Normalizing Disability: Tagging and Disability Identity Construction through Marvel Cinematic Universe Fanfiction
The exploration of identity is a common practice in fanfiction, and scholarship has consistently investigated this fan practice. Yet, despite the presence of disability and disabled characters in fanfiction, this aspect of identity exploration is only sparsely represented in scholarship. This article explores the intersection of disability studies and fanfiction studies through the lens of labelling and tagging, key elements of both fields. Labelling and classification in disability communities are often associated with medicalization, stereotyping, and erasure of individuality, while tagging in fanfiction provides a communicative framework between authors and readers. These differences in functions of labelling and tagging provide the foundation that enables tagging in fanfiction to function inclusively as a normalizing force, despite the problematic role of labelling in disability communities. Three trends in the ways disability is tagged in fanfiction are explored through a close reading of a selection of fanfiction from the Marvel Cinematic Universe: (1) disability is primarily tagged when it is a significant component of the plot, (2) the disability of canonically disabled characters is primarily tagged when that disability directly influences the plot of the story, and (3) mental disability/illness is significantly more represented than physical disability.