Showing posts with label the monster. Show all posts
Showing posts with label the monster. 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 much 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.




EDITED TO ADD: When I tried to explain the comedy routine to Schuyler (without actually showing it to her, because I'm not a monster), she was obviously pretty pissed off. She asked if she could make a video in response. I said yes. Well, of course I did.

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 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.

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.

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 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.

November 9, 2015

Monster Swag

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
It can be a little frustrating, having to explain polymicrogyria. Other disorders with a great many patients receive a great deal of public awareness, as well they should, but it can feel like the oxygen in the room is very limited as a result. People ask a lot of questions based on their observations of Schuyler. Is she deaf? Does she have autism? Sometimes I go into the whole thing; other times, I just say she has a rare brain malformation and leave it at that. Sometimes I feel like being a teacher. Sometimes I'm just tired.

September 28, 2015

Wonder On Loan

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt:
Last night, like everyone else lucky enough to have clear skies, we watched the rare display of a supermoon and a full lunar eclipse at the same time. As far as excitement goes, it fell short of, say, a lightsaber duel or an airplane race, and yet she loved it. She theorized that if she became a werewolf, her newly dyed hair would mean that she would be a blonde werewolf. As the moon disappeared and then shifted red, she watched with amazement. This was an unexpected experience, and those aren't always a good thing for kids like Schuyler. But to her, it was another gift from the universe. If I perceive that universe as sometimes cruel and sharp, Schuyler simply recognizes it as a fount of surprise and wonder.

August 10, 2015

The Girl Unseen

This morning, at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
More than anyone else I know or have ever known, Schuyler possesses grace. It touches us all. The one thing that I can say for certain is that it's nearly impossible to meet Schuyler and to know her without being fundamentally changed. She has limitations, that is very true, and they are almost certainly more challenging than most people truly understand. But the limitations that hold her back the most are ours, I think. Our inability to grasp the world as she understands it, and our failure to make that world a better place for her. But God, how we are all trying. I'll be trying to do that until my very last living breath.

August 4, 2015

A Partnership

This morning at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
You may consider this a new policy of mine. I'd love to come speak at your conference, but just so you know ahead of time, you should be prepared to buy two plane tickets. I'm going to have a partner from now on, advocating for herself in her own strong voice. This is the path she's chosen, and I couldn't be more proud. With every presentation we give, I expect her to take on more and more of the content every time. This is appropriate for a young adult coming into her own as a self-advocate. This is a part of a future which she will write for herself.

July 13, 2015

Twelve Years

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
Schuyler's monster doesn't have a proper birthday. Perhaps it could be said to share Schuyler's. Even that doesn't feel quite right, because it was there from very early on, probably the second trimester or so, a shadow unseen inside her tiny developing mind. She wasn't yet a baby, but her monster was already a monster, only waiting to be brought into this world with the sole purpose in life to bedevil the life of my daughter.

June 29, 2015

Assembling Schuyler's Armor

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
When things go wrong, when Schuyler meets up with someone who doesn't understand or care, when she hears the words meant to demean her or is simply treated with disregard, I think I've taken that as a larger affront than it probably is. They're not just hurting her feelings or standing in her way. I think on some level, they're tearing down her world. And that's something I simply can't let go unchallenged.

June 9, 2015

Might Have Been

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
Schuyler is, by a country mile, the happiest human being I know. And it's not because she doesn't know any better. It's because she does. She gets the beautiful parts of the world, while I often only see the pain and the cruelty that it holds for her and for us all, I guess. Schuyler holds on to the aspects of the world that she cherishes, and she tries very hard to throw away the rest. I don't know if that's a plan for success or if it's going to bite her face off one day. I only know that it works for her, and it gets her through days both simple and complicated. 
And I know that in that regard, I envy my daughter very, very much. As I should. As should we all.

June 1, 2015

Transformation

This week, at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
Because she knows. Schuyler knows she's different. She senses it every time she verbalizes in public and gets that quizzical look from strangers. She absolutely knows it when she orders at a restaurant, her iPad reading her order aloud through a Bluetooth speaker with a crisp English accent, an accent specifically chosen because why not? Schuyler watches the kids around her grasp concepts that she has to work hard to handle, and she knows that this happens, the difference happens, because her brain isn't like everyone else's. In a world of special snowflakes, Schuyler is another thing altogether, and of this she is entirely conscious.

April 20, 2015

The Little Fish

This week at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
As parents of kids with disabilities, we step up to the big fights, and while they can be exhausting and definitely take their toll on us, I think in some way we prefer them to the alternative. The struggles that truly tear us down and leave us dispirited are the little ones, the tiny indignities that defy our long-developed skills for the Big Fight. They can't be confronted with a sword, and we're not necessarily adequately armed with flyswatters. We fear our children being eaten by alligators, only to discover that they are more likely to be devoured by little fish, one tiny bite at a time.

February 9, 2015

In Defense of Monsters

Today at Support for Special Needs, with a lot of input from Schuyler:
Excerpt: 
Schuyler doesn't hate monsters. She loves them, because she understands them. Monsters are misunderstood. We think monsters are scary because they're different, and she's learned the hard way that the world doesn't like different. And I've always recognized that Schuyler's view of monsters makes for a perfect metaphor for her disability. I use it because it's brilliant. I don't mind allowing the world to give me credit for this metaphor because I'm selfish that way, but like most of my views on disability and how it affects my daughter and the people around her, Schuyler is my teacher. She has been from the beginning.
Art by Laura Sako

January 19, 2015

Impossible Things

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
Doctors and teachers and therapists, they can be a great many things, but they're generally not very skilled prognosticators. To be fair, I don't think very many of them actually claim to be able to tell the future, and I imagine most of them don't even want to try. As parents of kids with disabilities, we ask them to. We demand that they try. Our world and that of our children is already far too full of uncertainty. As a result, we ask for information that our kids' caretakers and educators can't possibly possess. So I recognize that we really do sort of have it coming.  
But God help me, I do so love it when they're wrong.