“Special” Is the TV Show I Never Knew I Needed
Claudia Olson ’22
On April 12, 2019, Netflix released all eight episodes of "Special," a new series from Ryan O'Connell, the creator, writer and star. It is based on his 2015 memoir, “I'm Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves” in which he writes about being gay and disabled. O'Connell was born with a mild form of cerebral palsy, a congenital disorder that affects movement and balance. Both his book and the TV adaptation focus on how he has dealt with a visible physical disability, manifested most prominently by his limp, and how he learned to embrace it as a part of who he is.
When disability is portrayed in mainstream media, it is most often framed as something that must be ignored or overcome, but such messages are, in fact, damaging to the disabled community. Like sexual orientation, disability is not something that can be chosen, and it is not something to be ashamed of. I also have a visible physical disability, and I also happen to be gay. Reading the memoir and watching the show, I experienced a visceral connection to someone else’s story that was stronger than anything I had felt before. I could relate to the trials and tribulations of Ryan so well that it seemed as if he had read my diary. People with disabilities are so rarely showcased in media, usually being replaced by non-disabled actors attempting to win Oscars. Disability is mocked or seen as some sort of “inspiration” in most movies and television, but so rarely is it a celebrated identity. Even less common is the portrayal of queerness as it relates to disability. Scenes of Ryan struggling to feel confident about himself in the dating world because of his disability resonated deeply with me. I knew about the fear of others rejecting you because of your disability and the uncertainty of being accepted as a person of two historically marginalized identities, but I had never thought I would be able to see these feelings on screen.
As someone coming of age in an era marked by both greater societal acceptance and crumbling political support for the rights of the disabled and LGBT communities, I needed a show like “Special” in my life. I needed someone to show me that I am not alone and that I do not have to feel ashamed for being ‘special’. I am so grateful that Ryan O’Connell could be that person. I hope that his work will pave the way for more movies and shows by and about people whose stories have not yet been told.