Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Theory About One Thing

This post requires two disclaimers:

One: I have adored Eddie Redmayne since I saw Les Miserables on Christmas 2012. Not only is he a talented actor, he is also a thoughtful, charismatic, and adorably self-depricating person, at least in interviews. The way he discusses preparing for roles and admits to his own mistakes. He's incredibly respectful as well. I hold him in pretty high esteem. I do not think this colors the opinion I'm about to express, but it might.

Two: The keyword there is "opinion." The following is one opinion from one disabled woman who has a significant amount of privileges. I don't speak for anyone other than myself, and I especially don't speak for people whose experiences are closer to the ones portrayed in The Theory of Everything.

Okay, let's get to the actual opinion, shall we? The Theory of Everything collected press even before it--and Eddie-- got nominated for an Oscar. With his win, I imagine there will be a bit more discussion, but once the awards are given out we as a culture tend to move onto the next controversial topic. Now then, it may be surprising that there is negativity surrounding an uplifting movie about one of the greatest scientific minds of our time, but if there's one thing people have it's opinions on the internet. Truth be told, though, the criticism isn't unique. Any film that casts an able-bodied person as a character with a disability garners censure from the disability community. The hype surrounding The Theory of Everything brought able-bodied bloggers and journalists into the mix. Some of them probably believe their arguments. Others want to paint themselves as progressive and understanding. If they really accepted their own claims, wouldn't their privilege invalidate their opinion in the same way that they wish to deny Eddie this part?

It's a thorny issue. one that every oppressed group has to deal with to some degree. When does privilege require you to stay silent?  Should actors who aren't x (disabled, gay, transgender) be able to play characters who are? They're always difficult questions to answer, and in this case they may be impossible. Disability is unique to a degree in that unlike most other forms of oppression it can be acquired. it can affect people later in life. Most conditions affect people on a spectrum. It can be invisible. Also, although having a loved one with a disability is not at all the same as having a disability, it can profoundly affect someone's life from birth. Thus, it's hard to look at someone and decide whether or not they have the right to speak on a disability-related issue. Honestly, there's the chance that you shouldn't accept anything I have to say about Redmayne's portrayal of Stephen Hawking. I am physically disabled, but I have the privilege of being able to walk, speak, feed myself, etc. I am not overly limited in my ability to care for or express myself. My condition is chronic, but it is not degenerative. I have no memories of the world pre-ADA. I acknowledge all of this. I do, though, have a background in disability studies, history, and culture. I also have what might be an unpopular opinion.

I do not think there is anything wrong with having a non-disabled actor portray a person with a disability in this instance. My thoughts on the subject are very specifically related to both the actor, Eddie Redmayne, the character, Stephen Hawking, and the condition, ALS. It's easy to apply a generalized should in the abstract. But this example is as complicated as it is concrete. First of all, the actor. Eddie Redmayne put an incredible amount of effort into this role. An actor takes on an entirely different life with each film. There is a new personality to portray, a new physicality to enact, a new voice with which to speak. And Redmayne is the type of actor who takes this very seriously. In any interview about his preparations for The Theory of Everything, he talks about the work he did to understand Stephen Hawking, both mentally and physically. Although not a science person, he studied to comprehend Hawking's discoveries. He spoke to people with ALS, the way actors portraying police officers often go on ride-alongs.  He worked with a dancer to perfect the affects of ALS at each point in the film's timeline. In the director's commentary for the film, James Marsh says that the physicality had to become unconscious for Eddie. That once the cameras started rolling, his mind had to be focused on the words, the inner monologue, the same way any actor's would. This undoubtedly put a physical and mental strain on Eddie, but Felicity Jones has made a point of saying that his dedication made his scene partners attempt to take it up a notch with their own characters. It's important to note that she, too, changes her character's body language in the different stages of the film. Thus, although portraying a person with severe physical disability might be more taxing than some other roles, the process isn't necessarily different. 

Okay, fine, one might say. Eddie did the work. He earned his Oscar. But that doesn't mean that an actor with a disability couldn't have done the same. This isn't an impossible claim, by any means. However, there are considerations here that don't come up when this issue is considered in other contexts. Nearly every interview Eddie has given about The Theory of Everything brought up the physical nature of this role. How difficult might it have been for an actor who already had a physical disability to contort themselves in the various positions required to make each stage of Hawking's ALS manifest. Depending on the actor's disability, though, the hardest part might have been the initial stages when Hawking is more or less non-disabled. If nothing else, it would require even more effort, led to more fatigue, and require the actor to exert more muscle control that their own disability allows. There's the deepest irony of this situation--to show the degeneration of muscle control requires a supreme amount of muscle control. I'm not saying any of this is impossible for a physically disabled person. That's an individual question. I would have concerns, though. There's an increased chance of injury, but this could apply to anyone. My true worry would be for the actor's mental health.

There's a story told about the filming of the Sophia Burset-centric episode of Orange is the New Black. Although Laverne Cox was willing to play pre-transition Sophia producers wanted to cast an outside actor, worrying that taking on the part would be triggering for Laverne Cox--that having to dress as a male might cause dysphoria. In the end they were able to hire her twin brother for the part. Had Cox performed the part, I'm sure she would have been fabulous, but I understand the producers' concern. I also know that as a person with a physical disability, I am very conscious of my abilities, and how privileged I am to have them. Having had to use a wheelchair occasionally makes me very, very, thankful for the days when I can walk. More significantly, I lost vision in one eye at the age of thirteen. I live with a constant fear of losing the low-vision I have in my good eye. I have a better-than-most understanding of the difficulties of not being able to see. I used to act, and I know how to go about researching and preparing for a role. I cannot imagine portraying someone whose vision is worse than mine, because I believe it would trigger my fear of losing my vision, because that is a very real possibility for me.

But then, I'm not blind. So would I be "allowed" to play a blind person? Anyone without ALS could be said to be in the same position as Redmayne. They might know what it's like to have a physical disability, and to use a wheelchair. They might know what it's like to go from able-bodied to disabled, as many disabilities are acquired. But they probably wouldn't have a disorder as degenerative or life-threatening as ALS. So, should whoever played Stephen Hawking have had ALS? There could be someone in the early stages who could have done it, but how traumatizing might it be to have to enact later stages of the disorder? And to present these stages, they would have to do the same preparation as Redmayne, the same physical and mental work, while knowing that this could very well be their body's default within months--remember, Hawking's ALS did not move at the disorder's usual pace.

To me, it seems like this could cause unnecessary mental anguish. One of an actor's best coping mechanisms is the fact that the life they are portraying is not their's. The role is a job. It's not a possible future. In fact, even for Eddie Redmayne this role comes with a bit more mental risk than most, because acquired disability is a possibility. He will never be a world-renowned physicist who is diagnosed with ALS in the 60s, but he could end up needing an electric wheelchair one day. He could lose his ability to speak. The possibility is there for him as much as for anyone, disabled or not. And that's my main reason for thinking that this role, specifically, can be played by a non-disabled actor. It is incredibly specific, and it is an acquired disability. Most people with disabilities haven't experienced that part of Hawking's life--the non-disabled part--anymore than a non-disabled actor has experienced the later part.

Of course, there are other considerations. The increased physical strain wouldn't be there for an actor with an invisible disability, but their experience of disability is, in many ways, as different from the physical disability experience as a non-disabled actor. And, really, what I think it boils down to is the fact that Stephen Hawking, the real, living person, does not mind being portrayed by a non-disabled actor. Of course, he also does not tend to identify as disabled, and he has been criticized for benefitting from the disability rights movement without using his position to advocate for it. But that's a whole other post. My point is that there are reasons to critique every possible opinion about this film. But what no one seems to deny is the success of Redmayne's performance. It is respectful, thoughtful, and nuanced. The film isn't overly inspirational the way most Disability! pieces are. It's more-or-less honest, and it's about more than just a white man's struggle with his body. It's about family, about belief, about change. It's important.

Should there be more disabled actors out there? Absolutely. Should they play disabled and non-disabled characters? Absolutely. Should The Theory of Everything be ignored or censured because of this? Absolutely not. In my opinion.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Flavors of Feminism

If in your book/essay/blog post you claim to be an intersectional feminist—or„indeed if you see writing about any social issue—and then you neglect disability, you have failed. 
Any time I come across a list of adjectives that nearly every author addressing social issues—particularly gender equality—wants to make sure their reader considers, I cringe. These ubiquitous lists contain what I like to call the flavors of feminism. 
Listen, they entreat. Pay attention to transgender women! Women of color! Queer women! Muslim women! Jewish women! Women next door! Men who have also suffered the sting of patriarchal expectations!
These lists are nearly comprehensive, and as such they are generally identical, regardless of the author’s position and privilege. This makes the omission even more harmful. 
These lists entreat us to rally around those like us, and those different from us. However, they generally exclude the one category that can touch anyone, regardless of gender, race, class, or creed. There are parts of the disability experience that could provide common ground between folks that inhabit entirely opposite subsets in every other conceivable way. 
And maybe that possibility is why it’s so easy for able-bodied people to neglect. Unlike many minorities, disability can be acquired. Without it the menu requires only acknowledgement from the reader--yes this is my life, I must understand my challenges and check my privileges; or, no, this will never be my life, and so I must have empathy. Disability is a variable. It could happen to you, or a loved one, and introduce an entirely new factor into your understanding of social issues. Yikes! That’s too nebulous for this true/false questionnaire!
I’ve put more thought into in this than I meant to, but I wanted to examine the function of these lists in order to tease out the reason for the exclusion as well as the consequences. At a a basic level, these lists are true/false tests. The reader scans them, notes which apply to their life, feels the thrill of being remembered, the relief of remembering that one is not alone. The other descriptors eacb up an image, the reader’s mental construct of an entity to whom the designation applies. Someone in their life, or from the media. Not them, but a person, they realize, whose life is affected differently than theirs by the construct at hand . They consider the possible differences, the positive and negative, and tell themselves to bring them to mind as they construct their identity within this realm. They must do so, because taking on that perspective will never be instinctual. It will never be a part of their day-to-day experience in the same way as someone who is part of the listed group. 
But disability is a reminder that circumstances can change. That’s uncomfortable for people of all privileges. However, I don’t think it’s bad for anyone to remember that this shift can happen to anyone; that even the uncertainty gives them something in common with those on the other side of the spectrum in all other aspects. Fine, maybe you can’t unexpectedly wake up with a different ethnicity, race, or sexuality*, but you could acquire a disability. So could the man in the mansion across town. Both of you need to think about how your economic choices affect the disabled, because it is the ethical/equal/right thing to do—but also because it could affect you.
But that’s seeing this from a non-disabled lens, which is an act of empathy on my part. It is not a sphere I inhabit, or that I could. I cannot omit disability because it doesn’t apply to me, and I’m not reminded by running through the women on Orange is the New Black**. I am disabled. It is the linchpin of my identity. Thus, I feel more than disappointed when it is excluded from a checklist of minorities that the true intersectional xxx-ist must remember. I feel invisible, neglected, and ignored. I feel as though I have done something wrong. I must have, to be forgotten by those who wish to fight for the rights of everyone, whatever their lifestyle, power, or privilege. 
Disabled woman is a flavor of feminist. We stand (march, sit, lie) with other minorities to advocate for rights they have been denied, and we should have the same consideration. We tell others about the Stonewall riots, so please remember the Capitol Crawl. And, please, put us in your lists. To be truly intersectional, one must acknowledge that black men can be queer, Muslim women can be trans, non-binary folks can be in the one-percent. 
And any of these people can be affected by disability. So could you. 
And I am. That makes it my favorite flavor of feminism. I’d really appreciate you remembering to keep it on the menu.

*Yes, you can convert to a religion, but since that is a thought-through choice, one generally puts more consideration into how the whole of their life will be affected by that. 
**Note that I say women. Bennett does have a disability, but his character isn't associated with that; whereas Laverne Cox has become the country's symbol for transgender women.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Question About Bathrooms

I hate single occupancy, accessible/family restrooms. They are actually less accessible for me because the toilets are so tall, there are other reasons, too, which I mention below. Although I am very much a cis-female,* my experiences allow me to empathize and be invested in the debate about gender-neutral restrooms that is so important in the attempt to stop public harassment of transgender people. It's also why I found myself responding to a post on tumblr about the reaction of non-Muslim women to seeing them adjust their hijab**.

The post reads, "Fixing your hijab in a public restroom is so hilarious because they’re either completely amazed and stare at you the whole time, or they quickly look away as if they have seen something that they could be killed for."

Aside from illustrating the typical non-Muslim woman's misunderstanding of Islam, this blithe post made me consider public restrooms more than I ever have, even though my own experiences have caused them to be a bigger hurdle than I assume they are for most people. I've dealt with blood, drainage, and IV lines in public restrooms, but I've never felt unsafe or been in a situation where my believes could be so easily compromised against my will. I'm framing my question around female-identifying folks who follow Islam to align with the OP, but please note that it applies to women of many faiths that require modesty for many reasons.

What do these women say in the debate about gender-neutral bathrooms? Sit-to-pee vs stand-to-pee, the increasingly popular idea that restrooms could be arranged based on this preference as opposed to gender, doesn't seem to address this issue***. It would be considered haram (a sin) for a non-relative who identifies as male to view the hair/body, of a stranger who identifies as female, correct? So, in a female-only space someone who wears hijab, like the OP, can adjust a scarf without worrying about male-identifying folks seeing their hair. In a situation where adult, male-identifying folks could be in the communal area one could not be able to remove any covering or even adjust it without some anxiety, even if they don't believe an accidental glimpse is haram/sinful.

All the issues that come about when discussing bathroom safety for trans-folks come into play here, too. Separate-but-equal single occupancy bathrooms denies community. Sure, some people do not want their bodies to be on display to anyone while they put on make-up or adjust clothing, and that's fine. However, the mirror area in an contemporary women's restroom are often places of judgement free socialization.**** At conferences, I have been encouraged to network in the line for the restroom, and have done so. Also, as someone with a disability, I find that when I have to use an entirely separate room I feel very isolated. Once, an infection in my leg began draining through my clothes while I was in the college library. My friend was able to bring me bandages and fresh clothes   to me by crawling under the stall door. Due to pain and drainage, I wouldn't have been able to get up to let her into a single occupancy stall. And yes, maybe those closing doors with their deadbolts are safer than the stalls that feel like they might topple over with one slam, but at an obscure gas station in Bumfuck Nowhere, Georgia, I feel much safer knowing that I'm not alone in the cement out-building full of toilets. But that is just me. In my opinion, a person who chooses to wear hijab shouldn't be denied access to a mirror lest their hair be seen, or be banished to a single-occupancy room. Nor should anyone take up an accessible stall unless they have a disability. So, what would make both folks of faith and trans/non-binary folks comfortable?

Would partitioning off a "dressing area" be okay, or does that still lead to harassment of transwomen and anxiety for those attempting modesty? (This idea makes me think of Rickie***** from My So-Called Life, who would gossip and do his make-up with the girls in the women's restroom, and no one minded. Perhaps the answer here is that everyone should just be respectful like Rickie.)

Obviously, in the strict interpretation of faith-based modesty, enforcing the binary is important to most followers. In Islam, it would be haram for any non-biological female to be in a female space, but that kind of binary does not exist in the world we live in. Being trans is not a choice, but for many, many people religion isn't, either. Female-identifying people face judgement by their communities, and things I've read make me believe that humans are often less forgiving than deities.

There are those who would point to the reason thst seeing a female's body is haram/sinful in many faiths, particularly the Abrahamic ones. The fear of unwanted sexual thoughts puts some onus of responsibility on the man--don't look! don't lust!--but women must make the effort to curb their enthusiasm. To avoid unprovoked sexual thoughts, and their physical counterpart, which is the true underlying issue in all feminist conversations about restrooms, one could suggest bathrooms be segregated by sexuality, not gender. But then folks like Rickie and I would  never be able to pee. Also, this would force people to come out in public, making the space way less safe, so I reject it. Plus, that solution would completely deny one of the main reasons that I think communal restrooms are important, the chance to connect with people who have had similar experiences, even if it is just a   wink of understanding as the woman at the sink next to you pins their hijab and smiles in understanding while you attempt to apply mascara without parting your lips.

 I know something of separate bathrooms, and covering one's body, but in this conversation my voice is for asking the question, not dictate an answer. So, to those who face these issues from either side of from both, how do you think the world can make public spaces safe for transgender and non-binary people, while respecting folks right to modesty?

Bias acknowledgment: I ask this all as a white, disabled, bisexual, cis-female who was raised in a predominately Christian community. I have been educated about Islam, but I am not well-versed on the Koran. Most of my Muslim friends are American, so I have awareness, not experiences of Islamic countries/cultures, as well as other faiths that require modesty, such as Chassidic Judaism. Also, I think a person's choice to reveal or hide their body is one that should be respected, no matter why it's made.

Please, if you respond to this, respect trans/non-binary people, as well as those who follow religious doctrines. I know many faiths reject non-binary genders all together, but I want to consider this in terms of how we make public spaces safer for people of all beliefs and bodies.

*one who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth.

**It is considered a sin in most versions of Islam for a male who is not a relative to see the hair of an unrelated female. Other women can see whatever the person wants them to see.

***And surely there are transwomen who still prefer to do this?

****Not always, of course.

*****Brilliant Rickie Vasquez, a non-binary, a bi/pan POC who graced our screens in 1994, and yet people still think such a majestic creature impossible. Tino is the unicorn. Rickie is real.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Magical Law and Bills of Attainder

In reading a political memoir, I came across the concept of a bill of attainder, which is, essentially, a writ that allows a legislature to punish someone without a judicial trial. Like any nerd who understands the world through fictional references, I immediately thought of Harry Potter—or, more specifically, Sirius Black.
According to Wikipedia, the bill of attainder was most common in England in the 13th-18th century. It led to imprisonments and executions of many prominent personages, such as Thomas Cromwell, Catherine Howard, and Richard III. Notably, the use of bills of attainder ended in 1798, over one hundred years after the 1689 Statute of Secrecy. Bearing this in mind, along with the fact that Magical Law, along with the culture, is slow to change, it’s safe to assume that the practice remained on the books.
Even so, it’s notable that someone being denied the right to a trial is notable, even in the heavy-handed world of British Magical Law. We see several trials over matters large and small, and under a stable ministry, punishments are supposedly fair or as Fudge says in PoA “We don’t send people to Azkaban just for blowing up their aunts!” (PoA 75) He says this, though, because Harry has assumed the opposite—in fact, Harry often seems to believe that he is going to be given a punishment far worse than the crime he has committed.
Part of this is personal. Growing up with the Dursleys led Harry to expect disproportionate punishments, and though we never see the adults inflict physical abuse on him, Dudley’s beatings and Vernon’s threats are enough to lead him to believe that McGonagall will cane him for disobeying Madam Hooch in PS/SS, a first offense that did not result in injury. However, that’s not his only fear. “He thought of Hagrid, expelled but allowed to stay on as gamekeeper. Perhaps he could be Hagrid’s assistant. His stomach twisted as he imagined it, watching Ron and the others becoming wizards while he stumped around the grounds, carrying Hagrid’s bag.” (PS 212)
Harry’s thoughts here serve as a precedent for his experience with wixen punishment throughout the books. Consequences for crimes lead to extreme rights being revoked, in this case Hagrid’s right to be a trained wizard along with the prestige—and safety—it brings. However, at this early point, Harry is already aware that these punishments can be softened, specifically by Dumbledore, as they are for him frequently. (At least until the Ministry destabilizes.)  
Harry isn’t the only one with this perception of wixen law and order. Hermione, too, fears expulsion more than death within first two months of school. Why? Precedent. She doesn’t have Harry’s knowledge of Hagrid’s past, but she has read a lot. Specifically, she’s read a lot of contemporary history—"Modern Magical History and The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts and Great Wixen Events of the Twentieth Century.” (PS 152) And for all that wixen society is meant to seem even-handed—until it isn’t—the fact is that this hasn’t been the case in the time since the books were updated, even with the enchantments wix probably put on their printing presses. And although Dumbledore asserts that “the Ministry has no authority to punish Hogwarts students for misdemeanours at school,” (OotP 245) his attitude is seemingly an anomaly among headmasters, and as soon as Fudge’s fa├žade begins to crack, he infiltrates Hogwarts. Thus, from here I will consider Hogwarts under the general umbrella of wixen society.   
Like many societies, wixen Britain seems to lay claim to a stable, democratic identity. This is not generally the case, though, something that is made clear by the juxtaposition between Fudge and the Prime Minister in the opening chapter of HBP.The Prime Minister seems to recall his term based solely on Fudge’s increasingly harried appearances, and the disasters he does comment on—his junior minster’s breakdown and the Brockdale Bridge crisis—are the result of Fudge’s slipping hold on control. Of course, even without magic this meeting would be apocryphal. John Major’s predecessor was Margaret Thatcher, not a man who would have tried to throw Fudge out the window—though I wouldn’t put it past the Iron Lady—and he plenty of crises on his own. What sets Fudge’s crises apart, though, are the chaos and ineptitude they imply.   
Escaped prisoners who turn out to be innocent, mass breakouts, murders of political officials. The Prime Minister notes that he has “never been a murder in any of the government departments under hischarge…” (HBP 26) And that’s rather the point. This is more than Fudge being a “[b]ungler if there ever was one.” (PS 96) Yes, Fudge let things get worse by denying Voldemort’s return, but he did so to cling to the guise of a stability that the current wixen government could not support. This can be seen if we look at the man who nearly had the job, the one who passed the bill of attainer against Sirius. “And I wasn’t the only one who was handed straight to the Dementors without trial. Crouch fought violence with violence, and authorised the use of the Unforgivable Curses against suspects. I would say he became as ruthless and cruel as many on the Dark side.” (GoF 614)*
And that’s the thing. At this point, Crouch was Head of Magical Law Enforcement, presumably an appointed position, and he had almost immeasurable power—something that is common and rewarded in this society. The war was, at this point, between autocrats—Crouch, Voldemort, and Dumbledore—and I see no evidence that this wasn’t the norm. Sure, the Minister seems to be an elected position, Hogwarts answers to a board of governors, and the Wizengamot exists, but these institutions seem to bend constantly to bribery, be subject to infiltration, and have a tendency to hand over their power to one person. Even if the show trials are fair trials in times of peace, well, how many of those have there been between the traditionally old-fashioned Ministry’s adoption of Post-Enlightenment practices and the rise of one dark lord or another? Not much, I’d wager. Not for a long enough stint for the idea of rule by the people to truly sink in, judging by the power Lucius Malfoy’s coin purse wields. Wixen Britain tends to lend itself to two things: despots, and consolidation of power. Perhaps it says something about the effects of magic at large. Perhaps wix are either are either afraid of their own power, or desperate for more. Either way, it’s an historical trend that seems not to have died out, simply to have lain low during times of uncertain stability, which is why Fudge didn’t stand a chance.
It’s also why Hermione believes, in early DH, that a career in Magical Law would not allow her to do good in the world. This belief, though, is what makes it hard for readers to believe that she went on to have just such a career. Aside from providing proof that even hard-headed Hermione can grow up and change her mind, this turnabout shows just how much of a change Harry and his friends hope they can make. Despite hating the government of his youth, Harry takes a job as an Auror under Kingsley Shacklebolt’s leadership. Shacklebolt, who has led the Order in what seems to be quite a democratic fashion. I don’t have much to go on for that claim, except that he seems to delegate to Harry when necessary at the beginning of DH, and to others during the Potterwatch. And, of course, that in spite of other interests, and the distrust of the law that they’ve both held since childhood, Hermione and Harry both serve in his ministry. For the first time, they are fighting to make changes from within the system—reworking it, no doubt, but also not fighting against it. They seek to nip corruption in the bud, and they must believe they can do it.
Although I don’t know much about the government of 1990s Britain that Rowling was undoubtedly critiquing, I do know what it’s like to live under a system that seems too flawed to survive the way it is. And the fact that Harry and Hermione believe that change can come in a fair, presumably democratic way, gives me hope for the real world.
Sixteen years on, and Harry Potter is still helping me have faith in the real world.
Note: Page numbers are taken from the ebooks, British edition.
 *I think that the show trial of Bellatrix, Crouch Jr, & Co. proves that—it was as much for his benefit as the Bill of Attainer against Sirius. It also parallels the way in which the international community tried Nazis—it’s the just thing, of course—but PR was arguably a larger motive.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Fleur Delacour-Weasley is a Fantastic Female

I have a theory that veela can sense when a man is being influenced by their magic—but Fleur may not be able to do this, or at least not as reliably as a full veela. 
Actual Veela can turn on and off their appeal, and Harry and Ron speculate that Fleur can do so Goblet of Fire. I’m not so sure. I think that a lot of her reasons for putting her name in to the goblet had to do with proving herself mentally and physically. The other students’ reaction to her being chosen shows that they clearly judge her for her beauty. Unlike from, she has never been the flower of the Beauxbaton court. She holds herself aloof, and she uses magic to her advantage, but it must be hard to know the people and be her for something that she really can’t control having, whether or not she can use it at her well. The fact that her most loved person is her sister again shows that she has difficulty interacting with people, not being judged, and if they seem to like her, separating that from the effects of her magic. She probably does not trust easily. 
Sure, we see her appreciating Bill’s looks at the end of book four, but so does Harry. Fleur’s a teenage girl. She is also brave and talented and cares a hell of a lot more about personality than books, and I can’t imagine her getting into a long-term relationship or marriage with someone without knowing that they love her for her brain and not her beauty.
TL;DR if she cannot tell whether or not someone has being affected by the Veela magic, I imagine that the year that we don’t see of her relationship with Bill was full of endless tests on her part, and him patiently breaking down barriers the way he once broke curses on tombs. I kind of want to read their story.

Originally Posted October 24th, 2014

Severus Snape's Refusal to Mature

To start on a light note: 
The fundamental difference between James and Severus, the real reason Lily ended up with the “arrogant, bullying toe-rag” and not the boy who had been her best friend is that Severus never matures. 
There are arguments to be made that he did not get the chance to do so. That he had more pressure on him at Hogwarts than James, and thus was not able to focus on his personality. Maybe. We don’t know what Hogwarts life was really like for either of them. Maybe things would have been different, post-war, if Lily had lived. But I don’t think they would have, because in a way, Lily did live. She was a part of Harry in more than just the eyes, and people who took the chance to know him saw that. Hell, Horace Slughorn saw that. And yet, the man who believed he loved Lily best of all didn’t, because he was too busy using a position of power to continue teenaged rivalries.
The things Snape does to Harry in class, like vanishing his potion before it can be graded, are probably things that the Marauders did to him. It’s rude, unacceptable behavior but ultimately not incredibly harmful. Grades at Hogwarts seem to be determined by end-of-year exams, not in-class assignments, and only OWLs and NEWTs really matter in the job market. GPAs aren’t a thing. It’s unfair, bullying behavior, but it’s the kind of thing that kids with undeveloped senses of empathy do to each other and then regret when they are old enough to understand the effects.*
However, it is not something that a teacher—who is in a position of authority—does to a student to retaliate against the student’s father whom the kid has never met. Particularly when the student would never think to do something like that himself. If Snape had actually gotten to know Harry from the start, he would have seen that in relation to other students, Harry seems to have been much more like Lily than like James.
I imagine that James arrogance probably came from being the only child of wix and from believing himself to be unusually adept. Maybe he picked on Snape because first-year Snape didn’t have the knowledge he thought a pureblood should have—Tobias Snape seems to have not liked magic. Meanwhile, Snape probably insulted James for being a Gryffindor, for befriending Black the Blood-Traitor, or for not being able to tie a tie. Who knows! They were eleven! And (this is speculation!) maybe when Snape got good at potions, he was vocal about that, so James Vanished his work to take him down a notch. It’s hypocritical, and unsupportive, and the mark of a rivalry. But it’s not something you take out on a kid, particular not one who has half of your one-time best friend’s genes.
Harry comes school with less magical knowledge than most muggleborns. He caught on quickly, as one imagines Snape did, but he doesn’t flaunt these accomplishments. He also never interferes with a classmate’s schoolwork. His best friend is muggleborn. He respects classmates who struggle with schoolwork, like Neville. And until sixth-year, when he believes Draco Malfoy is a Death Eater, he rarely, if ever, attacks Malfoy unprovoked, and even more rarely does he do so with anything other than words. For Merlin’s sake, in fifth year he becomes a teacher and proves himself to be far more patient than Snape has ever been. Yes, he is working with people “on his side,” but is Snape ever shown to be a better teacher to Slytherins?
Teenaged Harry is not like his father in the way he relates to other people, to the point that he is shocked and appalled by his father’s behavior in Snape’s Worst Memory, even though he has been abused by Snape for five years, and hears Snape use a slur against Lily. Meanwhile, adult Snape’s treatment of students much more closely resembles James’s treatment of his schoolyard nemesis. 
This is a blatant misuse of power. None of these kids have ever done anything to Snape, except maybe smart mouth him. Two of the ones he most antagonizes—Harry and Hermione—are the most like Lily. But in acting like the adult version of a boy whom he hated Snape is perpetuating harmful behavior, and he’s doing so in a position of much more power than James ever held over him. Moreover, he is behaving in a way that would absolutely horrify the woman he loved.
Perhaps you can say that he believes that this is the way to treat people because it is the way he was treated by the man the woman he loved eventually chose to marry, but the thing is James matured. We are told, in canon, that James became a respected, honorable person. Part of the reason Harry is so shocked by teenaged James’s bullying is because most of the people who have told him about his father have spoken of him in near-reverent tones, and these are people like Minerva McGonagall, who does not hold with using magic to bully. I can’t imagine her being okay with the things James and Severus did to each other at school, but she clearly admired James as an adult, as did other people. And I refuse to believe that an adult man who loved Lily Potter—loved her enough to allow her to bring out the best in him—would take out teenaged animosity on a child who had never met the man he disliked. 
Really, that’s the thing that bothers me the most about Severus Snape. He loved the ideal of Lily. If he’d loved the woman, he would have seen her in Harry—but not just in his eyes. He would have given the boy a chance—because that’s what Lily did.
In Snape’s Worst Memory, we are shown two fifteen-year-old boys who love Lily Evans. She shuns both of them, one because he mistreats a classmate** and the other because he uses a slur against her.*** They react differently. Snape begs Lily’s forgiveness, but when she explains what he must change, he balks. No doubt he was being threatened by the burgeoning Death Eater movement. We’ve seen how persuasive they must have been even at this time. But we are never given any canonical evidence that Snape made an attempt to break ties. At the time that Andromeda Tonks is marrying a muggleborn—surely losing a significant amount of privilege and alienating people with dark magic—Snape never  changes his word choice for Lily. And yes, it’s a matter of changing fundamental beliefs, but we have canonical characters who did so for reasons other than deep, abiding love. And I don’t believe that one should necessarily change to be loved, but if you are seeking acceptance from someone, you should not do things that are hurtful to them. Yes, he risked his life to save her, but not to save the man she loved, or her baby. I cannot imagine that Lily Potter, who died for that baby, would have been grateful for that, nor for the way he eventually treated Harry. I know there are people who think Snape shouldn’t be judged for the way he treats people, because not everyone is nice, but please look at the way he treats the woman he claims to love. 
Meanwhile, James. I’m going to acknowledge the point that he may not have ceased bullying Snape, which is a mark against him. However, after Snape’s Worst Memory, he was not picking fights with Lily’s best friend. His curses would be aimed at a person who used slurs against someone James respected, who had connections with people who were becoming more and more dangerous, and who had invented at least one spell that caused slashes to appear all over someone’s body. Still, James did not let things get too dangerous at school. He had ulterior motives for saving Snape’s life, yes, but those motives were to protect his friends—particularly Remus. I think there is a valid parallel to be made between James seeking to keep the world from finding out about Remus’s lycanthrope and Severus siding with Death Eaters against Lily to protect himself. There are privilege differentials—James with more than Severus, Remus with (potentially) less than Lily—but also danger differentials that potentially even it out.
As for Lily, we have no canonical evidence that James continued to pursue her after the scene at the lake. He did “deflate his head a bit.” Maybe he did it to earn Lily’s affection, maybe not, but either way he seems to have outgrown his bullying tendencies, or at least to have learned to channel them. We don’t have as much information about him post-Hogwarts as I’d like, but we know that he and Lily had thrice defied Voldemort. We know that he trusted his friends and would do just about anything for them. And we know that he sacrificed himself so that Lily and Harry could live. 
Lily Evans Potter is a Gryffindor. She is courageous. She has been marginalized, she has been threatened, and she has been betrayed by a childhood friend. You cannot tell me that this woman who loved deeply enough to save her child from the darkest wizard in history would have chosen to spend her life with a man who hadn’t learned to be as honorable as humanly possible. I see Lily as someone who understood that humans are fallible, but expected that the people she loved to recognize their mistakes and strive to be better people. Harry is a forgiving person, and although that attribute is ascribed to James, I think it belonged to Lily, too. After all, she came to love a man who had once been a bully, because he changed. I imagine that was hard for her, considering that the boy she had once loved so well never seemed to manage it. 
Snape did risk his life, in the end, by going to Dumbledore. He put himself into danger for her. But that marked the extent of his change in behavior. He switched his loyalties, but never his behavior. He pulled a Peter Pettigrew, but on the opposite side. And perhaps Lily would have forgiven him, as Harry did Pettigrew, and even Snape, but I cannot imagine that she ever would have been able to love him again. That, to me, is sad for everyone involved.
*Not to say that  kids don’t/shouldn’t understand that others have feelings, but developmentally adolescents are self-centered and don’t always understand that prank victims have the same feelings/emotions they do.
**That’s the simplest way to put it, but I don’t want to argue in James’s favor here. Whatever the history between him and Snape, James is a bully here, and his “prank” borders on abuse.
***Again, simplifying. The slur must have been deeply hurtful to Lily because she considered Snape her best friend.

Originally Posted October 24th, 2014

Friday, January 23, 2015

Message from a Boy (Harassing a Lady)

Yesterday, at about four, I revived my OKCupid profile. Within hours, I received a proposition from a man asking if I'd ever thought of being with "a couple? How about a couple of writers?" which, hey, you do you, dude; however, you are twenty-two years older than me, so no thanks.

At eleven o'clock I got this:

My reply, with my face for reference.

Here's the thing, I don't expect much from dating sites. I've been on three dates in my life. I've done a lot of chatting-that-goes-nowhere. Whatever. All in good fun. And I go back and forth about officially disclosing my disability on my profile. I get more messages if I don't, but it's such a huge part of me, that often I do.

I fall into the category of rabid feminist. I will defend other women's--and men's, and nonbinary folks'--rights to do whatever they want with their bodies in a safe space. But I have a hard time identifying with the issues of unwelcome sexualization other girls face. It never happened to me. I wasn't just a girl to my guy friends in high school, I wasn't a girl at all. Not one they'd consider dating. Not a deeply romantic person with with nascent desires, just like they are. (Full disclosure: I did get asked out once, by my best friend. We had one date. No bases involved.)

So, I don't get the "hey sexy" messages on OKC. I'm sure this makes me lucky, in the realistic scheme of things. For someone raised in thee contemporary world of hypocritical beauty expectations for girls/women, it is perversely disappointing. My body is not sexualized. It is also not fetishized,in the way of other disabled people. It is desexualized.

And I've grown accustomed to that. I try not to hold myself to beauty standards my body can't attain. I like make-up, and having long, pink-streaked hair. My face is my face, I do with it what I can. Most people I know seem to understand that. Believe it or not, I'd never gotten a message like this before. Dumb luck, I guess. Or maybe it's that I've usually lived in metropolitan areas, where people had better things to do than abuse a disabled girl on the internet. The fact that this guy doesn't like it isn't what bothers me about this message--at least not consciously. What bothers me about this message is that he bothered to send it. It bothers me that a self-identifying nerd, who has interests similar to mine, decided to waste his inbox allowance on this. He's not a neckbeard--he's pasty, but not unattractive. He has a good job. Works for the Navy. And yet.

And yet. Our society has such little acceptance for desperate--no, for DISABLED--appearances, that it is okay to say things like this. The shouts and slurs that used to be given whenever disabled people went out the door have now been moved inside, and online. This is not a positive development. But it is also not this particular bastard's fault. Our city has a smalltown mentality, but it's not small. I doubt he's ever seen me in real life. He probably doesn't have much experience with people with disabilities--some of our schools mainstream better than others, after all--perhaps all he knows how to do is express his knee-jerk reaction to the unusual. But it is the fault of society that enforces beauty standards so intensely that a guy not only can't see past the superficial, but must also scream his discomfort to the heavens.

I can take this. It's nothing I haven't heard, or thought, before. Not all disabled people can. Next time you're going on about being sexualized by MRA assholes, please remember your comrades who are desexualized, as well. Remember us. Speak of us. Fight with us.

Otherwise, the predators will have free reign over yet another oppressed group. No one wants that. Right?