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!

Retroactive Continuity: Emara, Emirates Hero Eps 3-5

Commissioned post for Aleph Null.

Female heroes get mind-controlled a lot.

Oh, superheroes in general are prone to being mind-controlled. It’s a great way to turn a physically unimposing villain into a serious threat, by essentially giving them access to the hero’s powers in the form of the hero themselves. It’s an excuse to force a look at that eternal (and eternally obnoxious question) of superhero fandom, “Who would win?”

But (and I admit I have done no actual survey of this or seen statistics) it certainly seems like female heroes are particularly prone to being mind-controlled. Of course, it’s possible I just feel that way because I saw Episode 3 of Emara, Emirates Hero just a few days after Incredibles 2, which also features a woman most prominently out of multiple mind-controlled superheroes.

Either way, seeing Emara controlled rankles, especially so early in her run. Her very existence challenges cultural boundaries and social norms, yet almost immediately she is forced under the control of what appears to be a man in a puppy mask made from a paper bag–another woman just doing what a man wants.

But in so doing, she becomes monstrous, sprouting gigantic robotic arms from her shoulder blades and rampaging unstoppably through the headquarters of whatever organization it is that Dhabian is working for. Controlled Emara, like controlled Ali a couple of episodes later, is a horrifying creature: grotesque, with her glowing eyes and massive extra arms belying her otherwise human frame, which dangles like an afterthought from her shoulders. Her behavior in this state is equally horrific, as she flings Dhabian around like a ragdoll and tears off his prosthetic limb.

Contrast “Little Girl Lost.” There, Superman’s controlling attitude toward Supergirl was depicted as natural, part of his parental (that is, patriarchal) role in Supergirl’s life. She rebelled against it, but that rebellion caused as much trouble as it solved: it is Supergirl’s fight against the new Intergang that causes Granny Goodness to summon the Female Furies who capture Superman, and Supergirl who destroys the comet-summoning device before it can be used to repel the comet. Much of the episode’s action–her heroism–consists of fixing her own mistakes, mistakes borne of not obeying Superman’s restrictions.

Here in Emara, however, the man controlling the woman is villainous, and the image of a woman controlled is monstrous. By her very nature as a superhero, Emara is extraordinary, which is to say she lies outside the circle of normativity. She is a violation of “the rules”–of who gets to be a superhero, and of what young brown girls can do. Yet she is not depicted as grotesque until she becomes obedient; the grotesque, in other words, exists not because of deviance but because of normalcy.

This reading is reinforced in Episode 5, when Emara fights controlled Ali, who has likewise transformed into a monster. She again transforms into the glowing-eyed, multi-armed “monster,” but now she is the monster that fights monsters, which as we have observed before, is the definition of a hero. It is a moment not of horror, like her previous transformation, but of excitement, an escalation of her valiant effort to save Dhabian.

The same form is horrifying or exciting, not because it becomes more or less “normal,” but according to whether it is a threat or an ally. The flipside of the grotesque is the exotic; we can fear the tentacle or fuck the tentacle. Fear the outsider or wish to learn about them. Shun the Other or embrace diversity.

But in Emara we see a third path: we can do both and neither. We can fear behaviors that are legitimately dangerous to us, and be excited (intellectually, emotionally, sexually, whatever) by behaviors that are surprising to us, without having to thereby judge the entirety of a person as “normal” or “deviant,” “grotesque” or “exotic.” We can simply recognize difference and accept it: Dhabian has fewer limbs than I do. Emara has more. That changes the worth of neither of them.

This is not to say that difference doesn’t matter. Ignoring for the moment that they are fictional characters, there are things I can do that Dhabian can’t without his prostheses, and things they let him do that I cannot. Emara is a Muslim woman raised in a culture very different from mine; that gives her a perspective I lack. But I can value the things that perspective lets her see that I cannot, while pointing out the things my perspective lets me see that she cannot, and all without declaring myself “normal” and her “Other”; I can see that we are different from each other, without needing to declare either of us (or anyone else) a normative baseline.

Remembering that Dhabian and Emara are fictional, we can also talk about them as representation. It is important for people who frequently feel Othered to see people like them depicted as a norm, yes, but it is also important for people who frequently see themselves as the norm to see someone they frequently Other depicted as a norm. To make people who feel Othered feel less so, and people who feel normal to feel less so, until both concepts dissolve entirety into a recognition that there are countless human communities, that everyone not only belongs somewhere but belongs multiplesomewheres, and yet no one belongs everywhere.

The name for this rejection of the singular normal/Other binary (and its implied singular community operating according to a singular narrative) in favor of a multiplicity is paralogy, and it raises a major challenge to the concept not just of the superhero, but the hero. Namely, if there aren’t actually any monsters, just different communities, what are heroes for?

The answer to that question is the answer to our main question, too: if we know what the new hero is for, than we can construct what that hero needs to be.

We will be coming back to this, many times, before we are through.

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