So much of my life takes a different focus when I understand it’s not my responsibility to convince bigots that I’m human. It doesn’t matter who they are, how they may be related, what leverage they may carry over me. They were always wrong. And I survived, and I’m here now.

It was they who failed me, not the other way around.

Revising the Past

When I think of my childhood it’s basically just flat melancholy. So to engage with the pastel melancholy nostalgia of Steven Universe, it just—whoof. That wasn’t my life exactly, but in several emotional dynamics it feels so familiar—a past I recognize, yet with an optimism; a version where things can get better. The loneliness, the neglect, the emotionally unstable adults who act like needy little siblings to the children; the knowledge that you’re always doing everything wrong; the vague unprocessed dysphoria; very little sense of what’s normal or how to connect with others—it’s all part of the radiation.

So many episodes of the show, at least tonally, emotionally, they paint this picture of scenarios that could have been that way. They weren’t, and probably wouldn’t have been, but I understand them, almost remember them, in a way that I just don’t get from other stories.

I’ve talked about this before: I don’t emotionally engage with stories. I approach media with this satellite view, where I study how the pieces fit together to communicate meaning and I think about the way it’s done, how clearly it says its thing and whether that’s interesting. I think a big part of that is, I don’t feel like most things that people have to say are really meant for me. I engage with them like an alien, appreciating them on the basis of all the other abstract patterns I’ve seen in the last 40 years.

This show, for once something actually speaks my language. It communicates the way I communicate, prioritizes the things I find important, thinks and feels about things in a way I find intuitive, notices the details I notice, ignores the things I don’t care about, is queer and neurodiverse in ways that I never fully appreciated I was until decades after the harm was done. So many of the emotional consequences it shows to the scenarios it depicts, not only do I not see those, shown in that way, in other stories; they’re some of the truest, realist shit to my experience, often beyond what I’ve been able to process or communicate on my own.

To be able to reframe a neurodiverse, queer childhood and see it for what it is, and know that for all the universality of some experience it didn’t have to be as bad as it was… that’s a lot. The amount of healing it provides, just to see an alternate possible past, where for all the unavoidable problems one faces, unconditional love and acceptance are possible and reasonable to expect from others.

I get why people might not understand this series. It’s fucking weird. And it’s the only story I’ve met that more or less reflects my own perspective on the world. So, like. Other people, you get every other story that’s ever been told by anyone. I get this one.

Hwæt

Formal education, within the system we’ve built, isn’t about enlightenment. It’s about initiation. All that Greek stuff on-campus in higher education is the social dimension of the enforced Pledge of Allegiance at lower levels. The structure is part of a mechanism to pass the rites of supremacy to a level of society. That’s why our schools and universities are so ineffective at doing what they claim to. Knowledge, wisdom—that’s not the point. The institution serves not to enrich and equalize but to select, prepare, and preserve the social order—all while pronouncing its innate virtues to the spirit of Man. No, in our world education is an arm of the system, built to enshrine a Way and a doctrine of the powerful and unique. A military of the mind, as it were.

We could have a system that does what ours pretends to. But we don’t and we won’t, because then our caste-based society of heredity and capital would crumble. So instead we make our gestures and code our language, and make it look like we’re serving a social good.

Reality Bites

The thing about that passing revelation in “Growing Pains” is, one can’t help but think of Lars. For the entire show we’ve seen Steven just take these extreme cartoonish injuries and thought little of it, so it came as such a shock when Lars banged his head, and that was it.

There was this tangible confusion. We’re watching this silly cartoon. He’s got to be fine, right. Steven lives through this all the time. Why get realistic now? The Off-Colors kind of echo our instincts, if not for the astonishingly brutal signifiers. They don’t quite get it.

But, like. Steven wasn’t any different. Episode after episode, his own bones were getting shattered over and over again. The only reason he’s still alive is the magic holding him together, knitting his pieces in real-time.

He was just used to it; he always seemed fine, no one showed him any particular concern, so he just dealt with the pain and kept going. So he didn’t really have that much reason to think other humans would be all that different. Yeah, they’d probably be a little more fragile but…

Lars’s death is the first moment the real implications of mixing this fantastical and the mundane really land. Like, you’re mixing normal people with relatively normal physics into this cartoon nonsense—and they’re going to break. They can’t play by the same heightened reality.

And it turns out Steven literally embodies that. Since the beginning the show has involved him staggering that line between the worlds, not treating either with the appropriate gravity, not quite understanding the separation or the consequences. Even after he sees the way this stuff affects the people he cares about, this danger and disregard that surrounds them every moment that he’s never taken all that seriously, it remains unclear how much he himself is affected. He seems fine.

But he’s not. He’s just being kept alive.

Which in turn brings back that sort of chilling line from the movie, not that much earlier.

It’s like. Steven, you’re disregarding your own pain that much, your own body’s signals, you’re getting that much neglect, that you don’t even realize you’re basically dead a hundred times over already. That’s your normal. Even after seeing your friend die, you don’t get it.

Life is fragile. None of what you’re doing is normal or healthy. You’re just as breakable as Lars, you deserve the same level of care. You’re only still here by virtue of a miracle, and you can’t even rely on that always saving you. Priyanka has some serious asses to kick.

The amount of neglect in Steven’s life that would lead for this revelation in episode 174 out of 180 to be any sort of a surprise… like, we saw it. We saw how reality works in this world. All it took was one knock, and Lars was gone. And yet, Steven just keeps eating the abuse.

Aside from some passing contextual alarm out of Greg, Priyanka of all people is the first adult in Steven’s life to show him an appropriate response, to treat him as a human child with his own physical and emotional needs. And he just has no fucking clue what to do with this.

This is how things get normalized. Our attitudes toward ourselves and others. Our assumptions about how the world works. How we build up unrealistic expectations. If there had just been one adult in Steven’s life showing him appropriate care, he would know what it looked like.

What it does not look like is this:

How the Right Ignites the Left

Just so we’re clear, the Bow business was not great. Not malicious, it would seem, but just so very Dumbass White^TM, in a way that can only go unchecked if there are no Black people in the room. Everyone concerned seems aghast in hindsight, and so on. Fine. But that’s a legitimate grievance. Everything else about the livestream, though, and the online firestorm in response? It’s in such intense bad faith, and in such a specific familiar way, that I can’t help but wonder.  

There are a few things that precede these events, you see. Not long before this livestream, Noelle came out as non-binary—in some puttering, early, confused capacity, as one does. (Speaking from personal experience.) They also began to express they may be neurodiverse. And then they had a long, long interview with Rebecca Sugar, where the two of them compared notes. As it turns out, Double Trouble was… sort of, in part, a self-insert character. Stevenson had been thinking about this character for years and years, and using them as a way to work through some things before they really understood why.

Up until all of this, Stevenson was held up as some bastion of progressive showrunning. But after this series of revelations, we see baseless accusations of lesbophobia (?!?!), of ableism, and of creepy attitudes toward non-binary people.  

You see how this works, right. It’s all great to talk about marginalized identities until marginalized people start doing the talking, at which point everything they say comes under the most intense scrutiny. When Noelle came off as a normal white lesbian girl, they were largely free to talk about whatever. But now that they’re exploring their gender identity and neurology, and revealing how much of this stuff was actually personal—and that they’re on good terms with, comparing their own work to, the last person to take this dark turn toward the margins of society? Oh, ew, throw them to the wolves.

The specific way that passing statements were twisted out of context with the worst possible interpretation, it’s like 2018 SU Crit territory all over again. Or just the TERf/alt-right playbook. Not that there’s any real ideological difference. Once you nail a plausible accusation, it doesn’t matter if it gets refuted; the impression remains: there’s something off with this person; it’s best to approach with caution.

Of the scurrilous accusations, lesbophobia is especially pointed and significant. Where it comes from: the host of the stream, when introducing a participant, read off the name of her podcast, which includes the word “dyke” because it’s a podcast by a queer woman about queer stuff. Right? So this gets abstracted out to, THE PRODUCTION TEAM USED THE D-SLUR. Which by metonymy gets translated into Noelle Stevenson in particular. Which is… not what happened, and just, you know, fucking hell, come on. There’s no good-faith way you could come to this reading. 

What’s important is why we see this bizarre frame. It’s important because Stevenson just came out as non-binary. To emphasize this, there’s a similar kind of misrepresentation to suggest that the production team was intentionally creepy about Double Trouble, casting them as sort of a predator. Again: Double Trouble is Noelle. (Sort of, partially.)  Similar story for the purported ableism, in regard to Entrapta’s neurology, etc., when Stevenson is also apparently neurodiverse. 

What this framing is trying to assert without saying it directly is, okay, Noelle is creepy, deviant, and lesbophobic. And the Bow thing, which sucks and is real, comes as a convenient wedge issue so that people don’t examine the other claims too deeply. It’s a perfect storm to try to take down a gender traitor, basically.