Showing posts with label my big opinions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label my big opinions. Show all posts

January 25, 2017

This is why.

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
Schuyler was surrounded and engulfed and protected by a sea of women, and she understood, I think maybe for the first time, just how large her tribe could be. As she grows older, Schuyler's people becomes a more inclusive group, more intersectional. She took a big step at the march. Her disability advocacy took on more feminism that she'd felt or shown before. Her world grew bigger, and with it her protest and her advocacy.

January 19, 2017

Exploring Worlds Both Dark and Lovely

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
In taking my own focus inward to her more immediate world and trying to help as best I can, I feel like maybe I can recapture my own sense of autonomous self. I can't solve the Big Thing, but I can tell her what it was like when I was seventeen and trying to figure out if love was a thing for me. I can tell her what I got wrong, which weirdly seems to give her comfort. I have value as a cautionary tale, I suppose, which is true of my adult, parenting self as well. So many times, I feel like my fatherly approach to the walls that stand in her way is to keep smashing my face into them over and over until I find a brick that's loose.

January 12, 2017

Denial

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
There are two kinds of deniers. There are the kind that are just goofy, like moon landing deniers. They're not hurting anyone, they're just being kooks, God bless 'em. And then there's the other kind. September 11th was an inside job, they say. Sandy Hook was a hoax. The Holocaust never happened. Donald Trump wasn't mocking people with disabilities. These deniers aren't just trying to change the narrative to fit whatever their ideology might be. They are erasing people, they are taking the struggles and the particulars of the lives of vulnerable people or people who have been destroyed by the world and they're simply sweeping it away, as if it had never happened. If there's pain there, from the agony of a family wiped out by a hateful ideology or an act of violence to the heartbreak of a parent watching the future president turn their children into a joke and an insult, well, that pain is wiped away with simply denial. Didn't happen. The media lied. You're being too sensitive. You're being politically correct.

December 28, 2016

"At least I think that's so..."

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt:  
I'm not going to try to pretend I'm hopeful, or that I believe the inherent goodness of my fellow citizens of the world is going to be our salvation. Maybe I should. Perhaps the first step to making it rain is seeding the clouds, I don't know. All I know for sure is that if 2017 is going to be survivable, if we're all going to get out of this intact and not epically broken, it's going to be because we did two things. Two things, just two, that's what I believe is necessary. They're easy, and they're hard. We need to take care of ourselves. And we need to take care of each other, in a very meaningful and personal way.

December 16, 2016

The Value of Protest

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt:  
Protest forms special needs parents into people we would not otherwise be, and sometimes honestly never wanted to be. We become accustomed to advocacy, to stepping up when doing so makes things weird for everyone else. We learn not to care about the awkwardness, because our protest is God's work, it's in the service of the thing that we do that matters the most, the building of an equitable place for our children to operate. Others may care, others may love our kids and want the best for them, but no one else bears the responsibility to get things right like we do. When our kids grow up, many of them will move in various degrees towards independent life, and more important perhaps, lives that have meaning, and personal fulfillment. Our kids will require accommodations in a world that is loathe to provide them, either in services or equal opportunities or even just a social narrative in which they are allowed to be fully human. The world pushes against our disabled kids, and so for as long as we are able to do so, we protest, and we push back.

November 17, 2016

The next day, and the next

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
But the days roll past, and the Big Scary Thing becomes more and more background as the Many Small Monsters continue their work. We don't make peace with it, because when we close our eyes, it's always there. ("Ah, I can't remember!" cue laughter...) But we push it back as best we can, because the life he's mocking is a hard life, and it's hard and time consuming no matter who's the president. Our monsters aren't all that concerned with politics. Our devils don't vote.

November 9, 2016

The New Danger of Difference

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
When Schuyler gets up tomorrow and faces her weary and deeply disheartened father, she will be told that what's wrong with America isn't those like her who are different, or who insist on their humanity without limitations. What's wrong with America doesn't belong to her.

November 2, 2016

A Simpler World

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt:  
I hate this election season, like I hate anything that I find difficulty in explaining to Schuyler not because it’s complex, but because it’s just kind of bad. I feel like every time she hears me explain why a person running for president would lie or mock someone who’s different or say gross things, it dents her a little. Every realization that the world can be awful leaves a little scuff. I hate trying to make sense out of a nationally known comedian going on television and using hate speech to tell the world that she and her friends aren’t fully human. I hate having to tell her that someone wants to be president of her country but they probably aren’t good enough at heart to deserve that job. I hate trying to distill a hard world into something she can digest. I hate having to sell injustice as one of those things that she’s just going to have to accept sometimes.

October 5, 2016

Small expeditions

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
Years from now, I hope we see these small expeditions as the beginning of Schuyler's true adventure, the one she takes on by herself, in a world that may be as unprepared for her as she is for it, but which will be hers for the taking nevertheless.

September 21, 2016

Check your local listings, and hold your breath

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
I feel like there's been a subtle shift in how people with disabilities are perceived in the popular media. I think I heard more about the Paralympics in the media this year than ever before, although still not enough when you consider the extraordinary work the athletes put in. On-screen portrays of people with disabilities are becoming less of a big deal, although again, there's a lot of distance left to cover. And the notorious "R Word" seems to be slowly transforming into, if not a taboo word, at least one mostly perceived as being used and defended by low class persons. Outrage at the mocking of a journalist by a politician probably raised more awareness than all the ribbons and marathons of the past year, so, you know, thanks for that. (I'm hesitant to say his name again, kind of for the same reason I don't look in the mirror and say "Candyman" three times.)

September 14, 2016

Toll

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
Being a special needs parent is an amazing experience, but it runs a deficit. The obstacles that society throws up. The constant struggle to be taken seriously by professionals and educators and family and, well, the world. The ticking clock that runs out way too quickly on the protective cushion our kid's childhood provides until it very much doesn't. The isolation. The pain and anxiety our children feel and our frustrating inability to explain or make right the things that impair their young lives. They learn to find their way, and we are central to that discovery. But it takes its toll.

August 30, 2016

The invisible monsters who walk among us

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt:  
Everyone cry out, because such a statement demands outcry. Ann Coulter stands proudly and feeds off of us, a vampire hungry for hate and sorrow and lights and cameras. But we stand up and we push back, because "standard retard" doesn't get to flutter out into the air without being swatted at. It doesn't do any good to protest, but it feels evil not to, so we speak up and then we turn back to our lives, our difficult but rewarding lives. Ann Coulter may be rich and she may be famous, but not one of us in the disability community would trade places with her, not for a moment.

August 4, 2016

Shouting Over the Walls

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt:  
So many of the discussions and emails I've received lately have reminded me of how tall the castle walls can loom, and how deep the moat runs. I've been told that my opinions on politics and other topics are distorted by the experience of being a disability parent. There was the email telling me that yeah, sure, kids in special education classes need more resources, but so do kids in gifted and talented programs, and I should be advocating for both equally. I've been told that being a special education teacher or knowing people with kids with autism means understanding exactly what the lives of people with disabilities and their parents are like. I've seen, time and time again, parents of kids with disabilities told that their challenges aren't any more daunting than those of any other parents. It's the "we've all got troubles, bub" argument, first cousin once removed of "quit your bitching already". I'm reminded again and again that for those of us attempting to build lives with disabled kids while trying to live normal ones ourselves (pretty much an impossibility, but you've got to try), it's a sucker's bet to try and explain that no, it's not the same as any other family, and usually it's not even close. Put it in a hashtag if you will, but remember that #NotJustDisabledKids sounds a lot like #AllLivesMatter to us.  

July 27, 2016

The Disposable and the Unseen

This morning at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt:  
When I read the story of the attack in Japan, it struck me that Satoshi Uematsu’s position on the disabled as being a burden on their loved ones and a drain on Japanese society is grotesque and extreme, no doubt. But it echoes an argument made time and time again in this country as well, at school board meetings and on educational discussion boards and on newspaper opinion pages in every American community. “How much are we going to spend on special education when there are gifted and talented kids who have so much more to…” (wait for it…) “contribute to society?” Petitioning to the government to have people with disabilities “euthanized” is horrific, but it’s not an unfamiliar narrative except in its awful scale. We all own a little bit of Uematsu’s horror.

July 12, 2016

The Watcher

This morning at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt:  
There's a lot more for Schuyler to unpack about this, some of it making zero sense at all. I'm not sure Schuyler entirely comprehends racism, except of course she understands being hated and abused or even just dismissed for being different, so I suspect racism's one she probably gets. It's hard to explain to her when she's probably safe and when she's not, because I don't know myself. Schuyler's white, she's a woman, and she has a disability. She'll probably be just fine in a way that is horribly unfair, until the day comes when she's very much NOT fine, also in a way that is horribly unfair. She has both privilege and disadvantage, neither of which is easy to explain to her.

July 5, 2016

Precarious Indifference

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
How would Schuyler have reacted in Hannah's situation? I can't say. I imagine she would respond differently, probably shutting down in frustration rather than trying to run. But how can I be sure? How can any of us know? This is why parents of young adults like Hannah Cohen or Schuyler or countless other responded to this story with such visceral fear and anger last week. We don't know how such an encounter would go, but we've been doing this long enough to presume that "happily ever after" isn't where the smart money goes.

May 10, 2016

With Thoughts of Other, Younger Days

Today, at Support for Special Needs:
 Excerpt: 
I'm not sure what to think of who I am now. I'd like to look back at that younger me and say, "Oh my god, what a dumbass. He knew nothing." But I miss him. I miss being him. He felt fear of the future, but the ticking clock didn't sound so loudly in his ear. He didn't have answers, but he had time, and there was no way he wasn't going to be a warrior from that point on. He'd written (or was in the process of writing) a book about being a confused father stumbling through some mysterious darkened places, but that was over. Schuyler's monster had been sighted and put on notice.

May 3, 2016

Safe Space

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
Hate speech and its environment protect a societal belief that only those who may contribute to society in a very narrow manner are worthy of citizenship and humanity, rather than just pity. We treat people according to the worth we grant them, and the hate speech that is so prevalent in our society affords them very little value. Simple words, thrown around casually and carelessly, like grenades, like poison seeds that will blossom where they fall. 
Hate speech directed at those with disabilities creates safe spaces, from which very dangerous gardens grow.

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 25, 2016

Community Standards

This morning at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
Some of the different hats I wear in my life don't always compliment each other very well. Even though I hate the R Word with the zealotry of a late convert, I'm also a writer, and I don't take the cudgel against language without real hesitation. But as a writer, I have to accept that words have actual power, and when we use them, we have responsibility for the outcome. The concept of hate speech results from the acknowledgement that powerful things sometimes need to be checked. I'd prefer that in this particular case, the checks would be self-applied, and that simply basic humanity would lead you to look at a language containing approximately 1,025,110 words and pick one that didn't cause so much pain to a particularly vulnerable population. I'm not for banned language, as a rule. But I recognize that hate speech occupies a very particular place in our culture, and our response to it is especially important.