Friday, August 27, 2021

Inclusion, Diversity, and Respect

Including disability in stories should be about helping everyone see themselves in fiction. I'm afraid that when I write, though, that's not usually top of mind. I'm far more interested in who people are. Why they are they way they are. As you delve into that kind of analysis, you run into the places and ways that people and bodies break -- or the way bodies have many ways of being in the world. 

Since I usually write around themes of alienation, otherness, and finding love and acceptance no matter who you are, it absolutely makes sense to write about differently-abled people. Not because I want to play ableist bingo at someone else's expense. When I wrote Edie, who was born deaf, I did not want her deafness to be her defining trait. This is not the source of her brokenness. Being deaf does not in any way equate to broken and I wanted that to remain true for Edie. Her wound had to do with her part in an old war. She's also an addict, and she's prejudiced. To heal herself, she has to put prejudice aside, kick her addiction, and come to terms with everything she'd ever done in the name of freeing her world. 

Deafness for Edie only mattered because it impacted how she experiences the world, the hero, and the conflict. Let me explain how many times I realized I had used hearing words in reference to her when she clearly and distinctly could not hear. 

Another character starts her story full of fears and unhappiness. She's still recovering from being nearly starved to death as well as from multiple broken bones. She has a raging and dangerous case of PTSD. 

So here I am saying what should be the quiet part out loud: I do not believe that love can cure anything. You might have to come burn my RWA card over it, but I don't. I firmly hold to the notion that love cures nothing. Ever. All it can do is make you want to be  a better version of yourself. That's mighty power, but it's not a panacea. 

In each of my characters, I insist that they be the ones to put themselves back together. Their partner can support or even inspire, but they cannot do the work. They cannot make the change for the character who needs to change. 

My goal is the literary equivalent of the Japanese practice of kintsugi - repairing what is broken by gluing it together with gold and creating something new in the process. Only my characters do that job themselves. Their hero or heroin may inspire them, but that's as good as it gets, and never ever do we disrespect who these characters are by 'fixing' something inherent to them. Certainly there's more work to do. And I'm going to get things wrong some times because while I live with disabling chronic illness, I can't presume to comprehend the lived experience of someone with a disability I don't suffer. But yes. Show me where a character is hurt and how. Then let's break out the gold dust and glue and knit some stuff back together again.