Showing posts with label schuyler. Show all posts
Showing posts with label schuyler. Show all posts

April 29, 2016

The Very, Very Worst

This is Schuyler.

Schuyler is sixteen years old. She plays percussion in her high school band. Schuyler participates in Miracle League soccer and volunteers with Miracle League kids who play baseball, helping out with their practices and their games while wearing a Wonder Woman cap. She takes an art class and writes stories about dragons and monster armies and evil queens. She's a huge Star Wars fan and loves Rey the most, although she's got a soft spot in her heart for Sabine and Ahsoka, too. She vacillates between carefree atheism and curious agnosticism. Schuyler's ambition in life is to help others, particularly people with disabilities, those who have "little monsters like my own", as she puts it. The little monster of her own that she's referring to is the brain malformation called Polymicrogyria, which is the root of most of her struggles and will be for her entire life.

And at this stage of her life, the thing Schuyler wants more than anything in the world is close relationships. With friends, yes, but also more. Schuyler wants to date. She wants to find someone to share her life with, at least the life she's in right now. She can't tell you what that looks like, not even for sure if it's a boy or a girl she's searching for. She only knows that she wants to explore love, and one day soon, as much as it makes me twitchy to say it, she'll want to explore physical relationships as well. Finding that in her life, breaking her loneliness and leaving her too-long lingering childhood behind, these are of paramount importance to her, in ways that can be heartbreaking to watch.

So here's my question to you, reader. Do you think that idea is gross? Do you find it ridiculous to even imagine? Do you find the idea of Schuyler and young people like her with intellectual disabilities having physical and romantic relationships to be something that just cries out to be a punchline, not just of a joke but of a whole comedy routine?

Comedian Gary Owen does.

Apparently BET and Showtime do, too, since they've invested in giving his act, including his disability-related material, a home in their television lineup.

I'm not going to embed his routine in this post; the thought of his face anywhere near my daughter's makes me want to set things on fire. But I will link to the excerpt on YouTube. I encourage you to go watch it, because I want you to understand how much is at stake here, and exactly how bad it can be for people with intellectual disabilities in our popular culture. But if you choose not to go watch it, I'll understand that, too. I watched it halfway through once and then finally got the stomach to see the whole thing earlier today. That's enough for me; I'll never watch it again. It really is the very, very worst.

If you're not inclined to see it for yourself, I'll give you the salient points.

1) Gary Owen tells a story about his cousin, who is, as he says, "retarded". If you miss him sharing this with you, don't worry. He repeats this information, and that word, many times throughout his comedy bit.

2) The story involves what he believes is the unbelievable revelation that his cousin is sexually active. Even more shocking to Mr. Owen is the fact that her partner also has an intellectual disability. This conceit forms the core of his comedy routine. Two people with intellectual disabilities have a sexual relationship. Isn't that disgusting? Isn't it hilarious?

3) To illustrate this point, he impersonates what he imagines his cousin and her partner's behavior might have been like. Not just the courting, but the actual act of sex.

4) If you're imagining this to be the most awful thing you're likely to see someone perform in mainstream pop culture, I'm going to warn you. It's probably even worse than you're imagining.

5) All of this is okay, Mr. Owen assures us, because it's his cousin. That familial relationship gives him license to make her the butt of his comedy routine, to insist that her sex life must be an awkward joke, and to impersonate both her and her partner in the act. Also, and this is very important, he claims to have volunteered for Special Olympics for ten years on her behalf. (He notes his sacrifice in this regard, since, you know, Special Olympians run funny. He had to endure that, you see.) So, you know, he's one of us. He has license.

When he began to get some negative reaction to his material, shockingly so since he sees himself as such a beloved member of the disability family, he responded by posting a link to an interview with comedian Louis CK, in which Louis says, "Saying that something is too terrible to joke about, that's like saying a disease is too terrible to try to cure. That's what you do with awful things, you joke about them. That's how you get through it."

What Gary Owen doesn't appear to understand is this: It's not his thing to get through. He doesn't have an intellectual disability. No one is suggesting that his life and his own sexuality is a disgusting idea worthy of about five minutes of cruel, grotesque jokes and impersonations. Joking about it doesn't help him deal with the pain because there is no pain for him. Only a target. The fact that he may or may not have worked with Special Olympics doesn't make it any better. It makes it exponentially worse. When he suggests, through the Louis CK quote, that intellectual disability is an "awful thing", he should know that in this case, the "awful thing" about their disability is in fact Gary Owen.

I don't know Gary Owen's comedy; like many who are becoming familiar with his body of work because of this particular comedy bit, I knew nothing about him until now. (Nothing like a first impression.) I can't say whether he's funny or smart, except on the evidence of this one routine, which would strongly suggest that he is neither.

But Gary Owen has figured something out that is fairly insightful, and he's using it to earn some cheap but loud laughs. Gary Owen knows that our society doesn't see people with intellectual disabilities as whole human beings, and subsequently many people find the idea of these people having sexual lives to be uncomfortable. Schuyler and her friends can be cute, and they can be inspiring, even. As long as they remain forever children, forever without adult agency, they are allowed a place in our society.

Beyond that, however, people with intellectual disabilities run into trouble. Having awareness of their own adult emotions and bodies, and enjoying the agency to engage in relationships and live sexually active lives, these are the things that human beings do. It's not something that children engage in, and to so many in our society, people with intellectual disabilities are forever children.

In his heart of hearts, I think Gary Owen understands that the targets of his grotesque humor deserve better. He makes excuses and tries to cover his own culpability with his past volunteerism. He knows that what he's doing is terribly, horribly wrong. But the tragedy and the danger of the matter is simply this: Gary Owen may know better, but judging from the howls of laughter in that video clip, his audience doesn't.

In the past, I've written about the use of the word "retarded" in pop culture, but this time, I wish that's all that was going in. If Gary Owen stood up and simply said, "Retards, what are you gonna do, am I right?", I don't think I would do mush more than link on Facebook and say, "Hey, look at this asshole." Watching Owen's wretched comedy routine makes me ill, and it makes me angry. It hits so much deeper than other comedians have in the past because he's not just being cruel. He's not just making fun of young adults like Schuyler, calling them less.

Gary Owen is attacking the very idea that someone with an intellectual disability deserves to be a human being at all.

I'm not sure what I should do, and I'm certainly not sure what I think you should do, either. There's a change.org petition to get Showtime to remove this particular segment from his comedy special, which is a start, I guess. I don't think they'll do it; I'm not even sure they can, legally. Remarks he's making on his Facebook page suggest that Gary Owen has zero intention of trying to make any of this better, and his fans seem to be fiercely loyal. I'm not sure there's much to be done in winning hearts and minds.

But I do know this. I need to do something. I need to know that lots of people feel that same impulse. I need to make some noise. I need to shake some trees and kick some walls. I need to howl at the sky and grab people by the shoulders and tell them about this. I need to expend energy in trying to fix this unfixable problem, because my daughter deserves a full, rich, human life experience. She does, her friends do, and the adults they will all become deserve to have their humanity recognized.

Words matter. Media acceptance of what is, in this case, undeniably hate speech, this matters. It matters that executives at BET and Showtime watched that comedy bit and said, "Yeah, that's great stuff. Let's put our brand on that and sell it to our subscribers." It matters a very great deal that many, many people are okay with that choice.

Schuyler and people like her live complicated and difficult lives. People like Gary Owen make those lives much more complicated and much more difficult. If I could say one thing to Mr. Owen and to the people in that audience laughing so hard and to his online fans defending him, it would be this:

Please stop. Please, just fucking stop.

April 18, 2016

Mission Control

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
There's something special needs parents might not tell you, although if you love us, you probably already know. We're exhausted, physically and emotionally, by the hard days, by the times when things fall apart and when our kids reach for the stars and fall to earth with a crash. But the good days, the ones where the successes outnumber the failures and there are more smiles than tears? Those days are exhausting as well. Even the successful days take a toll on us and require us to dig deeper wells than we might always be able to sustain.


April 12, 2016

A world diminished by what it cannot see

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
The value of human life isn't defined by the perfection of the human form or how advanced the intellect and its accompanying understanding of a complex world. That's a powerful realization. In a society that places such a high but narrow value on measuring our worth by our productivity, embracing the inherent human value of even the most impaired person is a revelatory act of social defiance, and perhaps a genuine spiritual awakening.

April 4, 2016

The Inevitable Sorrow of Passing

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
On a good day, especially when she doesn't have to speak too much, Schuyler passes pretty successfully. There are a few outward signs of her polymicrogyria, but she masks them pretty skillfully. She carries an iPad with her at all times, of course, but these days, that doesn't exactly distinguish her from any other teenager. (Insert curmudgeonly, "get the hell off my lawn" statement here.) Like a lot of kids with intellectual disabilities, she worries about people noticing her difference and judging her for them. For Schuyler, passing is a very deliberate choice. I try to encourage her to embrace her uniqueness, but while I hope passing won't always be her position, for now, as long as it's what she wants, I'll help her any way I can, even as I know where all this leads. This is going to be a tough lesson for her to learn, but it's going to be one she learns herself. It has to be.


March 28, 2016

Eye of the Storm

This week at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
This week has provided a short respite, a brief interlude in the eye of the hurricane. We've been doing this now for a long time, officially for almost thirteen years but of course a little longer than that. I've learned a lot in that time, usually the hard way, but there's a lesson I keep coming back to. Hold on to the quiet interludes, the ones that feel carefree even if they're simply pauses.

March 21, 2016

A Hard, Correct Answer

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
When we talk about accessibility and inclusion, those aren't just buzzwords. And they're not just about school, either, although that can be hard to remember sometimes. For people like Schuyler, participating in our society can be shut down as soon as they exit the front door. I worry about Schuyler finding employment, but really, there are a lot of steps between here and there for which there aren't any easy answers. Transportation may be the most straightforward, but it's also pretty daunting. It's easy to forget about the simple act of getting from here to there when we're putting together the list of Things To Keep Us Up Late.

March 14, 2016

Building an Adult

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
Schuyler is grappling with emotions that are new for her, and with the idea of relationships and a family of her own one day. It's all been so fantastical until now, and her ideas of the kind of person she might be in a relationship with are still very fluid and mostly kept to herself. ("I think I might like girls," she said timidly at one point in the interview. Sorry, grandparents.) Last week, at my aunt's funeral, Schuyler's natural sensitivity and empathy overwhelmed her a little. She wept openly for someone she's essentially never met, because she looked around and saw people she loved crying, and because she was faced with the reality of The End. On the long drive back to Dallas, she asked a lot of questions about death and the people she loved. I could tell she was thinking of her parents in particular and what the world would look like after we're gone. She's catching on that adulthood has some hidden traps, and some deep sorrows.

February 29, 2016

An Undiscovered Country

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
In addition to her natural empathy, Schuyler holds on to some fantastical ideas about her world, a place in which monsters and and magic and mysticism still play a central part in her thinking. She understands the difference between that world and the real one in which she lives, but she still copes with the hard stuff with a touch of disconnect. This week, she'll face one of the hardest things the world has waiting for her. She'll face grief, the kind that represents the natural order of things, but also a level of pain and finality that will undoubtedly challenge her.

February 22, 2016

Her Own Beautiful Game

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
I confess, I've worried so much about Schuyler finding her tribe, but in some ways, she's had them around her all along. I think I always envisioned a close group that hung out after school and communicated regularly and folded each other into their daily lives. I realize now that I've been looking at it through neurotypical eyes. Schuyler's tribe was never going to behave like I did with my youthful friends. Their particular obstacles are incredibly complex, and the logistics of something as simple as a trip to the mall to hang out are complicated. In the world of Schuyler's disabled friends, electronic communications and social media have become something of an equalizer, and that's where they navigate much their tricky relationships. They're all finding their way, with tools I never dreamed of at her age. Schuyler's Island of Misfit Toys is part of an archipelago.

February 15, 2016

Valentine

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
I know there's a boy or a girl out there (probably a boy, judging from her interests so far, but never say never) who will meet Schuyler and will look past her little monster and her childlike nature, who will see what the people who know her already see. He'll recognize the hard work she'll require, but he will also understand how very, very worth it that work will be. He'll know that he's found a girl who is literally like no other in the world, a person who is unique in ways that transcend the simple individuality of every human. He'll see what a perfect friend she can be, and he'll understand that her gigantic whale of a heart is capable of such love and devotion.

February 8, 2016

Anything You Want to Be

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
As I've written before, I'm a big proponent of overbelieving. I've never been hesitant to encourage Schuyler to reach far beyond her expectations. Time and time again, she has responded by exceeding those expectations. Like Santa Claus, the encouragement that "you can do whatever you want in life, be anything you want to be, as long as you're willing to work for it" is a gentle lie told to very young children. It's one that we as parents understand will be shaped and molded as our kids get older. When you're five, it's entirely feasible that you could be a cowgirl or an astronaut one day. When you're a teenager, that conversation become a lot more real world.

February 2, 2016

Viva Schuyler

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
This weekend was a big risk. One week after her sixteenth birthday party and the bumps in the road she suffered there, we took Schuyler to Las Vegas to attend a surprise fiftieth birthday party for one of my best friends (and Schuyler's godfather). Last weekend, she was undone by a gathering of her school friends that she basically sees every day, over pizza and games. We followed that up with a trip to Las Vegas, a place that is the very physical manifestation of the concept of overstimulation. It's safe to say that we were concerned.

January 25, 2016

The Price of Happiness

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
I learn from Schuyler and her gigantic good heart. She teaches me every day, and mostly the thing she tries to impart to me me is simply to lighten up a little. It's a hard lesson for me; at times, I feel like my fatherly life's narrative has been written in worry. But it's the one lesson she never gets tired of giving to me.

January 18, 2016

The Three Anxieties and the Lucky Brain

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
Aside from the obvious, Schuyler has always had something of a lucky brain. It's pretty seriously affected by her polymicrogyria, but you'd never know it from seeing her. Schuyler's brain is working in ways that are a mystery to everyone, even her doctors. Areas that should be deeply impaired are functioning at high levels. Just being ambulatory is something of a miracle for Schuyler, and she is so much more than just ambulatory. Her enigmatic brain isn't simply doing more than it should. It's doing most of what it should. I hate Schuyler's monster, but God, do I love her brain.

January 4, 2016

Just possible

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
We were in line at the grocery store (the place where all these kinds of stories seem to take place). When we reached the front, we saw our cashier, a nice, smiling young woman who had a lightweight, active-type model wheelchair parked behind her register. She and Julie chatted as we checked out, and she watched Schuyler very closely as we interacted. (I believe I was being my usual mature self.) We're accustomed to Schuyler being watched; there's a kind of "Uh oh, what's going on here?" moment with people when they realize that things are not quite what they appear with my daughter. But this time, there was no trepidation in her look, only friendly curiosity.

December 23, 2015

Recognition

As an author or a public advocate and speaker, it happens every so often. You'll be in a public place, and someone will approach you, ask if you're Your Name (note: if they actually say "Your Name", give them some personal space), and proceed to tell you how your work has inspired them or reached them in some way. There are a lot of good things that come from writing and speaking on disability, but this is easily one of the very best. You reached someone, and you made a difference. That's a hard feeling to beat.

It happened again this morning. But not to me.

It happened to Schuyler.

We were at the movie theater, on our way out, when a young woman approached her.

"Hi, you're Schuyler, right?"

Schuyler smiled shyly and nodded. The young woman proceeded to tell her how she'd heard Schuyler speak at the Region 10 Service Center over the summer, and was really affected by her presentation. She explained that she's a teacher and works with elementary school kids and assistive technology like Schuyler's. She said Schuyler was an inspiration to her and what she hoped to see from her own students.

(At one point, she quickly turned to me and said, 'Oh, I enjoyed your talk, too." It was really nice of her, but totally unnecessary; I am more than happy for Schuyler to own her moments entirely.)

Schuyler smiled hugely and thanked her, and then just like that, the encounter was over.

Except it wasn't over. It'll never be over, not for Schuyler, and not for me. I've been a tenacious and loudmouthed but wildly imperfect advocate for her. Now it's her turn, and moments like this are going to help define the kind of person and advocate she wants to be.

To hear from a stranger that her words and her example are making a positive difference in the lives of others like herself, "with little monsters of their own", as she puts it? You can attach value to a lot of things in this world, but a moment like that is truly without measure.

As for my own feelings of pride for Schuyler, my own words are entirely inadequate. So I'll just leave it to you to imagine. (Think big.)

December 21, 2015

16

Today is Schuyler's sixteenth birthday. I'm trying to wrap my brain around that, but it's daunting. My little girl is sixteen. Yeah, no, I'm still working on that.

So this is Schuyler at sixteen. She loves music, although most of what she listens to is a mystery to me now. Between what she picks up from her friends at school and her Teen Mix list on Spotify, she'd might as well be receiving transmissions from space as far as I'm concerned. I realize this puts me squarely in the center of curmudgeonly old fart territory, which is fine. Just keep off my goddamn lawn, thanks.

Schuyler occasionally mentions driving, although she doesn't push it too hard. I think she understands that for a number of reasons, including the reality of her past and also very occasionally present seizures, she's not ready. She might be one day, but not today, and not soon. She gets this, and she's not in a hurry to get started.

Like any sixteen year-old, Schuyler is working out who she is, at her own pace. She's experimenting with her look, with her hair color and make-up and other things that are age appropriate. (Her latest thing is asking to shave the sides of her head, which is getting a chilly parental reception; I wouldn't expect that particular look to make its debut any time soon.) She's become a pretty dedicated hat wearer, and complains almost daily about how she's not allowed to wear them to school. She wears her Polymicrogyria Awareness pin on her favorite hat, and she kisses me and says thank you every time she sees me wearing mine, which is pretty much every day.

Schuyler hasn't had a first date yet, although we encourage her as much as we possibly can. She's shy, something she comes by honestly, and she doesn't even remotely understand the rituals of teen community. I'm not sure anyone truly does, but Schuyler REALLY doesn't get it.

People like to make the same dumb jokes about dad not being ready for his little girl to date. And that's fine, because that's our societal narrative. But if I could have any wish for my daughter now, it would probably be for her to find someone who gets her and who wants to unravel the mystery of Schuyler. At sixteen, it doesn't feel like this is imminent, but you just never know, I suppose.


Schuyler is building a peer group, maybe for the first time. It's almost exclusively special needs kids like herself, and she's learning to navigate everyone's differences the same as the rest of us. It's tempting to imagine kids with varied disabilities coming together as a group naturally, and in some ways that's exactly what happens. Outsiders find their own. But there are bumps in the road, and she's learning to deal with those. I think she's doing pretty well.

Schuyler at sixteen is a girl who lives behind electronic screens, which is not particularly unusual for a girl her age. I sometimes worry about that, but those screens are her path to a larger world, for assistive speech tech and social media and direct communication through texting. I'll accept excessive Netflix as the price we're willing to pay for that.

At sixteen, Schuyler loves all things Star Wars. She likes manga and anime (I'm assured that these are different things) and putting on headphones to sing along to her music without reservation, often without awareness of how loudly she's belting it out. Unlike her earlier years, however, she doesn't particularly care when you point it out to her. Schuyler's got to sing. Everyone else needs to deal with that.


She still giggles when she sees a boy she likes. She epitomizes uncool in those moments.

She asks a lot of questions, even though I tell her she has to pay me a dollar if she asks ones I've already answered. (She's running up a tab.)

Schuyler has declared herself an agnostic, saying that she mostly believes in God, but thinks the Jesus story is silly. That hasn't changed in a few years, so I imagine she might just stick with that perspective for a while.

She wants to learn to cook. I'm hopeful that she wants to learn to clean, too, but you know.

She also wants to become a DJ, with the name DJ Space Monkey.

Schuyler still laughs loudly, runs and jumps around vigorously, touches the people she loves without hesitation and sometimes without much in the way of boundaries. She talks during movies in a stage whisper that isn't even remotely quiet. Being with Schuyler is a very physical and not at all subtle experience, something that no doubt comes from so many years of having to employ physicality in her communications. We try to help her adjust to a more polite community around her, but to be honest, it's one of the things about her that I'm the lest interesting in losing as she gets older. Typhoon Schuyler is the merriest of storms.

Most of all, Schuyler still wants to be a teacher. She gravitates towards advocacy in ways that as a parent I never dared to hope for. I'm not sure you can teach a child to be truly empathetic. You can only hold that door open. Schuyler's got the biggest heart in the world. She still wants to help others like herself, people "with little monsters of their own".

At sixteen, Schuyler is still the radiant center of the universe. Well, I can only speak for myself.

December 14, 2015

Small World

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
When we can't pass and disappear into the world of the typical, the internet communities we build help us to feel as if in this smaller, more self-selecting world we've assembled, we're part of a neighborhood, and when someone is in trouble, it can sometimes seem like that family lives just down the street, and we were informed by a neighbor walking by. It is, as I said, a fiction, but it's one of the more valuable ones we have.

December 8, 2015

A Simple Season

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
The world isn't an easy place for kids like Schuyler, but at times like the holidays, it can perhaps be a little more straightforward. I think one reason Schuyler adores this season so much is that for at least a little while, the rules become a little more clear, and a little more fair. It doesn't matter so much if disability makes things harder, because during the season of peace, the people around her perhaps try a little harder to be kind and inclusive. The world in which she lives, one that fascinates her even as it sometimes disappoints, it makes a little more sense at this time of year. And if I'm paying attention, her straightforward love for that grand, rough world begins to make a little more sense to me, too.

November 23, 2015

The Softness of Island Living

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
Things are different now. I wouldn't describe her current academic setting as inclusive, despite our very clearly expressed desire for such an environment for her. Significantly, I feel pretty confident that if you asked Schuyler for her preference, she would pick her present situation. She's more comfortable on the Island of Misfit Toys. You can keep your Lord of the Flies island, thank you very much.