Sugar, Self-Diagnosis, Appropriation, And Ableism: So Here’s What You Missed On Glee


Glee is a show whose buzz is owed almost entirely to manufactured controversies. Unfortunately, this latest one is invoking autism, and as an autistic person and fan, I’m weighing in. Again. I’m not f-locking. I will delete nasty comments, derailments, and personal attacks, all of which I’ve already dealt with today. For those who were lucky enough not to know: autism politics are vitriolic. Nasty stuff. Wonder if the writers know what they’ve stepped in.

So! Glee!

There’s this character, Sugar, who describes herself as having “self-diagnosed Asperger’s, so I can basically say whatever I want.” Of course, she does a really, really bad job of crip-face, and her last line is a furious “NOT ASPERGER’S!” There are a couple different takes on why she says it. I think she’s saying she doesn’t have Asperger’s. Others are saying that she’s saying that the particular rant she just gave had nothing to do with AS. Either way, actual autistic people can’t pick and chose, and she’s very, very obviously not autistic.

I think she’s brilliant. She makes me see red, she feels like a punch to the gut, but she’s brilliant.

Now, before I get into it, this is Glee, so let me just clarify a couple of things:

Anyone who thinks that Sugar’s actions won’t be addressed hasn’t been paying attention to how the show works for the past two years. Anyone who thinks that her plot has anything to do with actual autism, or the issue of self-identification in the autistic community, is putting assumptions into play that the show has never expressed an interest in. And anyone who thinks she is written as actually autistic, as some parents have been suggesting, has some serious ableism of their own to unpack.

Finally, since this conversation is also drawing in a lot of people with very little knowledge about the show: anyone who thinks that Glee trades in stereotypes and makes jokes at the expense of minorities and that’s all is really missing out on some incredibly nuanced stories, and probably won’t be able to follow a word of this. I’m not interested in defending the politics of Glee
here. If you think that Kurt’s a flaming queen and Artie is a prop and that’s that, then I really don’t have time to engage with you right now or defend something you’ve already decided is indefensible.

But! For those curious as to how someone who is autistic, into Glee, and really into analyzing disability politics on Glee is thinking about Sugar, read on!

There are three basic questions about Sugar. Why couldn’t she just be (another) bitchy character? Why is she faking a disability? And why is that disability Asperger’s?

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