[Review] Supergirl Episode 5×15: “Reality Bytes”

written by Dayna Abel

SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT

CONTENT WARNING: TRANSPHOBIA

Let’s get the other parts I didn’t care about out of the way first: There are glitches in Obsidian Platinum that can trap people inside the VR world, and there’s a dude torturing another dude because Dude #2 was having a virtual affair with Dude #1’s wife, so Alex has Kelly guide her through–look, I’m just gonna call it the fuckin’ Matrix. Anyway she has to fight her fears yadda yadda she saves the day oh and by the way Dean Cain’s Jeremiah Danvers died off-screen, and nothing of value was lost.

The real episode here centers around a man who is targeting trans women, threatening to keep attacking them until Dreamer quits being a superhero. He says the world doesn’t want a trans hero and jeez…it’s like seeing the Twitter comments come to life in this guy.

He catfishes Nia’s roommate, Yvette, who is thrilled about meeting “her boyfriend Angus” for the first time at a club. She’s excited, boisterous, vivacious–Yvette is that friend who’s basically a walking party. But under the glitter and sequins, she just wants someone to love her and accept her for who she is. Not to get all Morrissey on y’all, but Yvette is human and wants to be loved…just like everybody else does.

But reality is an asshole, and trans folks – especially trans women of color, as Yvette later points out – are up against a lot of unwarranted hate and fear. Trans women are often targets of violence and murder, even more so than cis women, because some people think they’re “tricking” or “lying to” people about their gender. I hated that it’s a cis man, William, who ends up writing the news report about Yvette’s assault when Kara is standing right there over his shoulder, telling him what to write. Technically, Nia should be the one writing the story, but since she’s clearly going through some shit, it should have at least been Kara. Because it’s not William’s story to tell. He throws out some actual real-world statistics, which is great for viewers to know, but it’s also a bit…de-centering Kara in her own show?

God, this is going to be Mon-El all over again. I can smell it.

Another thing I was uncomfortable with was Kara edging towards talking over Nia and telling her what’s best for her. But even if Kara knows what it’s like to feel alone, or hated for who you are, or that being the good guy sucks, she is incapable of seeing the situation through the lens of Nia’s or Yvette’s lived experiences.

And really, that’s the important part here: you cannot ever fully understand the transgender experience if you’re not transgender. Kara admitted this during that heartbreaking closing scene with Nia. So what we cis folks have to do is let trans people speak to their own experiences, to learn what challenges they face and ask “what is it that we can do to make your lives easier?”

Speaking of it not being a cis person’s job to tell a trans woman’s story, I did reach out to a few of my trans friends for their perspective on this episode, because I don’t think I can really do this one justice as a cisgender woman. In general, they were happy that “Reality Bytes” didn’t come across as an after-school special and didn’t try to justify the attacker’s point of view, which was a huge failing in Season Four with Ben Lockwood’s character. I tend to agree – while there is something to be said for at least attempting to understand why people are the way they are, once they cross the line of deliberate harm to others, it’s basically “cool motive, still murder.” Trying to reason only goes so far with some people.

Kara swooping down to give Nia the standard “but if you kill him, then you’re no better than he is” talk that we’ve seen ad nauseum on every other Arrowverse show was a bit iffy as well, not only because it’s been done to death, but because it teetered towards “I know better than you how you should react to this.” Fortunately, it just barely avoided it by dint of the fact that yes, obviously Dreamer shouldn’t kill that dude, but also because Kara made it very clear that while it is absolutely Nia’s right to feel her feelings, she is not alone and has people willing to stand with her and support her.

Incidentally, I would be remiss if I didn’t also link to Cori McCreery’s review of this episode over at Women Write About Comics. As a prominent trans voice in the comics community and a woman who is deeply passionate about Supergirl, Cori is someone whose opinion I value, and her article is definitely worth reading.

To all my trans friends and readers: your life is worth living. You are not alone, and there are those who will stand with you. Remember: when there are those who want you silenced, erased, and locked away in the darkness, it’s all the more reason for you to shine brighter.

RESOURCES

  1. National Center for Transgender Equality: Supporting the transgender people in your life
  2. Trans Lifeline – (877) 565-8860: Connecting the trans community and providing help and assistance when needed
  3. GLAAD: A beginner’s guide to being an ally to trans people

If you have any other resources, please leave their URLs or other contact info in the comments.

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Supergirl airs Sunday nights at 9 Eastern/8 Central on the CW. Dayna can be found on Twitter @queenanthai.

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