Disabled writers and the discrimination we face is something I’ve been mulling over for weeks since I started writing a disabled character for a horror spec script.
But first, let me announce that I’m finally fulling a long-time goal. I’m writing a disabled main character who won’t die by the end and triumphs.
Granted, it’s a horror story, so no happily ever after ending.
However, crafting a disabled character’s personality and backstory isn’t easy. I knew the difficulty involved before I wrote the first word. But I didn’t prepare for personal experiences coming back to haunt me.
Therefore, I offer a longish post with brutal honesty and strong language. I make no apologies. Harsh reality ahead.
If you have any concerns or just want to chat, send me a message. I don’t bite. I just write a lot. Hence, the reason why I’m always too busy to blog on a regular basis.
- Personal History of Ableism
- Internalized Ableism with a Real Life Example
- Where is My Disabled Character?
- Disability and Writing – A Juggling Act
Disabled Writers > Ableism
Racism to race is ableism to disability.
I didn’t know that when I was a kid. Back in those days, in the late 1970’s, the word ableism hadn’t been invented yet. It’s all over the internet now.
So, while I write notes and flesh out the backstory for my disabled character, my mind is constantly battling with all perceptions of disability, whether good or bad. I question everything I’ve experienced.
Garden-variety discrimination. Kids can be mean. Adults, not much better. Born deaf in one ear, therefore I’m stupid.
False. But still…
Is the cruelty of adults worse than children? Not as bad? Hell. It’s all bad.
But I have good memories as well. I worked hard. Twelve years of speech therapy. Years of physiotherapy. Winning school awards. Graduation. I fucking made it.
Computer graphic design diploma. So ready to take on the world. No one would give me a chance. So I started telling white lies. I’m not proud of it, but it’s the only thing that worked.
I stopped telling interviewers about my disabilities. Once I was hired based on my education and skills, I didn’t breathe a word to my coworkers. No one knew. I was just the weird girl who drew pictures on the computer. But hey, I was paid well.
My friends knew about my disabilities, outside of work. But that was it.
Then MS happened in 2004. Lost 35% of hearing in my other ear. Neurological damage. I can’t pretend anymore.
Disabled Writers > Internalized Ableism
A couple of months ago, I met an older disabled man who was born in 1958. He wanted to go out for coffee. I made it clear from the start, friends only, nothing else. He quickly turned into a toxic pig. Sexual harassment. Stalking. All women are property, according to him.
Also according to the world of him, disabled people who don’t act “normal” should be shot in the head. Not an exaggeration. A quote.
He’s also racist AF, but that’s another story.
I’ve resolved the situation and he’s now out my life. Permanently. Never again.
Nothing had shocked me in a long time, not since I was a kid. Been there, done that. But this guy actually shocked me to realize two important things.
One, he has the worst case of internalized ableism I’ve ever seen in my entire life.
Two, I don’t have internalized ableism. Wow.
Since the MS diagnosis, I worried that I suffer from internalized ableism, because I know what it’s like to live as an able person. So, for fifteen years, I worried. But now that I’ve seen exactly what an extreme example of internalized ableism looks like, I know for sure I don’t have that. I survived. He didn’t. Sucks to be him.
Would I help him, knowing what I know now? Honestly? No. Because he doesn’t want help. He enjoys being toxic and gets off on delusional power trips. But just as important, because he’s racist AF. So, no.
Where does my disabled character stand?
I decided my character is 32, so probably born in the late 1980s. My experience tells me that ableism, as a word, didn’t really become a thing until after 2000. At the same time, any disabled person can report experiences with discrimination. It’s an old problem that still affects anyone of any age.
If I write the character as the most well-rounded, informed disabled person in the history of disability, that would be stretching the suspension of belief waaay too thin. Disabled people can be uneducated assholes, too. That’s realistic. Sad, but true.
But he’s not a villain. He’s a hero. Will he be able to save all characters? Probably not. Realism. Also, horror story. So, yeah.
I have to decide his moral standing as a person, never mind his disability, in the context of a fictional story and a spec script. Disability isn’t a story conflict, it’s a way of life. Describing how a disabled person functions in everyday life is not enough.
In fact, that’s exactly how I see able writers fail when describing disabled characters. Anyone can function. But do know how disability feels for a human being?
There’s a whole lot more to disability than describing a wheelchair. Oh, and while I’m on the topic, not every disabled person uses a wheelchair. Not every type of hearing aid causes feedback. Disabled people are not like angels with broken wings. There’s nothing lucky about disability. So spare me your stereotypes, able writers.
A lot for Disabled Writers
While writing can be a lonely profession, I suspect I’m not the only disabled writer to face this kind of dilemma. We juggle a lot, us disabled writers.
Between self-care and the effects of trauma, there’s never enough hours in the day.
And there’s so much more that can’t always be described in words.
The following is what a usually day of writing the story has been like for me:
- Make a cup of morning coffee.
- Get an idea. Write. Delete. Write again.
- Take a break. Sip coffee. Change my mind.
- Consider writing an able character instead.
- Take yet another break. Change my mind again.
- Guilt. Despair. Give up. Try again.
- Waste time feeling sorry for myself.
- Take yet another break.
- Wonder if it’s too early for alcohol.
And that’s just he first couple of hours in the morning.
Reading that back to myself, it would be almost funny, if it weren’t so sad.
Write what you know, easier said than done. I can write directly from personal experience. But there is a difference between writing what you know and triggering yourself.
Fiction is still, after all, fiction. I don’t pretend to have all the answers.
But, dammit, it’s my story, and I’m going to try.
Want to read another similar post? Give Diversity, or lack thereof a read.
P.S. You read all the way to the bottom of the post? You’re amazingly awesome.