “social contagion” caused by exposure to media that positively portrays trans people and friendship with other trans children.

Of course, as a working scientist at a reasonably prestigious institution, Littman presumably knows what a methodologically sound study looks like. She is an excellent example of what I know as Fred Clark’s Law, named for the blogger behind Slacktivist, a community in which I used to be quite active. The law can be phrased as such: “sufficiently advanced malice is indistinguishable from incompetence, and vice versa.” In other words, Littman’s hatred of trans people is so great that she conducted a worthless study and her worthless study led her to write a paper that will be used to hurt trans people.

She, of course, will insist that this is an unfair characterization. She doesn’t hate trans people at all, her defenders will declare. Perhaps she even has trans friends. She’s just trying to protect the children.

But she isn’t. She’s protecting the children’s parents, from the realization that their children are a thing they hate. (“But more than 80 percent of study respondents say trans people should have the same rights as everyone else!” Yeah, but what does that mean? Does it include a right to transition? To have one’s gender identity recognized and affirmed? I doubt it, because they don’t see the privilege in having their own gender recognized without debate.)

Look at her choice of language: “social contagion.” Being trans is declared a contagious disease, caused by seeing trans people accepted or associating with them as friends. I am a disease, apparently.

Well, and in a sense I am. I am absolutely in favor of destroying cisheteronormative, white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal kyriarchy. I am actively trying, every day, to get other people to also favor destroying the kyriarchy. The eventual goal is, from the perspective of Littman and her ilk, outright apocalypse: a world in which it is an obvious, mainstream idea that a parent who doesn’t accept their child’s self-declared gender identity is engaging in abuse.

The kyriarchy, however, is the grandest of grand narratives, the super-superstructure that supports all of our cultural superstructures, the meta-metanarrative. It is everywhere, and that makes it so easy to build our own narratives on top of it; for example, by incorporating its transphobia into an otherwise feminist narrative. It infiltrates everywhere, but not as a contagion; it is more like a pollutant, present in the groundwater of ideas before we even grow them.

But as a grand narrative, it shares the weakness of all grand narratives: it cannot abide alternatives. It insists that it is the only way, and so the presence of another way damages it. It tries to defend itself, to use the Dan Turpins and Maggie Sawyers and Lisa Littmans to attack the new narratives. (“Trans people should have the same rights as everyone else!”)

We who don’t fit in, who don’t follow the rules, who chafe at authority and question society; we are what they call “contagion”. We gather, we share our stories, we present alternative ways of being, and in so doing, shake the very foundations of society, because this society’s foundations are so rotted and so narrow that any alternatives at all are anathema to it.

We are monsters, here to destroy society. We who are dissatisfied with society, are devils.

And of course Littman is just a recent example of personal import to me. People like her are fighting to prevent a world in which I could have realized my gender and come out as a child, saving me decades of unnecessary suffering; but to them my suffering is necessary, to preserve their cisnormative narrative. Other people fight, in other ways, to ensure the continuation of the suffering the kyriarchy engenders; some because they derive value from that suffering, but most because they value the comfortable stability of grand narrative more than the well-being of people unlike themselves.

As I said, there’s two ways to go. If you have compassion, real compassion, radical compassion that values people wherever, however, whoever they are, you say “Devils are people, so we must make room for them. We must try to understand them. We must treat them, always and without fail, as people.”**

On the other hand, if you value society over people, if you are a hard-edged “rationalist” who rejects the infinite multiplicity and complexity of human experience, a traditionalist or authoritarian–if, in short, you are a Ryo or a conservative or a TERF–you say “Devils are people, so some people are devils. We need to kill them.”

Or, since real life is not usually a deliberately over-the-top horror anime, you use terms like “social contagion” or “illegal” instead of “devil,” and you leave the second sentence out while endorsing policies that ensure the suffering and death of the people you don’t like. It’s not any less transparent to the people you’re abjectifying, but it apparently makes it easier to sleep at night.

*Read “methodologically questionable” as a polite way of saying it’s bullshit. Julia Serrano covers a few of the most egregious of the many, many ways in which the paper’s methods fail any reasonable standards of rigorous science, and thereby creates a serious threat of harm to an extremely vulnerable population.

**Note: There are circumstances in which violence against people is justifiable. There are many more circumstances in which it is not. Laying out the details of which circumstances are which lies beyond the scope of this essay.

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Your other reason (The Demon Within)

It’s May 9, 1998. The top song is still Next with “Too Close”; Mariah Carey, Shania Twain, the Backstreet Boys, and Savage Garden also chart. At the box office, Deep Impact opens at number one; with Titanic and Les Miserables also in the top ten, apocalypse and revolution are clearly in the air.

Alas, not so in The New Batman Adventures, which airs a depressingly insipid introduction to Etrigan the Demon. There is seemingly much that could be done with an immortal Arthurian knight turned sorcerer who has a literal inner demon, especially paired up with someone like Batman, but the show chooses to do precisely nothing with this potential, keeping the two of them as separate as possible. Pairing him with and against two exemplars of youth–Robin the Boy Wonder and Klarion the Witch-Boy–likewise seems like a recipe for an interesting exploration of agelessness, but nothing comes of that, either. And, finally, an episode in which a man has to figure out how to fight evil despite being stripped of his inner demons, in a show about Batman of all people, seems rife with possibility–but again, nothing is done with this.

All these possibilities, all this magic, and the episode is instead just a series of action sequences in which Batman dodges Klarion’s and Etrigan’s attacks while Jason Blood sits in a room and mumbles vaguely magic-y words.

There is very little to say about this episode, so let’s focus on the title instead. We have, after all, been spending quite a lot of words lately on the topic of the monster without, the fear of the grotesque Other; let us therefore turn to the demon within, the grotesque Self–or, rather, the Self become grotesque Other.

There are bad things inside us, which must not be let out. This is literally, physically true: we contain viscera and blood, which are repulsive and cause bad things to happen to us if we let them out (or let the wrong things in). This is the underlying form of abjection: our instinctive disgust at the breaching of the inside the body/outside the body distinction. Indeed, it is the origin of the term; the abject is that which is neither subject nor object, but rather breaches the barrier between the two in a way that feels wrong, hence the ab– prefix.

Metaphorically, this self-abjection becomes the “inner demons”: the parts of ourselves that disgust us, prompting us to try to reject them, to treat them as an Other distinct from the Self. And just as, when we erect a circle of normality as the defining border of an Us, we uncritically mix the genuinely harmful or wrong with the merely different, so too when we abjectify a part of the self, we mix parts of us that perhaps should be kept inside with parts that could be rechanneled toward good ends and parts that are just straightforwardly good.

The demon within, in other words, could be a Man-Bat, animalistic and destructive–or it could be an Etrigan, evil in origin and yet turned to doing good.

Or, to turn personal for a moment, it could be a Jennifer.

I spent most of my life convinced there was something unutterably foul inside me. It felt like an ocean of old, fetid emotions, buried until they decayed into a rotted sludge of despair, self-loathing, and rage. And then, one day, in a flash of rainbow light provided by a friend, I saw it for what it really was: a part of me that was nearly the whole of me, that I’d been told to reject, told to be disgusted by, but was actually–once I dug it up and rinsed it off–beautiful.

And monstrous. Because again, that is what the monstrous is–the projection outward of the demon within, the Other created by the process of abjectification. To be queer is to be monstrous–to be, to paraphrase El Sandifer, part of a wound torn in the vast space of human experience by the declaration that some things are normal, and all else is abnormal, and therefore unacceptable.

Simply by existing–happily, angrily, openly, and unapologetically–I force a confrontation with that wound, which is, like all wounds, grotesque. I am the monster that refuses to abjectify itself any longer. I am here to destroy the world.

Because “the world” is that circle of normality, both inside us and without. It is our shell; by breaking it, we birth ourselves. True apocalypse, true revolution, is simply to live honestly as one’s own best self, come what may.

I am a monster, and I am good.

And another word for “good monster” is…

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Vlog Review: Star vs Evil S2E16

Bonus episode! As long as the Patreon remains above $150/mo, I’ll post an two extra vlogs every month!
Reminder that Patreon backers can request commissions, see these videos (including Star vs. Evil, commissioned episodes of other series, and panels I presented at various cons) 4-5 weeks early, AND see Near-Apocalypse articles four MONTHS early!