On the context of ‘Brokenness”
I never liked the word ‘broken’ to describe anyone. Not because ‘no one is broken’ but because it’s so flat and incomplete of a word. It has no form, or context. The word tells me nothing, because what exactly is broken and why are people so offended by it? In regards to disability, people think that ‘broken’ limits, dehumanizes and restructures a person around their disability ignoring the good and the positive skills they have. Yet when you do look at the good and positive you also need to balance it. It’s one the many reasons I feel like bringing this up and using some of the character I write with in my fiction. One that many already have known, for this essay, instead of Tikaani as my avatar pseudo-person its, Chiko my airbender original character which I think fits a bit better.
One of the most frustrating about disability narratives in fiction, is the idea that for the story’s arch to be completed the person with a disability must A) Accept his disability or B) learn to defeat it and be comparatively normal and like everyone else. Both are rather half-ass and shoddy endings, but most of these are written by able bodied people who never had a disability or that experience so they are just contextualizing as someone that woke up disabled than someone born with one. It’s one of the reasons I like Toph from Avatar. She is born blind so her narrative is not about her blindness but people’s perception and her ability to surpass that. In some way, Toph is broken, but her brokenness is not her disability but whole experience of being patronized and coddled by her parents, of her constantly having to match up to her sighted peers and putting walls among people because she is afraid of being seen as weak. With that all in context, she is a broken character. Brokenness is not about disability, it’s about social perception of worth, of value and reclaiming that word not as a flaw but as a paradigm. Brokenness should be part of the character’s narrative; it shouldn’t be a hurdle for the person to get over, because frankly, it never actually happens in real life.
Chiko’s narrative is being used because I use Tikaani a lot his narrative isn’t about accepting and deal with a sudden disability but social stigma and moving against it. Chiko on the other hand has to deal with much in short time. For those that don’t follow the show or know the canon, this might be confusing and there is a special interest blurb about the show somewhere so you can do your own research. Yet, for those that are aware, the show brings up the fact that a race of people (Air Nomads) have been wiped out, Chiko is one of them and he and his family survives. Barely. His missing left arm is reminder of that massacre at his temple and it does haunt him. He does have phantom pains, he does deal with nightmares and flash backs and all that crap. His missing arm is a point of grief of him. The thing I want to bring up with Chiko, is that his narrative isn’t about his missing arm though it does feel like that, but honestly about his frustration of constantly being jarred around and dealing with a massive war. It’s about growing up on the battlefield and about being considered an outsider but not because of his limb but because of his social context. Chiko does seem himself as ‘broken’ but not in the idea that it’s because of his missing arm, but because he is considered unworthy to live, that he isn’t meant to be here and to him, surviving while others died, isn’t fair. He doesn’t get closure or sort of respite. His brokenness, his hurt, doesn’t go away if he gets a prosthesis or finds a stable home, the war will still be there and people will still die. Giving a disabled person an accommodation or a tool, doesn’t make their brokenness go away. Chiko’s value isn’t undermined by his brokenness, his love for his brothers and his willingness to never submit isn’t challenged by it. Over all, he isn’t less of a person for being ‘broken’.
Which is I suppose the crux of the argument really. Tikaani isn’t less of a person, neither is Chiko neither am I. Brokenness doesn’t minimalize a person. Which is why next to ‘broken’ I hate the word ‘different’. People think that broken is a word that strips a person’s self and negates them but different doesn’t do that. I don’t believe that. Calling someone different, doesn’t negate that they are broken but accentuates it. It’s still isolating, negative and othering. Calling Tikaani ‘different’ doesn’t remove the fact he lives in a universe where his humanity is always in question, where is feared a shadow of a person and one that gambles with spirits. Saying that Chiko is different, doesn’t negate his missing arm. His nightmares or the fact his people are dying and being systematically killed (So much for Avatar being a ‘children’s’ show) and watching his whole world being set on literal fire. So I cringe when able bodied people saying that I am “differently abled’ thinking that my humanity isn’t questions or the alienation I feel evaporated by well-meaning sympathy. It doesn’t help. It doesn’t make me feel any less included. I don’t want to downplay either of my characters stories because I wouldn’t want mine negated for the sake of the comfort of abled people. I don’t believe calling me ‘broken’ strips me. No more than calling me different or special. I am either. I am just a wild satyr, an organic android, a bard with no song.
I want people to see the brokenness and love it. Because it is a part of me it’s not separate thing. It is me.