your fave is… (christine daae)

It’s April again, and that means it’s time for a series of autistic headcanons. First up is a character I’ve been familiar with since high school (yikes, I’ve known her half my life) and who I’ve never heard anyone else speculate about in this fashion.

Your fave Christine Daae (I will be referring to the Emmy Rossum iteration throughout this, although I’m pretty confident this interpretation can apply to most versions I’m aware of; Emmy Rossum is simply the Christine who’s most accessible to general audiences) is autistic.

Christine is sometimes criticized for her naivete, but I think a lot of what comes off as such is just her different processing style. This manifests in a few important ways: she’s very trusting, she’s very literal, she’s very single-minded.

When Christine was little, she explains, her father told her he would send the Angel of Music to watch over her, and she took that so literally. I suspect that the Phantom reached out to her in his creep way and Christine was immediately like “oh, the Angel of Music, cool,” and he, being a predator, took advantage of that and said “yes, sure, I’m the Angel of Music, sounds legit.” Christine had no reason to suspect otherwise.

It’s easy as an outsider to be like “Christine, that’s dumb, there isn’t an Angel of Music, that’s not a thing.” But Christine, bless her, is trusting, literal, and single-minded. She took her father’s words at face value because she trusted him, and she proceeded to grow up in an environment where belief in ghosts and angels and things like that were common. She believed her father, and more importantly she wanted to believe her father.

It’s also worth noting that she’s a teenager, and a fairly sheltered one at that. It’s not clear how much traditional education the ballet girls got, and it seems like they didn’t spend a lot of time out in the non-opera-house world. Christine probably isn’t exposed to a lot of perspectives that might tell her that of course the Angel of Music doesn’t exist. Besides, the Phantom makes sure she keeps him a secret (and she goes along with it because she’s so trusting), so she’s even less likely to get an alternate perspective! (This story is about a pedophile grooming a very sweet autistic girl.)

Basically, Christine’s combined neurological processing and worldview and, honestly, trauma (losing her dad so young would be traumatic, double-so since her mother is never mentioned as being in the picture) made her not only unfortunately easy to groom but predisposed to believing this weird, fantastical thing had happened to her. Why in the world would she think it wasn’t the Angel of Music reaching out to her? She’d been told she’d be visited by the Angel by someone she trusted implicitly and what would the alternative be? I know she lived in an opera house plagued by an opera ghost, but why would she, a teenager, have any reason to believe that the guy who terrorized her workplace would also hide in the vents and teach her to sing?

I will also point out that it’s not like the Phantom had a habit of mentoring young girls in the opera house. Christine wasn’t one in a long line of groomees. This wasn’t a Cruel Summer situation (in that way, anyway). There was absolutely no reason for her to believe that the Angel of Music was anything other than what he said he was! I also do absolutely think that the Phantom knew she would be inclined to believe him; he wouldn’t have consciously gone “oh, an autistic girl, I can manipulate her easier,” because it was the 1800s and autism wouldn’t be established as a condition for several decades (and even then it wouldn’t be understood in the same way it’s understood now for much longer), but I do think the Phantom recognized certain traits in her.

I’m lucky in that I’ve never experienced grooming or any related kinds of abuse, but I absolutely was bullied as a kid, and a lot of my friends or “friends” got away with treating me in certain ways that were not great. According to this article, “children on the spectrum are up to three times as likely as their neurotypical peers to be targets of bullying and physical or sexual abuse.” People are, whether or not they realize it, good at identifying vulnerabilities in others; especially in a neurotypical/ableist society, autistic people (and people with other disabilities/etc.) are, in my experience anyway, likely to register to others as vulnerable in some way even if those others aren’t aware of their diagnosis. As a kid, it was easy to peg me as overly sensitive and therefore easy to upset; I suspect it was easy for the Phantom to peg Christine as overly sensitive (and also a little too trusting) and therefore easy to manipulate.

She’s also obviously a prodigy. The original novel in particular suggests that she wasn’t anything special before the Phantom intervened, but given how talented she is, I’m inclined to believe she was just timid and untrained. The “Angel” didn’t give her magic singing powers, he just helped her get confident in her ability. Obviously not all autistic people are prodigies, and not all prodigies are autistic, but the overlap is at least noteworthy.

I also think it’s telling how Christine socially interacts with the people around her. She trusts Madame Giry implicitly because she was told as a young girl that Madame Giry was going to be her caretaker and essentially her surrogate parent; this is somewhat complicated by Madame Giry’s involvement with the Phantom and his plot, but Christine doesn’t know that. She’s extremely close (at least in the musical/movie) with Meg (who, incidentally, is my favorite character because I, too, was the marginally relevant best friend and also I have a thing for ballerinas despite not being one) and I suspect this relationship began because Christine initially saw Meg as trustworthy by virtue of being an extension of her mother Madame Giry; it’s worth noting that Christine doesn’t seem particularly close with any of the other ballerinas, and it’s doubly important that Christine confides in Meg about the “Angel of Music” before she tells anyone else.

Then there’s Raoul, who honestly gets a lot of shit from fandom and doesn’t deserve it. Raoul is kind of boring, and objectively, “The Point of No Return” is a more interesting duet than “All I Ask of You,” but Raoul is also a nice boy, and — look, I’m just going to say it, he would be a much more generous partner in both the emotional and physical sense. Christine and Raoul were close in their childhoods (I just checked and Emmy Rossum and Patrick Wilson are like 13 years apart in age, so I’m not sure how that works, but… sure) and the absolute instant they reconnect Christine is all-in. She hesitates to make plans because of the “Angel,” but she trusts him again immediately, no questions asked. She doesn’t have that many close relationships, but it seems like she keeps her close few literally until she has incontrovertible proof that they’re abusive murderers.

This also seems pretty indicative of her autism. Some of my closest friends are people I met in junior high, high school, and college, and while we don’t live near each other anymore we can still pick up where we left off with ease; virtually all of the close friends I’ve made in adulthood are people I met through drift partner, and, to reiterate, I met her on tumblr (a website I joined at the suggestion of one of those junior high-era friends; also a website that is kind of a haven for neurodivergent people). In my experience, it is hard to make friends in NT contexts (largely because of that above-discussed likelihood of being bullied/etc.) and when you do, it’s because you’ve found someone you trust and you hold on with all of your heart. (That can also go a few different ways, but never mind that.) Christine doesn’t have that many friends/etc., but she’s all in with the ones she has.

Phantom is a cautionary tale about emotional/etc. abuse, but it’s also a cautionary tale about how people are quick to misinterpret emotional differences (possibly driven by neurochemistry) as stupidity. The problem is that she’s living in a world that wasn’t built for her, and there are bad actors trying to use that to their advantage; the problem isn’t her. Christine is very curious and sweet, and unfortunately, people take advantage of that. She’s a classic ingenue, but she absolutely does have some of the tendencies I talked about here; she’s a nice girl, but she’s also inquisitive and a little old-fashioned and good-hearted and overly trusting. She’s more the center of a mystery than the one investigating it, but there’s a reason she’s also part of that trope tree, for sure.

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