The Power and Importance of Representation in Media

This past week, I can't tell you the number of times people have called, texted, or mentioned to me, Special on Netflix.

"Have you Seen it? What do you think of it? You should be on it!"

It has been such a fascinating experience. My favorite interaction to date was when I had Starbucks delivered by a Postmate. He handed me my coffee, lingered at my door for a few seconds, looked me dead in the eye, and said,

"Have you seen that show Special on Netflix? YOU SHOULD BE ON THAT SHOW!"

To which I responded,

"Wow. I never imagined the general population would be so willing to see someone who resembles a parking pass on their TV."

If you have been living under a rock, and you haven't seen nor heard of the show; the series is based on the memoir, “I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves” by Ryan O'Connell, who is a (fabulous) gay man, living with Cerebral Palsy. -- He also stars in, and is an executive producer, alongside Jim Parsons, and a handful of others.

The show itself is funny, real, and it is ground-breaking. It is the first time a disabled person has had the lead role in a written series. Ryan has spoken about the pressure he felt when making the show because of the responsibility of representation he felt, as one of the first disabled characters on TV.  -- The reality is, for many, Special may have very well been the first time the general population has seen someone who is gay or disabled in media, much less both.

After watching the show, and being able to identify as strongly as I did (as someone with Cerebral Palsy myself), it got me thinking on a deeper level.

Hollywood often is the place where people see things they don't otherwise see in their own lives. The entertainment industry has a reputation for being an ultra-progressive, liberal bubble which is not representative of the majority of the country or the world at large; but that's not as true as you might think. 

It was just five or so years ago when women were fighting for equality in the industry in terms of the pay-wage gap between their male counterparts. 

History shows that Hollywood is notoriously slow to show anything other than the stereotypical "pretty" white Barbie and Ken Beverly Hills type, or the exact opposite of that, to introduce an antagonist. 

But the people of the world are not Barbie and Ken who live in 90210; the people of the world are Jewish, Muslim, straight, gay, bisexual, transgender, disabled, fat, skinny, tall, short, rich and poor, or some combination of, all at once. 

That is the world. That is who we are. Knowing that Hollywood is a place of first exposure for many, there is an inherent responsibility to continue to show the world, and the people who live in it, as we are. 

I hope that the trend of accurate representation in Hollywood continues in 2019 and beyond, and I commend Ryan, his credible cast and crew, and Netflix for moving the needle.

Part IV: Let’s Talk About Sex (Disability Remix)

Let’s talk about sex, baby. Let’s talk about you and me; let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be. 

Sex and disability; It’s a thing… although you wouldn’t know it based on the lack of representation in everyday society. I know that is a problem for some, particularly in the disabled community — but I don’t have that hang up. Because let’s be real, I don’t look like Shawn Mendez in Calvin Klein’s. I know that. Anyone who has had the misfortune of seeing me in my underwear knows that. I’ve accepted it. 

If I’m honest, I have never felt attractive, particularly in a sexual manner. I cannot fathom why anyone would have that level of interest in me, yet, I’ve done things with much hotter guys than I’ve had the right to, and I am not mad about it. (That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t mess with my mind after all is said and done, but that’s just something I have to continually work through).

So, how does the whole sex thing work with a disability?

As is the recurring theme in this series, the answer is not universal. What works for me physically may not work for someone else, and because I can only speak for my personal experiences, I am choosing to focus on basic principles instead of specifics. 

Let’s get the basics out of the way:

  • When it comes to men with a disability, sometimes their boy bits function, and sometimes they don’t. 

  • Often times, there are physical limitations which can limit or prevent someone with a disability from doing certain things. 

  • Sensation: Some people have it, some people don’t. 

So, given all of these variables, how do you make it work?

None of these limitations mean neither of you can enjoy a sexual experience together; the all-encompassing answer is to have honest communication. If you have an interest in/are someone with a disability. Talk to your partner about what works, and what doesn’t; and if you don’t know, it never hurts to try. 

Side-note: When it comes to me personally, I don’t particularly like playing a thousand questions before we are in the moment. I’d prefer someone just follow their intuition, try what they want to try, and go from there. If it doesn’t work, I will tell you, and we will adapt. 

Not everyone has that approach; so it’s essential to have an understanding of the person you’re going to be with. It’s all about being aware. This should be true for everyone when having sex, but it seems to be a piece that is often missing. 

Beyond that, have reasonable expectations. Sex is not what we see on the internet. It’s not this glorious oiled-up moment of Roman God perfection. For anyone. Ever. This may be even more notable when disability is introduced; expect that, and be okay with that, but try not to treat the person with a disability as if they are made of glass — if they’re ready to have sex with you, they want to have as good of a time as you do; so don’t over-complicate it. 

If you need to find weird positions, do it. If you need to use pillows or props, do it. If you need to include some type of medical equipment or use the wheelchair, go for it. 

In the words of Tim Gunn,

“Make it work.”

Part II: Agreeing to Go on A Date With Someone With a Disability — The Hesitations

Is it okay to ask questions relating to the individuals disability?

Um. YES.

You’ve just agreed to meet someone with a disability (perhaps for the first time) in a social capacity; no one should feel they are taking a course in Workplace Diversity Training.

Read More

Part I: The Concept - My Online Bio Says I Have A Disability. What Happens Next?

In 2019, online dating is the new normal.— I don’t know the statistics, or the success rates, or any of that, but that is not the point. I’m willing to bet that the majority of people who have been single at some point within the last five years has tried online dating, whether they admit to it or not. 

On the surface, the idea of someone writing about themselves in a bio, and waiting to be swiped, or tapped, or heckled, or whatever it is that happens, seems odd. I’ve always kind of felt like it was looking for the perfect fruit at Whole Foods. You kind of just skim around, searching for the one you think looks right for you, and you make your initial selection based on visual appeal alone; self-indulgent bios be damned. 

But let’s say you were someone who is kind of really into your fruit; you wanted to know where it was grown, whether it was organic or not, etc. etc. — So you read the bio of the person you’re considering expressing interest in; It’s witty, well-punctuated, and it says something that makes you go, 


What if that very same bio also said, 

“I’m in a wheelchair.”

What happens next?

I posed the question on various social media platforms, and received more responses than I could have ever imagined. As one might expect, the comments and conversation. were all over the map. 

The majority said the idea of someone being physically challenged would not deter them from meeting up. This was a refreshing, somewhat surprising response. Although, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of these responses were a result of good manners; whatever the case, it was nice to see that so many people were seemingly open, with no hesitation. 

Another popular subcategory was,

”Well. That depends on what we were meeting to do.”

According to people of the internet, some are okay with the idea of meeting for coffee, lunch, dinner, or surprisingly, just a hookup (I’ve decided I am going to do a deep-dive into THAT situation in another blog — I guess some people are able to completely separate sex from everything else.) — If you are one of those people, email me for my number. 

THAT. Was a joke. Don’t do that. It won’t go anywhere. Sorry, babes. 

Getting back on track, that group basically said, they’d be willing to meet, but would hesitate to call it a date, and couldn’t promise it would go anywhere, because it would depend on the chemistry and the other elements at play. In my mind, that’s a very normal generational standard. We are at a point where, even if you spend time with someone multiple times a week, it’s always “hanging out.” Dates aren’t a thing. Personally, I like to call them meetings. Meetings are great, sometimes they go amazingly well, and have great outcomes, and sometimes, they are a complete waste of time. A perfect summary of the possibilities in my mind. 

To clarify, I PERSONALLY am not at all opposed to the ancient concept of dates; just don’t expect me to ask first. 

Moving on to the group that I’m calling, “The Realists.”

The people who admitted that they aren’t sure, because they don’t know how comfortable they would be in the situation. Most elaborated and expressed a similar sentiment. To summarize, they said they have had limited to no exposure to someone with a disability, and meeting someone new, who has different and/or limited abilities was something that made them nervous. I think it’s important to note, that no one who responded outright said they wouldn’t meet at all. 

From my perspective, I don’t have a problem with any of these answers. 

I appreciate the people who have, or are willing to meet someone drastically different from themselves on a surface level. These people are the reason I have an amazingly supportive group of friends. 

To those who aren’t opposed to the idea, but do have some reservations, are completely in the right as well. Disability is a spectrum, and the needs and abilities of those afflicted are dramatically different from person to person. The unknown is a fair reason to be hesitant. 

Those who said they don’t know if they’d be open to the idea aren’t in the wrong either. Physical limitations aren’t always an easy adjustment, and in truth, some people just can’t imagine themselves in a situation where they are faced to confront that. It can be argued that this may be due to a lack of exposure or mainstream representation, but that is irrelevant. I appreciate people who are honest with themselves and others about what they feel they are able to handle. 

I am of the belief that people are capable of growing and evolving given the space, time and reason to do so; and even if that doesn’t happen, that’s okay too, because thank u next. 

That’s all for now. 

I hope to come back with a blog that continues this conversation, and forces people to dive a little deeper and become more introspective. 

Until next time.