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Romance Books: Don’t Fetish Disabilities

Something interesting has happened as publishing looks more and more to getting diverse characters on the page. This isn’t something I noticed right away, but one that has built up over time.

I write characters with hearing loss. I write romance. I’ve seen agents and editors looking for deaf characters, yay! But then I stop and take a closer look, and the requests almost always come in this form:

Disabled Hero.

I write “disabled” because it’s not always hearing loss alone. This isn’t something limited to ears, it’s something much wider across the disability community. And I can’t help but wonder:

Is this a fetish?

I’ve had a hearing loss my entire life. I write hearing loss characters as my hero and heroine. I’m growing stronger in my own identity as I see my ears as strong and attractive.

But publishing is starting to tell me it’s only attractive in males. Not females.

Why can’t my heroine be the one with the disability? Why can’t it be a book that empowers disabled readers to feel strong, confident, and sexy?

Because that’s not the fetish.

The fetish is the male character who could be played by Nyle Dimarco. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Nyle. Not only is he extremely attractive but he’s also a strong advocate for the Deaf community.

Let me break this down further: when you give the heroine a disadvantage, that disadvantage is scrutinized to the best of feminine intent. Because females are hardest on other females, make no mistake about it. But when you give the hero a disadvantage, then it’s remarkable and sexy, and…

No. We need to embrace diverse characters through all genders. We need to accept that male or female or other, a Deaf character has a history of oppression and strife. More importantly, most are happy and healthy adults, proud of their ears.

This isn’t a story of overcoming a huge hurdle. Honestly. The biggest hurdle I faced with my own hearing loss is accepting myself as I am, of being proud of my ears. This isn’t something an outsider can do.

And let me add to this, because I grew up in the hearing world: I often felt I wasn’t worthy of finding love. I’ve been a hopeless romantic from the start, but I really wondered about dating with a hearing loss. And before you wonder why, show me my role models? As someone who grew up in the hearing world, the only other people I knew with a hearing loss were elderly. I didn’t have young role models. I didn’t get a chance to read books like SIGNS OF ATTRACTION, I didn’t have the ability to know my own worth.

(And I know there have been books with hearing loss in them for a long time. The few I’ve found often have a very negative portrayal, so I honestly tread very carefully while reading them.)

Fortunately for me, I found a great guy in high school and latched onto him. However, that means I never fully came to terms with my hearing loss on an attraction level, not until I put it into my stories.

Will male characters really make that difference for me? Especially when they’ll often be alphas completely comfortable in their own skin? No. It will be great to see, but it won’t be what I need.

If you are looking for a disability to be in one gender, but not the other, ask yourself why. And then ask yourself what you are telling the many, many people out there who have that particular disability. Are we only worthy if we happen to be male? Are we only worthy if we look like Nyle Dimarco?

Because we’ve played this game our entire lives: Are we only worthy if we can benefit from hearing aids? Are we only worthy if we can speak? Are we only worthy if we don’t need accommodation? Are we, are we, are we?

The answer is yes, we are. Now help me show that in our books and movies and television. Check yourself, ask questions to the minority group. Be the role model as well as the love interest.

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