When I was younger and more abled, I was so fucking on board with the fantasy genre’s subversion of traditional femininity. We weren’t just fainting maidens locked up in towers; we could do anything men could do, be as strong or as physical or as violent. I got into western martial arts and learned to fight with a rapier, fell in love with the longsword.
But since I’ve gotten too disabled to fight anymore, I… find myself coming back to that maiden in a tower. It’s that funny thing, where subverting femininity is powerful for the people who have always been forced into it… but for the people who have always been excluded, the powerful thing can be embracing it.
As I’m disabled, as I say to groups of friends, “I can’t walk that far,” as I’m in too much pain to keep partying, I find myself worrying: I’m boring, too quiet, too stationary, irrelevant. The message sent to the disabled is: You’re out of the narrative, you’re secondary, you’re a burden.
The remarkable thing about the maiden in her tower is not her immobility; it’s common for disabled people to be abandoned, set adrift, waiting at bus stops or watching out the windows, forgotten in institutions or stranded in our houses. The remarkable thing is that she’s like a beacon, turning her tower into a lighthouse; people want to come to her, she’s important, she inspires through her appearance and words and craftwork. In medieval romances she gives gifts, write letters, sends messengers, and summons lovers; she plays chess, commissions ballads, composes music, commands knights. She is her household’s moral centre in a castle under siege. She is a castle unto herself, and the integrity of her body matters.
That can be so revolutionary to those of us stuck in our towers who fall prey to thinking: Nobody would want to visit; nobody would want to listen; nobody would want to stay.