Monday, July 11, 2016

At Last, A Character Really, Really Like Me

I'm not sure I've ever related to someone fictional more.
Finding characters I relate to has always been a fairly difficult task for me throughout my life because autistic characters just don't pop up in fiction very often, particularly when it comes to autistic female characters. This is something I've discussed before - those rare characters I click with tend to be male characters only because there are very few female characters who really remind me of myself.

And yet here I am, 27 years old and suddenly relating really intensely to a teenager who flies around in a giant green lion and fights aliens.

Voltron predates me (1989) by a few years; it premiered in the U.S. in 1984 and ran until 1985. It's actually a lot like the original incarnation of Power Rangers in the U.S. in that multiple anime series were mashed up and edited to make a new series entirely for the American market. (Specifically, season 1 was taken from Beast King GoLion and season 2 was taken from Armored Fleet Dairugger XV.) The series had a few U.S.-made sequels, and as of 2016 it now has a reboot that you can watch on Netflix done by Dreamworks. I'm a little more than halfway through so far and it's doing a wonderful job in capturing the spirit of the original series whilst giving the protagonists more characterization and depth.

Specifically, I really relate to what they've done with Pidge. Spoilers are ahead, so I'll put this under a cut just in case you happen to both read my blog and want to watch Voltron without being spoiled.

If you've somehow managed to avoid Voltron spoilers so far, I'm genuinely impressed because one day it was just all over my Tumblr dashboard without warning and I learned a lot more about the characters than I anticipated, although one of these things made me really want to watch the series even more.

Pidge is now a girl.

Specifically, she's actually a girl named Katie Holt, and she's searching for her father and brother, who disappeared from a mission they were on along with quasi-main-character Shiro. The official press release claimed the ship crashed, but Katie got suspicious and infiltrated the cadet Garrison twice and hacked in to prove it was a cover-up. She was right - the Galra captured all three people on the mission - but before she could continue working she was caught and was banned from the Garrison. She proceeded to enroll as a cadet under the name Pidge Gunderson and pretend to be male because she knew the Garrison higher-ups would be looking for a girl, and it worked. Well, at least on everyone it needed to work on. Everyone except co-Paladin Lance figured out she was actually female fairly early on.

Astoundingly, despite his extreme interest in women he somehow had no idea.
The thing that really touches me about this whole thing is that when Pidge tells the team that she's really a girl they don't treat her any differently than they did beforehand. Shiro, who's become more or less a surrogate older brother figure for her by this point in the series, even tells her that it's important to own who she really is, and that line struck me because for me that's always been a very difficult thing to do because being autistic isn't necessarily considered acceptable yet. In a perfect world, I'd be able to tell people that I was autistic and not have any preconceived notions they may have cloud their judgment and affect how they treat me.

It goes further, though, in that Pidge is actually someone I can really relate to. She's extremely dedicated to achieving her goals of rescuing her missing family members and as of the big reveal has also discovered that she's become very dedicated to helping and protecting her friends, as well. She occasionally says things that are accidentally insensitive, but immediately apologizes when she realizes she's hit a nerve. She's a motormouth when she's nervous and, although extremely enthusiastic about what she's passionate about (technology is big with her), she's occasionally filled with self-doubt concerning her own abilities and needs a little encouragement. Oh, and she adopts this little sentry robot and names it Rover and it follows her around all over the place. Considering how my cat Murphy does that, too, even that struck a chord.

Being able to relate to a character that has a ton of things in common with you really is amazing.
It's really, really nice to see a girl be all of these things for once and to not be treated any differently by her peers because of it. It gives me hope for myself because I'm very similar to her, and if she's treated normally than I might as well be treated normally too. That's not to say that disabled people don't deserve or need accommodations - we do - but I often dream of a world where our accommodations are seen as common sense and acceptance and not some extra demands we place on the general population. They're just things that help us exist in a world not made for us, a world we don't always feel like we belong in but a world where we deserve to exist and take up space just as much as everyone else.

To the team behind the Voltron reboot: thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for putting someone who really reminds me of myself on the screen and treating her like everyone else in the cast. Thank you for not turning her into a joke. Thank you, I mean it. She's given hope to all sorts of people - young girls, gender non-conforming people (many fans read her character as a transgender allegory or headcanon her as trans or non-binary and use they/them pronouns when referring to her), and, at least in my case, autistic females. You've done something wonderful and I can't wait to see what Pidge and her fellow Paladins get up to in season 2!

And on that note, I may have to put a cosplay together for NYCC. I've got a few months to work with here...

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