Birthright

DAISY: Do you even hear what you’re saying? You sound like one of those hate groups that’s been trolling the Internet—the, the Watchdogs or whatever they’re calling themselves. ‘Kill the aliens and take back the planet.’

LINCOLN: That’s not what this is about. It’s about giving people a choice.

DAISY: It’s a birthright. It is not a choice.

We’ve had a feminist post this month, siding with a story and its portrayal of a heroine. One touchy subject talked, let’s hit another before April finishes out: autism. You may know that April is Autism Awareness—or, as many autistics prefer to call it, Autism Acceptance—Month. Autistics use this month to educate other about autism. They speak out against Autism Speaks (which is a whole separate issue in itself). They talk about their favorite autistic characters—headcanons or otherwise. Of course, these activities aren’t limited to April. But I’ve seen an increase in these efforts in the past month among my autistic friends.

By now, I’m sure you’re wondering what place Autism Acceptance Month has on a blog about literature, and what Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has to do with it. After all, none of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. characters is autistic, right? Perhaps not, though there’s a solid case to be made for at least one character. But that’s not where I’m going with this. I want to talk about Inhumans. For the sake of clarity, here’s where I’m headed: I think there is a remarkable parallel between autistics and Inhumans (particularly pre-Hive).

Remember, if you will, that Inhumans are born Inhuman. Without exposure to a Terrigen crystal, they don’t show their unique DNA, but Inhumans always have that DNA. They are Inhuman from birth and will be until death. Here is a subset of the Earth’s human population made distinct from birth. They are human, but something sets them apart. Something makes Inhumans special, and it’s in their very DNA.

So it is with autistics. There is almost certainly a genetic component to autism. People are born autistic and will remain autistic until they die. However, some—due to social conditioning, behavioral therapy, and the like—learn to mask their autism. In this way, there are thousands of autistics hidden among the general population, denied of their birthright. They hide their stims. They learn to mimic eye contact by looking at a person’s shoulder or lips or nose. They stifle their special interests and participate in small talk. They stamp out meltdowns, believing this loss of control is like a toddler’s temper tantrum. They push through shutdowns, not understanding what makes life suddenly so distant and yet weighty.

And then comes Terragenesis. The Inhuman is reborn. With the right support, a new Inhuman can master their powers and become comfortable with this new understanding of themselves. They have not changed who they are; they have merely reached a new stage in their existence. They burst from the chrysalis, literally, and are renewed. Think about Skye. After she went through Terragenesis, she became Daisy. Not immediately, but definitively. At first, she was terrified and dangerous. But the more she learned, the more her transformation gave her a place in this new world. She has changed a great deal, but she changed in accordance with who she has always been.

Autistics don’t enter a chrysalis and emerge with powers. Yet, they have a powerful tool in the form of diagnosis, whether a careful self-diagnosis or an expensive medical one. Either way there is security in knowing who you are, who you have always been. Like an Inhuman learning their new powers, autistics—particularly teens and adults who recognize their autistic traits later in life—discover or rediscover the joy of stimming, the fulfillment of special interests, the reduced stress of atypical socializing, and the release of a meltdown or shutdown when they’re overwhelmed. They are reborn, living an emotionally healthier life as they grow to understand and accept themselves.

There is a societal suspicion against both Inhumans and autistics, as humanity decided long ago that different always means wrong or evil or broken. Groups like the ATCU seem decent enough, right? They protect Inhumans, keeping them in suspended animation, searching for a cure. Never mind that they’re not really asking if the Inhumans want a cure. Regardless, they view Inhumans as a contagion to be quarantined and ended. And truly, how bad can they be? Even Lincoln—himself an Inhuman—sees their point. Later in the argument quoted above, Lincoln and Daisy address the issue of Simmons’ vaccine and a cure for Inhumans in general:

DAISY: All I know is that if the government got their hands on a vaccine, it won’t be a choice. They will wipe us out. We do not have a disease, Lincoln.

LINCOLN: Technically, it is a disease. I studied this. Any disturbance of structure of function of the body—

And there Daisy cuts him off. Here’s why: Lincoln has bought into the millennia-old propaganda that different is bad. He hasn’t bought in entirely. In fact, Lincoln’s position seems to be a complicated mix of disease rhetoric and an exclusivity complex. That is, not every Inhuman should have access to the latent powers they’re born with. But even with that attitude, Lincoln clings to a version of the contagion argument. I maintain that this is a form of, in the context of autistics, what is called ableism. If the word humanism didn’t already have cultural significance, it would work rather nicely to express this sentiment: the ideology that to be human is good/right/normal and to be Inhuman is bad/wrong/deformed. Daisy is fighting that mentality. She never denies the difference between her people and the rest of humanity. What she opposes is the assumption that such a difference damages, that it is a disease.

Surely this drama is purely the stuff of fiction. There couldn’t be a group that parallels the ATCU for autistics, right? Yet there is. This is where Autism Speaks comes in. Autism Speaks is a cure-based organization that, in the meantime, endorses the normalization of autistics and therapies related to that goal. Like the ATCU, Autism Speaks pays little attention to the opinions of autistic individuals. They support the epidemic theory of autism and portray autism itself as something like a malevolent spirit that possesses children and destroys families. (Think I’m exaggerating? Check out Autism Speaks’ “I am Autism” video, which I won’t link for the sake of any autistics reading this. It’s easy enough to find). Suffice it to say, Autism Speaks claims to be on the side of autistics, but they’ve never stopped to question whether a cure is the solution or how the therapies they support affect autistics enduring them. As Daisy said about Simmons’ vaccine, so many autistics feel about a cure for autism. An Inhuman without their powers, stripped of even the possibility of their powers returning, is no longer the same person. Even if the vaccine were successful and didn’t kill (which with Simmons on the job is a fair assumption), it would destroy. It would wipe out the Inhumans and all they are. Likewise, curing autism isn’t like removing a tumor. To cure autism is to excise a portion, however large or small, of an autistic’s identity. And don’t be fooled. For many autistics, there would be no choice. If a cure is found, children will be screened and rid of their differences. If a genetic marker is found, there will be in utero testing and subsequent abortions. Difference will not be permitted. This has nothing whatsoever to do with quality of life.

I could keep going, exploring the parallels between Inhumans and autistics. But as this is already rather long, I’ll leave you all with one more thought, something that we often miss in the jumble of medical terms and differing opinions. People fear Inhumans because they see the reports of what evil Inhumans have done, the destruction they have caused. People fear autistics (and more broadly, neurodivergence, which includes but is not limited to mental illness) because many mass shooters have been identified as autistic (or rather, as “having Asperger’s,” which is the same thing but perpetuates the elitist myth between Asperger’s and autism and denies the identity-first language many autistics prefer). When bad things happen, it’s easier to blame a thing—Terragenesis, superpowers, autism—than a person. Instead, we ought to focus on the truth: there are good people and bad people. People choose their actions and bear responsibility for those choices. As with the whole of humanity, there are good Inhumans and bad Inhumans. There are good autistics and bad autistics—and a whole world in between. And who are we to deny anyone their birthright?

Science AND Fiction

Often literature and the arts are posited as in opposition to more technical disciplines, such as science, math, and technology. However, opposition amongst disciplines almost always leads to loss of knowledge and beauty. The wedding of science and literature–science fiction–has been used to great effect over the past century, in such stories as Frank Herbert’s Dune series (which also welds political theory), Kurt Vonnegut’s novels, Isaac Asimov’s brilliant Foundation series, and countless others.

Christians have written very little good science fiction, mostly because we often espouse a sharp divide between imagination and reality. In practice, though, we should be of those who are best at wedding the seen and the unseen, the known and the mysterious. What little has been written is not very good–because the Christians who write and the Christians who understand science, math, and technology are of two different sets.

Christians who write must lose their fear of science, and Christians who love science must stop clinging to pragmatism.

The 21st century is ready for good Christian science fiction. Not “science fiction” that sits on the Christian shelf, but well-written sci-fi by Christians.

Was I Born to Be Tame? First Installment

First: Strong Women are Good Stories

Why do I call myself a feminist? Because I believe that it is still necessary. This will be the first in what will hopefully become a series of articles about people that give me reason to believe that feminism is still necessary.

Dear world,
More specifically, dear condescending males who pretend that they are the only ones who speak truth,
Greetings. I am a woman. You may not have noticed that—I am, after all, neither little or dainty—but I am. Once I would have called myself a lady.
You’ve killed that term for me, thank you.
I am tired of holding my tongue and ignoring your blatant ignorance and air of superiority.
I’m drawing the line, though—you may not be worth my time and energy, but there are so many women and men you are warping with your bombast and supercilious rhetoric who are worth my time and energy.
I am writing for them.

NASA (International Space Station Imagery): JSC2006-E-42720 Author
Because they, like Anousheh Ansari, are not bound to this earth by gravity.

Continue reading “Was I Born to Be Tame? First Installment”

Painfully Honest

“As it was coming out of my mouth, I wished it was going into my mouth.”

–Johnathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

We all know that feeling. Every person to have ever lived has taken their foot and shoved it into their mouth at least once. If you haven’t felt the sensation of watching your words (suddenly quite visible) traveling from your mouth to someone’s ear while you scrambled in horror to retrieve them, it’s coming. Grit your teeth and dig in your heels. Or just apologize. That’s probably the better thing to do.

But the way Foer describes this uncomfortable sensation is so unique. I laughed aloud when I read Oskar’s pithy words. He’s a pretty straightforward kid, this narrator. He’s bright, honest, and painful. He says what he thinks without much of a filter. In fact, I don’t think he ever expressed embarrassment or regret over his own words until the moment quoted above.

For context, he’s been traipsing around New York City talking to complete strangers for a while by this point. He knocked on one apartment door to find a beautiful (and much older) woman standing on the other side. You know what he says? Well, you’ll have to read to find out. I’ll just say it was a pretty smooth pick-up line for a 9-year-old. Too bad she wasn’t his age.

It’s this very honesty that draws us into Oskar’s story though. The narrative is interesting enough, but Oskar’s unassuming awkwardness is beautiful in a strange way. He goes about life with a complete innocence that is shocking for any New Yorker, and particularly one like Oskar. In direct opposition to his past and to the PTSD symptoms that come with it, young Oskar is heart-wrenchingly open.

I wonder what to do with Oskar’s honesty. Even he, at this point in the novel, realizes that maybe some things just shouldn’t be said. That doesn’t stop him from making many other strangers uncomfortable throughout the rest of the narrative. Nor would we want it to. Nobody wants Oskar to knock on their door, but maybe we need him safely pressed between the pages of a book. There, we can face the raw world that we’re not ready to face on our own.

 

The Quest for Cultural Intimacy

“She was standing at the periphery of her own life, sharing a fridge and a toilet, a shallow intimacy, with people she did not know at all.”

— Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi, Americanah

Not all that long ago, I hadn’t even heard of Adichi. I found her book on a list of books “all women should read.” I’d go further–this is a book that all human beings should read, if for no other reason than Adichi writes beautifully. Her words are masterpieces, phrases strung together with a wry, raw beauty. This is a book about black people in America, both American- and  African-born. This is a story about immigrants and emigrants. It’s a story about being out of place. It’s about racism and our perception of the Other. It’s about leaving home and realizing too late that you can never truly go back. It’s about growing up away from home. But even more than all those things, this is a book about intimacy.

Ifemelu, the novel’s protagonist, has moved from Nigeria to America. She’s left behind more than she ever intended to so she could pursue her education in the US. And when she arrives, she discovers that life is much harder than expected.

The above quote finds Ifemelu sharing an apartment with American girls. They don’t have to worry about getting jobs or paying rent. They have privileges which Ifemelu’s student visa bar her from enjoying. Though she was fairly well off in Nigeria, life in America proves to be less kind.

Her roommates don’t know her past. They can’t know that she grew up not unlike they did. They don’t realize that she is a native (British) English speaker. All they see is Africa. All they hear is her accent. All they know is she can’t make rent. The great irony is that the reader knows Ifemelu far more intimately than the people who had to work out a shower schedule with her.

Ifemelu is virtually alone. She lives with several other girls around her own age, but they don’t know her at all. This is the life of those who leave their own country, their own people. I, and Ifemelu, and the thousands like us who live in a country different from their homeland find ourselves quite distinct from the people with whom we now live.

Months pass, and the strange looks still come. For Ifemelu, years go by, and her opinions are still considered novelties. She picks up an American accent, but she doesn’t have the American mentality. She cannot conform to that which is not her own. She will never be truly American, nor does she exactly want to be.

The twist comes when her parents visit. Suddenly, Ifemelu gets a glimpse of her future. While she is not American, neither is she fully Nigerian. Her parents do not share the same intimacy with her that they once had. They see things differently, and she can no longer reconcile her ways with theirs. She loves them, and they love her. But the way things were is forever lost.

This loss of intimacy drives the novel to its conclusion, which I promise not to spoil because I want you to read it for yourself. Adichi tells it so much better than I could, at any rate. All I will say is this: losing the ability to connect, to identify with your own people, drives us on a quest for intimacy. You’ll have to read for yourself to see if Ifemelu finds what she’s looking for. I promise the book is worth every minute you spend reading.

Between the Boring and the Horrific lies Adventure

“Have you ever got everything you ever wanted? And then realized it wasn’t what you wanted at all? I thought I wanted this,” said Richard. “I thought I wanted a nice normal life. I mean, maybe I am crazy. I mean, maybe. But if this is all there is, then I don’t want to be sane. You know?”

Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere

Neverwhere opens on the most boring protagonist imaginable. He works in finance in an office in London. He is entirely unromantic. He got engaged to a woman who chose him for his malleability. His problems are the sort of problems that only qualify as disasters in sitcoms. He is, on the whole, entirely normal. This is first reason I give this book my recommendation. Continue reading “Between the Boring and the Horrific lies Adventure”

The Parable in Hell’s Kitchen

“I am not the Samaritan. … I am the ill intent who set upon the traveler on a road that he should not have been on.”

–Wilson Fisk, Daredevil 1.13 “Daredevil”

This post will almost certainly be filled with spoilers for the Netflix sensation Daredevil. I’d highly recommend watching the first season before reading. However, I should also note that Daredevil is a violent series, not appropriate for the kiddos and at the edge of my ability to watch. So if violence isn’t your thing, better to skip the show. Continue reading “The Parable in Hell’s Kitchen”