The Symmetra Test

In a 1985 comic strip for Dykes to Watch Out For, Alison Bechdel inadvertently created the Bechdel Test, a tool used by feminists to critique media narratives. The rules are:

  1. The movie has at least two (named) women in it…
  2. …who talk to each other…
  3. ….about something other than men.

The test is NOT an indicator of a film’s overall quality (it is possible for a movie to past the test but still be sexist, or for a film to have empowering female characters who don’t talk to each other), and it was originally meant to highlight a lack of lesbian representation, but it does do a good job of highlighting a troubling trend in media.

Since then, there have been other tests. They include:

  • The Mako Mori test: a) at least one female character b) who gets her own narrative arc c) that is not about supporting a man’s story (this is mostly used for women of color)
  • The Furiosa test: the film makes the Internet angry for being ‘feminist’
  • The Babs and Kara test: the female characters are distinguishable and recognizable even if they were wearing identical bathrobes and their hair was covered (a critique of ‘same face syndrome’)
  • The Sexy Lamp test: if the woman can be replaced by a literal sex object, would the plot change at all
  • Ellen Willis test: would the character’s role in the story be the same if their gender was reversed
  • The Aila Test: a) is the character an Indigenous or Aboriginal main female character b) who does NOT fall in love with a white man c) who does NOT end up raped or murdered at any point in the story

You can read more about media tests HERE.

As an autistic person, I feel like there should be a similar test for autistic people. Representation for autistic people tends to be few and far between, and the most prominent examples tend to be stereotypical. So, I decided to create my own test: The Symmetra Test.

Here are my rules:

  1. Is there an autistic or autistic-coded main character
  2. Who ISN’T a white man
  3. Who ISN’T infantilized by the narrative or other characters

The test is named for the character of Symmetra of the game Overwatch, who is an autistic woman of color who is definitely seen, depicted, and treated as an adult.

If the autistic character in question is a child, they can behave like children, but it has to be appropriate for their age. So characters like Vanellope (who’s 9) from Wreck-It Ralph and Laura (who’s 11) from Logan, two characters I see as autistic-coded, would pass because they’re children but they’re not treated like literal infants or toddlers. Characters like Peridot would not pass because she’s at least a few hundred years old but is treated by both the crewniverse and the fandom as a baby.

The test is not a be-all, end-all indicator of quality autism representation and is not meant to discount white male autistic characters (as long as they’re not infantilized or rely heavily on stereotypes). This test is to bring attention to the fact that so few autistic or autistic coded characters are non male or non white, and fewer still are treated age appropriately.

If you’re autistic, let me know if you think there should be any amendments to this test, or if you can name any characters who would pass! I’d love to hear some feedback.

I hope this test can help bring attention to more autistic or autistic-coded characters of different genders and races, as well as help people when making any autistic characters of their own.

This is What Having Hyper-Empathy is Like.

Is it possible to have too much empathy?

Yes.

You’re probably familiar with the fact that a lot of autistic individuals lack empathy. You’re probably less aware of the fact that a lot of others actually have an excess of empathy. Hyper-empathy. And this is something that has become both a blessing and a curse for me.

I always feel deeply over everything. If I see, hear, or read about someone with a severe physical injury or other bodily horrors, my body starts to ache. I’m constantly worried about making others upset or disapproving. When someone gets sad or cries near me, sometimes I start to cry too. I get emotional very easily. I worry constantly for the wellbeing of others around me. I can’t stand it when children and animals get needlessly hurt or killed. I feel grief over the deaths of people I’ve never met. Even when I fight back against someone who bullies me, I feel horrible about it later. And if someone describes, graphically, their ideas of self harm or suicide, I get into legit anxiety attacks.

But there was a little incident recently when my hyper-empathy went through the roof.

A few weeks ago I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, hearing good things about it. At first I was enjoying myself, but as the movie progressed I was taken aback at how…unpleasant it was. Crude humor, Drax and Rocket being bigger jerks than they were in the previous movie, scenes of poor baby Groot getting tortured and tormented, seeing people getting thrown into space to die….it came across as weirdly cruel. I was not expecting any of this. I remember thinking to myself at several spots in the movie “I don’t like this”. But hey, maybe I was just being sensitive.

But then, came the scene that shocked me to a deeply personal core. Major spoilers from this point on.

It is eventually revealed that Peter’s father, Ego the Living Planet, has ulterior motives for having children. He needs to sire a child who has the same powers as him to terraform other planets into extended versions of himself, and Peter happens to be another Celestial. Things take an even darker turn when it’s revealed that Ego gave Peter’s mother cancer because he actually did love her…and she was a distraction. Peter becomes enraged, and tries to fight back, but is overpowered. And what did the movie decided to do to show us just how uncaring Ego was to his own child

He took Peter’s beloved Walkman, headphones, and mixtape, and crushed them in front of him.

It was at that precise moment when I walked out of the theater and didn’t look back. Trying to think about or discuss this scene would result in me feeling heavy, trembling, and crying.

Why did that scene upset me so much? Two reasons.

One, is because that was the last thing Peter had of his mother. Like, again, it just felt so fucking cruel. The whole movie had so many unnecessary cruelty that this was the final nail on the coffin.

And secondly (and this is extremely personal), is that a lot of autistic people see themselves in Peter Quill, and how attached he is to his Walkman (and when he dances around with it, it can be seen as him stimming). I use my iPod to help me stim. So to see his comfort object/stim tool be crushed right in front of him hit a really personal core.

I’m still shaken up over this damn scene. I know a lot of people are like “but it’s not framed to be cruel, we’re not reminded that it’s his mother’s” but keep in mind, I see films differently than other people. Movies aren’t JUST movies to me. Characters aren’t JUST characters to me. And for this movie, to see the characters that I had loved so much before get thrust into these situations was too much for me.

I’m not sure if I can really say if this was a bad movie or not, just that I didn’t like it. That’s not really my point. My point was to show how my autism affects how I view (and enjoy) movies, for better or for worst.

Drax the Destroyer: The Autistic Alien Done RIGHT

Let’s close out Autism Acceptance Month (and start getting hyped for the next Guardians of the Galaxy movie) and take a look at a good example of an autistic-coded character: Drax the Destroyer.

Image result for drax the destroyer

Like Peridot from Steven Universe, Drax is an alien that is very strongly coded to be autistic. He does not understand sarcasm or metaphors (very common with autistic people), may have some sensitivity issues (he never wears a shirt), is pretty blunt, and has some trouble with social skills. He also has other quirks that aren’t associated with common people.

With this, it would be very easy for the writers to botch up this character. (Look up ‘gremlin Peridot’ and you should get a good idea of how.) But while Drax can be a little rough around the edges, he ultimately proves to be a competent and even compassionate hero. He’s also an interesting character: he’s a man of honour grieving the loss of his family and will do anything to avenge them but ultimately can’t do it on his own, so he closes the gap between himself and the other Guardians in order to save the day. He grows to respect Gamora and even becomes good friends with Rocket. Best of all, he’s not a STEREOTYPE. He’s not a skinny, nerdy white man with obsessions and is a genius in math and science and has little to no empathy or even feelings. He’s not overly childlike or hard to understand or a burden to the people around him. He’s a SUPERHERO.

But the reason why I state that Drax is an autistic coded character done right is that real autistic children relate to him, as explained HERE. Autistic people can be superheroes, and don’t you forget it.

Let’s hope the sequel continues to inspire and help other autistic kids as well. As it is, Drax is a great character and an example of how you should code a non-human character as autistic without relying on harmful tropes.

 

Your Fave is Autistic Part 9: Gordo

Image result for gordo lizzie mcguire

I’ve been meaning to make this post for awhile.

Lizzie McGuireThat’s So Raven, and Even Stevens were my holy trinity of live action Disney Channel (or in my country, Family Channel) shows. Recently, I decided to check out Lizzie McGuire again (it’s pretty easily available online) and it holds up very well to this day.

And oh my god, when I saw Gordo again, I became 1000000000000% convinced that he was autistic. It’s amazing how I never realized it before.

I think the first major giveaway of him being autistic is that he’s extremely honest, but very blunt and on the nose, not always making appropriate statements. He doesn’t hesitate to tell the hard truth and point out when people are wrong or ridiculous and when he doesn’t like them or want to hang out with them. He also has some trouble picking up on social cues, often missing out what the rest of his peers are doing; in one episode, Ethan Craft tried to demonstrate a special pose that the boys their age were doing for their school photos, but Gordo was confused about the whole thing. In other, when Lizzie was distressed about not finding a job, Gordo was expected to say “I might not be a film director” but instead reinforced Miranda’s “I might not become a musician”.

He is highly intelligent and studious, often looking at things from a different point of view, making unique, poignant observations, such as “Any group activity that forces others to be happy, is by nature, evil”. (This can also show why he doesn’t have a lot of friends and is not very social outside of Miranda and Lizzie.)

He tends to hyperfixate on certain (often weird and definitely not mainstream) things and it often takes over his life (there have been quite a few episodes on his obsessions) and does not always like sharing them (or only shares it with certain people). But his biggest passion is to direct (again, a common interest for a lot of autistic people is with movies).

He is seen playing with a hacky sack a lot (kicking it around), which can easily be seen as stimming.

More than anything, he repeatedly makes it clear that he is not like everyone else and values individuality and being true to yourself. I relate to that a lot. I had trouble understanding why I had to conform to social roles, and often see things differently from others (my whole blog is full of unpopular opinions, haha).

Since this is a 65 episode long show, there’s probably a few details I missed out, so I recommend you check the show out. It will be easy to see that he’s his own unique person, one that just so happens to be relatable to me as someone who’s autistic.

Your Fave Is Autistic Part 8: Laura/X-23

Image result for logan

Logan is a great movie. It is the prime example of the gritty superhero movie done RIGHT. It’s absorbing, it’s touching, it’s intense, it has a lot of heavy themes and graphic violence, but still has funny moments and an optimistic ending. I really do believe Hugh Jackman should get an Oscar nomination for his performance, even if he won’t win.

Another reason why I like this movie a lot is the character of Laura. From the moment she first showed up I immediately saw her as autistic. (Mild spoilers from this point on.)

For starters, she’s described as ‘mysterious’ and ‘strange’, and has some of Logan’s ‘volatility, instability, mood swings, and shadows’ (only manifested in a different way). Those sound like pretty common descriptions for someone who’s autistic.

For most of the film, she doesn’t talk, and when she does speak, it’s very quiet and brief; she doesn’t talk the same way the other characters do, and tends to scream or communicate through other sounds. Some autistic people have trouble communicating verbally/have problems with language skills/are known to have selective mutism, and that is almost certainly the case for her character.

She behaves a bit younger than her actual age, and tends to get easily frustrated or angry/scared, such as when someone tries to move her things, when a ride stops working, or when someone points out she has to pay for sunglasses (which she wears almost all the time) and chips.

She also gets really absorbed in movies and music and is fluent in both English and Spanish. These are all common strengths and fascinations.

And most of all is her special connection with Xavier. They’re able to empathize with and understand each other, since they both have mental problems and they’re on the run. They get really close to each other. It’s pretty common for a lot of autistic kids to bond easier with older people than their peers. When Logan is able to warm up to Laura and gets closer to her, she grows to love him as her own father.

For a moment, I was a little concerned that maybe most of this behaviour was just because of her horrible upbringing, but when we’re introduced to the other children who were experimented on, she doesn’t quite behave like them. They all have perfect speech and can interact with others like common kids. Laura is noticeably different from the rest of them. So I think Laura is purposefully meant to stand out, and I see it as her being autistic.

I heard the director of Logan wants to make an X-23 movie, and I hope he does. This character is really great and the idea of an autistic/neurodivergent-coded character becoming the hero of her own movie could do a world of wonders. At any rate, I look forward to seeing more of this character and the future of this franchise.

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The Do’s and Don’ts of Writing an Autistic Character

In a world where autism is often portrayed in a negative light in media, a lot of people (myself included) create autistic headcanons to give to popular, positive characters who exhibit some characteristics of autism without being overly stereotypical. Yet canonically confirmed autistic characters do exist.

Here’s a (possibly incomplete) list. What really sticks out to me right away is that almost all of them are white men.  One of the biggest problems of autism in the media is that it’s portrayed almost exclusively as a white male thing. This results in autistic girls and boys of colour getting misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all, and raises stereotypes.

Some of the portrayals vary widely. Sheldon Cooper is a stereotype and his autism is often treated as a joke, so that’s not good (and his show is extremely unpopular, so that doesn’t help). Gil Grissom (from CSI: Crime Scene Investigation) is brilliant. He’s smart, a competent leader, is able to look at things from a unique point of view, is shown to be capable of loving others, is a hero, and is a multifaceted, layer character. When I read that he was on the list I was so happy.

When I saw Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) on the list, I was surprised, but then I realized it did make sense. That said, his character can be a huge asshole (there have been a lot of instances of him being a shitty husband to Sue), so, not the best representation.

Two literary characters that are autistic include Christopher Boone (from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a book I read for school), and Jacob Hunt (from House Rules). Christopher Boone is very stereotypical (if you find a find a checklist of autistic characteristics he fits every box), and his parents treat him like shit (they lie to him and tell them to his face that he’s driving them to an early grave), BUT I ultimately did feel for him, and I liked how the story was told exclusively from his point of view. I consider it a mixed bag. On the other hand, I could not get past the first chapter of House Rules because Jacob is 18 but treated like a child. No thank you.

But two characters that I want to bring to attention are Symmetra (from Overwatch) and Peridot (from Steven Universe). These characters matter to me because they’re both women/female-aligned (like me) and from series that are the most popular at the moment.

Symmetra is canonically autistic, and Peridot is very strongly implied to be so. There is an entire tag dedicated to Peridot being autistic. Some of the evidence of Peridot being autistic is her lack of social skills/inability to understand social cues, hyper focus, is easily frustrated, uses comfort objects, can be abrasive, needs a routine, etc. At first, she was a likable character! She was funny, she was unique, and a great foil to the crystal gems. What happened?

The show infantalized her.

Ever since season 3, she’s been described as a ‘gremlin’. She has been behaving more and more childlike, always shouting, always running around doing weird shit, not being allowed to show her technical skills. What’s worse, she’s had her comfort items broken (her recorder) or threatened to be broken (her tablet), there was one point where she was put on a leash, and in a deleted scene Amethyst tried to show her how to eat by putting her in a fucking high chair. Ultimately everything that made Peridot interesting is gone.

By contrast, we have Symmetra, a canonically autistic character who is not infantalized or treated like shit at all. She’s beautiful, talented, and capable. She’s allowed to be a hero. She has a desire to do the right thing, even if she’s doing it the wrong way (but is starting to realize something’s up). We can tell she’s autistic (the need for order and routine, black and white morality, special interest, smart but not very social) without relying too much on stereotypes. She’s a breath of fresh air.

Basically, if you’re going to create an autistic character, 1) don’t base them off stereotypes, 2) don’t overly infantalize them (having some childlike quirks and interests is okay, but constantly behaving like a toddler is not), 3) don’t have them seen as a joke or constantly treated like shit by the narrative or other characters, 4) let them be heroes and have them save the day, portraying their unique ability and worldview in a good light, and 5) try to make them something other than a white man.

Basically, WRITE US AS PEOPLE! And if you’re still having difficulty, research and ask people on the autism spectrum for help. I’d be more than happy to help. (You can look up some traits of autistic people HERE.)

Also, if you’ve seen, read, or played any of the media featuring canonically autistic characters, let me know of how you think they’re portrayed, and if it’s positive, I’ll be sure to check it out! In the meantime, I’ll make more posts on autistic headcanons to give visibility to characters who have characteristics of autism that are ultimately positive potential portrayals.

Your Fave is Autistic Part 7: Catwoman

Happy Autism Acceptance Month! To celebrate, let’s start with another entry to my series with none other than DC’s iconic antihero, Catwoman!

Image result for catwoman

Now, this might be a tricky entry since Catwoman is a comic book character and thus her personality and history are at the whims of writers, retcons and reboots. For this entry, I’m going to focus on what I consider the biggest piece of evidence: Catwoman #0 (pre New 52) by Doug Moench and Jim Balent:

Image result for catwoman number 0 jim balent

This goes into Selina Kyle’s backstory as a child. Early on, she’s adept at gymnastics and is very agile (a great way for her to stim), is pretty withdrawn, and loves cats, even if she doesn’t know how to appreciate them. We get some information of her life and school, and how it tends to be a blur, refusing to interact with students (something I can relate to) and mostly doing what she wants, probably because she doesn’t understand why. The principal brings up how it’s possible Selina Kyle might have a learning disability, and it wouldn’t surprise me if she could be autistic.

Her father later dies from alcohol poisoning, and Selina doesn’t know how to properly handle the situation or express a lot of empathy or sadness at the death of her father, instead running away. She later gets caught and gets sent to an abusive juvenile detention center, still refusing to interact with others, and finding refuge being alone on the rooftop, stimming to her heart’s content, imagining a life of riches and wonders. When she escapes, she crawls from rags to riches, surrounding herself with cats, able to live how she wants.

In that one issue, I can see a lot of evidence that Catwoman is probably on the spectrum (fixation and love of cats and jewels, problem with empathy and social skills, doesn’t understand rules and norms, stims with gymnastics, highly skilled), or at the very least neurodivergent one way or another.

Is there any other evidence? Maybe. Catwoman is meant to be someone you don’t fully know, having a lot of secrets. The main thing, though, is that she’s always meant to be different, to stand out, to be her own unique character, to not be ‘normal’. So I more than welcome autistic headcanons for a complex, layered, and iconic character that will be loved for years to come.

If you have any autistic or neurodivergent headcanons for Catwoman, please leave one in the comments below! Help me make more entries by giving me other characters to make posts on!