attackfish: Yshre girl wearing a kippah, text "Attackfish" (Default)
[personal profile] attackfish
I got a comment last night on Quiet Shadowed Places (The one where Zuko is blind):

An interesting idea. It's a little odd, though, because unlike with Toph, this story doesn't really explain how Zuko would compensate for being blind, as I don't see how he could possibly track down the avatar while being blind without some other factor in play. Still, a good little story.

Anybody want to tell me what’s wrong with this comment?  (Other than the utter patronization inherent in calling it a “good little story”  Because really, wow.)

Don’t get me wrong, I love Toph.  I really really really love Toph!  And there’s a lot that I found very refreshing in her portrayal as a character with a disability, like her parents’ misguided attempts to protect her from the world because of her blindness, something that real people do to real people with disabilities all the time.  Or the way she feels comfortable making jokes about her disability, and the way she gets furious when people forget her limitations, or just plain the way she is an awesome, flawed character with a real personality along with a disability, which as most of you know, is sadly rare in media.  But she still has a disability superpower.  She is able to use her earthbending in such a way that her disability is functionally negated.  It’s a credit to the writers that this ability of hers has limits, and that the writers put her in situations that show these, but for the most part, she is not limited by her blindness in the ways that people who don’t have earthbending are.

This is why when I sat down to write “Quiet Shadowed Places”, I deliberately picked blindness as Zuko’s disability and deliberately didn’t give him any extraordinary ability to compensate.  I wanted to show how it was absolutely possible to be disabled and amazing without any special power, with only the solid grit that Zuko shows in canon.  Zuko would “make up” for his disability the same way he makes up for his lack of resources, initially poor firebending skills, and other disadvantages, through dogged determination, his own innate cunning, and whether he admits it or not, reliance on his uncle and his crew.  None of this requires sight.  Zuko doesn’t find Aang time and time again with his sight.  He finds Aang the first time with sight, but his crew could have just as easily done it for him.  The second time he finds Aang, he finds him by listening to rumors, and having a crew that listens to rumors.  He finds Aang by tailing him, by hiring June, by doing all kinds of things that do not require him personally to have sight.  Some of the occasions in which Zuko tries to capture Aang would indeed require sight, like his expedition at th North Pole, or being the Blue Spirit.  These are done differently in this universe.  Given Zuko’s sheer tenacity in the face of extremely long odds, I have full confidence that this wouldn’t be much of a problem for him.

As a disabled writer, I wanted to write a story in which the disabled character doesn’t have an ability that negates his disability.  I wanted to reflect the reality of my own experience as a disabled woman in a way that I don’t often get to see in media, because most portrayals of disabled characters are by able-bodied people and seen through their perspective.  This is why tropes like the disability superpower, or any of the other noxious tropes I write about exist in the first place.  We don’t control the narrative.  I’ve written before about how painful it is not to have anyone who looks like you in the media you consume and how affirming it is to have someone who is like you with whom to identify in fiction.  This essay isn’t about that, but instead about the way these portrayals of people with disabilities teach people without disabilities to view us.

Whether this reviewer realized it or not, they sent this review to a disabled writer, and in it, they told me that what broke their suspension of disbelief was Zuko being capable without something like Toph’s seismic sense.  What this reviewer told me in this review is that not only can they can accept bending, avatars, spirits, and an entire fictional universe, but they can also accept a disabled character inventing radical new, never before contemplated styles of magic to replace their missing abilities, but that they cannot accept a disabled character, who, unable to invent a way to use his magic powers to replace his lost ability, instead functions the way disabled people do in the real world, and is as successful as his able-bodied counterpart.  This reviewer is more willing and able to accept the false, unrealistic media portrayals of disability, than they are the reality of a disabled experience.  Almost no disabled person has an ability that negates or nearly negates the limitations their disability places on them, or for that matter, the limitations society places upon us because of our disabilities.  What people with disabilities do have is an incredible array of creative and innovative solutions to individual problems our disabilities present us with.  Many of these things, like wheelchairs, portable oxygen, assistance dogs, and sign language, become the visible signs of our disability to the able-bodied world.  I get pitying looks when people see my oxygen, and it makes me want to run up to them and say “look at my oxygen!  Look at this awesome thing that helps me live my life!”  This is as close as most of us will ever get to a disability superpower.

This reviewer’s inability to accept a disabled character without a disability superpower being capable of chasing the Avatar bleeds into how people like this reviewer treat real disabled people like me.  Some people expect us all to have a disability superpower, and resent having to make accommodations in an able-bodied world for us, and say that if we don’t have a disability superpower capable of making our lives look just like theirs and overcome the barriers placed in front of us, we’re just not trying hard enough.  Some people heap pity on us instead, in the assumption that without a disability superpower, we’re incapable of doing the kinds of things people with disabilities do all the time, from the normal everyday, to the outrageously impressive.  Most of all though, the attitude of this reviewer and people like them, that our lives are somehow unrealistic enough to break a suspension of disbelief that has withstood fantasy and magic means that they don’t listen and believe disabled people when we talk about our experiences.  It means that they believe they know my life and my needs better than I do.  And that makes my life as a disabled woman infinitely harder.
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attackfish: Yshre girl wearing a kippah, text "Attackfish" (Default)

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