by Kathleen Bradean
As many of you know, I write a fantasy thriller series under another name. A character in the third book in the series suffers from arthritis so severe that he can barely use his hands. He’s an elderly gent, recently retired, and still has an eye for the ladies. I got a very sweet thank you note about that.
While I wrote him as elderly, I knew a guy in high school with this problem. His fingers were permanently curled into fists even though he had several operations to cut the tendons in the hopes that his fingers could straighten out. And they would, for about six months, before slowly clenching again. A teenager stuck with the hands of an old man. Everyone past a certain age knows what it’s like to feel like you’re twenty or thirty until a mirror cruelly reminds you that no, you’re not. Inside, you’re a very different person than you are on the outside.
We don’t see enough people like this erotica. We don’t see them in real life and definitely not in our stories. In real life, we can’t seem to bear the idea of anyone with physical problems being a sexual person. It seems a real taboo.
I’m not fond of fatal disease porn, those romantic stories about angelic people teaching important life lessons before dying from cancer. Mawkish sentimentality I think is the usual critique, but I think it’s worse than that. It makes being ill and bearing it bravely all a person is. It makes illness seem like a key to higher insight about the human condition. It takes away a person’s right to be furious that their body is betraying them just when things are getting good. And it might make a normal person who might have a real reason to complain about their plight from time to time feel as if they’re somehow experiencing their life wrong.
So while I don’t advocate that approach to characters, I think we need to push boundaries this way. We need to examine why the thought of a differently abled person having sex makes us so uncomfortable, and why sexy is the hardest attribute to accept for them.