We need bad representation in books.

I did one thing this past weekend, and nothing else. I stayed in bed all day to listen to the Graphic Audio version of Fourth Wing, because part two was released recently and I became so enraptured I didn’t do anything else but listen to this wonderful rendition of the novel.

I like it far better than the version made by Recorded Books. I’m sorry Recorded Books, you dropped the ball on this one. It’s especially interesting because, usually, Recorded Books is one of my favorite audiobook publishers. I haven’t found a lot of Romantasy titles on Graphic Audio, partially because Graphic Audio doesn’t have romance as a genre. They stick all their romance books under other categories, which, in my opinion, is just poor marketing because all the books I’ve found so far, including the wonderful Empyrean series on Graphic Audio, is in fact a romance book first. Its central plot involves a relationship. It has a HEA, happily ever after, or an HFN, happy for now, ending. The book can’t survive without the budding relationship, so I don’t know why Graphic Audio is so afraid of sticking romance onto a genre tag.

That’s not why I’m writing today, though. I’m writing today because I spotted a blog post that caught my eye. Fly Or Die: The Ableist Narrative of Toxic Perseverance by HEATHER T was very interesting for a number of reasons. I highly encourage you to go read the post. It was well crafted, and it laid out a lot of valid points, even though I love the series.

Even so, that post got me thinking about a similar post I did, which I still hold true to this day arguing that stereotypes should have representation too. I still firmly believe this. I’d even go so far to say we need all kinds of representation now, more than ever. I’m not here to say if the post was accurate. Rebecca, the Fourth Wing author, does have the same disabilities as Violet in the book. For reference, the disability is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. I don’t have her disabilities, so I’m not here to say who’s right and who’s wrong, because, frankly, I don’t care about standards of representation anymore because I believe that in order to create good representation, disabled writers need to be writing bad representation.

Yes, you read that right. I firmly believe that disabled authors need to be writing bad representation, or what others perceive as bad representation. To even quantify a disability representation as good or bad is Ableist all by itself, and I’d rather not play into upholding those kinds of power structures.

My disability experience is going to be nowhere near the same as other disabilities and disability experiences, so even if I make something that speaks to my truth, it’s going to be bad representation to someone else because they only know their own lived experiences. It speaks to this toxic mentality of representation has to meet a certain standard before we can show it in a book or movie or any other kind of art. To even say that a disability portrayal is good representation is people saying we want to have only the people with disabilities that meet my particular standards. and, well, one person’s stereotype is another person’s representation. What you may think is a stereotype is someone’s lived experiences. What one may see as good representation, someone else will call that a stereotype.

We need those debates, and we need to still have people get angry at bad representation because if we’re only publishing, ahem, good representation, we would be just as discriminatory as the systems we’re trying to dismantle.

Disabled authors need to be writing bad representation. I’d even go as far to say we need problematic representation in books by authors with lived experiences. We need books that have the, ahem, inauthentic, disabled person and more. Disabled authors don’t have an audience as is, so I honestly don’t see the point in trying to uphold an ideal of what’s good representation and what’s bad representation when you don’t know other disabled people’s experiences.

Did I personally find the toxic positivity in the book? No. Then again, I don’t have that particular kind of chronic illness so can’t assess hers. I can only point to other characters. Nobody pushes her beyond her limits. Xaden Riorson collaborates with her dragon to change her environment so she won’t be at a disadvantage. Xaden Riorson even says at one point that he’ll push her to the realistic limitations of her body but never beyond that point when he’s training her on the sparring mat. Then again, these are my perspectives, and I encourage you to read the above post with an open mind. It highlights that not every disability experience is the same. While I personally found Fourth Wing to be empowering, and, yes, sexy, okay, I have a huge book crush on Xaden Riorson, it’s important to understand that this is why we need more disability representation told by disabled artists. There’s few disabled artists in the mainstream art world. We need more!

All in all, I guess you could say I’m not here to argue over representation, good or bad, by disabled authors. That’s a waste of my time. instead, we should be advocating, loudly, for disabled authors to get the audiences, and payments, they deserve, and we need these authors to tell the stories they want to tell, problematic and all. We need authors to tell inaccurate  narratives. We need authors to publish stereotypes, because that encourages reflections, and conversations.

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