By Aaron Baldwin
I’m a metahuman. I’m also a journalist and a photographer, but for some reason the “metahuman” part is what people seem care about, which is odd given that there are probably more metahumans than journalists, according to the most recent census. I think what’s really the unusual part is that I’m open about my metahuman status, and when I announced to the world that I’m a metahuman, my life changed in a lot of unexpected ways.
5. Travel is really hard
The popular image of the Metahuman that’s built up over the years has created this idea of Metahumans as not having to worry about everyday affairs, like riding the bus to work, or bombing a job interview (there’s a reason I never got a photography gig). If you can fly, why would you need to worry about transportation? And even if you can’t just fly somewhere, you can just take a plane like a regular person, right?
Not so fast. The truth is, self-flight is a really inefficient means of transportation. My top speed is maybe 15 mph on a good day. Beyond that, most of the atmosphere is really cold, not to mention the low pressure, oxygen content, constant exposure, etc.. During the summer it’s not so bad, but I live in the north where winter is eight months long so most of the year it’s really not an option. And that’s not even getting into the fact that I have to maintain a pilot’s licence. What’s even worse is that flying is exhausting. I eat maybe four or five thousand calories a day when I’m out flying a lot, and that’s true for a lot of metahumans. Powers use energy, and unless you’re one of the lucky few who has some mystical extradimensional power source, that energy has to come from somewhere. It’s even worse if I’m trying to carry something. A backpack slows my top speed down to maybe 10 mph, and it’s like trying to run a marathon with ten-pound shoes. It takes way more work to fly to work than to drive, and that’s including traffic, and going long-distance is unthinkable. Ignoring the fact that I would have to eat tens of thousands of calories, I’d get lost almost immediately, even if I can always tell which way is north.
But that’s alright, you think, you can still just buy an airplane ticket, right?
According to the FAA, metahuman abilities are classified as “concealed weapons”, and as such cannot be brought onto a plane. That’s right, the man whose most dangerous ability is moving a little faster than running speed is a living weapon! (Yet someone who knows Kung-Fu is not?) As a result of this decision, I can’t travel by plane unless I let them dope me up with Denudine every hour, a luxury, amusingly enough, that airlines are not obliged to pay for, and which can add up to $400 to the cost of a longer flight. Basically, I’m never going to visit Europe unless I get there by boat, which, trust me, is never gonna happen. I’m fine with heights, but depths just creep me out. Especially at night, since I can see the sun shining up through the water, which brings me to my next point:
4. Powers change you in weird ways
I have a fairly basic power. My most obvious ability is (as I’ve mentioned) that I can inexplicably lift myself off the ground and hover around the sky. It’s one of the classic superhero abilities, because it gives the hero a way to respond to crime quickly without boring car scenes (which trust me, still happen in real life.) But as with everything in life, reality is way more complicated than that.
Don’t get me wrong, flying is awesome, but it came with a lot of really weird baggage. This is the stuff you don’t hear about in the news or in comics. For example, I see everything around me as if it’s a sunny day, even indoors, even at night. The sun shines straight through the floor when I’m trying to sleep. That’s why I wear sunglasses all the time, to the point that I’ve been mistaken for being blind when I wear them at night. It’s also caused me to suffer really bad insomnia, because it’s impossible to get a room dark enough to get a good night of sleep. My circadian rhythms are completely screwed up because my body thinks it’s day all the time.
As for being able to fly, my body is physically different because of it. My bones are weird hollow bird bones, according to my doctor. I weigh 90 pounds, but I have what amounts to severe osteoporosis. I’ve broken maybe twenty bones since I got my powers, usually in my ankles and feet, sometimes in my hands. They heal a little faster than normal, but I still almost always have a cast somewhere on my body. A lot of times I have to hover around just because my legs are still broken from stepping on a pinecone.
But there’s also the stuff that’s just weird. I don’t slip on ice or sink in water. My hair doesn’t grow longer than an inch or so, so I’m stuck with either bald or the ROTC buzz-cut I had in college. I don’t have fingernails. I get motion sick in cars unless there’s a window open. I have mild claustrophobia. Okay, those last two, might just be personal quirks but you get the idea. Having powers comes with all kinds of weird add-ons that just remind you (and everyone else) that you’re never going to be quite normal.
3. We’re under constant scrutiny
I knew I was a metahuman for about a year before I decided to go public with it. It was a difficult decision, but this was about the time that the gay rights movement was coming into full swing. I feel kind of guilty talking about it, since I’m straight, but It was the stories about people coming out of the closet were actually what inspired me to go public. Ever since then, it’s been difficult to stay out of the public eye. When I do something newsworthy, the papers don’t say “journalist hit by helicopter,” they say “metahuman hit by helicopter.” It becomes the core of my identity, as far as the world is concerned. Nobody cares that I’m an Eagle Scout or that I’m an ROTC drop-out. When people know you’re a metahuman, they treat you differently. It’s not just that, though- it creeps into my personal life in an unsettlingly insidious way. Going to restaurants is always a coin toss. Some restaurants, I get first service. Some of them, I get served last, every time. I’ve never successfully hailed a taxi. The mailman skips my house. (No really, he does.)
It’s not just the people though. What was even harder to get used to is how the government acts around you. Whenever I go into a government building, I get a security detail following me around. They’re usually pretty subtle about it, but it’s clear that they know who and what I am. I was called in for jury duty recently, which was weird, since I am a journalist, but I like to do my civic duty, so I went. It was… an interesting experience. I did the obligatory period of not reading newspapers, since it seemed like a quiet enough week at the time, so imagine my surprise when I get to the courthouse and I ended up in the jury for one of the largest supervillain busts in the city for a decade or more. I didn’t excuse myself on the grounds of a strong opinion about the defendant (which is valid, I looked it up) because I reasoned that if people are supposed to be tried by a jury of his peers, so who better than I to try a metahuman? When I sat down in the jury box with my arm in a sling, though, you can imagine I was a bit surprised to find a plainclothes FBI agent seated directly behind me. He didn’t talk in any of the deliberations, since that would be illegal, but I knew why he was there. When the trial fell apart (as they are wont to do when you let a precog make statements), I think he tried to physically restrain me for some reason. I don’t know why he did that- I wasn’t about to leave or anything. Most likely, he expected that I would try to do something, because…
2. People have unrealistic expectations
This one should come as no surprise, given the theme of this article, but I felt it deserved its own section anyway, because it’s a big one. The problem here stems from the news; well, the media in general. The glamor and drama of the big-name heroes and villains captures the public attention like no other topic, easily eclipsing sports, tech, and financial news, sometimes all three together depending on the time of year. As a result of this, there seems to be a public notion that everyone with metahuman abilities has to either a) fight crime or b) commit crime, blatantly ignoring that one of the worlds largest weapons contractors and one of the major pharmaceutical companies are lead by tinkers, and the massive success of teleporting courier delivery services.
I see this every time I do an interview. Time and time again, I get asked the question, “Do you ever think about putting on a cape and spending your sleeping hours getting beaten up by criminals for sport and pleasure?” or some variation thereof. Usually they word it more tactfully, I confess, but the point stands- I have no more fighting ability than any other journalist (except maybe Craig from the Post,) and anyone who knows me knows that the idea of me doing any superheroics is completely absurd. Remember what I said earlier about my bones? If I tried to punch someone, I would break half the little bones in my hand and probably snap the big ones clean in two.
The second question I get most often if “Are you ever tempted to use your powers for illegal activity?” The answer, again, is “are you blind?” I love my job, and it pays pretty well. I’m making news, taking pictures, and making the world a little bit of a better place. Why on earth would I want to steal stuff? The better question is, do I ever use my powers for personal gain, and the answer is absolutely, unequivocally, yes. I use my abilities to get pictures from angles that would be impossible to take otherwise. Hell, I was featured in some pretty major magazines for them. I get a lot of complaints that it’s unfair to normal people, but my argument is that it’s unfair of tall people to play basketball, because it’s unfair to short people who can’t dunk as easily. It is, of course, ridiculous to expect me not to use the full scope of my abilities to further my craft. And yet, that’s what a lot of people expect- that I act just like anyone else, even though I could do so much more. A friend described it to me from an economic standpoint- as a bit of an oddity, my pictures have a much greater economic value if I use my abilities, but one more photojournalist isn’t all that likely to make much of a bump on the market, powers or no. Unfortunately, a shocking number of metahumans get taken in the idea, and spend their whole lives without using their full potential, even if it’s just using them on the free market or to make their job easier. And maybe they’re right, because…
1. People will hate you
Some people will just hate you. This was what has taken me the most getting used to. I’m a white, straight, educated cis male. I wasn’t used to any of the usual difference-isms of the various diversity-phobias, so when I announced to the world that I’m a metahuman, imagine my surprise when I immediately started receiving death threats. Not a week later, not the next day, but that same afternoon I got my first death threat via the email I provided on my website. It kind of destroyed me for a little while. Nothing about me had changed from the previous day, yet suddenly, someone across the country I’d never met wanted to kill me and I thought to myself what the hell am I doing? I had no idea that there was so much simmering anger at metahumans. But I talked with my girlfriend (she already knew) and got a call from my parents (they didn’t. Worst decision I’ve made in a while,) and I came to terms with the fact that there’s always going to be some nutjob out there who doesn’t like you, and I couldn’t let them ruin my day.
And then I got fired. The next monday when I went into work (I announced on a weekend,) I no longer had a job. My stuff was already packed into boxes, and my replacement was being interviewed in the conference room I walked past on the way out. And despite my best efforts, that nutjob who didn’t like me did manage to ruin my day. Fortunately, my story got picked up by a few major news outlets and I had an offer the next week, but for a few days, it seriously felt like I had just single-handedly destroyed my life. This is the only time in my life where I even considered becoming some kind of villain, and I think that says something pretty important. The only time I thought about committing a crime with my powers was when people started to treat me like I was already a criminal. For a little while, I would walk down the street and realize exactly why heroes go for the secret identity thing. They get all the fame and adoration, without having to deal with the persecution in their private lives. But the rest of us metahumans who are just trying to get by and make something of ourselves without lying our whole lives? People hate us almost as much as the actual criminals; we’re opportunistic, self-centered slobs who use abilities we didn’t work for to get an unfair leg up on the common folk- what’s not to hate?
But I want to remind people, it’s this attitude that creates super-criminals. Sure, a few of them are just crazy or motivated by revenge or whatever, but the vast majority of metahuman criminals are just desperate, like anyone else who can’t get a job because they have foot-long spikes coming out of their back. As a society, we need to change how we think of the metahuman working class, and that starts with realizing that it’s not at all like how it is in the comics. So if you took the time to read about what it’s like from my point of view, thanks. I just hope you’ll never be that nutjob who hates people because they’re different.
Aaron Baldwin is a journalist and part-time photographer. He recently wrote a novel called Why Can’t I Fly? (Shameless self plug) available on his website or at bookstores worldwide. He is also a metahuman rights activist and started a nonprofit for helping metahumans navigate United States metahuman regulation law.