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These metas tend to be somewhere along the lines of “Jenna: This is Stuff I Like,” so in keeping with that: I like video games and cartoons. In particular, I played Mass Effect for the first time a few months ago and fell for it hard, buddy. You might also be aware that I’m super into Steven Universe, just like the entire rest of the internet. Clumsy intro aside, I’m going to be talking about blue space aliens who are queer female-types — Liara T’Soni from the Mass Effect trilogy and Sapphire from Steven Universe — and while I was trying to come up with why, the conclusion was in my face the whole time: sometimes you just kind of want to appreciate characters who are awesome and who impact you in some way by means other than, um, writing fan fiction.
Okay, but before we really begin, I want to clarify, I don’t actually mean capital-L “I’m in lesbians with you” LESBIANS, because that would be hella problematic.
Bisexual and pansexual erasure is a sadly common trend, and one which I do not intend to willfully take part in, and so we should state that both of these characters are more what you would call pansexual. Liara goes so far as to explicitly state that the partner (or “bondmate”) gender is irrelevant to her race, the Asari, who are all female-identified; Sapphire is female-presenting and uses female pronouns, and I believe that fusion is a metaphor for sexual expression, but who knows how Crystal Gems actually identify personally, if at all, because the gems’ identity isn’t something Steven Universe has explored to deeply yet but hot dam would that be awesome. At any rate, I use the phrase “Blue Space Lesbians” only because it was a term a friend used (with great success) to get me into Mass Effect, but neither Liara nor Sapphire identify as explicitly gay, nor is there any indication that this is an identity marker in their cultures. (Truly, sexuality as we know it may be entirely moot.) There aren’t a lot of queer folks in media, period, and a lot of the women we’ve seen up until the past few years have been, you know, lesbians on The L Word or something — which, ugh — and bisexual women are seen as tricky promiscuous minxes who can never settle down and are straight people in disguise, and pansexuality basically doesn’t exist outside headcanons or, um, Deadpool. Not only is these unfair and untrue characterizations on the whole, often propagated by biphobic people both within and outside of the LGTQIAA+ communities, it’s also blatantly untrue of these two characters. So…just want to put that out there. “Blue space bisexuals” or “blue space sapphics”** or “blue space queers” are perhaps each a better fit; using “lesbians” is an aesthetic choice only, and fits the characters on surface level only, especially as the latter is mildly abrasive.
I’m 24 years old. In theory, I should be beyond the years of looking at fictional characters as people to admire or role model myself on, when my mantra was basically “what would Hermione Granger do?” In theory, I should be a real Adult Human(tm), self-actualized and self-sufficient. And I am — which is good, because teenage!Jenna would never have seen that coming.
And yet, ever since the Korra finale in December 2014 and my rediscovery of the ups and downs but general welcomingness of fandom community, I’ve found myself finding solace in analyzing fictional characters: their motives, their development, the ways they evolve that are, well, admirable. There’s a lot to be said for a well-written female-female couple, a lot of it already on this website, because we don’t get much of it in media. No; far more often, if the relationship existed at all, we would until very recently get shit like Jenny Schecter being completely and utterly batshit and blatantly transphobic even for 2006, or Bette and Tina having it out in the season 1 finale and becoming physically violent, emotionally abusive, and sexually assaultive with each other, only to get back together (and cheat on each other, and break up, and get together again) repeatedly over the course of six seasons and somehow be possibly THE LEAST AWFUL RELATIONSHIP ON THE SHOW. Relationship dynamics are certainly different between female-female, female-male, male-male, nb-male, nb-female, and nb-nb relationships, and so I don’t need to sing the song of representation here. What works well and looks good for the straight couples out there won’t necessarily work for me in my femme-presenting-but-nonbinary self dating a cis-female.
It’s not all about this, though, the need for diverse relationships; it’s also a need for neurodiversity. I have high-functioning autism, and people on the spectrum tend to comment that we feel like aliens trying to understand why and how people do the things they do, or what comments are appropriate for which situations, or which jokes to laugh at, or what social nuances you’re supposed to follow to be Polite or Acceptable, etc etc. This isn’t to say that we’re all socially hopeless, or that we’re all awkward or don’t understand humans, because that’s not true at all, and it would be pretty offensive to suggest. We just kind of learn the algorithims. I, at least, piece together the context clues that I am given and pair it with similar situations I’ve gone through in order to come to a logical conclusion for what a good response to be, and while many folks do this innately, for those of us on the spectrum, it is a learned behavior — one that becomes second nature, but does require effort nevertheless. I get pretty fatigued of it by the end of the day.
Which is why sometimes it’s nice to see aliens who well-meaningly try to understand others, who are believable, perhaps, rather than someone like these guys…
While not doing that thing where people try to diagnose their favorite characters with their own diagnosis, Liara is kind of a great representation of what it can feel like to be on the spectrum. She’s deeply committed to her study to an almost painful degree — and then, when she also becomes The Shadow Broker, the holder of all knowledge of the galaxy, we have to wonder how, and when, she ever rests — and doesn’t seem to care or notice much if other people are making fun of her. She tirelessly tries to understand how interactions work, and needs to retire to her room when she becomes socially exhausted. And she’s awkward.
And Sapphire — Sapphire is how it feels when something comes up that I didn’t predict. Sapphire is the logical-to-a-fault part of arguing, annoyingly predicting what the other person is about to say, being stony until I thaw out and realize that, well, even if I think I can predict things, people aren’t inherently rational. Sometimes shit happens that doesn’t fit the logical structure. (Didn’t I mention oh, once or twice an article that I studied philosophy?) Sapphire is when anxiety kicks in and I’m not sure where to go and my feet feel frozen to the ground or, um, my back to the headboard of a figurative bed, I suppose. Sapphire isn’t necessarily neuroatypical, considering she’s a sentient space rock and all of the Crystal Gems are a little bit odd, but I’ll be damned if the characterization of Sapphire isn’t very, very familiar to how I feel when my predictions go awry. Sometimes, it just takes a lot of time to work through them and get out of your own head.
My point, darling readers, is this: we talk so much about the need for representation of different genders, sexualities, and races, with which I COMPLETELY agree, but a part of the conversation that doesn’t seem to get mentioned so much is neurodiversity, in part because it’s such a huge swath of stuff to talk about. We talk about depression, which is good. We talk about anxiety, which is good. And we talk about characters who get it wrong, as I’ve done throughout this writing. These characters, Liara and Saphire, who display parts of my particular intersection — not explicitly cisgender, are explicitly queer, and a decent metaphor for being on the spectrum — are a refreshing breath of air. And they do it without falling too far into tropes or stereotypes. They just kind of exist, as we say the best of queer or female or otherwise-non-straight-white-male characters should. So here’s an applause to these characters done right, and done subtly, because so often we focus on the bad, and dammit, I like that I can identify with blue space ladies.
Images courtesy of Electronic Arts, Cartoon Network, Universal, Nickelodeon, and Fox.
** Changed from “blue space pansexuals” because Claire pointed out that I had written that and there’s no indication of Sapphire being anything other than wlw, and suggested this term instead, which I rather liked. Thanks for catching that!
1. I’m also shameless Korrasami trash, but I am not about to post the link to my fan fiction here and also there are no blue space queers on that show, to my knowledge, unless you count Korra briefly turning blue in the season 2 finale or how that’s the only color she ever really wears…
2. Pansexuality, if you are not aware, is a sexual orientation where gender identity or presentation do not influence, or perhaps it is better to say do not negate, attraction.
3. Asari will mentally and emotionally bond with long-term partners in addition to having sex with them.
4. We also learn in “The Answer” that, contrary to what we get out of her fight with Ruby in “Keystone Motel,” her future vision isn’t always correct, that she didn’t expect for Ruby to take the fall for her, that she didn’t expect to desert everything she knew and fall in love with someone who was essentially her bodyguard.[4a]
4a. WHICH SOUNDS A LOT LIKE THAT ONE MOVIE, DOSN’T IT, THE WHITNEY HOUSTON ONE, YOU KNOW, AND EEEEEEYYYYEEEEEE WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOOOOOOU…but better.
5. Excluding maybe Alice and Dana, which was adorable but short-lived, and you know a show is doing a shitty job of keeping its audience captive when a major character dies and some of them (*cough*) don’t give a rat’s arse.
6. Also, don’t equate “least awful” with “healthy” because it is not, in any way.
7. “nb”: Non-binary
8. “cis”: Identifies with the gender assigned at birth (so, e.g., a person given a female designation who identifies as female).
9. I want to make very plain that in no way do I speak for everyone on the spectrum in this section. This is generalized based on the experiences of quite a few people I know, myself included, but of course, generalizations are the middle of the bell curve. There are outliers, and those experiences are totally valid. It would be foolish to say, for instance, that all ASD people are good at math, or are socially awkward, or can’t empathize with anyone.