‘SPECIAL’: THE NETFLIX SHOW THAT FINALLY MADE ME CONNECT TO MY DISABILITY

Have you ever had that electrifying feeling when a piece of pop culture really strikes a nerve, hits home, makes you feel seen? That was exactly what the trailer of Netflix’s new show Special made me experience, for maybe the first time in my life.  

Disabled and privileged

I have a disability. I am disabled. (You should see the frown on my face as I write that sentence). At a very early age, I was diagnosed with a mild form of Cerebral Palsy or CP, a condition marked by impaired muscle coordination (spastic paralysis) and/or other disabilities, typically caused by damage to the brain before or at birth. Very few people in my life actually know that, and if they do, they barely do. It’s not that I hide it, I have just always tried to make it as small of a part of my life as possible. The only problem is: as a result of ignoring the whole thing……..I also never really dealt with it? And turns out…………..you can’t really make a disability go away? By? Ignoring it? Truly a shocker and a revelation.

The fact that I am even able to ignore my disability (or thought I could) is a privilege, I realize that. Like I said: I have a mild form of CP. In my case that means:

  • I am not very good at walking like most people walk, because my leg muscles are shorter than they should be and they get stiff really easily. I some times have a limp. Walking ‘normally’ is kinda a struggle and asks a lot of energy, both mentally and physically.
  • Motor coordination? We don’t know her. I basically can’t really always tell how my body and especially my legs are going to move, or make them move the exact way I want them to.
  • Celebral Palsy did not really affect my mental abilities, which is an absolute blessing. Not everyone is that lucky and I know that.
  • Serious physiotherapy has been part of my life since I was three, and it will probably be part of it until the end.
  • I have worn more leg casts in my life than I can count on both hands. Weird flex, I know.

Ignoring doesn’t make it go away

CP can affect people in a lot of different ways, and it can have minor or bigger consequences. For most people, I would pass as able-bodied most of the days. My disability mostly shows when I am tired, or stressed, or simply when I have a bad day.

Like I said before: for most of my life, I kind of ignored the whole thing. Or rather, I didn’t think much of it. When I was really young (and I was in way worse shape than I am now), my parents took care of it, of me, and by the time I was old enough to realize something was different, it was part of my everyday life and it never really occured to me it wasn’t ‘normal’. Sure, I couldn’t do sports and I had to see more doctors than the average kid, but whatever, right? I wasn’t ‘special’, not in that way.

Representation f*cking matters

And that’s where that new Netflix series comes in. Special. I first saw the trailer going around on social media.

Special is a semi-autobiographical series about a gay man with a mild form of cerebral palsy, largely based on the life of Ryan O’Connell. In 2015, O’Connell published a book, I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves,
about his life as a gay, disabled man, and now he turned that book into a series. He wrote every episode of the show ánd stars in it, as the lead role. You read that right. A gay, disabled man has the lead in a Netflix series based on his own life. Hell yeah.

It’s difficult to convey the impact the trailer had on me when I watched it for the first time. To give you an idea: I audibly gasped, said “Oh my fucking God” out loud, my mom rushed in to see if I was okay. I laughed, stammered, and unbelievingly said: “They made a series about me.” At this, my mom laughed, now sure I was in fact not okay. I explained to her what I had just seen, that a series was coming to Netflix about a gay man with mild Cerebral Palsy, that I could not believe it, that that was me represented in media, in a way I could have never imagined. We immediately promised eachother we would watch it together.

No more closets

But more than making me feel represented, the trailer for Special made me feel exposed. When Ryan’s mother (portrayed by Jessica Hecht) in the series said “Your disability is part of you”, I felt like she was talking to me, too.

It sounds weird, but more than ever before, I became aware of the fact that I have a disability, and that I wasn’t really dealing with that. I have to realise Cerebral Palsy affected my life, it still does, and it always will. It’s been an interesting journey, coming to terms with a part of me that I don’t really know, or know a lot about. And all that because of a Netflix series trailer. Imagine what watching the entire season will do.

I am grateful to live in a time when disabled, queer people can truly be represented in media. And from now, even more than before, I will fight for more honest representation and diversity and inclusivity in media. Because I know what it did for me, and I want everyone to be able to feel that way. Special is the reason I am connecting to a part of me I had hidden away. And I know now: I won’t let my disability define me, but it is a part of me. No more closets.

Special premieres on Netlix on April 12th (tomorrow/today).

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