Transformation is at the heart of the fantasy genre. Unassuming shire-dwellers become heroes; humans turn into animals, or animals into humans; ordinary elements become the materials for magic, and ordinary words the ingredients for powerful spells.
Transformation, too, is often at the core of the disabled experience. All bodies are in flux, all of the time, but living in a disabled body means being keenly aware of those shifts, attuned not only to the changing conditions of your own muscles and bones and neurons, but to the way those changes shift the world’s perception of who you are. It can be a struggle to stake your claim on your body in the face of those projections and assumptions, a struggle to maintain a sense of yourself when medications, treatments, and adaptive aids alter your own experience of ability, when so few spaces exist for communicating about the nuances and complex truths of what it feels like to be disabled.
Fantasy often offered me that space as a young disabled reader. Its epic, radical transformations were alluring to me as I processed this sense of flux while growing up, trying to figure out who I was and how to relate to my chronic conditions without knowing anyone around me whose body worked exactly like mine did. Through fantasy and its infinite possibilities, I could dream of worlds where my body fit better, where bodies like mine were the norm, or where my body could transform, reshaped as I wanted it to be. I imagined undersea worlds where I could swim instead of walking, where my limbs wouldn’t hurt as I moved. I imagined witches’ spells undone, releasing the invisible shackles they’d placed on my joints; destinies uncovered, revealing I’d been shaped this way for a lofty purpose.
For all its transformative power, however, most fantasy offered little in the way of positive representation of disabled people, and largely made us into monsters or hapless harbingers of doom. Fairy tales in particular tend to cast us as villains or victims, and it’s long since time that disabled people took a sturdy battle axe to the genre and knocked off its problematic and dusty bits, making room for new and better tales of disabled characters having adventures and facing down danger, for disabled creators to publish the fantastical, enchanting stories that they want to tell.
When I set out to edit the fiction section of Disabled People Destroy Fantasy, I knew there would be no way to encompass the full breadth of experience and creativity present in the vibrant and diverse disabled SF/F community, which I’m proud and honored to participate in. There are countless talented and brilliant disabled fantasy writers out there, as the slush pile for this issue clearly showed. And while it made the task of selecting just a handful of stories all the harder, I was glad for it: glad to get to choose from a pile of riches, thrilled to witness all the incredible work pouring in from disabled creators across the world. I know firsthand how difficult it is, as a disabled person, to find the time and energy and resources to write, how monumental the effort of crafting and submitting a story can be, and I appreciate every writer who shared their story with us.
My decision-making process for the issue came down to showcasing some of the best work being written by disabled creators today, with a focus on including writers from a variety of backgrounds and identities. Some of these stories deal with disability directly, and some don’t. They’re not intended as a cohesive or monolithic statement on what it means to be disabled, since there are as many experiences of disability as there are disabled people.
And yet, as I edited and delved deeper into these stories, I found strong common threads running through them, threads that resonated with my experience as a disabled person: the quest for connection, and the difficult and risky attempt to explain to someone else what it means to inhabit a particular kind of form, a particular kind of mind. The desire for understanding, for acceptance. For love. These are stories about the joys and limitations of the body, about learning to love your body as it is, or finding ways to transform sensation, reimagine movement, change your circumstances, or find people who like you just as you are. Our bodies and minds are worlds unto themselves, and these stories are a glimpse into unique worlds, unique bodies, unique ways of being that may mirror our experience, or offer a different perspective than our own. This is what fiction does, after all: It invites readers to step into new worlds, to immerse themselves in new realms. And in the very best cases, they leave those worlds transformed.
As with Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction, this issue is intended not only as a celebration of the work of disabled creators, but as a call to action for editors and other professionals in the publishing community. I call on publications across the genre to seek out disabled voices, to elevate the work of disabled creators, and to make your platforms and submissions processes universally accessible, with full accommodations for disabled writers. The voices of disabled writers, readers, and reviewers enrich the fantasy genre in all its forms. We’re used to imagining new worlds. We are experts in reshaping reality. We do it all the time to exist in a world that often isn’t built for us. We understand the transformative power of fiction, and we’re ready to transform the genre itself with stories that include our experiences, our bodies, our quests, and our magical worlds.
© 2019 Katharine Duckett