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This the fourth post of my new Trope of the Week Series.

Tropes are conventions (or repeated patterns) used in storytelling. They can include themes and plot devices. Underdog characters triumphing after dedicated training is an example of a trope, as is goodness being associated with physical beauty, and villains revealing their secret plans to heroes they have just captured.

Some tropes reinforce oppressive messages, and in this series I will be going through a list harmful tropes that are used in the representation of disabled characters. Because knowing what to do is just as important as knowing what not to do, I will end each post with suggestions for ways to fix things.

This series an expansion of my list of Common Harmful Representations of Disability from my Guidelines for Game Masters page.

This picture illustrates two common tropes in the depiction of disability. On the left is a black and white photograph of an empty wheelchair on a road as a semi-transparent person walks away down the road. On the right is a life-sized plastic statue of Captain Hook.

This picture illustrates two common tropes in the depiction of disability. On the left is a black and white photograph of an empty wheelchair on a road as a semi-transparent person walks away down the road. On the right is a life-sized plastic statue of Captain Hook.

 

Helpless Disability

The repeated association of disability with charity portrays disabled people as pitiable, vulnerable, and pathetic. The character of Tiny Tim from The Christmas Carol is a classic example of this. Unfortunately, this stereotype makes it all too easy to portray disabled characters as helpless victims. Indeed disabled characters on television are more likely to die than their able-bodied counterparts.

It is true that in the real world disabled people are more likely to experience violence than able-bodied people. In fact, there is a long history of violence against people with disabilities in many Western cultures. However, portraying disabled characters as passive victims with no agency of their own is not an accurate representation of this reality and it perpetuates the myth that disabled people are helpless (another version of the idea that disabled people are incapable of accomplishing things).

Helpless disability can even happen to otherwise powerful characters if their disability is treated as a vulnerability that makes them helpless in way that is different from the other vulnerabilities they have. This manufactured helplessness may also be used to make a disabled character into a plot challenge for able-bodied characters, who are then tasked with transporting and protecting them. When this happens, the disabled character becomes an object or burden for the other characters.

What to do instead:

Knowing that violence happens to disabled characters more often, think carefully about how much violence is directed at the disabled characters in your story and whether or not those characters die. Because disabled characters do die more often than their able-bodied counterparts, error on the side of not killing disabled characters. The fact that their aren’t many awesome disabled characters for people to identify with makes having living disabled characters with meaningful futures in front of them all the more important.

The kind of violence that happens to characters with disabilities also matters. In particular, depictions of completed suicides or mercy killings are especially bad as they send the message that it worse to be disabled than dead. This is especially chilling when viewed in light of historical violence that has been perpetrated against people with disabilities. It doesn’t matter if there is a plot excuse for it. Change the plot. Don’t do this.

That said, I do want to acknowledge that most stories are about adversity, something which naturally includes having bad things happen to the characters. This gives the main characters obstacles to overcome. So I’m not saying that bad things should never happen to characters with disabilities, but that disabled characters shouldn’t be made into helpless victims for other characters to rescue or avenge. In my mind, the key to this is portraying disabled characters as people who are capable of actively responding when bad things happen to them. Not every action they take needs to be successful, but they should always be doing something to deal with the situation. Finally, at least some of their actions need to have an effect on the story. Having an effect on the other characters and the story is what gives their actions power and prevents them from being helpless.

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This the third post of my Trope of the Week Series.

Tropes are conventions (or repeated patterns) used in storytelling. They can include themes and plot devices. Underdog characters triumphing after dedicated training is an example of a trope, as is goodness being associated with physical beauty, and villains revealing their secret plans to heroes they have just captured.

Some tropes reinforce oppressive messages, and in this series I will be going through a list harmful tropes that are used in the representation of disabled characters. Because knowing what to do is just as important as knowing what not to do, I will end each post with suggestions for ways to fix things.

This series an expansion of my list of Common Harmful Representations of Disability from my Guidelines for Game Masters page.

This picture illustrates two common tropes in the depiction of disability. On the left a toy Darth Vader points at the audience. On the right a silhouetted person stands, raising two crutches over their head in a triumph pose.

This picture illustrates two common tropes in the depiction of disability. On the left a toy Darth Vader points at the audience. On the right a silhouetted person stands, raising two crutches over their head in a triumph pose.

 

Disabled in Name Only

Another common pattern happens when a disabled character gains magic or technology that gives them the same abilities as an able-bodied person. A classic example of this is Luke Skywalker’s bio-mechanical hand in Star Wars. And just as happened for Luke, in this pattern once a character gains their magic or technology, their disability no longer has a significant impact on their life. At its extreme, this pattern can result in disability being treated as a cosmetic choice that has no impact on the story, where a character is given magical or mechanical body parts just to make them look more hard core.

The biggest problem with this pattern is that these characters fail to represent the lived experiences of actual people with disabilities. In the real world, disability impacts a person’s daily life in large and small ways. People with disabilities encounter accessibility barriers, such as buildings that are inaccessible to wheelchairs. We have to make trade offs, such as medications with unpleasant side effects. And many of us have to carefully manage our physical and mental resources, such as someone with limited energy choosing not to run errands so that they able to prepare their dinner.

I also want to point out that having a character’s magic or technology be focused on “making up for” their disability places a limitation on the abilities of disabled characters that able-bodied characters don’t have. It sends the message that disabled people are incapable of accomplishing things without fictional powers, that disability is a terrible thing that defines the entire life of a character, and that becoming able-bodied is an essential goal in every disabled person’s life.

What to do instead:

The challenge here is finding a balance where disability affects the life of the character without overshadowing everything else. If magic or technology is available to the character, it makes sense for them to use it to address their access needs. There is nothing wrong with a character having a prosthetic or assistive device. The way to make these feel real, rather than just be a way to turn a disable character into an able-bodied character, is to make it clear what the device can and can’t do. What are its benefits and limitations? Does it have any side effects? How about hidden costs? Does it require maintenance or charging? Can the character use it constantly, or do they need to remove it at times?

The other big thing is to not make disability into the focus of the character’s powers and abilities. In a story where most characters don’t have extraordinary abilities, don’t give a character a superpower just to make up for the fact that they are disabled. Disabled characters don’t need special powers to accomplish their goals or to give them value. In stories that are about characters having extraordinary abilities, don’t choose an ability for your character that is designed to perfectly make up for their disability. Instead give them an interesting ability that fits the story or their personality.

Once the character has their special ability, then it is time to figure out how the character addresses their access needs. Maybe they can use their power in a clever way to assist themselves, or maybe they get what they need through ordinary abilities and training. Real blind people can use sonar to perceive the world and real paraplegic people can use their strength to get their wheelchairs up stairs. Research what real people can do and don’t assume that every obstacle a disabled person encounters needs be addressed in a fictional way through special powers.

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This the second post of my new Trope of the Week Series.

Tropes are conventions (or repeated patterns) used in storytelling. They can include themes and plot devices. Underdog characters triumphing after dedicated training is an example of a trope, as is goodness being associated with physical beauty, and villains revealing their secret plans to heroes they have just captured.

Some tropes reinforce oppressive messages, and in this series I will be going through a list harmful tropes that are used in the representation of disabled characters. Because knowing what to do is just as important as knowing what not to do, I will end each post with suggestions for ways to fix things.

This series an expansion of my list of Common Harmful Representations of Disability from my Guidelines for Game Masters page.

This picture illustrates two common tropes in the depiction of disability. On the left is a black and white photograph of an empty wheelchair on a road as a semi-transparent person walks away down the road. On the right is a life-sized plastic statue of Captain Hook.

This picture illustrates two common tropes in the depiction of disability. On the left is a black and white photograph of an empty wheelchair on a road as a semi-transparent person walks away down the road. On the right is a life-sized plastic statue of Captain Hook.

 

Bitter Disability

This is the pattern of portraying disabled characters as deeply bitter about their lives and their disabilities. Shakespeare’s Richard III is a classic example of this life-consuming bitterness. This pattern of bitterness is frequently combined with other stereotypical depictions, such as characters who are villainous, pathetic, helpless, a burden, self-defeating, or even self-destructive.

When a bitter disabled character is a villain, as is the case for Richard III, their bitterness is typically an important cause of their evil. Sometimes they are getting revenge on the world for their misfortune of being disabled (whether they were born with a disability, or they became disabled later in life). Other times the character simply decides, in a horrifying twist of logic, that because they can’t be a hero, they must be a villain.

Underneath all this bitterness is the assumption that disability is a terrible, life-destroying tragedy that prevents people from having fulfilling lives. After all, if these characters did have fulfilling lives, they would have no reason for bitterness. In addition, the idea that a disabled character would choose to be a villain simply because they inherently can’t be a hero is toxic and comes from the false idea that disabled people can’t accomplish meaningful and heroic things.

What to do instead:

Be cautious about creating a disabled character who is bitter. Think about what the purpose of the character’s bitterness is and if it is actually necessary. What does it accomplish for the story? Be particularly cautious if their bitterness is connected to any other stereotypical traits like being villainous, pathetic, helpless, a burden, or self-defeating.

If bitterness is an important part of the character, be sure that there is a clear cause for their bitterness that it is not simply the fact that they are disabled. There are a lot of things that a character could be bitter about. For example, they could be bitter about politics, or their messed up family, or even the biased way they that are treated because of stereotypes about their disability (please be sure to make this distinct from being bitter about their disability). Also, because bitterness is such a common representation of disability, I strongly recommend having other disabled characters in the story who are not bitter.

The best way to avoid sending the message that disability destroys a person’s life is to make sure that disabled characters have meaningful lives. Every disabled character should have more to their life than just their disability. What activities do they do? Do they have a hobby, job, or volunteer position? Who is in their life? Do they have a romance, caring friends, or a supportive community? Even if a character is struggling in some ways, there should be meaningful things in their life.

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New Fairy Tale Podcast!

In the fourth segment of The Wishing Dildo Series, the adventure continues as we find out more about the mysterious and regal Jewel. Then the six companions take a secret detour to the Kingdom of Waterfalls. This story is followed by a discussion about trauma in which I talk about myth, reality, resilience, healing, and community with artist, activist, disabled survivor iconoclast billie rain. This discussion goes deep places, but it also has a lot of laughter too.

At this point in the Wishing Dildo story, the effect of trauma in the lives of the characters is starting to become apparent (although still portrayed subtly), so I wanted to start a conversation about trauma and how it affects people. Far too often stories either ignore trauma or treat it as terrible thing that destroys a person’s life forever. It is my goal to portray my characters as whole people who are impacted by the things they go through, but who are also strong and capable. I’m very excited that billie rain joined me for this conversation and brought both wisdom and laughter to it.

This image is meant to capture the feeling of an exciting adventure. A road traverses a rocky, mountainous landscape that is dramatically lit by the setting sun.

This image is meant to capture the feeling of an exciting adventure. A road traverses a rocky, mountainous landscape that is dramatically lit by the setting sun.

The story for this episode is a segment of The Wishing Dildo Part 1: It is said that the Wishing Dildo can grant any wish relating to sexuality or fertility, as long as that wish is consensual. Prince Hart sure hopes that is true as he and his friend, trickster Tala, embark on a quest for it. As they travel, they soon discover that sometimes the greatest adventure is the people you meet along the way.

Listen now!

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This the first post of my Trope of the Week Series.

Tropes are conventions (or repeated patterns) used in storytelling. They can include themes and plot devices. Underdog characters triumphing after dedicated training is an example of a trope, as is goodness being associated with physical beauty, and villains revealing their secret plans to heroes they have just captured.

Some tropes reinforce oppressive messages, and in this series I will be going through a list harmful tropes that are used in the representation of disabled characters. Because knowing what to do is just as important as knowing what not to do, I will end each post with suggestions for ways to fix things.

This series an expansion of my list of Common Harmful Representations of Disability from my Guidelines for Game Masters page.

This picture illustrates two common tropes in the depiction of disability. On the left a toy Darth Vader points at the audience. On the right a silhouetted person stands, raising two crutches over their head in a triumph pose.

This picture illustrates two common tropes in the depiction of disability. On the left a toy Darth Vader points at the audience. On the right a silhouetted person stands, raising two crutches over their head in a triumph pose.

 

Villainous Disability

A disproportionate number of disabled characters are villains. Including prominent examples like Darth Vader and Captain Hook, the disabilities of these villains are used to make them more sinister and intimidating. Usually this is done by emphasizing the character’s disability in a way that draws on the idea that disabled bodies are broken, deformed, or less human, something that is exemplified in Obi Wan Kenobi’s description of Darth Vader as, “more machine now than man, twisted and evil.”

Another version of villainous disability is the mentally ill villain so often used in horror films and thrillers. Here mental illness is used to make the villain seem more threatening. This pattern is harmful because it perpetuates the idea that mental illness is inherently dangerous.

What to do instead:

If you want to create a villain with a disability, it is important to recognize that people with disabilities are over represented as villains. This by itself can be harmful, so the first thing to do is make sure that the villain isn’t the only character with a disability in the story.

Also, think carefully about why the villain has a disability and what role that disability plays in the story. The disability should in no way be used to represent the villain’s evil nature or to otherwise make them appear more sinister and intimidating. Instead, I recommend that the disability simply be a fact of the villain’s life that they live with; their disability affects them but is neither the cause of their evil nor a symbol of it.

 

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This is the sixth and final bite-size chapter of “The Wishing Dildo Part 1!”

Summary: It is said that the Wishing Dildo can grant any wish relating to sexuality or fertility, as long as that wish is consensual. Prince Hart sure hopes that is true as he and his friend, trickster Tala, embark on a quest for it. As they travel, they soon discover that sometimes the greatest adventure is the people you meet along the way.

Note: This story contains some sexual humor.

This image is meant to capture the feeling of an exciting adventure. A road traverses a rocky, mountainous landscape that is dramatically lit by the setting sun.

This image is meant to capture the feeling of an exciting adventure. A road traverses a rocky, mountainous landscape that is dramatically lit by the setting sun.

The Wishing Dildo Part 1: Six Companions

Chapter 6

This story is continuing from Chapter 5, which you can read here.

Soon the climate became warmer and wetter. Lush growth was everywhere, and the fields were full of fruit, corn, rice, and beans, as well as market crops like sugar cane, coffee, and cocoa. Here the houses were made of wood and stone, with steep roofs to shed rain. Naturally, the people here wore fewer layers, though they did favor bright colors and bold patterns.

It rapidly became clear that this was a culture that valued respect, particularly for elders and those of high status. Respect also played an important role in decision making, and it was customary for the whole community to be consulted before any decisions were made. Consequently, decisions took longer to make, but they were usually good ones that met the needs of the entire community. Despite this formality, or perhaps because of it, the people were very friendly with those they considered equals and could often be seen exchanging hugs and talking animatedly.

As they traveled, Min rode constantly by Jewel’s side, asking questions, making comments, and showering her with enthusiastic attention in an attempt to help Jewel feel at ease. Unfortunately, Min’s efforts had the opposite effect. What’s more, Jewel was too worried about hurting Min’s feelings to say anything to her about it.

Thus the uncomfortable situation continued until Tomás decided to intervene. He said, “Tala, I don’t believe that Min has heard your story about the time you rode a flying trunk up to an enchanted garden in the sky.”

Continue Reading »

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The talented Caitlin Scannell has created this amazing cover image for “The Wishing Dildo” story depicting the characters Jewel and Min each using their magical powers. I am so excited to be finally sharing this image with you!

Curious about the story behind this image, check out “The Wishing Dildo Part 1: Six Companions.”

This full-color illustration depicts the characters Jewel and Min standing back to back. Jewel, a tall black woman wearing elegant purple clothing embroidered with gold, stands on the left as she tosses a handful of gemstones into the air. Min, a short tan Chinese woman wearing simple green and brown clothing, stands on the right as she blowing a swirling gust of air. The words "The Wishing Dildo" are written in ornamental golden letters. Illustration by Caitlin Scannell.

This full-color illustration depicts the characters Jewel and Min standing back to back. Jewel, a tall black woman wearing elegant purple clothing embroidered with gold, stands on the left as she tosses a handful of gemstones into the air. Min, a short tan Chinese woman wearing simple green and brown clothing, stands on the right as she blowing a swirling gust of air. The words “The Wishing Dildo” are written in ornamental golden letters. Illustration by Caitlin Scannell.

 

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Today’s discussion with spiritual atheist Kathleen Lamothe is a deep and far ranging Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) inspired conversation about music, addiction, anger, health, diverse minds, psychology, and happiness.

This was such a great conversation and it covered so many important topics connected to mental and emotional health. This episode also includes a demo track of a new song, “No Self,” by Kathleen’s band, Screaming Queens. I am really excited to share this with all of you!

This graphic is a two-dimensional depiction of a brain created out of a varied group of pictorial emoticons. These emoticons vary in size and include: hearts, spirals, fire, diamonds, dragons, the sun, the earth, the moon, snowflakes, foot prints, skulls, and water droplets.

This graphic is a two-dimensional depiction of a brain created out of a varied group of pictorial emoticons. These emoticons vary in size and include: hearts, spirals, fire, diamonds, dragons, the sun, the earth, the moon, snowflakes, foot prints, skulls, and water droplets.

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This is the fifth bite-size chapter of The Wishing Dildo series!

Summary: It is said that the Wishing Dildo can grant any wish relating to sexuality or fertility, as long as that wish is consensual. Prince Hart sure hopes that is true as he and his friend, trickster Tala, embark on a quest for it. As they travel, they soon discover that sometimes the greatest adventure is the people you meet along the way.

Note: This story contains some sexual humor.

This image is meant to capture the feeling of an exciting adventure. A road traverses a rocky, mountainous landscape that is dramatically lit by the setting sun.

This image is meant to capture the feeling of an exciting adventure. A road traverses a rocky, mountainous landscape that is dramatically lit by the setting sun.

The Wishing Dildo Part 1: Six Companions

Chapter 5

This story is continuing from Chapter 4, which you can read here.

The day was hot and sunny, so, at midday, they decided to stop and eat their meal in the shade of a dense clump of trees a short distance from a crossroads, which, not so coincidentally, would also serve to block their magical tent from view. However, when they entered the grove of trees, they were surprised to find a regal, fat, onyx-skinned woman with smooth features, high cheekbones, and a crown of ebony braids sitting on a stump, bandaging her feet. She was wearing sturdy but ill-fitting clothing, and next to her was a stiff pair of boots that was clearly far too big for her.

When she saw the five of them, the woman gasped and dropped the bandages she had been holding onto the ground.

Well, the moment that Min saw the regal stranger, she was instantly smitten with her, and no sooner had the woman dropped the bandages than Min had leapt off her horse to run over and help pick them up. “Let me help you with those! Oh dear, some of these need to be washed. These three should be all right, though—they didn’t touch the ground! And, oh! This one too! Not this one though, or these two…”

“I’m fine, thank you,” the woman said firmly. “I can get the rest myself.”

“It’s no trouble!” Min said cheerfully, and she continued picking up bandages despite the woman’s attempts to block her. “I’m happy to—Oh my! Are those rubies?!”

Continue Reading »

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I’m a Sexual Asexual

Note that this article contains frank talk about sexuality.

This picture is a flag that is based on the asexuality flag (which is four stripes with black at the top, then gray, white, and purple on the bottom), but which has a large triangle in the middle where the color order is reversed (purple on the top and black on the bottom). This is the aegosexual/autochorissexual flag. I am using it here because I think the flag looks awesome and because there aren’t any other flags out there that are a better fit for me.

This picture is a flag that is based on the asexuality flag (which is four stripes with black at the top, then gray, white, and purple on the bottom), but which has a large triangle in the middle where the color order is reversed (purple on the top and black on the bottom). This is the aegosexual/autochorissexual flag. I am using it here because I think the flag looks awesome and because there aren’t any other flags out there that are a better fit for me.

I am in my mid thirties and it was only in the past couple of years that I figured out that I’m asexual. Knowing this, finally, a lot of things make sense. Like, for example, how I spent almost a decade in queer inclusive communities before I figured out that I am queer. Or why receiving sexual stimulation never really worked for me.

My earliest memory of my sexual orientation comes from high school. I was part of a Gay Straight Alliance and I remember publicly identifying as straight while privately feeling that straight didn’t really fit me. (This was before I realized that I am genderqueer, so at the time I thought that I was a woman even though that label didn’t fit right either.) I remember telling myself that my discomfort with the term straight was probably just privilege. After all, becoming aware of one’s privilege can be seriously uncomfortable and I was attracted to men (mildly and on rare occasions).

The thing was that at the time I couldn’t tell I was attracted to women because in USA culture everyone is trained to look at women and appreciate how they look. That’s how mild my attractions are; when I was a teenager I couldn’t tell that I was attracted to women because the culture had trained me to look at and notice women.

And while it would seem like my experience of almost nonexistent sexual attraction combined with exposure to the LGBTQIA+ umbrella would have lead me down the road to discovering my asexuality in college, what I actually discovered in college was my deep connection to sexuality.

Continue Reading »

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