Writer, actor, and disability advocate Ryan O’Connell spoke to students at the University of Washington this week about the unique struggles he has faced as someone who is both gay and disabled.
“I went out with my gay mafia and pitched it to all these networks,” O’Connell told the crowd when discussing how he sold his series Special. “It was four years of like no, no, and f*ck no.”
O’Connell explained that many networks had a hard time wrapping their heads around a show about someone who is both gay and disabled. (O’Connell has cerebral palsy.)
“I was told ‘no’ for so long,” he recalled. “There were so many times where I was like ‘f*ck this, I wanna quit.’”
He didn’t quit, of course. And, as he explains it, “then we went to Netflix and they just bought it. It was so weird.”
And it proved to be a wise investment for the Network, too.
Not only did Special receive rave reviews upon its release, but it nabbed four Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Short Form Comedy or Drama Series and Outstanding Actor in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series for O’Connell.
“Being gay, in a weird way, is more accepted and understood than being disabled,” he said.
“I think disability is not discussed. There are so many conversations about being gay. These chairs are gay. I don’t think people know how to talk about [disability].”
But, O’Connell says, the tides do seem to be shifting. (Thanks, in part, to him. Though he’s far too humble to ever admit this.) He says after Netflix took a chance on him, he feels more accepted and more grounded than ever.
“For the first time in 28 years of my life, I was being who I was, and I wasn’t lying about something,” he said. “It was always either being gay or being disabled, and I was finally just me.”