I'm about to come out, and I'm afraid that some of you will be utterly disappointed in me. But I feel I need to be honest about something.
I want to be a good member of the disability community. I want to use my voice and whatever power I have to make change. I feel moved and motivated to speak out when I see, or hear, or come into contact with disphobia and ableism. I have written hundreds of emails and letters and I have signed petitions that have come my way. That's just personally, when working on the road giving lectures I use the opportunity to speak of disability identity and disability pride, all the time.
(I am trying to establish my credentials here.)
I believe what most of us believe.
#disability say the word
#access for everyone
#give disability actors a chance
Um, it's the last one that I want to speak about. I do believe that actors with disabilities should get the opportunity to play disabled characters in television shows and movies. I do believe that there are characters written where someone from any minority could play and not change the script - so hire disabled.
I have a friend that patently refuses to watch any movie or show that has a non-disabled actor playing a disabled role. He is so adamant about this that he has admitted he thinks less of activists that "would put their money down, and thereby finance, entertainment that discriminates in hiring and disrespects an entire community." I get it, I agree with it. He's right. (Except about the 'thinking less of' part - which seems a bit judgmental.)
But sometimes I thirst.
To watch something that has a main character with a disability. I want to be able to identify. If a story comes along with a richly written character with a disability who is an active participant in his own life, a character that is necessary to the plot, a character who has layers and who's attitude toward their disability is as complex as mine is to me, I want to watch it.
There aren't many.
But I'm watching a television series right now. One of the primary characters is a wheelchair user, and he meets all the criteria for being a dynamic, proud, guy with a 'piss on pity' attitude. Yes, the actor playing him is non-disabled. But when watching the series I identify with the character and the actor behind him is kinda meaningless to me. I'm seeing storytelling that captures disability and the disability experience. And now, Season Two, there's another disabled character just introduced. A very different guy, a very different attitude, but, again, with drive and purpose that both includes and does not include his disability. I'm in entertainment heaven.
I'm watching in the closet.
Neither actor has a disability.
I tell myself that I'm watching the result of the writing, not the casting. These two characters are written with the same care and respect as all the other primary characters. The show doesn't shy away from diversity, with the slight exception of LGBT issues, although there is an episode with a bisexual character.
I'm one show away from the end of season 2. I already know because I looked it up in a panic, there will be another season. I rejoiced at the news because it meant I get to see more of these characters, who I care about, and that stories with disabled people in vital roles are being told, and maybe that will lead to people thinking that disabled characters can be heroes and villains and help carry a shows story line, then maybe, just maybe there should be more characters with disabilities and more thought given to the casting. Maybe.
But 'maybe' or not.
Sometimes I thirst.
To see disability storytelling.
And sometimes that thirst has me compromising.
I know this will deeply disappoint some of you, but I don't want to pretend to be someone I'm not.