A while ago, I recced Welcome to Night Vale in ASL, a series that translated the popular Night Vale podcast into American Sign Language. The creator, Carlisle Robinson, seemed like an interesting guy, and after I’d finished watching the series to date, I went and checked out his website. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Welcome to Night Vale in ASL, as great as it was, wasn’t his only ongoing series. He’s also currently writing and illustrating an ongoing webcomic called The Satrians.
The Satrians are a race of aliens who communicate through telepathy. Unlike humans, the Satrians have no concept of gender, and each Satrian goes by gender-neutral pronouns. One of the Satrians, Pan, is a xenobiologist, and on one of xyr travels, xe discovers an abandoned human baby on a distant planet. Xe decides to take the baby home to xyr spouse, Dion, and the two of them end up adopting the baby. The problem is, humans can’t communicate through telepathy, and baby Sasha grows up considered disabled on the Satrian world.
As you might imagine, The Satrians makes a lot of really good points about disability and privilege. Robinson sits at the intersection of many different axes of privilege himself, being Deaf, transgender, and pansexual, and his devotion to showing proper representation coupled with his background makes for a very unique voice. I’m pleased as punch that the Satrians don’t adhere to the gender binary—a thing that I wish other alien-based media would start doing, too. As for disability, Sasha is far from the only disabled character in the story—Dion has tunnel vision, which means that xe has almost no peripheral vision and has to use a cane; xe has a sibling who is entirely blind and introduces Sasha to a spoken language to use in place of telepathy. All face microaggressions and moments of gross ableism from other Satrians. When Sasha is diagnosed with “telepathy impairment”, the doctor is openly pitying and apologetic that xe can’t “cure” Sasha.
This sort of pointed dialogue on ableism and disability isn’t something that I often see in webcomics, as diverse as the genre is. I can’t wait until Sasha meets other humans in the comic—since Sasha wouldn’t be considered disabled among humans, it’ll really strike home what arbitrary standards make up “disability”, and hopefully encourage a presumably largely able-bodied audience to think harder about these issues.