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BHS Blogress Report: 2017, Week 41 – Cadet Tilly Gives Me Life

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Week 41 – Cadet Tilly Gives Me Life

Ahhh, look at all those COMPLETEs on the list down there. I feel really, really good about myself that I managed to finish both Shattered Skies Chapter 29 and the bonus chapter in the last three days. Cause enough, I think, to take a break from writing for the rest of the week. The bonus chapter will be up this Saturday, and I think you all will love it.

I got caught up and finished Boku no Hero Academia Season 2 with VDrake last week too, and now it’s officially on my all-time favorites list. And as excited as I am for the third season, I’m immeasurably glad that they’re not trying to go the Naruto/Bleach/whatever route and take advantage of the show’s popularity to crap out entire seasons of filler episodes. The wait will be hard, but I’m confident the results will be worth it.

So, last night I watched the two latest episodes of Star Trek: Discovery, and found an absolutely wonderful surprise. That surprise’s name is Cadet Sylvia Tilly, who in her first scene with her new roommate, main character Michael Burnham, introduces herself as “special-needs Starfleet”.

Her scenes in the next two episodes seem to make it clear that Cadet Tilly is on the autism spectrum. But rather than the stereotypical Hollywood portrayal of ASD people or their equivalents as inspirationally-disadvantaged idiot-savants (The Rain Man), obnoxious sociopaths played for cheap, easy laughs (The Big Bang Theory), or unfeeling and emotionless robots (take your pick of the rest), Cadet Tilly is sweet, friendly, exuberant, and brilliant in her field. She just happens to have quite a few quirks, such as having problems socializing and a somewhat broken conversational filter.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Cadet Tilly since last night. I fell in love with her character pretty much from her first scene, because she’s absolutely adorable, but more than that… there’s someone like me in Star Trek, a franchise I’ve loved since I was in kindergarten. There’s an actual, reasonably accurate, non-exploitative portrayal of an ASD on a major TV program. As I said to my dad when discussing it this morning, it wasn’t too long ago that some fans (even some Star Trek writers!) would have claimed that there were no autistic people in Star Trek, because all “diseases” were supposed to have been cured hundreds of years ago.

As I’ve learned to accept myself and my ASD, I’ve come to realize how harmful it is to treat autism as a disease. Autism is a different way of thinking, no less right or wrong than any other. It impacts my life in every way, and sometimes I wish it were less of an obstacle, but I wouldn’t be who I am without it. Seeing Star Trek validate the fact that autistic people aren’t sick and don’t need to be “cured”, having Starfleet acknowledge a “special needs” person like Tilly, even giving her a position on a top-secret, experimental starship with a hand-picked crew of the best of the best… it means more to me than I can say. Sure, she’s just a character on a TV show, but again… I’m seeing someone like me working on a Federation starship. Accepted as part of the crew. Trusted and relied on. Respected. Living the dream.

Representation is important. Not every series needs to have an autistic character, but those that do should treat the condition with respect and dignity. We’ve had too many Sheldon Coopers already. Cadet Sylvia Tilly has stepped up and won my heart, and I am deeply grateful. The stars are in my eyes, and I’m seeing a part of myself up there on screen, striding down the corridors and helping save the Federation… just like I always dreamed about doing when I was a little kid. Cadet Tilly is my newest favorite Star Trek character, and I can’t wait to spend more time seeing what she can do.

– BHS

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