Queer disability is having a moment
Something momentous has happened in the overlapping worlds of casual viewing and gay culture. Disability has been brought to the public’s attention.
With the release of Special on Netflix – created by the fantastic Ryan O’Connell as an autobiographical comedy-drama featuring himself as the truly brilliant lead and featuring the ever-popular Brian Jordan Alvarez as a male escort – we are witnessing the turning point for the overlooked disabled members of our wonderful if sometimes judgemental community.
Let’s face facts, dating and sex can be hard even for the abled, cis and binary of us out there. When factors like disability, being trans or being located on a slightly different part of the gender spectrum come into play, dating and sex can become a bit of a shit show.
Special is one of Netflix’s latest releases, a queer comedy drama that can tug at your heart strings, make you laugh and have you questioning your own attitudes towards body image. Essentially, it is perfect millennial viewing.
It begins with the main character Ryan appearing as a vulnerable, overly protected, disabled gay virgin – stay with me – trying to balance his dream internship with the problems that arise from being disabled. The programme, through brilliant writing and equally brilliant acting, begins to unveil a more complex character beyond just ‘the victim’ stereotype of a queer disabled person while offering us an insight into the difficulties faced by someone marginalised in this way.
A few months ago, I interviewed some Disabled queer people in the UK, Spain, Ireland and Australia to ask them about their experiences of being both LGBTQ and having a disability.
All of them faced difficulties when it came to dating and sex. One issue that came up was the way people reacted to them and their disability.
“For some guys, my disability leaves them feeling uncomfortable…”
If I may take this moment to give us LGBTQ people a little reality check. Surely, we should be the last community to treat people unkindly because they are a little different from us? Perhaps many of us feel unsure about the unknown, we meet someone with a disability, and we don’t understand it. At the very least, we should be able to relate to that person just by being different ourselves?
“I think that one major thing the LGBTQ community could do to make it more inclusive is to stop being so judgemental – whether it’s directed to be nasty, or just a small comment that wasn’t made out to be nasty. I have had quite a few people in the community say to me after they find out that I have brain damage, ‘Oh, but you don’t look like someone with brain damage.’”
We’ve spent a lot of time over the last few decades demanding to be treated with respect and yet, I’m sure we can all agree, we in the LGBTQ community are some of the worst culprits when it comes to making each other feel excluded or not worthy. We judge each other, we attack each other, and we occasionally put down the work of LGBTQ artists. Perhaps it’s time for us to reflect a little on our own behaviour. Whether it’s within the realm of dating apps, twitter or even at a gay bar. We can do more, and we should be doing more to make our spaces more inclusive and less hostile to everyone. I myself have a certain skill for getting nasty when I debate politics. Any negativity brought into these spaces affects those around us. If we won’t change for ourselves, I hope we can at least change for those around us especially those who face further marginalisation like our disabled brothers and sisters.
The show Special and the character of Ryan struck a particular cord with me because when I was 15 my first boyfriend had Cerebral Palsy. He was 18, he was clever he was handsome, and he drove a car. We would go out for dinner and go driving to the countryside together where we would paddle in local streams and even stay over at each other’s houses – in different bedrooms, of course. He was the first guy to make me feel special, pardon the pun. He respected my virginity, he taught me how to kiss and he helped me grow into the man I am today.
If more of us can leave behind our prejudice and actively embrace those who are differently abled, then more of us will have the privilege of getting to share experiences like mine. I was loved, treated with respect and left with beautiful memories. Had I been older and more involved with dating apps or hook-up culture, I might have missed out on the opportunity to get to know someone so amazing. Putting dating aside, all of us should be showing more empathy and respect – especially to our own community. If we can make LGBTQ spaces more inclusive, less bitchy and more kind then we will be making our safe spaces better for all. Lastly, if you haven’t seen Special yet, you must! It’s the best thing to be released on Netflix since Sabrina.