“How do you make this sexy?” a reader asked me, gesturing to her wheelchair in the middle of one of my sex education Q&A sessions. The question stumped me because the answer isn’t an easy one.
The short version is: You don’t. There isn’t anything inherently sexy about using a wheelchair or a walker, or having a visible or hidden disability. In fact, using a physical aid, a translator, a guide cane, a disabled parking pass, or any other manner of aid or accommodation, while necessary, isn’t anyone’s first choice.
When you communicate with a hearing-impaired person using a translator, you look at the person you’re having a conversation with and not the person interpreting. The same applies when you are with a person who uses a physical aid or accommodation—you need to see the person first and not the wheelchair, walker, cane, or other mobility device. Get my point?
Is this easy? Absolutely not, but this is why representation matters.
I’ve had many readers write to me, excited, because for the first time they saw a character in a novel who represented them. The main character (MC) of my newest series (Toronto’s Elite) is deaf and she’s the heroine of the series, has amazing telepathic powers and, of course, saves the day while falling-in love with a hunky and beautiful hero. (What? I’m a romance writer.)
I’ve had many other friends and fellow authors tell me about the rush they felt the first time they found a character in a book, or TV, or movie who represented them.
In my real-life job I work with children with special needs and novels like Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult and What I Would Tell You – One Mother’s Adventure with Medical Fragility by local Ottawa author Julie Keon let parents know that they are not alone in this crazy upside-down world.
I remember the first time I read The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl by Belle Du Jour. Her life and philosophy around her sexuality just fit. It just clicked in my brain and I cried, “I’m not the only one!”
Having a disability can be isolating and lonely, and finding someone to travel that path with you isn’t easy. Some people had partners before they became spoonies—some partners stuck by them, and some not so much. Some might never have a partner. Others have had a disability from birth and have gained more still as they age.
How can you give these people a voice? It’s easier than you think.
Have a character walk with a crutch due to congenital hip dysplasia. Give that character an interesting story line where they love, and experience loss and explore their sexuality and get married (although do they really have to kill her partner off?). By doing this, you’ve created representation for so many people. Spoonies not only belong in traditional straight spaces, they’re also in LGBTQ+ spaces. We are here and we’re not going anywhere, and as medical technology advances, our numbers will continue to increase and we’ll engage in even more spaces!
Include these characters in your novels and you give voice to yourself and to others like you.
Mind you, I have yet to find a novel where the character represents me as someone who manages Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). Honestly, I’ve struggled to create an interesting MC who has CRSP. Chasing after bad guys and evil serial killers doesn’t go hand in hand with: “Uh sorry, I need to sleep for the next three days because I’ve run out of spoons. So . . . you guys go ahead and do your thing.”
Instead, I’ve created a secondary character that has CRPS (the MC’s sister in this case). She important to the story but if she disappears for a day or so the plot can still move on.
In another novel, my MC’s son has Level III cerebral palsy. He uses a wheelchair, is fed through a g-tube and uses a “talking box” in order to be able to communicate. (By the way, all proceeds from this novel, once published, are going to our local Children’s Hospital/Treatment Centre, and Children’s Palliative care facility).
Everyday people are living with a variety of disabilities and/or conditions that are temporary, permanent, and ever-changing. So, why do we only see people who are able-bodied and healthy featured in loving relationships in mainstream media? Because the big media authorities say so?
I say it’s time to change, it’s time to say representation matters because it’s not about making a wheelchair sexy, it’s about you the person feeling as sexy, beautiful, handsome, alluring, stunning, and as desirable as you are.
Angela S. Stone is a twenty something Registered Nurse living in Ottawa, Canada. Her first novel, Sometimes It’s Fate, was published by Phaze books in 2011. Angela finds inspiration in real life personal events for her books, often writing about issues she’s experience in her life. She is a proud Canadian and an even prouder girl from back east. She thoroughly enjoys writing novels featuring characters who live in or are from the Maritimes. She’s recently met Mr. Right and when she’s not occupied with him she can be found hanging out at her local Bridgehead, writing. She spends her free time advocating for minorities and persons with disabilities.
Angela has a severe learning disability called Dysgraphia. Despite this she has written several novels, graduated from university, and will, eventually, be starting her Master’s degree in nursing. All things she was told she would never be able to do.
Angela has never met a challenge that she couldn’t overcome. She believes strongly in the philosophy of saying “I can’t” means “I won’t” and advocating for yourself. She has spoken about these topics on provincial, regional and national levels.
Her dream would be to become a full-time author.
Connect with Angela: