#2193

Familiar, Why Is This So Familiar? – Steven Universe and Monstrous Motherhood

[This post contains Steven Universe spoilers from the current Diamond Days arc.]

Y’all, I fucking love Steven Universe (SU). It speaks to so many facets of my being, especially as a mentally ill queer person, and I often find myself identifying with different characters and plot arcs. I see myself in Peridot when she doesn’t understand social cues or causes offense by accident; in Amethyst when she feels inferior to those around her, even the people she loves; in Garnet when she fears to make a single tiny mistake, lest its consequences be on her shoulders. I’ve been too intense, like Bismuth, and too anxious or controlling, like Pearl. Like Pink Diamond, sometimes I just want to run away from the person I am – and like Steven, sometimes I just want to understand the person I’m meant to become.

SU always cuts to my core. That’s what good fiction should do, especially fiction which purposefully prioritizes themes of healing, acceptance, and love. Yet to have those themes, and to lend them the weight needed to have true impact on your audience, you first need your characters to face trauma, ostracism, and cruelty. Thus enter the Great Diamond Authority.

 

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Unbelievably powerful, these gem matriarchs rule the universe with elegance and hauteur, a trinity of terror who allow no deviance from the norm. For several seasons the diamonds play the role of invisible villains as the show builds an elaborate framework for the inevitable confrontation, and it’s only now, in the Diamond Days arc of season five, that we’re learning just how complex the diamonds really are. And the more we learn, the more we understand the crimes of which they’re capable.

We know now that White Diamond, Yellow Diamond, and Blue Diamond acted as mothers to the younger and far more impetuous Pink Diamond. They intended to raise her in their image, another perfect diamond to rule over gem society – yet how often does that work? Children aren’t carbon copies (excuse the pun) of their parents, and when expectations and reality clash it is often the child who bears the brunt of the pain. The diamonds expect Pink to think, feel, and behave in a very limited framework based on their concepts of what a diamond should be, and when she cannot or will not they retaliate. In trying to do what they believe is right for Pink, they become abusive. Each diamond on her own displays certain characteristics of abusive parents, and I think it’s no coincidence that combined they represent the full complexity of an abuser.

Yellow Diamond is the mother who is always disappointed. She believes she just wants what’s best for you, but in doing so she will never be happy with what you achieve. Your GPA will never be high enough for her, your body skinny enough, your career prestigious enough. Yellow will always find flaws, even in the perfect form of a literal diamond. She prefers negative, combative emotions over positive or traditionally weak ones. Yellow is the mother who never says “I love you” or reciprocates displays of affection; she expects her tolerance of your presence to be a sufficient testament to her true feelings. Her mentality is unhealthy on its own, but directed at a child it causes lifelong feelings of inadequacy, emotional repression, and an anxiety that drives you to work yourself to death. Additionally, Yellow is also shown to spy on Pink Diamond to ensure she’s behaving correctly, a very common tactic of abusive parents – and one she seems to share with White Diamond as well.

White Diamond is the mother who demands perfection. This isn’t to say she acts like the perfect mother, though. Instead, she simply wills the world to be the way she desires and everything must fall in line with her vision. She wears a mask so convincing you question its existence; maybe she really is always smiling, always in control, always omniscient and omnipresent. This is supported by the fact that, at least at the time of me writing this, we don’t actually know that much about White. We know she is the true gem matriarch and has almost entirely withdrawn herself from society. Instead of seeming reclusive or cold, though, or perhaps even mentally unstable, she in fact seems completely calm and in control (albeit in a creepy way). Yet she speaks to her subjects through the broken Pink Pearl, who seems to be a constant reminder of what happens if you draw White’s ire. She is obviously not afraid of using force to keep her court in line.

Blue Diamond is the mother who can be friend or foe. Her mood changes without warning – one moment she’s weeping with joy or reminiscing about fond family memories, the next she’s sneering over something you’ve said or done, or perhaps threatening your deviance with punishment. Personally, I find Blue Diamond’s brand of abuse the most disturbing. The inability to predict how someone will respond emotionally causes constant anxiety, especially when those potential negative reactions might involve physical abuse. Blue is the ultimate manipulator, preying on your love and guilt to keep you returning to her no matter what she does. Of all of the diamonds, Blue is the one who seems the most redeemable… and therein lies her power. Every time she’s in a good mood you’re tricked into thinking she’s changed and you let your guard down, making yourself that much more vulnerable to her next attack.

Even the way the diamonds are slowly revealed to us follows this cyclical pattern of abuse. First we think they’re unfeeling dictators; then we realize they’re in mourning, which humanizes them. They attack Earth and we hate them again; then they seem to change as they realize Pink never died and she has “returned” to them as Steven. They even take him back to Homeworld where we think they’ll help him convince White to heal the corrupted gems… but instead their true natures are revealed once more the moment he steps out of line. Each time we think and hope the diamonds have changed, and each time we are disappointed; yet at the first sign of change we start the cycle over again. Hope can be a very dangerous thing in the hands of an abuser.

 

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Since I’m writing this before the diamonds’ arc is complete, I don’t know their ultimate fate. I used to hope Blue and Yellow would be redeemed but now I’m not sure what I want. Everyone deserves a redemption arc, don’t they? One of SU’s biggest themes is redemption, after all, and other villains have become loyal friends of the Crystal Gems. If the diamonds can just recognize the error of their ways and seek to undo their crimes, shouldn’t they be given a second (or third or fourth or fifth) chance? Yet we’re not talking about ignorant children here, or gems acting on their superior’s orders; everything harmful or evil in SU can be traced back to the diamonds, even if some of what they’ve done was well intended. They are the reason gem society is so stratified and destructive. Do people who cause such pain for those under their care deserve redemption arcs too? I don’t know. I really don’t know. I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.

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#2014

Odd Woman Out, or: Sex-Repulsion and Queer Media

If you spend any time around me, either online or offline, you know I am out and proud. I wear a rainbow bracelet every day; my purse has a button that says “crystal queer” on it; I wear flannel as much as humanly possible; I have a sidecut; and you can bet I’m going to mention my wife at every possible chance. Online, I’m an avid Creampuff, Fannibal, and Amedot shipper, and I run my own asexuality blog. Hell, even my Twitter name is “Queer as Hannibal”. What I’m saying is, you can sense my queerness from a mile away no matter how you encounter me. And that’s on purpose. I don’t want you to have to see me holding my wife’s hand to know I’m queer – I want my very self to radiate so much queerness you can see it from space. It’s an important part of my identity and I spend a lot of time keeping up on trends, issues, and news in the community. I try to spread positivity and inclusiveness, and to learn how to be a better ally to my fellow community members. In short, I am all about queer pride.

I say this so you have some understanding of why I feel conflicted about queer media. See, I’m asexual and definitely vary between sex-indifferent and sex-repulsed. I’m sex-positive in the sense that I think two or more consenting adults can do whatever they want with each other, but I don’t really want to see or hear about it. However, I’m also part of the wlw (women who love women) community, and I feel incredibly invested in positive representation of queer relationships. I’ve been reading the webcomic Band vs Band as long as it’s been running and was dying for the two main characters to get together. Likewise, I watched The Legend of Korra with a hungry eye for anything Korrasami, and always swoon a little when Laura and Carmilla waltz or flirt. As for Steven Universe, well… Amedot is the hill I will die on.

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I WILL GO DOWN WITH THIS SHIP

In short, I absolutely put my attention, money, and support into queer relationships in the media and will always defend narratives that help broaden our understanding of relationship diversity. And yet, when my wife warned me there’s a sex scene in the Carmilla movie, I sighed a little in my head. See, being asexual/sex-indifferent and also a part of the wlw community can put me in an uncomfortable position because I tend to lose interest in a fictional relationship when it becomes sexual. It’s not that I think sex is immoral – it’s just not something I can totally connect with, and so it feels like I’m being alienated by something that becomes the focus of the relationship. I love Laura and Carmilla, but there are times in Carmilla season 2 when I get a little uncomfortable with how often they make out. Same with Band vs Band, even though the interactions are chaste and, for heck’s sake, just drawings. Yet while I know that response isn’t logical, fair, or healthy, I still feel this weird twinge of… something. Jealousy? Disappointment? Resentment? It’s hard to pin down, and I usually feel too guilty to examine my emotions.

Therein lies the problem. See, the closer to a sexual relationship two characters get, the less comfortable I am. However, I also know how important representation is, and so at the same time I’m cheering for this couple and what they represent in our changing culture. It leaves me in a weird gray area where I feel like I’m the bad guy for wanting a relationship to remain chaste, but not because I hate queer people being sensual or sexual; I think I just want to see more people like me, and it’s hard each time to lose a connection with a character once they become canonically allosexual. I know a lot of my own issues are wrapped up in this conflicting feeling – my longing to be a “normal” allosexual queer woman versus my simultaneous desire to stand up for people like me – but that doesn’t make the burden easier to bear.

Being sex-repulsed or sex-indifferent in the queer community can be a very fine line to walk. We want, and deserve, more representation and yet we have to be so careful that we don’t come off as sex-shaming or heteronormative. But with so little representation currently, it’s no wonder those misconceptions are rife in our community and so easily cause little sparks to rage into huge fires. Queer people have always been shamed for acting on their sexuality, and that will never change unless we normalize all forms of consensual intimacy. We just need to also remember that for many in our community, sex isn’t what makes them queer – and that’s just as valid. The more we vary what “real” relationships look like, the more everyone in the community will feel comfortable with who they are and what they want.

#1999

I dreamed the kind of dream that makes you wish you could draw or were otherwise skilled in a visual art, because there’s no way words can adequately describe it. The dream took place in a militaristic, space-based empire of genetically advanced humans. In this empire, warriors and knights each had their own personal weapon which could be summoned at will (much like the gems in Steven Universe). The weapons were formed with a sort of black energy, which lent them additional versatility and destructive power. Warriors in higher military commands were also linked with their own starships (which looked like Ryo-Ohki from Tenchi Muyo). These ships existed primarily in an alternate but parallel dimension, but could be summoned into the main dimension when needed for battle; in fact, their ability to exist partially in both dimensions simultaneously made them ideal for large battles becauses they could fire on an enemy yet not be directly hit. (Imagine massive starships that can literally ghost through solid objects, such as buildings, to fire on the inhabitants.) Often the ships and weapons were used in honorable battle between knights, but also frequently for full warfare between the empire and dissidents. In addition, the most powerful warriors could also form an energy shield/aura called an ‘aspect storm’ (my brain borrowed the term from The Cold Commands by Richard Morgan) which, if the warrior was particularly skilled, could be controlled like a giant monster to do widespread damage.

In this dream, Tanim was the emperor’s son and being groomed to take his father’s place in the future. He was an admirable warrior with his own ship, and his personal weapon was a black lance that could be turned into a powerful longbow when battling aspect storms. At one point in the dream he stopped by a training session in which some of the best warriors were teamed up against a single man dressed all in black – I recognized him as Daren, though in the dream all Tanim knew was that the stranger was new to his father’s service. Despite being surrounded and outnumbered, Daren easily held command of the fight. His weapon, thin double blades that allowed him superb speed and range of motion, was somehow set to instantaneously cauterize any wound it created. In this way, Daren was able to deal legitimate injuries but the risk of killing someone in one blow was small. Still, he severed several fingers and at least one arm, and maimed others in ways that would permanently remove them from the emperor’s service. Tanim was certainly impressed (okay, and probably pretty turned on), and I think they ended up fighting together against a gigantic aspect storm later on. At any rate, there were lots of explosions and space battles and stuff, and it was awesome.