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Charity™ and Disabled Futurity

This year I had the opportunity to write a story for the all-disabled author anthology Nothing Without Us edited by Cait Gordon and Talia Johnson (Renaissance Press, 2019). My story was set in a future in which the Canadian government stopped providing any form of support for Disabled people and instead decided to corporatize disability and give the responsibility for Disabled people to the Charity industry.

On the Spoonie Authors’ Network, I published a short piece talking about my research on disability, my thoughts about disabled futurity, the relationship between theory and speculative fiction, and my inspiration for the story Charity (TM) that I wrote for the Disabled Futurity anthology.

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Editor’s note: I invited Derek Newman-Stille to share with us their own experience with writing fiction, as some people might only know them as a champion in elevating speculative fiction authors and/or disabled voices. Their short story, Charity™, is the grand finale of the Nothing Without Us anthology.

Most of my writing about disability has been either academic or experiential, critiquing the representation of disability in the real world and examining my own experiences with my disabled body and identity. I have done analyses of the representation of disability in fiction, have explored the impact of government policies on disability, looked at how DisArt (disability art) articulates disability and the disabled community. I have shared my own stories about disability—how my disability relates to abuse I experienced as a child, how my disabled and queer identities interlink, the way that bullying and violence shaped my experience as a disabled…

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On “It’s Probably Just a Misunderstanding”

On “It’s Probably Just a Misunderstanding”

By Derek Newman-Stille

I can’t describe the number of time I have heard from straight, able-bodied, white people in situations of privilege “It was probably not homophobia/ablism/racism. I’ve never known that person to discriminate. It was probably just a misunderstanding” or variations of that statement.

This sort of statement does a few things. First, it assumes that someone in privilege would encounter the same barriers as someone from a group that is regularly discriminated against. This is the epitome of privilege – pretending that someone who treats those from groups of privilege well could not discriminate against marginalized groups. It turns out that this happens quite regularly. It is actually the basis of discrimination and privilege.

Secondly, it assumes that people who are discriminated against are less reliable in their narratives than people from groups of privilege. It puts the onus on us to prove ourselves instead of bigots to be held accountable for their actions.

This power dynamic doubles down on the discrimination already experienced by the person from a stigmatized group, turning an already damaging encounter with violence into a reminder of systemic violence and that our narratives don’t matter… even to people who should be our allies.

Calling an act of violence “probably a misunderstanding” doesn’t address systemic issues of discrimination. Instead, it reinforces them. It creates a paradigm where people reinforce systemic violence and put the onus on people who are discriminated against to struggle further in a society that already enacts violence against them.

Disability Tropes 101: The “Tiny Tim”

Another of my guest posts over on the Spoonie Authors’ Network – here I discuss the problematic Tiny Tip Trope of Disability as part of my Disability Tropes 101 series

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Disability Tropes 101 featured image Loose leaf paper with the trope topic: The “Tiny Tim” (by Derek Newman-Stille) Heading above it reads: A Spoonie Authors Network Series, Disability Tropes 101. The O of tropes is the wheel of the accessibility symbol.

The trope that I call the “Tiny Tim” is the creation by an author of a disabled character whose exclusive role is to be an object of pity and in need of charity. I have used the name of the best known of these figures from Dickens—”Tiny Tim.” Tiny Tim doesn’t have a life outside of his role as an object of pity, and his entire existence is about teaching an able-bodied man to be more charitable and share his wealth. 

These figures are obviously not limited to literature and, frequently, charities rely on this image when they launch funding campaigns, trying to evoke sympathy from possible donors. Charities have frequently relied on…

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Disability Tropes 101: Manipulative Sympathy

Here is another of my guest posts over at the Spoonie Authors’ Network – Disability Tropes 101: Manipulative Sympathy

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featured image Loose leaf paper with the trope topic: Manipulative Sympathy (by Derek Newman-Stille) Heading above it reads: A Spoonie Authors Network Series, Disability Tropes 101. The O of tropes is the wheel of the accessibility symbol.

I recently watched the musical Wicked, and one scene particularly stood out to me as problematic. It tied into a few other problematic representations of disability that I have encountered in literature, film, and television.

In Wicked: The Musical , the main character’s sister, Nessarose, is a wheelchair user. During the performance, she, at various times, sings about deserving sympathy (which is a problematic disability trope itself), but what stood out to me was the fact that the character Boq is convinced to be her boyfriend because he believes that she deserves sympathy and needs extra care. He is portrayed as being tricked into a relationship with him because he feels bad for her. This…

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Disability Tropes 101: The Outsider

Here is another of my Disability Tropes 101 posts – this one exploring the trope of disability as Other and the problem of othering disabled bodies. Check it out over at the Spoonie Authors’ Network

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The Outsider featured image

Scholar Isabel Brittain brings attention to the trope of “The Outsider” in her article on “An Examination into the Portrayal of Deaf Characters and Deaf Issues in Picture Books for Children” (Disability Studies Quarterly 2004, Vol 24, No 1). In this trope, “the character with an impairment is portrayed as a figure of alienation and social isolation” (ibid). This is a common trope of disability where the disabled character lives in a position of irreconcilable Otherness, socially ostracized and viewed as perpetually incapable of belonging. 

This is a complex trope because there are certain aspects of it that speak to the disabled experience, after all, we are socially rejected on the basis of our disability and even our buildings exclude us since they are made for an assumed able body. But this trope contains several problematic aspects as well. Generally the Outsider disabled person is portrayed as…

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Disability Tropes 101: Karmically Disabled

In this Disability Tropes 101 Post, I explore the trope of the “karmically disabled” person, a trope that seeks to construct disability as a form of punishment.

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Karmically-Disabled

I recently finished watching Season 2 of Dirk Gently and have been reflecting on the huge number of problematic disability tropes in the show, particularly around the invented disability “Pararibulitis,” but for this post, I want to focus on one particular trope that frequently appears in representations of disability, what I call the Karmically Disabled Trope. In the Dirk Gently TV show, the character Todd fakes having a disease called Pararibulitis, an invented nerve disease where the affected person experiences hallucinations that feel completely real to him/her/them. Todd pretended to have the disease throughout his childhood to gain sympathy and money from his parents, but later his sister Amanda actually developed the disability and couldn’t get access to all of the supports she needed because Todd had used up all of his parents’ resources. At the end of the first season of Dirk Gently, Todd gets the disease as…

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Disability Tropes 101: “The Genius Cripple”

Here’s the second of my critiques of Tropes about disability that I have posted on the Spoonie Authors’ Netork. These posts are meant to show the damage that tropes about disability can do to disabled lives.

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The-Genius-CrippleThe Genius Cripple trope is pronounced in representations of disability in popular media and is generally grounded in the idea of a mind-body dichotomy. The notion of the mind-body dichotomy assumes that the mind and body are distinct from one another. This dichotomy is traced back to the philosopher Descartes, who suggested a distinction between the two when he allied consciousness with the mind rather than with the body overall, and so this is often referred to as a Cartesian Dichotomy (referring to Descartes). The more we learn about the body, the more we see that ideas of consciousness are not limited entirely to the head or the mind, but they are distributed and dependent on impulses and chemicals produced throughout the body.

The trope of “The Genius Cripple” is probably most prominent in the representation of Charles Xavier from the X-Men, a figure who is both a wheelchair user…

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