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 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

Dating A Guy in A Wheelchair

black-white-kiss-couple As relevant as the phrase might be to my life, I don’t think I have ever Googled, “Wheelchair Dating.” But, a few days ago, I was having a conversation with a friend, and I wanted to share an amazing BuzzFeed video which tackles the subject with humor while still being informative.

In my search, I came across an article on Thought Catalog entitled, “I Dated A Dude In A Wheelchair.”

As a man in a wheelchair, (I will never refer to myself as a dude, and I’m not sorry about it,) I have been very open about my struggles with dating. It isn’t easy for anyone; but my disability, and the resulting wheelchair, definitely adds an unusual, if not difficult, element to the situation.

I thought it would be interesting to gain some perspective from the outside, so I read on.

To start, they met online, which is how I have ended up on anything close to date-like situation; so it was immediately relatable, for reasons beyond medical equipment. Annie, the author of the article, said she was drawn in by wheelchair dude’s “messy red locks,” so she figured she would give him a shot.

They message each other, as one does, and eventually the conversation got to marathon racing, of all things, because… why not?

Apparently, wheelchair dude shared that he had signed up for a marathon race, but he, “thought she should know,” that it was for the wheelchair division.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

“‘Wow!, I thought. ‘What an amazing guy. Is this like to raise money for his friend’s charity or something?’ Until the reality of it slowly thickened and filled my brain, and I double checked his photos and realized yes, yes. This man is in a wheelchair.”

From the outside, it may seem that Ms. Annie may have an ineptness for paying attention to details, but the majority of guys have told me that never noticed the wheelchair in any of my photos either —which is weird to me, because in my mind, it is blatantly obvious.

Annie went on to say, as a former fat girl,”You never want to be the bitch that shuts someone down strictly based on physicality.”

That sentence had me gagging.

Here’s why.

The idea that this woman believes she has a moral obligation to give wheelchair dude a chance because she may have enjoyed one too many twinkles back in the day is absurd. — Yes, I understand the “relatability” factor,— but here’s the deal, B — you give someone a chance because you’re a decent human being who sees people for who they are, not what they are.

Regardless, the two went on a few dates Annie recounted all of the questions and hesitations she had.

Don’t get me wrong, being around someone with any sort of impairment is not the norm; there will always be logistical questions, especially at the beginning. But for there to be any hope of success, there has got to be open and honest communication by both individuals.

Using myself as an example: if I go on a date with a guy, I make sure they know several things before we agree to meet.

  1. They will literally be picking me up at some point.
  2. They will have to be Bob The Builder on several different occasions during the evening while putting together the world’s most antiquated wheelchair.
  3. If I actually agree to eat in front of them, they’ll need to cut my food, as my fine motor skills are decidedly lacking.
  4. I don’t drink cheap vodka.

Of course there is going to be questions and conversation beyond this. There has to be. But it is foolish not to know the basics beforehand.

By the way, “does your dick work?” has become a prequalifying question, which I understand. It seems guys can deal with things like receding hairlines and mediocre teeth, but forever flaccid penis syndrome would be problematic.

But getting back to Annie and wheelchair dude; it seems like they never established a baseline understanding of what to expect from one another in terms of logistical physicality, and ultimately, it didn’t feel “right” according to Annie. She said,

“…the sad and shameful truth is that in some way, it did matter to me. It was an Issue. I wanted to prove to myself that I was a better human being, but what dating this man taught me was that I’m just a human being.”

Fair enough.

As I said at the start of this, dating is never easy for anyone. And it is never going to work out, until it does. But open communication is key to the success of any relationship, and it may be uncomfortable to think about, but… relationships start with first dates. So… own your shit and be who you are, because that’s the only real choice you have.