The Author

The prevailing emotion to those who have held a controlling role in my life, once they’ve gotten past my public mask and realized the way I am put together, is this roiling disgust. Along X, Y, or Z vector they assure me they have never met anyone as repulsive as I.

Part of getting to grips with myself has been accepting that much of what they’ve accused me of, actually, yeah, it’s true. And what of it.

Yeah, I am autistic. Yeah, I am asexual. Yeah, I have no connection to my assigned gender and in fact am actively averse to it.

You bigot.

Some fifteen years ago a partner seethed at me, demanded to know if I was autistic. I had not then been diagnosed or looked into it very deeply, but in the abstract I took the defense of autistic people, explaining how it was just another way of thinking, not inherently wrong. I wasn’t thinking of myself; I just didn’t think that was a fair way to talk about people.

This, uh, only made them angrier. Like, how dare I. Who would stand up for autistic people? The notion that I considered they were anything like was okay was, like—well.

I think in hindsight that may have been the turning point in that relationship.

My ex-spouse was so distressed with the way I walked, with the way I moved my arms, with the clothes I wore, with my hair, the words I chose, my lack of muscle mass, my lack of interest in culturally “manly” things. I was this tremendous embarrassment, that they had to manage.

If I shaved my face, they grew so upset with me. I looked like an alien. Like a child. Like a girl. They couldn’t look at me without feeling grossed out. The biggest crime: to them it made me unfuckable. And how dare I. They had to control my presentation to make sure I turned them on.

One time I objected, is that so important? And boy howdy, that was not the right thing to ask. How could I say such a thing. What kind of a question was that. The contempt and the control only deepened from there. Like, what if by looking at me, people started to wonder about them? What then? How dare I put them in that position.

Every time I left the house they had to check my clothes. There would be something wrong, even if I dressed exactly how they specified last time, and they’d send me back two, three times before they let me leave. If I showed resistance, they may as well have let out a hiss.

I am so used to being a thing, to people. Anyone who gets close to me, they project these ideas on me and treat me like a doll. If I should contradict them, threaten their complete ownership over me by showing agency of my own… it’s like you took away a Gamer’s upskirt camera.

And the thing is, I am so used to being wrong, to knowing I’m fucking up, to stepping on toes without knowing, to dropping every ball I’m holding, to misreading every situation I’m in, I’ve always just taken it. Oh, my mistake. Yes, I’ll try to be better. I’m sorry I disgust you.

It’s a real weight off to just say, yeah. You’re right. And fuck you for judging. How dare you, actually.

You have no right. None of you have ever.

The person who I am, who I would be without all this damage, is actually pretty cool. And they may yet forgive me.

I want to be friends with that person. I want them to trust me, though until recently I’ve given them little reason to, and ultimately I want to be them. How dare anyone get in the way of this relationship.

I deserve to love myself.

An Icon of Revolution

“Together Alone” is a strange episode, necessarily rushed by the time constraints of this final block of the original show and how much story the team needs to cover, yet laden with the bulk of the outsized thematic elements this last appendage brings forward into the show’s text as never before.

This is an odd episode in an odd story arc in one of television’s oddest shows. The pace and the structure, we can agree the show’s handled better—and the storyboards sure are rougher than anything else toward the end of the show (but then, every storyboarder has their strength…), and in that, there are some real angles of critical breakdown one could pursue. In some ways it’s easy to argue that “Together Alone” wastes its opportunity, but the ways in which that’s true are more subtle than I see people address. Likewise the parts where it hits the target are magnificent and crucial to the message of the whole 160-episode original series, yet largely unheralded. I’d have done much differently, yet where the episode works I’d have never thought of doing things the way they play out here. It impresses and frustrates me, and keeps making me want to think about it further

These eleven minutes are work of suspense. The savvy viewer knows exactly what’s going to happen from the title card, and so enters with a sense of doom and dismay. With this understanding, the unfolding enterprise is a matter of one damned thing after another, watching the pieces clunk inevitably into place, hoping against reason that someone, something somehow intervenes.

For long spans you’re just… waiting, as events play out, and so much of the takeaway is in how the episode passes that time with its Abrams-style awkward small talk, peeling away and compiling tiny observations of how things work here, how people think within this system where everyone is always just standing around, waiting for the inevitable.

We wait, and we steep in this empire of lies and denial and repression, where everyone furtively pretends they don’t know what “ffffun” is—they would never do anything improper—all the while haunted by a vision of Pink’s Pearl, bleached by conversion therapy for improper relations with her mistress. We see the overt transphobia against Garnet. The racism of a colonial society. This is where the full decadence of the empire—and how untenable and barely maintained it is as a system, all comes into play. The more denial that’s going on, the more that happens in the shadows that they pretend doesn’t exist. There are no homosexuals in Russia.

All this fear and propriety and this cycle of abuse, it doesn’t actually stamp out what it tries and claims to, because people remain people. What it manages is to maintain a certain paper-thin image, that everyone knows it’s a lie, but no one dares contradict. Like that central moment—subtle enough that I often see people glaze over it—where Yelp nervously glances at Bloop before she asserts that people don’t do… that sort of thing here, only a few minutes before Lemon Jade pulls her surprise focus.

We know Yellow Pearl is obstructive and difficult and nervous and vain, and lies constantly to keep order. Why do we imagine this key moment is different from anything else that has come out of her mouth ever? Especially with that delivery and body language? The way the two of them immediately look at each other—Yelp in a panic, Bloop like “You know.” Are they onto us? Nope, not gonna talk about that here. Doesn’t happen. Haha, what do you mean. That beat serves to establish the fragility of the society, how false all this imposed structure is—allowing the accidental moment of revolution at the ball to hit all the harder. Like, this is it. Everything is different now, there’s no maintaining the lies anymore.

Then the way Lemon Jade leaps to support, it’s played as a joke—but it’s really anything but. It’s the whole point. It’s our main indicator of this whole thing that we never quite see, this knowledge that our heroes aren’t alone, that this system doesn’t work, that revolutions can happen.

We don’t really see the consequence on-screen. People comment on how curious it is the Diamond mech smashes up all these buildings and bridges and stomps through the streets in CYM, and the only background Gem who seems aware is that one astonished Topaz outside Yellow’s chamber. Like, where is everyone? This is world-shattering stuff going on outside.

By the end of season five, the show was quite literally running on borrowed time (The final six episodes seem to be appropriated from the order of what would soon become Steven Universe Future.), so it does what it can, hits the vital moments and whittles down everything else. With just 88 minutes to sell a season’s worth of story, they consolidate and breeze by any larger issues and implications outside of the core cast.

Against all odds, the show more or less nails the landing, albeit at a breakneck speed. It’s really miraculous they got it to work at all, let alone as well as it does. Ideally, though, it needed a few more episodes to breathe, set up further context and meaning and character work; cement its themes, ground them in tangible emotions and character development, and manage the tension leading into the final moments.

“Legs from Here to Homeworld” is nuts, and could have developed better as two or more chunks, establishing the fragile nature of the CGs’ truce with the Diamonds and exploring Steven’s deep sense of responsibility and determination in the face of now more-latent bigotry. We needed at least one more episode before the ball to add to the build-up and to further establish the people living in this society and what they’re dealing with, and how they pretend that they don’t really feel about it.

A huge missing beat is a further bottle episode in Stevonnie’s holding cell. This is the perfect moment to pause and compile our lead characters as they roll toward the end. What the story calls for is deep personal discussion juxtaposed against rising society breakdown. Eleven roiling minutes of Stevonnie talking to themself in the dark as word spreads of the events at the ball and they start to hear at first vague signs then riots and confusion break out around them. They sit helpless, locked up for who knows how long on this alien world, unsure how to balance introspection with personal survival with worry for everything outside of their grasp. Talking through self-blame, settling on confidence in who they are and their right to exist. As the world breaks through even into their tiny cell, the despair and anxiety of failure turn to a growing realization they may have kicked off something big and the uncertainty over whether or not that’s a good thing.

This is the discussion we’re missing, because there just isn’t time for that kind of build-up. The one place where all of that really breaks through to the screen is in “Together Alone.” And of course Stevonnie’s presence here as the inciting element of this revolution—just by virtue of their unashamed existence—is kind of the centerpiece that the show has been building toward since episode seven. They anchor all the trans elements, the repression. They are the ideal, largely innocent version of the experience Rose wishes she could have had. The thesis statement of what could be. They’re not exactly what Steven asked for way back in season 1a, but they are a femme-presenting giant enby. Of course they would bring down tyranny by example in the moment that everyone else gets to see what they’re missing in life, and that it’s actually possible.

“Together Alone” is a clumsy episode, burdened with more than it can handle. But gosh is it ever crucial. Just take a step away from plot for a moment, and appreciate the sheer cosmic audacity of this revolution, overlaid with the creeping horror and tragedy of the personal story. It couldn’t happen any other way. The truth was going to come out, and it was always going to change everything.

Gray Matter

It seems to me there is some kind of association between comfort with probability or uncertainty and understanding of compassion or the theory of mind. It’s something about relative, rather than absolute, reasoning. Where I see a lack in one, I often see a lack in the other.

Comfort with one doesn’t necessarily equate to comfort with the other, of course. People will specialize and compartmentalize. But, like… there’s something here, that I’ve not yet picked apart.

Related to this, there’s this thing about autistics supposedly lacking empathy, right. This is based on tests that ask one to draw conclusions about someone else’s mental state based on limited information. Each question has an absolute, correct answer. The way autistics tend to address things like this is, “I don’t want to presume. I’m not that person. There are, like, a thousand possible explanations. Here are maybe a top five, in terms of probability.” And that causes them to fail, and the tester to conclude they have no empathy.

In the neurotypical mind, or at least that of those who pathologize the autistic mind, a failure to project onto another person and so to expect that they’d behave exactly like one’s self, in favor of recognizing that everyone is different and has their own set of reasons for doing things, is considered a sign of defect. Which, uh, in terms of the framing of the exam, is, like. You can see the absurdity here, right—the complete and utter lack of theory-of-mind that goes into the testing of an autistic’s theory-of-mind. To be “empathetic” by this perspective is to fail to understand that people are different.

Anyway. This kind of an expectation that everyone else is some sub-facet of one’s own self, it seems to line up with stuff like trouble with large numbers or what a likely chance is as opposed to a remote possibility. Playing the lottery every week and getting angry each time when you fail to win. Black-and-white thinking. Either it is or it isn’t, and if you say it’s not that simple then you’re fucking around and not to be trusted.

Disobedient

I am starting to grasp how much trying to be a “good kid,” which is to say to fly under everyone’s radar so they didn’t notice and potentially hurt me, has broken me as a person. Even as recently as a few years ago, when my ex-spouse forced me to renew contact with my parents for a while, my father’s big reflection on me was that I’d always been a “good kid,” which is to say a non-entity who didn’t stand up for themself or ask for any consideration.

(Though both my parents were awful in ways that… are kind of more insidious for how hard the awfulness is to explain, it’s notable that my ex-spouse often reflected on how they totally understood my father’s abuse toward my mother. They’d have done the same thing, they said.)

If I make myself invisible enough, I an rewarded with neglect instead of active abuse. So, I can stay quiet. I can make myself sit still. I can just not ask for anything. Ignore my bodily functions. Remove myself from the equation, remove myself from myself. Now throw ADHD into this, and it gets more fun. As well as this autistic lack of understanding of, like… anything, ever, about the cause-and-effect of other people’s behavior. Aside from what I can derive myself, empirically. And, like. The whole queerness thing. Without knowing exactly what it was, beyond that it was unacceptable and had to be ignored like everything else. And we forgot the taste of bread

But now—

Maybe being raised by and around people who behaved in completely unpredictable, arbitrary ways, inconsiderate at best and terrifying at worst, was not a good environment for a neurodiverse person who had no ability to discern and navigate social situations on their own. Saying or doing a given thing, it may get no reaction, a mildly positive one, or it may lead to severe consequences. So it’s safest not to do anything. Give no hint of want or need or valence. Give nothing that can be bent to whatever the current whim may be. Just shut down.

Army Badgers

Details aside, TERfs are basically gender-swapped incels. Or perhaps more to the point, I’m surprised I haven’t seen much comparison between TERfs and Gators.

They both base so much of their rage in this concept of, “How dare you fakers take away these things that make us feel special and different; get out of our reserved space.” It’s not even a matter of appropriation; it’s of disgust and shame, filled with strawmen:

  • What if someone thinks I’m one of you?
  • What if I am forced to like penises?
  • What if someone takes our panty shots away!

It’s this need to feel individually special, basing it in these external factors and declaring they’re endemic, and freaking out more than anything at the threat of their identities being eroded by letting too many of the impure past the gates. (Ergo, the route to Nazism for all these groups.)

It’s complicated, as whereas Gamers are clearly not a marginalized, vulnerable, or protected group, fully half of our society is still considered slightly less human than the other half. But there’s a difference between looking for equity and human rights, and making a clubhouse—and TERf ideology is entirely like Gator culture. It’s about how we have our own things; we’ve made our culture where we can pretend no one else exists but us, and we’re the powerful ones; now you go away—which is, like, that’s a mockery of what feminism is and stands for. It’s exactly like the Games-Are-Art-but-Keep-your-Politics-Out-of-Games business. What are you doing? Not what you profess you’re doing. You’re not actually trying to make things better. You’re just feuding. But, that’s also where the MRA/incel ideology comes in—this toxic feudalism, where instead of addressing the problems you’re facing, you stake camp, build up an echo chamber, and make everyone outside the walls a bogeyman.

It’s all so fucking middle class. It’s so barfy. It’s just like these MAGAs demanding they get their pedicures and food service. It’s not about the feet or the food; it’s a power thing. They base their identities on a unique superiority over another group based on various signifiers of an in-group or social success or whatever. It’s this mode of thought that interprets respect as obedience, rather than as compassion.

We perceive (correctly, in the case of women; LOL in the case of Gamers) that society does not afford us our due respect, so we will make our own club tailored to our whims where we get to pull all the strings—as opposed to, you know, working to make the real world kinder.

Kindness is for rubes. This world, it’s all about who wins. (Ergo in part why Gamers go fucking ballistic about difficulty levels and things, i guess.) if you win on your own terms, that takes away from our indicators of power and value. Don’t you fucking dare sell your Bitcoin.

All these groups, they’re microcosms of this capitalist nightmare we’re caught up in where we’re pitted against each other for power and resources and our precious bodily fluids; encouraged to factionalize while the gentry sucks the last juice from the husk of society. This is what the ruling class wants from us; it’s what it’s always wanted. Just so long as we keep thinking we could be one of them if we play the game right, and that the only thing stopping us is everyone else in our way—then none of us will think to look up.

And if you happen to not give a shit about winning, and just want to live your life without suffering and as compassionately as you can within the limits of your current understanding, then you’re not playing the game. You’re breaking the rules. You’re negating all their hard work. Time to doxx you, and rid the world of this dangerous anarchist element.

These groups are all the same. All that distinguishes them is the signifiers; the purity badges they wear. Fourteen words, and all. We’re the pure ones. Society is war, they all say, and we’re gonna win, y’all.

And this is how we lose each other. This is how we lose ourselves. This is how we lose the world that we live in. All out of fear someone else has a better bike.

A notable element of the dynamic is the mechanism of picking a demographic who is more vulnerable than the group and labeling them a danger to the group’s identity and way of life; an infiltrating power representative of all the group stands against. Doesn’t matter who; it’s all Mad Libs:

  • For Gators, women and queers and racial minorities are everyone oppressing them by suggesting different angles to the medium than a cishet white male power fantasy.
  • For incels, women unfairly control the bedroom
  • For TERfs, trans women are men trying to, uh, colonize femininity.

Never mind that one for one, each of these outside groups is substantially more vulnerable in society at large. It’s just that when you live in a (gamer) gated community, you’re not a part of society. Society is the danger. And oh no, here it comes. Fetch your rifle.

Note also the way that these groups conflate power and pleasure: identity is self-actualization, is power. Consent and autonomy for others are the antithesis to joy for the self. The thing that your existence threatens to diminish or take away from me, make a mockery of, it’s the thing that gives me carnal joy: pedicures, sex, a certain kind of boring videogame, sex without a potential for penis. This is what freedom means; never checking with someone else first.

Capitalism, baby. The middle class. The power to do what we want, with no questions. You’re not my dad.

Under capitalism, kindness is weakness; it’s submission to someone else’s power. I’m no wimp; I won’t bow to you; how fucking dare you ask me to be kind.

And yeah, for all these groups predation goes right along with the ideology—so of course they project and expect it in others, so as to distract from or justify their own behavior.

It’s what winners do.