They Are Not Your Heroes

Well, that image certainly dragged the comics purists out of their basements.

“Why do they have to turn characters gay?”, “Why does it have to be rubbed in our faces?”, “Why must it be this way?”, are some of the plaintive and uncomprehending calls of so many Marvel and/or DC comics aficionados. They’re not sad little homophobes, mind you. (Or, as some internet wag quipped, “Oh look, the heteros are upseteros.”)

Credit: DC Comics

It isn’t just the matter of sexual orientation that seems to make waves. The same cohort that is up in arms over the Man of S’s son being down with the D, were just as vocally miserable and as miserably regressive when the mantle of “Thor” passed to a woman (Jane Foster), or when Nick Fury was portrayed as a black man, unlike his mainstream comics counterpart. Let’s ignore, for a second, that this is not Superman, but a different (albeit related) character. And that Jane Foster is a separate character, and not a “feminisation” of Thor (whatever that’s supposed to mean). And that Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Nick Fury has traditionally been black in that in-universe continuity, as opposed to the white Nick Fury of the comics mainstream continuity.

All of this is apparently too subtle for the wilfully illiterate. And it’s not the most interesting bit, anyway. (For good measure, let’s also ignore how thunderously silent this same cohort of complainers were, when the Ancient One, an East Asian male in the comics, was portrayed by a white lady on the big screen (we love you, Tilda Swinton, but bloody hell. Talk about Hollywood whitewashing.)

An East Asian male (“The Ancient One”)

The whole point of having different continuities and timelines, in comics, is to allow the writers creative leeway to express the different and evolving concerns of the day. The interesting question isn’t a “why”, but a “why not?”, and for reasons that are loaded with 21st-century buzzwords, but stay with me. Some measure of visibility and positive representation is crucial to all minority groups. The most obvious ones that come to mind are people of colour and the LGBT community, but women are in there, too. If you live in a place where societal customs, family values, or even actual laws dictate that you are valued less than someone else, on the basis of inherent characteristics, then it’s a sign that a) society is fucked up, and b) that good representation and role models—real or fictional—are things that help counterbalance feelings of inferiority and worthlessness that are imposed by a still predominantly patriarchal society.

The study of intersectionality explains in part why we’re observing more of this exploratory interpretation of characters, and tells us why it’s important. It’s no coincidence that within a few years, we’ve seen an increase in characters of colour, of female leads, and of characters that are not portrayed as explicitly heterosexual. Whether this is happening in cinemas or between the pages of comic books is irrelevant: it’s all part of the same trend. Fictional characters are a vehicle to convey a message about society, so for me, experimenting with and updating characters comes with the terrain, and is to be expected, as views change and evolve.

The faintly ludicrous whine of “Why don’t they leave our heroes as they’ve always been?” is not just a question, but also a metaphor for threatened privilege, in the face of growing intersectional representation. What the majority demographic is only just now noticing is no more than what several generations of minority demographics have had to deal with, their whole lives. In some cases (for those who are most vocally against such representation), it’s almost as if they’re afraid of being treated in the same way they’ve historically treated minorities…

26 September, 2021: Switzerland Finally Votes in Favour of Same-sex Marriage


I’ve been asked by a few straight friends what my reaction to this news in my adopted country is. Predictably, the jubilation and relief has been somewhat dampened (but only somewhat) by torrents of homophobic commentary and abuse, across all social media platforms.

My thoughts:

1. Celebrate! This has been a long time in the making, and we’re essentially the last country in Western Europe, and among developed (and even some less-developed) nations, to legalise same-sex marriage. I’m glad, but my happiness is tempered with irritation that it took this long, and sadness that perceptions haven’t really changed. (The vote was decided by only a fairly small majority, out of a roughly 50% voter turn-out.) It’s good and right that it should be legal, at last, but I’m not letting my guard down. It would be naive to think that social perceptions have shifted from one day to the next.

2. With regard to said perceptions: I find it very, very difficult to empathise with, sympathise with, or make time for anyone who would in any way support laws that discriminate against a demographic, whether physically, societally, or legislatively, on grounds of innate characteristics. People have been fighting against this since the early years of the 20th century (the suffragettes, for women’s rights); since the mid-20th century (the civil rights movement, against racism); and since the late 1960s/early 1970s, against homophobia (the Stonewall Riots being probably the most notable event). There is no rational justification for it, and opponents typically shift the goalposts to more emotive aspects of the argument, so as to get a visceral reaction from their reactionary supporters. The good news is, they always resort to the same rhetorical tricks, so they’re easy to identify and practise responding to.

So, for those who feel threatened and would prefer to keep treating people they disapprove of as less than human, on grounds dubious, spurious and specious: you don’t need to miss me with your fragile and passive-aggressive patriarchal toxicity. Bring it. But I will happily lay you out with a complimentary wreath, in exposing both you and your “arguments” for the shittiness you are.


Silences on World Poetry Day: the caesura in Classical Chinese poetry

The Tang-dynasty poet, Meng Haoran

On the occasion of World Poetry Day, let’s take a quick look at an example from outside of the western poetic traditions: Classical Chinese poetry.

The most recognisable forms of Classical Chinese poetry feature stanzas consisting of unpunctuated lines of five or seven characters. To help understanding, but also to provide a certain rhythm, there is always a brief pause after the second character (in five-line verse; or after the fourth character, in seven-line verse). I’ve signalled this below, using an asterisk (*).

This poem is called “Spring Morning” 春曉 (fittingly; good morning and happy spring, everyone!), by Meng Haoran 孟浩然, who lived in the early 8th century, during the Tang dynasty. Below, I’ve provided Pinyin romanisation, in case you want to have a crack at reading it (you know you want to), and have rendered it in a slightly choppy dactylic tetrameter, but the latter is subjective, and doesn’t proceed from the original text.


Chūn Xiǎo

Chūn mián * bù jué xiǎo

Chù chù * wén tí niǎo

Lái yè * fēng yǔ shēng

Huā luò * zhī duō shǎo

Spring Morning

I was scarcely aware of the dawning of Spring

Hither and thither I hear the birds sing

Nightfall brings with it the wind and the rain

How many blossoms have fallen, I can’t ascertain

Why Do Children Of Parents With Borderline Personality Disorder Need So Much Clarity?


Because the odds are, they’ve had to grow up with a quantity of histrionics and emotional dysregulation from their parents that even the most seasoned psychotherapists may be reluctant to deal with.

That sort of exposure to toxic behaviour wears you down, and burns you out—emotionally, psychologically, and even physically. The antidote is to seek peace: calm, reasoned, and rational discussion, clarity, transparency, balance . . . all the things they didn’t get, growing up. (Note that I’m not necessarily calling people with BPD “toxic”; the disorder is associated with a certain amount of distress on the part of the sufferer, too.)

Essentially, it’s compensation for being deprived of the opportunity of having parents who were neurotypical, and who were unable to provide an emotionally stable family environment.

If You Understand Chinese Characters, Can You Understand Japanese?

This is an example of a short phrase in Japanese, using both Kanji (based on, and in many cases identical to, Chinese characters) and Hiragana (cursive forms, supposedly derived from equally cursive Chinese characters, although no longer recognisable as such).

This tattoo features nine characters. Characters 2 to 5 and 7 to 9 are in Hiragana (that is to say, they are actually syllables). Characters 1 and 6 are Kanji, more often used for concepts. Japanese writing will often use Kanji to form the word root, and Hiragana syllables to write the inflections (conjugations, plurals, tenses, and so on), which are almost completely absent, in Chinese. As it happens, the two Kanji characters are identical to their Chinese equivalents (or at least, as they are written traditionally). I call them “Kanji” here, not because there is any difference, but because the full phrase is in Japanese, not Chinese.

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