I love reading romance novels because I love falling in love. I especially love reading books where I can relate to the characters, either because we have similar experiences, likes, or dislikes, or because they are physically similar to me. And while there have been more African American, interracial, and multicultural romance novels lately, at least in the world of indie publishing, I have always wondered about the obvious lack of romance novels that have main characters who have varying degrees of disabilities—and who find love without being “cured” at the end.
Types of Disabilities
Every disability is different, just like every person is different. So why don’t we see more varied characters with disabilities? Why don’t we see characters who were born with a disability as well as characters who were disabled by an injury, perhaps losing their sight or their hearing later in life? Why don’t we see how disability shapes their lives and how they navigate love? There are many different types and levels of disabilities—the loss of a limb, vision, hearing; paralysis; different mental abilities, and more. Some people are born with disabilities, while others acquire them along the way, and many people live with them. But we don’t see many of these diverse characters in romance novels as the main character—maybe the sidekick, or the person the author wants us to feel sorry for because they are different, but almost never as the main event of the story. Except for…
Love and The Disability Cure Myth
You know the story: The hero becomes blind, or loses an arm, but by the end—whether through his sheer determination, or the love of a good woman, or a bottomless fortune that gives him access to doctors and technology—he is able to see, or pitch a no-hitter again. Then he gets the girl and they live happily ever after.
Or what about this one? The beautiful girl in the wheelchair gets home-grown physical therapy from the sweet nerdy guy, who accomplishes what years of doctors and modern medicine could not, and voilà! She walks. Happily Ever After again.
And while all this is wonderful, it’s not true to life, most of the time. Not everyone has access to the best doctors that money can buy. And when you find love, your disability doesn’t magically disappear. But because someone feels it doesn’t make a good HEA to leave the MC with a persistent disability, this is what ends up in the storybooks. As if the disabled were not lovable, or not worthy of love.
The truth is, some disabilities can’t be “cured” by anything, so why is this even an option? The disabled—or diversely abled—might have different abilities, but they are just as capable of finding love and contributing to society as anyone else is. Why make anyone feel like they need to be “fixed” to find love?
That you were paralyzed in a car accident. Maybe from the waist down. You will never walk again and you are relegated to a wheel chair. You may wonder if love is for you. No matter your gender or how you identify. You will look (hello Google) for information on people with your condition. How did they move on? Did they find love? Because in this moment it feels impossible. Then how would you feel if you found a novel with a character like you. But in the end they only found love or got to keep it because their disability went away. (Answer, you would feel shitty.)
It makes me feel bad just thinking about the message that, that would send to people. Whether the person has a disability or not. You are training (In my opinion) the person with a disability that there are two options. And you are training (In my opinion) the person without a disability to believe there are also two options. But they are totally different. And none of them are true.
The Two False Options for a Person with a Disability
- They can’t find love until they get rid of their disability
- They can only find love with someone else who also has a disability because they are the only ones who can understand
The Two False Options for a Person without a Disability and Falling in love with someone who is
- That someone with a disability isn’t good enough for love until it is gone
- If they continue a relationship with a person who has maybe developed a physical disability later in life that they are making a huge sacrifice
You can see how dangerous these ideas are. And what if we were to continue to imagine. We think of a person who was born with a disability. It’s all they’ve known. Unlike the above person who remembers being different. This person doesn’t know anything else. But they still want love. Because we all want love. But if they read romance, or other books, will they find a true representation of themselves or a cruel stereotype that also tells them love isn’t for them? Unless they fix the unfixable. (I’m not going to say problem, because a disability isn’t a problem, and it really doesn’t need to be fixed so please pardon the word choice.) You are telling them they can only be the best friend. The person who others feel sorry for. And that’s not okay.
So, What Do We Do About This?
Though I love to read books about characters who are like me, love is love, and I will read anything that tells a good love story. But it’s nice to have the option to read a story where the character struggles like you and comes out on the other side, better—not because now that they’ve found love, their disability has disappeared, but because they have found someone who loves them and sees them. And not in spite of their disability, but because they both—the disabled person and the person who loves them—are willing to see the world positively through the lens of the disability. And both of their lives are changed.
I’ve sprinkled a lot of questions throughout this blog post, and I’d love to hear your answers to them. I’m willing to bet you all have ideas about how to diversify the romance genre to include main characters with diverse abilities.
What are your thoughts?
Are they true to life?
What disabilities would you want to see featured?
What do you think is under-represented?
What do writers get wrong?
What do you want the world to know about you?
I think we can all learn more about each other by leaving stereotypes behind and really seeing ourselves and others, one love story at a time.
Looking forward to connecting with you!