I started reading romance novels when I was 12 or 13. I remember reading them and thinking they were enjoyable but they weren’t about people like me. Nearly all of the characters were non-disabled, as well as being white, cis and heterosexual, and the few characters that were disabled were villains. When I did finally find romance novels with disabled leads, they were either cured of their disability or their significant other was portrayed as a saint who was willing to look past their disability.
Both of these tropes are so harmful. I was born disabled and I will always be disabled. There’s no option of being cured for me and even if there was, I wouldn’t take it. Being disabled is an intrinsic part of my identity and I wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t disabled. I also don’t think being disabled is anything to be ashamed of and the idea that a partner would have to look past my disability in order to love me is incredibly hurtful.
These attitudes, of course, are a reflection on how society views disabled people. I hear stories all the time from other disabled people who have had complete strangers tell their partner that they must be a wonderful person in order to be with a disabled person. This attitude is dehumanising and suggests that being in a relationship with a disabled person is an act of charity. Most disabled people are surrounded by negative opinions on disability from the moment we’re born, it’s impossible not to internalise that and it’s easy to convince ourselves that we aren’t deserving of love or that we have to minimise our disability in order to get our happily ever after. Ableism is a daily reality for most disabled people but for me romance novels are supposed to be an escape from reality, an idealised version of what life can be like with the right person or people. Romance novels are supposed to be emotionally satisfying for the reader and that includes disabled readers.
I wrote my first romance in my early 20s. I intentionally made the characters non-disabled with a vague plan that if I became successful maybe then I could write a disabled character. Even as a voracious romance reader who was craving good disabled representation, it never occurred to me that I should write it. I just assumed that no one would publish it and if they did, no one would want to read it.
JR Ward changed things for me. I bought her first book based on a recommendation from a friend who loves romance as much as I do and there he was, a blind king who not only didn’t end up being cured but actually lost more of his vision as the series progressed. I devoured her books, thrilled at how many disabled characters she had. Disability wasn’t tragic in her novels, her disabled characters didn’t need to be cured to be happy, and for the first time I felt like romance novels could be about people like me.
I think romance novels are powerful, they can change our perception and help to break down stereotypes. I sometimes wonder how many people read Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient and changed the way they view autistic people. I wonder how many people viewed disability as a tragedy and then read Lexi Blake, Talia Hibbert or Alyssa Cole’s disabled romances and realised that disabled people can live happy, fulfilling lives. For disabled people, these positive representations of disabled lives are important, I would go as far as to say that they are life changing. When the dominant narrative is that disability is a tragedy and disabled people are better off dead or institutionalised, positive portrayals of disability are essential.
My first published novel, Bound to the Monarchs, was released earlier this month. It’s a queer, polyamorous (FFM) take on the fated mates trope with a disabled heroine who has fibromyalgia and arthritis. It’s available now on Amazon.
I also have a book of short f/f stories featuring disabled characters available now from most major online retailers. You can find out more at www.BrookeWinters.com/Kneel
Millennia ago, the people of Lencura were split into designations dependent on their abilities. Vitoria is a solviso. Others consider them the weakest of the designations but Vitoria knows she’s stronger than people think. Sure, she can’t fly, shift, or conjure magic but her blood has healing properties that the other designations covet and she knows she can use that to her advantage. She’s aware of the dangers that lurk outside of her region and that the other designations would do just about anything to possess her blood but when her father’s death leaves her homeless she’s willing to take the risk for the chance of a better life.
When Vitoria encounters marauders on her way to start a new life in the northern region of Malita, she’s forced to take a detour. Her van breaks down on the border of the shifter lands and she follows her instinct, venturing into the forbidden shifter territory. Better to take her chances with shifters than marauders. Vitoria is placed under the protection of Queen Matilda and her mate, King Antonio. Matilda and Antonio’s dominance awakens a passion in Vitoria that she never knew she possessed and she wonders if she might be the third mate they’ve been looking for.
When a dignitary from a neighbouring monarchdom kidnaps Vitoria and offers her anything she could ever want in return for her blood, she realises the only thing she wants is to be Matilda and Antonio’s. Her monarchs will do anything to get her back but Vitoria isn’t sure what they really want: her or her blood.
About Brooke Winters
Brooke is a disabled, autistic author who writes romance novels with disabled characters. You can find her on twitter @BrookeWinters33 or on her website www.BrookeWinters.com