Since I discussed Shēn Diāo Xiá Lǚ (神鵰俠侶) last week, and disability is still the theme of this month’s Carnival of Aces, it occurs to me … Yang Guo might is an example of a character who is both asexual and disabled.
I’ve already said a lot about why I read Yang Guo as being asexual, even though it is never explicitly said in canon. As far as disability … well, since I want to keep this post low-spoiler, I’ll just say that at the beginning of the novel Yang Guo is able-bodied, and at the end of the novel he’s not.
Yang Guo definitely encounters explicit ableism. Unfortunately, I cannot find any of Guo Fu’s ableist quotes, but I recall her saying something like ‘he must be a bad man because he is [diabled]’.
By contrast, Yang Guo does not encounter any anti-asexual prejudice which is anywhere close to being as clear-cut as Guo Fu’s commentary.
I think it is because the characters recognize that disability is a thing, and they can easily tell that Yang Guo has a disability, but I don’t think any of the characters (including Yang Guo himself) are aware that asexuality is a thing.
Of course, just because nobody makes pointed comments about Yang Guo’s asexuality does not mean there is not any predjudice directed towards asexuality. Some characters seem to have trouble wrapping their heads around the fact that Yang Guo is not having sex. This is one of the reasons people don’t understand him, and since they don’t understand him, they consider him to be dangerous.
How Yang Guo Breaks Asexual and Disability Sterotypes
Asexuals are sterotyped as being female, white, and middle class. Yang Guo is male, Chinese, and poor.
Disabled people are sterotyped as being bitter, wanting revenge on the world, or as being full of good cheer, or as objects of charitable pity. Well, Yang Guo sometimes does feel bitter, and he sometimes does want revenge, though he is much less motivated by vengence than Huang Rong assumes he is (and when he wants revenge, it has nothing to do with his disability). He is most definitely not constantly full of good cheer, and he wants opportunities, not pity. TvTropes claims that Yang Guo is an example of a ‘super crip’, but I disagree (I can’t explain why without spoilers).
Both asexual and disabled people are stereotyped as being not-so-social, introverted, aromantic, not physically attractive, etc. Well, Yang Guo is very social (when he can), is an extrovert, and is intensely romantic (though I would say he is demiromantic, not heteromantic). Oh, and he’s the most physically attractive male in the Jin Yong universe (though he might be tied with his father Yang Kang).
If anything, having a disability reinforces his image as a mysterious and dangerous ‘bad boy’, which some people say is why almost every maiden in the novel is strongly attracted to him. It’s worth noting that he starts wearing a mask to cover up his good looks (and thus stop having so maiden maidens feel attracted to him) *after* he becomes disabled. And the willingness of some of those maidens to get sexual makes it clear that his celibacy is entirely voluntary.
Speaking of stereotypes, one of those maidens is Lu Wushuang, who is also disabled. Apparently having a lame foot doesn’t stop her from experiencing romantic attraction [/snark].
And Lu Wushuang is the only person Yang Guo is depicted as feeling any sensual (and possibly sexual) attraction towards (I translated the relevant passage here). That’s another way he’s ‘doing it wrong’ – he should feel like kissing a ‘pretty’ girl like Guo Fu, not a disabled girl like Lu Wushuang [/snark].
Oh, and I should state the obvious – the fact that Yang Guo experiences a lack of sexual attraction, and is content with his celibacy, *before* he becomes disabled proves that that his asexuality is not caused by his disability.
Layers of Oppression
Though Yang Guo’s disability and asexuality (or more accurately, refusal to act like a heterosexual) play out in different ways, they both serve one common fuction – to make him an outcast.
They’re not the only reasons he’s a social outcast. Other reasons society pushes him to the margins at various points in the story include: he’s poor, his mother wasn’t married, he’s homeless, he’s an orphan, he refuses to conform to norms concerning romance, he cannot fight back. There’s also the fact that his father was a horrible person, and he looks just like his father, so his mere appearance stirs up certain characters’ bad memories.
The giant eagle, of course, does not care about any of this, so Yang Guo and the giant eagle become close friends. That’s why the official English title of the novel is The Giant Eagle and Its Companion.
The core conflict of the story is that Yang Guo craves to feel like he belongs to a group, yet society keeps on denying him for unfair reasons. This is an internal conflict – Yang Guo wants to be with people and help people and have people like him because it’s a need, but he also wants to avoid people and hurt people because he has a long history of people hurting him. It’s also an external conflict – when Yang Guo tries to meet his needs, others interfere.
As far as the maidens … well, they are one group who is interested in having close social contact with Yang Guo, and Yang Guo is also very interested in bringing (most of) them into his family. However, he wants to be their brother, and they want him in a romantic/sexual way … which is not a solid basis for mutually satisfying relationships.
Though introverts most certainly encounter loneliness and need companionship, the fact that Yang Guo is an extrovert makes these problems even more apparent.
In short, Yang Guo is the way he is because the story needs him to be that way.