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Do Your Homework: on writing marginalized characters

Whenever I pick up a book that has a character with hearing loss, unless I know the author is either #ownvoices or has actual knowledge of my disability/culture, I proceed very cautiously. Why? For starters I have spent my entire life being well aware that “hearing” people do not understand hearing loss and most have preconceived notions on what it means to have a hearing loss, those notions being wrong. I have also read a few books over the years that made me want to scream with how badly hearing loss was presented.

So when a new book stumbles across my path, I am honestly not expecting it to get it right.

A new book, a romance in fact, with a deaf character was recently brought to my attention. I found it at my library so I picked it up (more on this later) and started reading.

By page seven I had thrown the book on my bed in disgust.

Without pointing to the specific book and author, because that’s not my intent here, let me share a few facts: 1) the deaf character was not identified as deaf when first speaking. 2) the deaf character lipreads almost perfectly. 3) the deaf character feels bad when others struggle to communicate with them.

None of the above are realistic. Add to that, the deaf character is sweet and innocent and perfectly content to live in their little deaf bubble without full access to communication.

Did the author do any research? Heck, the deaf character is signing while speaking, a nearly impossible task as the two languages have different grammar structures. The author even referenced some sign, and as far as I can tell, completely invented the motion.

This is all before chapter two.

And here’s the part that absolutely kills me: this book is readily available at a library. It’s published by a Big Five publisher. This book, with its wholly inaccurate portrayal is given a prime spot to be shared. Because in publishing no one stops and questions authors on their diverse material. Because in publishing some authors don’t take the time to do their homework and care about accurate portrayal.

Because this book helps continue the misassumption the world at large has about hearing loss.

A book like this makes my life harder. It continues to allow people to think I can understand them, or should understand them. It doesn’t give me respect for being a strong person. It doesn’t acknowledge my needs and educate.

It fails.

This book lays next to me as I type and I’m going to try and read more, maybe the deaf character’s POV will change my mind? (First paragraph is a screaming no) Maybe somewhere along the way it will redeem itself.

This has got to stop! Not just with hearing loss, with all marginalized groups. Authors everywhere enjoy writing about people different from them. Great! But don’t think that someone else is going to catch you if you mess up. This is on you. This is your job.

This book I have borrowed? It should be a comedic romance. Yet my blood is boiling and my stomach churning. There is nothing fun or romantic about this.

And here’s another interesting element: at no point on the cover or the blurb does it mention hearing loss. Now, I have my own stories where the hearing loss is a secondary factor and not needed there, but where’s the representation? Where’s the respect?

Nowhere.

My apologies to this author. I’m sure you’re a lovely person and a skilled writer. But if you, or someone who has written outside their lane like this, reads this, please, take a moment to think. Why did you write about my world? What was your goal? Because unless it was to piss us off, you failed.

I’ll say it again: You FAILED, because this isn’t a little, “Oh, how silly, they think we can all lipread like people hear, that’s funny.” This is something that lays insult on top of insult.

It hurts. And it helps make sure that others will hurt us as well.

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One thought on “Do Your Homework: on writing marginalized characters

  1. This is interesting and partly the reason why I started a second blog, not to necessarily preach to the hearing world, but to give them a glimpse into the day to day of a hearing-loss person tackling everyday life differently that they are.

    Enjoyed reading your post.

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