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The Specter of Chris-chan: How one figure’s ignoble exploits continue to haunt talks on autism

Written by MigsDC
Anyone who’s into Internet culture, fandom and online forums is likely to have heard of “Chris-chan” in some form. Known for the longest time as either CWC or Christian Weston Chandler, Christine since 2015 after her transition to a transwoman, she is the creator of the infamous fan-comic Sonichu; Sonichu is a portmanteau of Sonic and Pikachu, being a combination of the two characters that’s passed off as original. Over the years, Chris has been the subject of both ridicule and shock more due to her antics and/or what has been revealed about her life than her notorious art.

Through a combination of myriad factors, from online trolls to Chris-chan’s more ill-conceived videos, absurdly ample information on Chris and those around her is readily available, often split into different “sagas” by those who gawk at her life. There exists enough material, compiled into a “CWC Wiki” site, to capture a detailed time capsule of both contemporary Virginia and online culture. There have been many lengthy documentaries, the one made by Youtuber “sachumo" in 2015 being among the most popular, about Chris Chan posted online; sitting at over two million views, the video in question is notably unbiased and comprehensive, though quite outdated despite much of what’s said there remaining disturbingly on point. There are those who’d go so far as to claim that more is known about this one person than America’s own Founding Fathers. It’s a fool’s errand now to try to put everything back inside Pandora's Box.

Undoubtedly, there’s a certain vile fascination about CWC. Trying to play the blame game on who’s ultimately at fault, however, is meaningless. Still, it begs the question: Why should anyone outside the Commonwealth of Virginia or some internet forum care about an evidently disturbed person? Especially somebody who, as “sachumo” himself admitted at the end of his documentary, is a proverbial train wreck “crashing in slow motion”?

For some, particularly those with autism, this ignoble “epic” hits a bit too close to home. Whether one’s on the spectrum or not, the frustration it elicits grows even more apparent.

A Preventable Tragedy

As well documented as Chris-chan’s life is, one major observation is how, in at least some respects, the social support structure around her played a key part in an utterly preventable tragedy. A support structure that’s dysfunctional at best and practically nonexistent at worst. The Chandlers, for instance, tried to shield a young Chris from the outside world to extents that are ill-advised in hindsight. They also shielded him from any real sense of criticism or challenge. This wasn’t helped by how CWC’s late father was apprehensive about sending the growing child to a special needs school, perceiving it as not far from being institutionalized or lobotomized. By the time they tried to take some corrective action, the damage had already been done.

Meanwhile, the then young man’s experience with the educational system, from her early speech therapy sessions to college, was marked by abuse both from other students and from the faculty. The noted exception to such “norms” was high school, which Chris-chan herself recalls as some of the happiest years of her life. Yet even then, there was much in the way of bullying. The teenaged girls who befriended CWC, or rather let her hang out with them, admitted later on that they only did so out of pity and because they saw her then as harmless.

This, combined with being ostracized by all those around her including her local pastor, is most likely why CWC turned out the way she did. Although, with CWC's online reputation it is hard to blame people from being hands off when it came to CWC. This ostracisation is also why she became such a magnet for trolling and lasting ridicule online. Tellingly, one of the only people known to have genuinely tried to help Chris-chan in those formative times was her high school’s special education teacher, who was interviewed for the “sachumo” video.

The blend of negligence, malice and well-meaning, if futile, support experienced by her would be in and of itself a “perfect storm” of how not to raise or help an autistic child. One that, given enough attention and care, would have been averted before it could even begin. For someone on the spectrum, it might as well sound like one’s worst fears made manifest. Yet, that’s nowhere near enough to explain the whole picture.

Her Own Worst Enemy

What makes some, especially those on the spectrum, both fascinated and frustrated with the tragedy of Chris-chan is that she isn’t simply a victim. Rather, she’s also very much her own abuser, thanks in no small part to her own antics.

For instance, at no point did she ever develop any real sense of responsibility for her actions. Whether it’s posting videos unwittingly showing how of much of a fire hazard her old house was, genuinely behaving like a creepy stalker to women back during her infamous “love quest”, or antagonizing her old college dean for suspending her, despite constant warnings and reprimands, for a year CWC never really owns up to such horribly misguided decisions. Indeed, such misadventures have helped in fueling a horribly malformed ego. This also extends to her own future. Rather than finding some career path to support herself or starting a new leaf, she opts to exploit her disability by depending on social welfare, namely the US Government’s SSDI program, as her “monthly tugboat” and wasting much of the money.

To say nothing of how many of Chris’ more notorious exploits were done out of her own volition. Even with the gullibility and online trolling put into account, no one told CWC to make unsolicited erotic art of a female acquaintance at the time, as shown in a video trying to convince trolls that she’s straight. Or invoke anti-Semitic smears on the owner of a local hobby shop for banning her from the premises, due to her own aggressive behavior. Let alone, assault a Gamestop employee with pepper spray, leading to Chris-chan being jailed briefly. It’s no surprise that the trolls themselves grew increasingly unnerved, if not outright concerned, for her state of mind as the years dragged on.

Then, there’s the realization that, whether as “Christian” or “Christine,” she never makes a solid effort to bring herself out of her screwed up predicament. More than once CWC had a chance to turn things around for the better. This includes efforts from some of the same people she antagonized, most notably some of the same trolls who once sought her out to mock, offering genuine advice in an attempt to reach out. Yet, on top of never taking responsibility, she constantly rejects any gesture of help. Choosing instead to delude herself to the point of having no grasp of reality. Seemingly lost in her own demented fantasies, she’s become more of a liability to the surrounding community.

It’s not hard to conclude that this person’s abused, if not wasted, any sympathy or pity about as quickly as her plight garnered. Not to mention, how even without the involvement of online trolls, she’s shown herself to be an eager conductor to her own train wreck.

The Wrong Lessons Learned

Saying that this person’s spectacular failures, publicized for the world to see, are a demented morality tale of sorts would be an understatement. Unsurprisingly, people have very different takeaways from witnessing those misadventures. But alas, it’d be naïve to think that such “lessons” would be entirely sympathetic to others with autism.

For as easy as it may be to see Chris-chan as a walking list of what not to do with one’s life, it’s absurdly easier to perceive her as not only every negative image of a geek or hardcore fan, but also just about every negative stereotype of an autistic person made manifest. A walking strawman seemingly validating old prejudices against those not deemed “normal.” CWC, and those like her, are seen as lonely weirdoes, sexist creeps, and erstwhile degenerates to be shunned. Such sentiments would make efforts to treat and encourage tolerance of autistic people much more difficult. Indeed, it is inspiring greater antagonism, bullying and stigma towards those who just happen to be nerds, introverts or eccentric.

For those on the spectrum, meanwhile, all these are on top of how CWC’s a dark mirror of themselves. Regardless of the severity of their condition, how well they could function in society or even how they conduct themselves in public, there’s this general sense akin to walking on eggshells or being an astronaut on an alien world. One false move could ruin one’s day, if not worse. Thus, whether it’s at the back of their minds or in their nightmares, they glimpse something like Chris. They see the worst of what they could be. Especially for those without a stable degree of self-esteem or whose grip on sanity’s tenuous at best, it is a dreadful notion. Even more so when others might fear them because of her, or others like her.

As with just about anything to do with Chris-chan herself, there’s no one way to really solve this predicament. Not even trying to block it out of one’s mind would work, given how such notoriety is bound to last for a very long time. To say nothing of how she’s by no means the only one to earn that sort of infamy in some corners of the Internet. Outside of bringing out the popcorn and seeing the train wreck that the likes of “Sschumo” are continuing to record for posterity, what other good takeaways could there be?

That may be in the eyes of the beholder. For those living with autism, there is something of a silver lining. Whatever issues they may have, they’re not just defined by what makes them abnormal or “neuroatypical” but by what makes them human. They can, with both the strength of their own will and the help of others, prove to the world that they have just much of a right to live just like anyone else.

Or, at the very least, they can take reassurance with the knowledge that they’re not Chris-chan. And never will be.