Retroactive Continuity: Devilman Crybaby E9 “Go to Hell, You Mortals”

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One of my mother’s favorite jokes is about a trial where the prosecution presents five people who saw the defendant commit the crime. So the defense presents ten people who didn’t.

As I write this, it’s September 28, 2018, and the farcical confirmation process of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court of the United States is on pause. He is probably a rapist, and he will almost definitely get the job. (Note from the future: he did.) Part of this farce was my mother’s joke, played out in real life: he was accused of attempted rape, so his supporters put out a letter signed by 65 women that he is a good person who totally would never do that kind of thing. People, in other words, who didn’t see it. So, I come at this episode with a certain bitterness, centered as it is around Miki’s decision to post a defense of Akira that amounts to “he’s always been nice to me, therefore he can’t have killed people as has been credibly claimed.”

Miki’s a Christian, of course. She believes in sin, in the toxic doctrine that good and evil are not adjectives, but substances. That evil acts stain a person, making them evil people; ultimately she believes in the toxic logic that leads to the conclusion that there are no crimes, only criminals. That it doesn’t matter what Kavanaugh does; he’s a “good person,” not a “criminal,” and therefore will be confirmed to the highest court in the land.

Of course, there’s a pretty big difference between a job interview and a murderous mob coming to your house. That part of the episode felt disturbingly real. The responses to Miki’s post are juxtaposed with Akira placing himself between a group of humans falsely accused of being demons and an angry mob about to stone them. When Akira begins crying for the victims, the mob starts laughing at him, taking pleasure in his pain; at the same time, commenters lash out at Miki for protecting Akira.

Akira is, as we’ve discussed, defined by his compassion. But to feel compassion is to share another’s suffering, to feel pain because they are hurting. The mob feel no compassion, and therefore do not hurt when Akira does; instead his pain is funny to them, and their decision to cause pain righteous. They can do this because Akira isn’t a person to them; he’s a demon. By publicly siding with him, Miki sees to be a person in their eyes, too; she’s a witch.

Demon, witch, criminal, sinner; they all mean the same thing: a person-shaped object made of evil. Not a person whose suffering matters; just pure evil. They, the good people of the stone-throwing mob, the Internet hate machine that doxes Miki, the neighbors who converge on her house to murder her and her friends, they’re not criminals, or demons, or witches; they’re good people and therefore what they do is good. Even when it’s murdering a houseful of people, then setting the house on fire to dance around the flames.

It’s the same logic, in the end. If good and evil are substances, then a good person is obviously innocent of any wrongdoing, no matter what they do, just as an evil person is guilty of any and all crimes, no matter what they do. There is infinite forgiveness for the good, and infinite punishment for the evil.

Disgusting.

Consider instead what Akira represents. Compassion that places itself between the victims and the attacker, no matter who they are. Violence to protect the victims of violence, rooted in compassion for those victims. Compassion is a form of suffering, and many other feelings can rise from suffering: fear, sadness, despair, rage, determination. Akira burns with all of these now.

We, if we are compassionate ourselves, can only hope the world burns with him.


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Transition: The Best Year of My Life (So Far)

One year ago today, I realized I was trans. I came out to my best friend later that same day, and to my family and a few other friends that week. I was out to all my friends within a month, and started HRT around the same time. Soon after that I came fully out online. I began the process of coming out at work shortly thereafter.

Today, I present as a woman 24/7, and have no intention of ever not doing so ever again. Frankly, I’d rather die.

The reason is simple: this was the best year of my life by a substantial margin. For the first time since college, I was actually happy; for the first time ever, I was not filled with self-loathing.

They say that you’ll end up regretting anything you write about being trans in your first year of transition. I’ve therefore mostly resisted the urge to write about it in any substantive way—but it’s not my first year anymore.

The Before Times

Some people have always known they were trans. Others know they were always trans. I belong to neither camp.

I’m pretty sure I did not become trans in the moment I realized I was. That just isn’t what that moment was: it was a revelation of something self-evidently already true, not a transformation (except that in the sense that revelation is always transformative).

But I do not know how long before that I was a woman. I can point to things I wrote in the years prior that sound particularly eggy, or I can delve into my childhood for memories that suggest something going on earlier. The thing is… well, there’s this game my girlfriend told me about, a sort of icebreaker exercise used to help people recognize they’re more creative than they think. You write a bunch of jobs down on slips of paper—fireman, for instance—and put them into a hat. Then everyone draws a job, and whatever they draw, they have to discuss a childhood memory that leads logically into “and that’s when I knew I would be a fireman when I grew up.” (Or whatever they drew.)

The point is, most people can do this with most jobs. Given a narrative, we’re very good at fitting whatever facts we have into that narrative. But on the other hand, that’s what truth IS—facts plus narrative. And identity is pretty much entirely the latter.

So the facts don’t really matter: if I want, I can definitely construct a narrative that I was always a woman, and the facts fit. It’s not the only narrative they fit; but it’s a truth, a nd that’s all we’re ever going to get.

And I do want. That’s key, the absolute most important thing: I want to be a woman. I wanted to be a woman, for a long time before I realized that was all I needed to be one. The narrative was there and the facts could fit it; it was always a truth. I needed only to claim it; to throw off the narratives of others and embrace my own. (See the first chapter of Animated Discussions for an example of what is very obviously an egg working her way toward the realization that she’s trans.)

But I spent decades in misery because I too readily accepted the narratives of others, and ignored what I wanted. I was ashamed of it, and so I never quite connected the dots. I felt like there was something monstrous inside me, something evil and wrong. I lived in terror of being truly seen, because someone might discover what was inside me; I recoiled in disgust from my own body and from my sexuality. I had dreams in which I was a woman. In times of stress I fantasized about being transformed into a woman; I thought it was a weird, gross fetish. I created accounts on web fora and Tumblr—not to catfish, per se, just so that, in those times of stress, I would have spaces to retreat to where I could be the woman I wanted to be.

And so I proceeded, miserable and self-loathing, for most of my life–until late on January 2, 2018.

The Revelation

I had been starting to question my gender and sexuality for a couple of years prior to that night. I toyed with the possibility that I was somewhere on the ace spectrum, or even that I might not be entirely cis. I hadn’t made the connection yet, but I had written and published Animated Discussions, with its so obviously eggy first chapter. On December 31, I wrote an essay that had been commissioned through my Patreon, about Insexts vol. 1. I wrote about the abjection of femininity, the body as a monstrous entity within which lurks something horrifying and beautiful. Iwas nearly there.

Fast forward a couple of days, to late on January 2, near midnight. I was feeling restless and unable to sleep, so I went on Twitter. And there, I saw a tweet from my friend Ana that would, ridiculously, sublimely, utterly transform my life.

Image of a tweet from Ana Mardoll. Tweet includes a drawing of a redheaded girl in a bikini, on a beach. She is looking with surprise and delight at a flying, iridescent seahorse with butterfly wings. Text of the tweet reads, "The queerest of animals: the Rainbow Butterfly Seahorse. Legend says that just LOOKING at the creature can make you trans."

The tweet that changed everything.

In the moment I looked at that tweet, I distinctly, clearly thought a single phrase: “I wish.”

And then I realized what I’d just thought. I realized what it could mean.

It was like the entire world realigned around me. It was like solving a mystery I hadn’t even realized I was there; all of a sudden details I had never paid attention to fell into a pattern. All of a sudden things made sense. I made sense.

There was an I to make sense of!

My brain fizzed, ideas seething and churning as a new narrative assembled itself, a lifetime of drifting facts suddenly finding a structure to attach themselves to. Truth was happening. It was exhilarating and terrifying.

Not knowing what else to do. I messaged Ana: “If my immediate kneejerk reaction to [that tweet] is “Man, I *wish*…” does that mean what I think it means?” And then I waited in terror, not sure which possible answer frightened me more.

“Oh bless, love,” xie wrote back after a few minutes in which I died of several dozen heart attacks. “Yeah… As a general rule, if you want to be trans, you are.”

That was the answer I’d expected. Was it the answer I wanted? We talked a little more before Ana went to sleep. There was no possibility of me doing the same, however. My brain was fizzing much too much. I’ve never had a religious revelation, or really any kind of religious or spiritual experience at all, but this was what I imagined that would feel like: a single moment of clarity that alters the entire rest of your life, whose full implications could take years to work through.

Religion, I have come to think, is actually a good metaphor for gender. Most people get assigned one at birth, after all, based largely on circumstance. They get raised with expectations about their behavior and nature rooted in that assignment, and over time internalize their own conception of what it really means, though that conception is derived from what they’re taught about it (both deliberately and by example). Most people remain more or less satisfied with whatever they were assigned at birth, though many tweak it to fit themselves better. But for some people it never quite fits. Some of those remain, miserable, in their religion assigned at birth, because they don’t see a way out or because they believe there has to be some way to make themselves fit it. Others find another that fits them better, and convert to it. Still others start their own, or reject having one entirely.

It’s not a perfect metaphor, of course. Some religions don’t allow conversion; most of those that do have requirements of varying stringency that must be met before you can join. To be trans, on the other hand, requires only the desire. If you want to be a trans woman, or trans man, or nonbinary, or what have you? You are, and the implications of that are yours to decide.

By morning of that sleepless night, I was certain. I wanted to be a trans woman. I was a trans woman.

Coming Out

I spent the next few days terrified that it was all a mistake. I had nightmares of being subjected to batteries of tests that “proved” I wasn’t trans, and doomed me to spend my life as a cis man. But slowly I came to accept that it was real and it wasn’t going away. The “monster” I’d been keeping inside me all my life, terrified that others might see it, was out. Her name was Jenny, and she was awesome.

I went to work, I came home, I told my best friend. She was supportive, sensible, pragmatic, everything I could have hoped for. She asked if I’d picked a name yet; I said I wasn’t sure but leaning toward either “Jennifer” or “Meghan.” Talking to her, I realized Jennifer was the right name.

Later that week, I made phone calls to family. I meant to go slow, but my sisters were tremendously supportive, and my parents had questions but were supportive, and my brother had questions but was supportive… there was no reason to slow down. So I kept going. I came out to friends, I came out online; a few weeks later I came out to my boss and discussed coming out at work. While all this was going on, I found a new doctor–who was way better than the old one, and shortly after replaced by one that was better still–and started HRT.

I had the Cinderella coming-out. Everything went right. One family member had serious issues with this–that I only heard about second-hand, and they’ve always been entirely wrong about everything as long as I’ve known them, so I don’t really care. Anyway, they’re the token conservative in the family, so I expected it from them. Importantly, I haven’t spoken to them since before I came out, so I’ve never had to deal with their transphobia, and never had to care.

Everyone else–every family member, every friend, every coworker, my therapists and every member of my therapy group–has been positive and supportive. Some have grown closer: a Facebook friend I’d met in person once, at a convention in 2011, volunteered to go with me on my first makeup shopping expedition. At lunch beforehand we realized she and I had more in common than either of us knew; by the end of the trip we realized there was a powerful draw between us. Within weeks, we had fallen in love.

I know that I am, as transitions go, astoundingly privileged. I live in one of the trans-friendlies cities in the country, with some of the strongest civil rights protections. I’m fat enough to hide my Adam’s apple, quite short, and have small hands and a high-pitched voice–it is less effort for me to pass than most. I have insurance that covers some transition costs; I have access to very good physical and mental health resources via the Whitman-Walker Clinic and the Washington School of Psychiatry; I have a decently paying, steady job and no significant debts. And, most of all, I have that supportive circle of family and friends.

I am the luckiest goddamn trans girl in the world.

And I’m happy. I’m finally, for the first time in life, somebody I want to be. I feel comfortable in my body, happy with the ways it’s changing. The HRT side effects have been minimal–my pre-existing stomach problems now flare up for a week or so every month instead of popping up randomly for a day or two every couple of weeks, and that’s about it–and the effects overwhelmingly positive. My self-loathing is mostly gone, and my body no longer feels like hundreds of pounds of baggage I have to carry around 24/7; it feels like me. Of course my life isn’t perfect–no one’s ever is–and the people at the top of the government very clearly want me dead, along with significant chunks of the population. People misgender me maliciously on occasion, but mostly I don’t interact with people I don’t know, so it doesn’t happen much.

The important thing is that my life is better now, on every front, in every way, than it was a year ago. Being a trans woman is the best thing that ever happened to me; I cannot imagine wanting to be anything else. That ridiculous rainbow butterfly seahorse worked. Just looking at it turned me trans–and I’m so glad it did.

Perfectly creepy (Love Is a Croc)

It’s July 11, 1998. The top song is “The Boy Is Mine” by Brandy & Monica; Shania Twain, Next, Usher, and Madonna also chart. At the box office, Lethal Weapon 4 knocks Armageddon out of the top spot; further down in the top 10 we have Mulan, The X-Files, and The Truman Show, which confirms Batman Forever‘s discovery that Jim Carey actually can act if forced to stop being a rubberfaced fartsmith* for five minutes.

In the news, Japan launched a Mars probe on July 4, becoming the third nation to explore extralunar space. The probe is intended to reach Mars orbit in 1999; it will end up taking until 2003 and never actually achieve orbit. That’s about it news-wise.

Baby-Doll and Killer Croc’s introductions were two of our go-to examples of sympathetic villain episodes, so an episode that pairs them into a relationship makes some sense. At the same time, it’s an episode about the Bonnie-and-Clyde affair between a giant lizardman and a woman stuck in the body of a toddler, so “sense” is relative.

But why? What’s strange about that? Baby-Doll is a woman, that’s the whole point of the episode. For all that she is small and behaves intensely childishly most of the time, she is an adult woman with an adult woman’s needs–namely, respect, companionship, and love. The episode is written to make it nearly impossible not to squirm in discomfort at her affection toward Croc, but because she acts like a child, not because she looks like one. Her mind, her pain and her rage, they are as fully adult as his.

But he doesn’t see that. He treats her the same way everyone does, the same way everyone treats him: he sees only the difference of her body, its otherness, and he is repulsed. It is classic abjection; Baby-Doll and Croc differ from the bodies we are used to, and in so doing remind us that our bodies could be other than they are. In turn, we are reminded that we are bodies, that we could be other than we are, that we will never be anything but dreaming meat. Caught between our subjective awareness of ourselves as people and the objective fact that we are sacks of skin stuffed with flesh, blood, bone, and bile, we project that feeling of abjection onto the experience which caused it, the appearance of their “incorrect” bodies.

Or, at least, some part of us does. Not everyone reacts the same way, but everyone has internalized social norms; everyone has some idea of what a “correct” body is, and some degree of negative reaction to “incorrect” bodies. Ideally that would correlate to harm; the only incorrect body would be one which is suffering, and the negative reaction it engendered would be empathy.** But that is not the nature of our society, and therefore not what we learn; we learn to abjectify them as people, to deny their subjectivity and treat them not only as objects, but objects of disgust.

Even if we ourselves have bodies labeled as Other, we nonetheless learn to abjectify Othered bodies, often including our own. We’ve seen that with Baby-Doll before: the climax of her titular episode showed her reaching out to the normative adult (conventionally attractive, white) woman’s body she feels she was denied. She loses that fight because she abjectifies herself; in “Love Is a Croc,” she loses because Croc abjectifies her.

Croc is a terrible partner. He physically abuses Baby-Doll, cheats on her, and lies to her. Her attempt to murder him and all of Gotham City is melodramatically over the top, of course, because this is Batman, but the feelings underneath are genuine. She thought she could find love in someone who was othered the same way she was, and he betrayed her.

He isn’t the only one, and she isn’t the only one betrayed. People look at Mary-Louise Dahl and see Baby-Doll, the cute, funny eternal child. Yet no matter how much she acts like that, they refuse to give her what she needs, what everyone needs. They even use her behavior–the behavior she was taught that they expected!–as a reason to punish her and deny her. The same goes for Killer Croc; people look at him and see a monster. Yet when he acts like the creature they expect, they use that a reason to punish him and deny him what he needs.

This episode hurts.

It hurts to watch, to think about, to write about. It stabs at old, deep wounds–the feeling of being physically unlovable, wrong, broken, cursed. Of not being a real self, but a twisted object, cut off from everyone around me and therefore from myself. Suffering more the more I act as I’m expected to act, and yet not acting as I’m expected to act just marks me still more as an Other. No matter what identity I perform, I’m doing it wrong.

And I’m one of the lucky ones. I came out to a staggering outpouring of acceptance and love from the people close to me! It feels ungrateful and whiny to complain about all the people standing just a bit further away with torches and pitchforks. But it’s hard not to be aware–indeed, hyper-aware–of their presence.

They’re dreaming meat, too. The difference is that their dreams, their meat, are billionaire playboys who fight crime in cosplay. Ours are freaks and monsters.

The episode opens with a bit of the past, a clip from Dahl’s old TV show in all its painful black-and-white 1950s white suburbinanity. That transitions almost instantly into a couple–notably with the same voices as Dahl’s TV parents–who encounter her working at a hotel, where the very drunk husband physically assaults her and demands she entertain him. He treats her just as the TV show treated her, as a curious object presented for amusement–because of course her body, safely contained in a proscribed role, ceases to be dangerous, but remains a violation of the norm, and benign violation is the essence of humor.

At the end of the episode Baby-Doll threatens the nightmare scenario that lurked beneath that same 1950s inanity, nuclear devastation. The episode is bracketed by a past of bland sameness and a future of bleak wasteland, because those are the same thing. Those are our options. To cling to our norms, to side with the torch-wielding mob, is to choose wasteland–or a future of freaks and monsters. And frankly, I’d side with them even if I had the choice to do otherwise. I always will.

But Batman–or, rather, the Batman we know, the Batman who is Bruce Wayne–is the dream of that mob. He will always side with them and against us. The only path to the good future, the dark and monstrous future, lies over his broken body.

*Thank you, The Onion, for that astoundingly accurate description.

**Negative in the sense of being unpleasant to experience, not in the sense of being wrong.