Disability Fic

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Related: Hurt/Comfort
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Disability fic is a fanfic genre in which a character has a disability (either a canonical disability or in an AU presupposing one) or becomes disabled during the story. Disability fic is often hurt/comfort.

A defining feature of most disability fic is that the disability itself plays a role in the story, such as physical and mental recovery and rehabilitation and the lifestyle changes necessitated. Painless_j states this as her first requirement for a fic on her disability lists: "first of all: actual state of disability should play a part, there should not be just mentioning that a character is disabled or injured, nor only a process of inflicting it".[1] In Kestrell's Reading in the Dark, she cites painless_j's rules and comments that "What is interesting about this definition is how it frames the ordinary as the primary desirable characteristic of disability fics".[2] On the flipside, stories in which characters' disabilities do not have a central role are often not listed as 'disability fic' (for example, House is disabled in canon, but not all fanfic featuring House is disability fic).

Controversies

Disability fic faces criticism because often disabilities aren't treated realistically, but as a trope for hurt/comfort or as a kink. [3] [4]

Besides a lack of realism, it can be problematic when disability is used merely as a horrible fate that befalls a character, sometimes to teach them a lesson or insight, or to "reform" the character (often, as on television, the disability is miraculously reversed at the end after it fulfilled its function to "restore" the character for the perfect happy ending), or the character is reduced to the disability.

For example, jadelennox writes:
"What I haven't seen much of (and I admit I'm not all that well-read) is stories where the disability is just there. Where the individual follows the plot of the story, adjusting through the day as he always does, occasionally bitter, occasionally angry, occasionally amused, occasionally not thinking about it all. Adjusting as necessary, and having occasional minor breakdowns when something that's easy for the rest of the world is impossible without asking for help. Not being an object of pity or fascination for the other primary characters. Being annoyed by other things just like the rest of the world: traffic jams, the cap left off the toothpaste, demon attacks. Not existing to be the main character in an "I am a psychological survivor" story, nor existing to be hurt and therefore comforted, nor existing to make another character feel bad for her failure in protecting. Just being another character with an extra set of problems."[5]
E. E. Beck criticizes the symbolic use of disability:
"But the thing that really gets under my skin is what I call symbolic use. You'll note that I'm not using the slightly more accepted term symbolic value, but more on that in a minute. Let's take a fic about a character losing his sight. I can pretty much guarantee you that somewhere in the fic the character will make a speech about how the loss of sight has changed them, has taught them blah blah blah. Which, okay, yeah, losing sight changes you. But it's not an allegory. I can assure you that when what little sight I had started failing when I was sixteen, it didn't teach me jack shit. It didn't make me wiser. I had no great revelations about the meaning of life, about how to be a better person, about appreciating the things I have. Blindness is not a lesson, it is a fact. It may change a character, but it is not a means to an end. The use of blindness, or another disability, to teach a character something (and believe me, it's there in 9 out of 10 disability fics) bothers me. It's trivializing and it's glorifying at the same time. When the character loses his sight and, *gasp* what brilliant authorial strategy and use of symbolism, suddenly "sees what's in front of him" and embraces the shipper agenda, it's trivializing the blindness, making it not important, and glorifying it, making it something that it definitely isn't."[6]

Positive Reactions

In Christina Papamichael's article Harry Potter and the Curse of Disability, writer La Guera talks about what inspired her to write stories based on her own experience with disability:

"It occurred to me, as I read the books, that JK Rowling has representatives of every race and creed, but she has no disabled students of any kind," says La Guera, a disabled fanfic author in her mid-twenties. "It struck me as very sad."[7]

Kestrell concludes her essay Reading in the Dark, on disability fic in Harry Potter fandom, by stating "HP disability fanfic provides a public story space with very definite 'rules of the game,' and the active participation of those writers and readers in regard to disability demonstrate one means by which disability stories can be redefined."[8] By having accessible source material and a canon whose magic can be used as adaptive technology, Harry Potter fandom was open not only to disability fic but also to disabled writers.[9]

Specific Tropes

It should be noted that many disability tropes can be found in canon sources, particularly television series, and that the magical and miraculous return to status quo at the end of many stories reflects that aspect of television storytelling. For example, shows with temporarily blinded characters include due South, Mannix, Hawaii Five-O, CHiPS, M*A*S*H, Doctor Who, Star Trek: The Original Series, Farscape, and many more.[10]

Blindness: Often written as permanent, but sometimes the blind character regains sightedness at the story's end. Nightvisions in K/S was the first novel-length example in 1979.

Amputation: One show with canonical amputation is The X-Files. Krycek's right arm is forcibly amputated in the fourth season episode Terma and especially Mulder/Krycek slash deals with this disability. Much Silmarillion fanfiction deals with Maedhros adjusting after his hand has been amputated. Jane Eyre fanfiction often addresses Rochester's difficulties on his wedding night due to the loss of his hand.

Paralysis: Primarily written as temporary, although there are plenty of stories with permanent disability. Oracle from DC Comics is the main example of a character with in-canon paralysis who features in a large number of stories. In cases of non-canon disabilities, paraplegia is far more common, with only a few stories dealing with quadriplegia existing.

Brain injury: Especially controversial when it involves a perceived infantilization of the injured person. Brain injury in fiction does not usually correspond to common medical outcomes of brain injury. Gentle on My Mind, a Professionals novel series in the '80s by Jane of Australia, is an early influential example, but the trope is still being written. Jean Kluge's Changes (The Sentinel) is a novel-length Jim/Blair zine which explores this theme. Some Smallville fic deals with the trauma of the forced institutionalisation of Lex Luthor, and his subsequent abuse endured.[11] More recent examples include the Supernatural series of stories in the Somersault 'Verse.

External Links

Thematic Lists:

References

  1. painless_j, Rules for Themed Disability Lists accessed 21 February 2009
  2. Kestrell, Reading in the Dark acessed 21 February 2009
  3. he_dreams_awake. Disability in fic. (accessed October 14, 2008)
  4. Milkshake Butterfly. A House Rant, As Promised. July 27, 2005. (accessed October 14, 2008)
  5. jadelennox. look, I call *myself* a crip. March 1, 2005. (accessed October 14, 2008)
  6. E. E. Beck.The old fanfic trivialization discussion, expanded just a bit. Feb. 24, 2004. (accessed October 14, 2008)
  7. Christina Papamichael Harry Potter and the Curse of Disability accessed February 21 2009
  8. Kestrell, Reading in the Dark accessed February 21 2009
  9. Kestrell, Reading in the Dark accessed February 21 2009
  10. Temporary Blindness - Television Tropes and Idioms, accessed February 21 2009
  11. sabershadowkat, (2008). Haven. Retrieved 12 December 2010. Webcite.
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