Wednesday, May 30, 2018

More thoughts on A Wizard Alone and representation in fiction

I learned I was autistic and A Wizard Alone came out, within months of each other. This was a book I had preordered, a series that was my favorite series. It was something that I knew was going to be devoured and loved, because Young Wizards was my life at the time.

And this was when I found out that I was autistic. When suddenly, there was an autistic character in the latest book of my favorite series. And I read this book repeatedly. Whenever I needed anchoring I read this book. This book did not leave the side of my bed, because there was a character like me in a book that already meant so much to me.

And on the flip side, I could never stop being aware that it was wrong to be like me according to this book. It was good to stop being autistic. It was bad to be autistic. When I wasn't reading this repeatedly and living on the Young Wizards forums, I was living in autistic spaces, repeating amongst voices the word neurodiversity, saying that it wasn't bad to be me, being me, and trying to be loud, while not knowing how to be, as a teenager.

I was living this life where the thing grounding me, was a book that was important to me because it was already my favorite series, and was important to me because it had an autistic character, no matter how much that autistic character didn't look like me or move like me or think like me, no matter how much if the word autism wasn't said I wouldn't relate, because this larger family of autistics was a family I belonged to, and this character was someone who was like me and this mattered.

And I was living this life where this same thing that was grounding me was telling me I was wrong. And where I was going and spending large amounts of my time telling people that acting like this book was wrong, though not naming it by name.

This was what I needed, because what I could find for fiction at this point in time with autistic characters were stories and characters that weren't like me and that said that autistic was bad. Latching on to one of these stories, where a character wasn't like me and it was wrong to be autistic, but it was a world and series that I loved made sense, because there was still autistic. Because I could cognitive dissonance and dissociate away the parts which said, but you're not supposed to be this way. Because I could be, this is important, autistic is important, autistic fantasy is important.

And when the NME came out, this meant no longer was I needing to pretend in order to protect myself. While at this point this was no longer that book that I was holding myself together with, it was a book with that history to me, from a series where I buy every book the moment they're available, and a community which I grew up with.

I didn't need to keep saying "but it's okay, I like this book even though I wouldn't accept this from any other book, because it's important enough to me in other ways", because now it was fixed, now it was okay to be autistic, now this character looked far more like me than the previous edition's had (though still we're very different, because all autistic people are different). Now it was a book I was not afraid of recommending to people, and was instead one I wanted to recommend, because it was not only important, it was important, and had an autistic character like a character who actually felt autistic, not like the label was attached, and it was okay to be autistic.

These changes matter. Representation matters.

But what also matters is that it wasn't as huge of a deal as I would have expected when the NME came out. It mattered a lot because of the importance of YW to me, and because it was fixing a book that was problematic, but while I couldn't find books back when the first edition of A Wizard Alone came out where autistic wasn't wrong, now I can find these. Now I've read many. Now autistic authors writing autistic characters is a thing I can search for and choose to read and I know how to do that. Now fanfic with autistic characters isn't difficult to find. It wasn't as huge a deal because the a change in amount of fiction I can find with autistic characters does exist. And that matters too.

There still needs to be more. And we need more PoC autistic characters, and nonspeaking autistic characters, and in general more autistic characters which don't fit the norm that currently exists in fiction. At this point, I'm not looking to a book that wants to cure me because I feel alone and like I'm the only autistic person in the world and that matters. And others need that level of, not being alone, fiction recognizes they exist, too.

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