AMBER LOVE 15-MARCH-2014 I’ve known my guest by reputation for years and through mutual friends and it was an absolute honor to get DR. DREA LETAMENDI on VODKA O’CLOCK to talk about various psychology issues that stem from something I see tackled in comics often: the issue of personal identities.
***Due to the nature of Drea’s background with treating patients on various topics of trauma, please consider this a TRIGGER WARNING. The conversation does swing naturally from traumatic situations to fun but comes back again especially in our talk about fictional character Barbara Gordon.***
Download on iTunes, Stitcher or listen here.
Drea and I talk about the evolution of identities through technology. Female writers have often used pen names with gender neutrality. From your own personal identification of self, today’s technology and social media has taken it up a notch when there are tools like profile relationship statuses that affect more than the self. Masking personal information is such a massive conversation in today’s world and on the intimate levels of getting to know people there’s no black and white about professional versus personal identity. Drea, in fact, points out that she analyzes the character “Batman” as not only crimefighter Batman and Bruce Wayne but she also sees the casual and private “Bruce” as a third Batman identity who shows himself to only a closed group of people he sees as family.
With gender consideration, I wondered if white cisgendered males were less likely to seek out alternate identities. This is a bit of an unknown because people’s reasons for wanting something as simple as an online alias (on social media or in gaming, etc.) is a vast exploration that seems as overwhelming as naming each star in the universe. Drea sees that there may be different needs by community about whether or not someone chooses an alias. Current events like the “Duke University Porn Star” Belle Knox broke a barrier from porn into mainstream conversations that got people talking about whether or not being in adult entertainment still holds so much shame upon self or family that one would need a separate identity. Is it professional compartmentalization or is it for privacy and safety?
Drea sees today’s comics are more complex than yesteryear’s versions. She discusses an (spoiler) incredibly moving scene between Commissioner Gordon and Barbara where she tries to remove her mask and let her father know who she is. Barbara’s need for validation was denied by Jim. Once you look at that scene from the four sides of Police Commissioner, Father, Superhero, and Daughter, it certainly opens up the possibilities for a dynamic analysis.
There are historically valid reasons for certain people like military personnel for keeping their identities Top Secret; yet, many are coming out with book deals detailing their lives. In particular, there’s been groundbreaking openness in the military community to address transgender issues and gender perceptions specific to a warrior environment. There is opportunity here for comic creators to explore areas of gender that had previously been handled more like parody. Drea has worked with a male to female transgender veteran.
“She taught me a great deal about that culture and how brave it is for someone to make that transition while still in that culture.” ~DL
If you’re in the seat of being any kind of writer or media host, it is respectful to use the pronoun of choice of that person, not what you feel is personally appropriate based on genitals. Drea’s skill that was clearly something her peers recognized in her abilities for treating the LGBT patients, was that she talked to her patient as a female human being not only as a someone going through an emotional and also physical evolution.
[Right around 34:30 mark – I opened up the attacks on female bloggers and rape culture and lasts about a minute.]
Madam Fatal was the first cross-dressing comic superhero and Red Tornado followed as the first superheroine who swapped gender identity as part of their secret identity. This is something to be handled differently than the superpowered characters who can easily shapeshift. Drea brings up the interesting topic of shapeshifters then about why someone like Mystique would choose to appear as an older woman when she has the ability to perpetually appear as a 20-something.
“I don’t think I’m alone when I say, yeah, I would like to see more characters that look like me.” ~DL
Drea expressed feelings about wanting diversity but making stories and narratives that don’t feel contrived in order to fulfill a quota which is not what fans mean when they ask for diversity. Racial issues have become a massively emotional topic in the cosplay world. Drea is partially Asian and Latina and has struggled with the pressure to cosplay as a character that she reflects in the real world based on her coloring.
“… because part of cosplay is the recognition. Someone is seeing you as that character. It’s extremely important.” ~DL
“I shouldn’t feel like I’m not allowed to cosplay as Sailor Moon or Princess Leia or Batgirl for that matter. … I should be able to cosplay as those characters as well but, as you pointed out, then I have to be able to deal with the responses I’m going to get when I get onto the con floor.” ~DL
Plus, in cosplay there’s also the prevalence of gender swapping (Rule 63). There’s swapping and then there’s drag. These are two different things. Drea has personal experience having cosplayed as a female Riddler wearing a miniskirt and heels. Drea and Dr. Robin Rosenberg conducted their own study about cosplayers and analyzed people’s levels of creative outlets in other areas and things like their professional spectrum; their results showed that there was no anecdotal evidence that people who cosplay have any psychological issues.
One of the topics I was anxiously looking for someone to talk about professionally is whether or not there’s a correlation between mental illness and creativity. Drea’s answer beautifully shows that mental illness, as explored today to remove the stigma, shows that there is no “type” of profession which experiences the impact more than others. There’s no specialness to the creative occupations. It’s an issue seen across the board. The general audience might find it more interesting to discuss famous creative types, like famous writers, who struggled with mental illness as opposed to discussing a population which is not creative. Today’s audiences are embracing when high profile celebrities, which tend to be in artistic fields, and show them more sympathy; not so much however when it’s a young woman going through struggles like pop stars.
[Around 1:16:10 mark to approx 1:27:40 mark, more possible triggering topics are discussed about violence and sexual assault in regards to fictional character Barbara Gordon’s history with the Joker.]
If you didn’t know about Drea’s background, she has personally consulted with comic writer GAIL SIMONE on the BATGIRL series about how Barbara’s therapist would behave and talk. Drea, herself, had her likeness used as the therapist in those issues. They worked on how the events of THE KILLING JOKE would impact Barbara; in Simone’s version the injury to the spine is not permanent and she is able to rehabilitate physically. However, it has never been expressly detailed and outright stated what the sexual exploitation was leaving readers to make that determination for themselves (at this point). Fans have debated whether Barbara was raped or in what ways she was sexually assaulted, not to mention that her father, Commissioner Gordon was also put through sexually-charged trauma.
Drea goes over her WonderCon schedule where she and Gail Simone will be on a panel to discuss Batgirl’s character in detail. Plus Drea and Brian Ward have launched a podcast called The Arkham Sessions where they are going through all of the episodes of BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES to deconstruct the episodes and talk about the psychology of the characters and how more mature the cartoon really was than what someone might think.