Why Disabled Romance Is Important

From All About Romance:

I started reading romance novels when I was 12 or 13. I remember reading them and thinking they were enjoyable but they weren’t about people like me. Nearly all of the characters were non-disabled, as well as being white, cis and heterosexual, and the few characters that were disabled were villains. When I did finally find romance novels with disabled leads, they were either cured of their disability or their significant other was portrayed as a saint who was willing to look past their disability.

Both of these tropes are so harmful. I was born disabled and I will always be disabled. There’s no option of being cured for me and even if there was, I wouldn’t take it. Being disabled is an intrinsic part of my identity and I wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t disabled. I also don’t think being disabled is anything to be ashamed of and the idea that a partner would have to look past my disability in order to love me is incredibly hurtful.

These attitudes, of course, are a reflection on how society views disabled people. I hear stories all the time from other disabled people who have had complete strangers tell their partner that they must be a wonderful person in order to be with a disabled person. This attitude is dehumanising and suggests that being in a relationship with a disabled person is an act of charity. Most disabled people are surrounded by negative opinions on disability from the moment we’re born, it’s impossible not to internalise that and it’s easy to convince ourselves that we aren’t deserving of love or that we have to minimise our disability in order to get our happily ever after. Ableism is a daily reality for most disabled people but for me romance novels are supposed to be an escape from reality, an idealised version of what life can be like with the right person or people. Romance novels are supposed to be emotionally satisfying for the reader and that includes disabled readers.

Link to the rest at All About Romance

2 thoughts on “Why Disabled Romance Is Important”

  1. Alright, I’ve got a problem with this and all the similar identity complaints for fictional characters.

    Guess what — I’m never going to be 21 and thin(-ish) and naive again. Never in this life. And yet, I can derive emotional satisfaction from the romantic adventures of someone who is.

    If I want to wait to read a book until I can find my exact match as the main character, I better learn to knit (better) instead. And even if I could, it would be my exact match at some particular age, condition, and point in time. Only I could write such a book, and I wouldn’t need to, for my own benefit.

    We read fiction in order to find out what life can be like for other people, not for ourselves. We seek to expand our understanding when we read, rather than to zero in on our particular selves.

    This sort of desire for naval-gazing is pointless.

  2. The difference, as I see it, is that it’s perfectly normal for fat old people to fantasize about being young and thin, and to want to read stories from that perspective. It’s fine and understandable that no one (or at least too few people to make a profit) wants to read an explicit romance novel about fat old folks bumping gunts. The same does NOT hold true for many other qualities. For example, even though I’m white myself, I feel fairly feel safe venturing to say that people who aren’t white do NOT fantasize about being white, and don’t want all their stories told from a white perspective – and that if they did, this would not be healthy.

    I could see arguing that all disabled people must fantasize about being able-bodied, and surely none of them would buy a romance with disabled characters – but if it sells, that would refute that argument. I see no harm in putting the book out there and letting the readers decide whether or not they want it. You don’t, and that’s fine; you’re just one reader.

    Also, just a tip…it comes across as very petty, disingenuous, and FYGM to compare major things that greatly affect people’s lives, like gender/race/orientation/ability, to silly little things that don’t, like being able to knit. Try to imagine if you almost never came across a book that interested you with straight white able-bodied heroes, and almost all of the books you WERE interested in starred fat black paraplegic nonbinary characters. (I know, I know, if 0.1% do, it probably FEELS like almost all of them do to you…) Representation is like money, or sex, or oxygen…as long as you’ve already got plenty of it, you don’t really need to think about it. But if you don’t, it suddenly becomes important.

    Sincerely,

    Not a fat black paraplegic nonbinary essjaydubya…just another no-longer-young white chick, only with empathy.

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