I don’t know why I’ve been writing about comic books so much lately. Sadly, I haven’t read one in quite some time but someone mentioned Madame Webb on io9 the other day and that made me think about diversity in fiction – both written and performed.
I never see people like me on television or films. Disabled people don’t make the cut. We aren’t interesting and if we are it’s only about seminal moments. Our lives are only examined when we’re dealing with our illness.
We aren’t seen living our lives. Would you ever see a lead character on tv or film who is blind or who has muscular dystrophy? You wouldn’t, not unless those facts played a significant role in their story.
It’s not that my having mitochondrial cytopathy doesn’t play a huge role in my life. Of course it does. It’s limited me immensely, it’s challenged me, it’s made me tenacious etc… But like the rest of the world, I get up in the morning, drink coffee, have friends, I work, etc… I do all of the things that the rest of you do and I do it while dealing with constant pain because my nerve fibers are shot, constant migraines, lack of blood oxygen, crap vision and whatever the heck else happens that day because my cells decided not to play ball.
I am always ill, that’s true but that’s not my whole life. People with disabilities & illnesses live a life. We’re more than someone going through a trauma that you watch for 2 hours in a theater. We’re more than a 2 hour movie that makes you cry or feel good’ because you’ve never had to face that challenge. You walk away feeling lucky & privileged that you aren’t living that hard life.
And you are lucky and privileged, but we don’t exist to make you feel better about yourself. We exist because god made us.
We’re real people.
In the media, disabled people are just tropes, tokens used to illicit an emotional response without ever connecting to the real lives of people who have the same day to day experiences as you.
The only time that I ever see people like me is in the comic book world. The world of the unnatural. It is in that universe that you would encounter a woman, Cassandra Webb,
with Myasthenia Gravis. It is only in that world that you encounter countless people with genetic mutations who achieve great things and yet still experience the mundane life that most people take for granted.
As a child (honestly, even as an adult) hearing doctors blabber on and on about your mutated DNA is quite scary. You can’t wrap your head around it and it makes you feel alone and lost and like the freakiest freak to every walk this green Earth.
But then there’s this lush graphic world where people like my brothers & I exist. In that pen & ink world people like us live full lives. They also deal with things no ever talks about – many of them are carted from doctor to doctor, scientist to scientist and yet they manage to retain a sense of self in spite of the dehumanization that arises from being a test subject.
(or they become super villains but let’s ignore that for now.)
The word ‘mutation’ is still scary but in the comic universe, defects are assets and doorways to possibilities. And people are more than their struggle with their diseases. They have personalities, likes and dislikes, emotions and opinions about things other than their mutations.
They are fully fleshed out individuals with full lives.
And yes, they do extraordinary things – they do extraordinary things in spite of the fact that society tells them they can’t. They do extraordinary things in spite of the fact that society alienates them, treats them as creature-like freaks of nature.
It is a commentary on the rest of society that the only place where people with disabilities can feel normal is in a world built around supernatural concepts.
People often ask me how I ended up being a girl who loves comics and this is why. It’s the only world where I felt normal. It’s the only world where I didn’t feel alone for not being able to play like the rest of the kids. It’s the only world where I saw people who felt dehumanized by doctors and scientists. It’s the only world where your physical body can betray you but the powers of your mind can take you anywhere.
It’s the only world where I learned that I’m so much more than the genetic mutation that has defined so much of my existence.