I get jealous of fictional characters. All the fucking time.
I’ve often had a hard time separating reality from fantasy, and so when I see depictions of people, they can be as real to me as the people in my life. Even now, as an adult, I have difficulty separating my emotional reactions to fiction from my relationships with reality.
So smart, beautiful, healthy people who don’t have to watch their dreams crumble to ashes and make peace with their limitations– you know, protagonists– sometimes really piss me off. So, for example, here’s this girl, who is valued, powerful, can make decisions based on what she wants and not what she needs to survive, has a gorgeous body (which in my head is still code for “is cis” because I will never be free of my self-loathing) and oh yeah has fucking super powers and I instantly go to hate mode. Especially if she commits the sin of being written to whine about how she just wants to live a normal life.
(Oh yeah, and of course I never get jealous of male characters. It’s just women who, despite being made of ink and paper, I perceive as being better than me, and rubbing it in.)
I can only really enjoy characters who have fantastic abilities if they feel like shit about themselves. It is not a coincidence at all that my favorite comic book is Empowered, an ongoing series about a C-list superhero whose potent abilities are undermined by their unreliability. Emp gets humiliated far more frequently than she saves the day, and even when she kicks ass she almost never gets the credit she deserves. At times it’s only her broken, maladaptive coping mechanisms to her childhood traumas that keep her in the superhero business, a career path with limited options for advancement, and endless opportunities for injury, death, and disrespect at the hands of villains and other heroes alike. Her co-workers are all stronger and more respected than she is, and for the most part are just as emotionally malformed, but in a more outwardly malignant fashion. Her friends are broken, too. Of the main cast, only the demonic hellspawn from beyond time and space, currently trapped in an alien prison that is stored on Emp’s coffee table, isn’t a shambling mess of a person. It is heavily implied that, with perhaps the exception of Cyndablock, Captain Rivit, and The Goddamn Maid Man, most of the supporting cast have issues that run just as deep. The world of Empowered is one where everyone is a hollow wreck, and the protagonist is dealing with the same problems everyone else is, but with fewer resources. Beacuse of this, Emp isn’t threatening to me. I can root for her.
But, say, Supergirl? Yeah, not happening. I’ve tried reading stories that star her. I can’t finish them. Ever. She makes me want to burn down buildings with rage. How heroic can somebody be if they don’t have to fight themselves to get out of bed sometimes? And I bet she looks down on regular folks, too. How dare she not hate herself. Why does she get to be so special?
So on. So forth.
You can see this in the characters I write, too. My protagonists are either riven with insecurities and self-loathing, or arrogant, malicious, narcissists who teeter on the far edge of likability because hey, if you were that awesome why wouldn’t you be an asshole? You can be powerful, moral, or self-confident: pick two. The only character of my own creation that I can imagine putting into a mainstream superhero comic would be a girl with everyday problems who gets intensely jealous of the superheroes around her. Yes, that’s right, my self-insert is just an avatar of envy. When other people do self-insert wish fulfillment, they make themselves the guy who can beat up Superman. I make myself the chick who is pissed that Zatanna isn’t miserable like everyone else.
To a much lesser extent, this same effect applies to real people. They don’t have superpowers, so I guess that earns them credit in my eyes. But still, when I see pretty, talented women online or on tv or in real life, I get pangs of despair and envy. I try to control and dismiss these feelings. Mostly, I am able to with real life people. As you can tell from the blog, I am pretty open about a lot of stuff, but this is the one thing I really do keep quiet, and I won’t be discussing specifics about this one. Sometimes I slip, but not often.
But there is something about larger than life characters from fiction that gets to me over and over again. No matter how much I try, I can’t stop asking why do they get to be pretty? Why does the thing that makes them stand out as different and strange get to be something awesome, like being able to fly or do magic? Why do they get to be strong? Why do they get to feel strong? Why do they get to be valued, and respected, and maintain their autonomy?
And why don’t I?