“But this doesn’t NEED a romance!”: Why You’re Wrong

“Not every YA book NEEDS a romance!” is a typical refrain you’ll see in book-related circles, be it on the internet or in real life. Inevitably, when a YA book focuses on romance, you’ll always have someone going “SHE DIDN’T NEED TO FALL IN LOVE WITH HIM!” Maybe not.

Or maybe…she did.

Note: I am going to talk about this subject in response to stories about disabled characters, a marginalization I experience and am most familiar with, but it may also apply to other marginalized communities as well, i.e. anyone who isn’t the straight, white norm.

When you’re reading a YA novel, particularly an #OwnVoices author from the POV of a marginalized character, do you find yourself asking “why does this book NEED a romance?”

As a disabled woman and a disabled writer, let me answer that question: That book you’re reading needs a romance because we literally never get it in any narrative ever.

Disabled people, particularly disabled girls and disabled non-binary/genderfluid folks, are never considered romantic interests. We are inherently less attractive due to our disability. Many of us are seen as sexless individuals without any desires whatsoever, because who would want any of that with a disabled person? We are infantalized, coddled, shoved off to the sidelines as “the ugly friend.”

We are never the stars of that rom-com. We are never someone’s princess, never someone’s hero. If we are, we’re either dead by the end or “cured” of our disability, because we all know that living while disabled is no life at all (sarcasm).

Stories with disabled characters are too often tragic. We’re dying or we’re miserable or both. We hardly exist in genre fiction, especially not in romance. Let us fall in love, have sex, get married, have kids. Let us do none of those things. Let us have one night stands, let us have everything in between.

Until that happens, I don’t want to hear “but the book didn’t NEED a romance.”

Maybe it does.

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