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. 

Conservation of Trauma

I appreciate that in Steven Universe violence is always a tragedy. Sometimes it’s necessary, even justified, but that doesn’t make it good. And there will always be consequences. Those who glorify it do so out of damage or ignorance, and it will eat them. The discussion is about cycles of abuse—in families, relationships, the broader social structure—but the show uses its ostensible format as an action-adventure series to subvert all the things we’re told are glorious and righteous, to assert that, no, actually, violence is just violence.

Take the “Stronger Than You” battle between Garnet and Jasper. On the surface it’s triumphant, an early high note for the show. And indeed Garnet was left without many other options. It was an act of self-defense. Jasper was never going to be reasoned with. Something like it had to happen, to prevent other violence. But that doesn’t make it innately virtuous. It still passed along trauma in unpredictable ways. It was necessary, and that’s the tragedy—because violence doesn’t cancel violence; it only mutates its form, maybe puts it out of sight and mind for a while. And boy, that keeps happening in this show—from thousands of years before its start, all the way to the end.

To an extent the Gem War was necessary. It redistributed trauma away from some of the most vulnerable, even as it ravaged all that survived. And the show only ever plays that with ambivalence, except through the eyes of characters who were clearly warped from the violence beyond the ability to cope. It’s a tragedy that it was necessary, and the consequences are endless.

Then all those themes that have been building up since 2013, they culminate in Future. Where would all the violence land, but in the lap of our central character? Including the fallout of Jasper’s history of war and insecurity, heightened to the point of mania by her battle with Garnet. All those millennia of hard-won victory and juggled, mutated trauma come home again, to be absorbed by a single target.

In other shows, the Perfect Steven reveal would be a cathartic triumph, a symbol of growth and success. Here it’s tragedy. It’s clearly wrong even before what happens. This is what violence has done to our boy; this is how it’s warped him. It’s the show’s message from the start, but now it’s personified so you can’t ignore it, much as the trans issues were brought to the forefront at the end of season five.

Abuse and neglect, they don’t just go away. They don’t evaporate when you stop looking at them. It’s like conservation of energy; all they do is transfer and change forms. They linger and fester until they manifest in some new unexpected form. The only way to stop the cycle is to acknowledge it, take a step, back, and show unconditional love.

Which is easy to say, of course. But all we can do is forge ahead, day by day, step by step, and try to show care where we can. And maybe one day it will be enough to make a change.

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.

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.

The Means of Narration

We need more stories, because stories are power.

Stories change norms just by existing, and centering a perspective as real and heroic. Authoritarians have always understood this. This is how they keep dragging public opinion over the line of absurdity over and over.

Yet for all that, look how quickly opinions shifted once the protests started, and people got a new story, with new heroes.

Stories outlive civilization. They’re all we’ve got of what came before, and who knows what they leave out.

They’re the most powerful weapons and the most powerful shields, because they’re a statement of value. Every story serves to set terms for what we hold normal and right. They shape reality more than stones, because our reality is us. It’s just people.

The very nature of stories is people over property. Stories themselves are made to be comrades. Intellectual property is a sinister concept, that could only exist under capitalism. It’s a form of servitude of the human spirit.

Control the means of narration. Assert your stories. Make them real in the telling.