When you’re writing a book with a character who has a disability that you don’t have yourself there’s a lot of care and research to put into making sure you represent the disability well and contribute positively to the fight for civil rights that people with disabilities are engaged in.
But today I’m going to talk about something else. I have found that in books with characters with disabilities it has become very popular to put in a single sentence about “creepy devotees” and how your character isn’t one.
A friend of mine shared a few examples (and the fact is you can take just about any book published in the last ten years with a disabled character and find sentences like these)…
He had heard all the rumored reasons for why he never had a date at office parties, ranging from some sort of self-imposed sexual exile out of a dislike of women with strange kinks to the ongoing question of how well his plumbing worked. The folks in the first camp would probably be disappointed to learn that there weren’t hundreds of women lined up outside hotel rooms across America with fetishes for men who couldn’t wiggle their toes. The one woman with such a kink who’d found Micah had been strange in bed. It was not an encounter he wanted to repeat.
Lohmann, Jennifer (2014-09-01). Winning Ruby Heart (Harlequin Superromance) (Kindle Locations 350-351). Harlequin. Kindle Edition.
Sweet Jesus. Hopefully she wasn’t one of those stump fetish freaks who could only get off with amputees. He’d never been with a woman like that, but lots of guys he’d met at the VA talked about being approached by women—and men—with that bizarre fetish.
James, Lorelei (2009-08-15). Shoulda Been A Cowboy (Rough Riders) (Kindle Locations 1301-1303). Samhain Publishing, Ltd.. Kindle Edition.
“I didn’t know it then, but there are people who have to take care of someone to feel important about themselves. And there are people attracted to people in chairs because they’re in chairs, like some people prefer blondes or breasts or whatever.”
“Tell me about it.
That’s one of the things I loved about you from the minute I met you. You don’t pity me or feel sorry for me for being in a chair.”
Richardson, Lesli (2009-03-27). Cross Country Chaos (BookStrand Publishing Romance) (Kindle Locations 4474-4479). Siren-Bookstrand, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
These quotes show a stunning lack of any kind of understanding of what devotees actually feel. The lack of compassion also floors me.
Why is it okay to talk about an entire group of people that way?
Here’s something people don’t seem to comprehend, being a devotee is a rough life. You tend to be extremely isolated, feeling alone and frightened of your own sexuality. When you do start trying to understand it and connect with people, every where you go you hear that you are a “freak, creep, monster, fetishist” and more. You never hear anyone talk about what you are without also calling you a creep. You try to escape to fiction and read books where the love stories match what makes sense to you in your core being and the reward you get is a slap in the face. You can’t escape the judgement even in books and movies.
It’s like this… Imagine you are a gay man. All around you are examples of heterosexual love. It surrounds you constantly and you long to see the kind of love you’re looking for rather than watch movies and read books about hetero relationships. So you find m/m romance and you dive happily in ready to take a break from the real world and enjoy one where a relationship like what you are built for is reflected. But now imagine that EVERY m/m book had the characters insisting that they weren’t actually gay. Yes, they were having gay sex but it was different. They aren’t like those scary, creepy, bizarre gay people. That’s what it’s like for devotees, the vast majority of whom have never done anything scary or creepy in their lives.
If you want to write about devotees even in a single sentence, I urge you to read (W)hole by Ruth Madison. It is a deeply personal and honest account of what many devotees experience as they grow up.
I will never publish a book that talks about devotees like in those examples. It is both lazy writing and cruel to a large portion of your target audience.
I think writers do this for a few reasons.
1) They feel like this is a thing that gets talked about and so they need to address it in some way
2) They think it makes them look cool and sophisticated that they know about it
3) They want to make sure no one thinks their characters are one of those people.
But you don’t have to comment. You don’t have to say anything about people you know nothing about. Just keep your mouth shut on the subject. Write your characters falling in love, caring about each other, finding a deep soul connection and leave it at that. There is no need to prove that you know what a devotee is or to prove that your character isn’t one. Whether they are or not, the point of these books is to see people fall in love and in that aspect it makes zero difference whether your character has any devotee tendencies or not.