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

April 27, 2017

Safe Spaces

This week at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
Safe spaces seem antithetical in some ways to the idea of eventual independence, but the truth is, we all need our supports. It’s different for kids like Schuyler as they grow out of childhood, of course. Her independent life is probably always going to come with an asterisk, and the thing I’ve been working on lately, with a good deal of success, is being okay with that. Schuyler requires safe spaces, but they’re not fake places, nor are they segregated or isolated. And within those tended gardens, I think astonishing things are going to grow.

April 6, 2017

Monster Island

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
I’m not sure where I’m going with this post, because I’m not sure what the takeaway is. Schuyler had a good time, except when she very much didn’t. Her social anxiety only hit after her seizure, but boy did it land hard after that. She laughed hard most of the time, including once so enthusiastically that we literally heard her from the other side of the resort. But she also cried harder than I can really remember her crying for many years. She was probably happy 80% of the trip, but that other 20% had real teeth and claws. Schuyler adored the beach and looked hard for sea creatures on the sand. But in the end, it was a very familiar monster that found her.

December 21, 2016

To my Heart, at Seventeen

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
You know the truth, which is something we've always tried to give you no matter how hard a truth it might be. You understand the life that your little monster has made for you, or has attempted to make for you, anyway. You've simply refused to accept those limitations as concrete. You've shamed those of us who've tried at various times to define the limits of the person who you can become. For that above everything else, I'm proud of you, heartburstingly so.

December 1, 2016

The evolution of the dad hat

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
The world of a teenaged girl with a disability is complex, in ways that aren't cute or sitcom-ready. We've discussed many times how dangerous the world is for women with disabilities, and how vulnerable they are to sexual abuse and assault. It's terrifying as a father; it's more terrifying for a young woman with a disability, and Schuyler is old enough to understand what's going on now, and what's at stake. Ten years ago, she was worried about werewolves. That's not what's waiting for her now, though.

October 18, 2016

Two Brains

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
I love Schuyler's brain, which might seem like an odd thing to say, given her own uneasy relationship with it. Schuyler's brain isn't like yours or mine, or anyone else's. It's broken, dramatically so, but that's not even close to the main point. The story of Schuyler's brain isn't that it's broken, but rather the extraordinary things she's accomplished with it regardless. Schuyler walks and dances and sings, and she laughs three distinct different laughs, including the one that I love most, the one I call her troublemaker laugh. Schuyler plays percussion in band; every autumn Friday night I watch as she plays the suspended cymbals, and I see her play at exactly the right moments, contributing the rising metal shimmer as the musical phrases of Carl Orff's epic Carmina Burana (music that originated inside his gooshy German brain, too) crest and ebb. Schuyler operates an iPad; her brain translates her thoughts into words on a screen, or in a text message with a dizzying array of digital stickers attached, because she's moved so, so far beyond emojis. Schuyler's brain drives her creativity, and it makes her go a little crazy for the boys, and sometimes the girls, at her school. Her brain gets sad, it becomes paranoid, and it makes extraordinarily poor choices from time to time. But it also contains all the love she has, a love that is big and fat and boundless and childlike and complicated all at once. I describe Schuyler as having the biggest heart in the world, but of course it's her weird but wonderful, inexplicably broken but beautiful brain where that love resides, right there next to her confounding little monster.

September 28, 2016

Limits

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt:  
I've written many times about my duty as Schuyler's parent to be an overbeliever for her. I still think that's true; indeed, I hold that to be an essential truth more now than ever before. I find that if I believe Schuyler's capabilities reach beyond what we can see in the now, the rest is likely to follow. There was a time when we were told that Schuyler would never be able to write, or use a high end speech device, or even attend school, for that matter. Trying to accomplish more than that was considered overbelief by the physicians and educators and therapists in her life. It's tempting to say that it's a good thing we didn't accept those limits at the time, but honestly, it wasn't even a choice. When your parental instincts call bullshit on expert opinions, you go with your gut. If you're right, boo-yah. If not, you regroup and you go on.

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.

July 19, 2016

Acceptance, with an asterisk

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
When I was younger and more earnest, I wanted the fixes. I'm older and spiritually winded now, and I'm faced with the strong will of a daughter who's stretching her wings and exploring her own choices. When we talked about the idea of acceptance, and of looking for peace rather than solutions, Schuyler understood that. She's still not done trying to reshuffle the deck, though. And as hard to read as the future is right now, I don't expect that to change even a little.

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.

June 14, 2016

Explaining the devil to angels

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt:  
Schuyler's view of the world is a little fantastical and a little simple. It has room for monsters, but not like these. It has room for sadness and fear, but not like this. And her intellectual disability would make it easy to punt this a bit, to file down the sharp points and distract her until the world goes back to talking about the stupid election and who Taylor Swift is dating. But I refuse to do it.

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.

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.