This is a guest post from Jacqueline Koyanagi. She writes science fiction and fantasy featuring queer women of color, folks with disabilities, neuroatypical characters, and diverse relationship styles. Her debut novel, Ascension, was released from Masque/Prime books at the end of 2013, and landed on the 2014 James Tiptree Jr. Honor List. She lives in Colorado with her poly family and pets. Follow her on Twitter @JKoyanagi.
Coming out can empower us for many reasons, not the least of which is the isolating nature of living a marginalized life. Consider the compounding effect of living as both queer and disabled: multiply-marginalized to the point that some claim you cannot even reasonably exist—you are accused of being an alphabet soup of special snowflakeness for daring to name and claim your experiences.
When you are both queer and disabled, it’s not uncommon to feel isolated from your communities, resources, and even from your own story. Membership in one community can be contingent on forsaking another aspect of your lived experience—not every queer space is disability-friendly, and not every disability-oriented space makes room for queer folks. How can people possibly choose which axis of their experience needs support the most? You can’t. Whole, complex individuals need community and care.
This is one of the countless reasons why some people feel powerless to come out.
Mainstream narratives try to teach us that this is the natural plight of the queer, disabled person: abject, permanent isolation, because that is our lot in life. It is inevitable, and so we are to be pitied, and that tragedy is where others believe our narrative begins and ends.
But that is not our story. That is someone else’s idea about our story. It’s someone else’s idea that to be queer and disabled is to necessarily be alone. It’s someone else’s idea that utopian futures would necessarily eradicate all but the most supernaturally-empowering disability. It’s someone else’s idea that the hero of a story cannot look like us, love like us, live like us.
Trying to find love, companionship, and sexual joy, in the midst of this overpowering narrative can feel impossible. Sexuality and disability are seen as mutually exclusive by large segments of the population; according to this narrative, they’re not supposed to co-exist. Of course we feel isolated when we are told, again and again, that ours is lonely fate.
We need to challenge that narrative by creating and supporting stories that tell us, yes, disabled bodies can be sexual bodies, desirable bodies, loved bodies. They can be, and they are.
This is why stories matter.
We need them. We need stories that demonstrate that, yes, queer sexuality and disability can co-exist. Stories help plant the ideas that become mainstream ideology. Stories can give us space to breathe, to be our true selves, to exist, and to show others that our disabilities aren’t something to pity or overlook or see past. Our bodies and our experiences are not consolation prizes. They are worthy in their own right.
You cannot separate our disabilities from our queerness from our lives from who we are. This is our embodiment; this is us.
We are sexy. We are lovable.
When we tell stories about people, we make something to be remembered. We elevate an idea, a life, an experience, out of the shadows of isolation and into popular consciousness. We need stories that show disabled people with disabled bodies being sexual, desired, loved—any combination thereof. We live in the grounded reality of our bodies no less than anyone else. That is our lived experience now. Our world—the world that includes us, our bodies, and our queer relationships, all in the same space—exists. Yes, we are sexy and we are lovable, neither in spite of our disabilities nor fetishistically because of them.
This isn’t about producing an alphabet soup of representation just to say we’ve done it. It’s about breaking down that which has harmed us and constructing something better in its place. It’s about giving the microphone to voices that have been silenced, and upending the narrative that disability, sexuality, and/or romance cannot, or should not, co-exist. This is about telling people that the tired, worn out narrative is wrong—that it wasn’t even our narrative to begin with.
We’re telling our own stories now.