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‘Special’s’ Ryan O'Connell: “I will not be erased, bitch!”

Ryan O'Connell

In this first-person essay, the creator and star reflects on his groundbreaking, now Emmy-nominated, series about being disabled.

It is the first day shooting my television show, Special, and I am shirtless, making out with a very handsome and fit actor, Jason Michael Snow. Prior to this, I'd avoided most occasions to be shirtless in public -- pool parties are not my friend, especially those that are 95% donut floaties and homosexual -- but somehow here I am, half-naked with my stomach rolls and scars while a crew of 50 strangers huddle around me.

Actually "somehow" is not accurate. I know how I got here. I wrote the scene. I did this to myself. But why?!

I asked myself that question many times during the filming of Special. I asked it while standing naked in my trailer as a team of makeup artists applied concealer to my ass and back zits. I asked myself that question when a costume designer taught me how to put my penis into a cock sock. I asked myself that question on my back as I got fake-fucked for literal hours by my scene partner, Brian Jordan Alvarez.


Okay, now let's rewind the tape for a sec. I'm 23 years old, watching the film Tiny Furniture, and I am literally gasping at the sight of Lena Dunham's cellulite. It dawns on me that I've never seen a woman's cellulite on screen before, even though I've seen it plenty IRL. (My girlfriends were always undressing in front of me. #SafeSpace.) And then I start to get annoyed. Why am I so stunned by cellulite? Why is this such a revelation?

The media is really good at blurring the lines between what you know to be true and normal-- cellulite for days--and what's clearly fantasy--no cellulite. ("Ew, are you kidding me? No one has that and if you do, you're literally disgusting!") It erases the reality we all live in and creates a funhouse of self-loathing. And we all buy into it! We forget the truth so quickly!

With Special, I was in the unique position to take a machete to that awful funhouse and help create a new normal, one that includes a TV lead with stomach rolls and scars. As a gay disabled person who has never seen their experience reflected back to them, I know how important representation is. So I wanted to tell people something that was never told to me: "Your life is important and worth being explored. Your body is hot and worth having sex with. Your existence is not fringe or strange."

Selfishly, I also knew that getting naked in front of a bunch of randos would force me to get comfortable with my body. And while I didn't love someone having a front-row seat to the zit on my ass, and I sometimes wished I never wrote these scary revealing scenes, there was always a little voice inside of me that was like, "Fuck it. I dare you to look at my body. I will not be erased, bitch!"

That voice is everything. It lives inside each and every one of us. And the more you listen to it, the more you pay attention to what you know is true rather than what is fed to you, a new normal continues to be built. Let's see how big we can get it, shall we?

This article appears in Out's August 2019 issue celebrating the body. The cover features South African Olympian Caster Semenya. To read more, grab your own copy of the issue on Kindle, Nook, Zinio or (newly) Apple News+ today. Preview more of the issue here and click here to subscribe.

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