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Ryan O’Connell From Netflix’s “Special” Revealed The Terrifying Pressure He Felt Representing Gay People With Disabilities

“When there’s the one seat at the table, that seat has to speak for every goddamn seat,” O'Connell told BuzzFeed News. “It’s a lot of pressure.”

Posted on April 25, 2019, at 3:04 p.m. ET

Taylor Miller/BuzzFeed News

When Ryan O'Connell was working to create his debut Netflix series Special, a semiautobiographical show about a gay man also named Ryan with mild cerebral palsy, he was nervous about the public reception.

“When I was making this, I really felt the burden of representation because I was like, ‘Okay, I’m one of the first people to do this and I know that my story is very unique and specific, and I know that I can’t speak for the whole disabled community,’” O’Connell said on BuzzFeed News’ Twitter morning show AM to DM. “And I really worried that someone might expect me to."

"But everyone has been so incredible," he added.

Courtesy Of Netflix


Back in 2015, O’Connell published a memoir, I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves, which detailed his experience as a gay man with cerebral palsy.

O’Connell wrote about how when he was 20 years old, he was hit by a car and decided to start telling his friends and coworkers that his limp was a result of the accident, erasing his identity as someone who has had cerebral palsy for his whole life. His character on the show also pretends his disability was caused by a car accident.

O’Connell said making the Netflix show was "incredibly therapeutic and cathartic."

"But I think as long as we live in an ableist society," he added, "... I’m always going to struggle with internalized ableism and a certain level of discomfort surrounding my disability."

View this video on YouTube

O’Connell wrote all eight episodes of Special himself after working on other shows, including MTV’s Awkward and NBC’s Will & Grace revival.

Each 15-minute episode shows the fictional Ryan grappling with his sexuality, disability, and self-acceptance.

While working on the show, the creator said he felt pressure to authentically depict LGBT-identifying people and people with disabilities.

“When there’s the one seat at the table, that seat has to speak for every goddamn seat,” he said. “It’s a lot of pressure.”

Despite his initial nerves, the positive response to the eight-episode series, which started streaming on Netflix April 12, has calmed O’Connell’s nerves.

He called the “sheer volume” of responses “really overwhelming” and “incredible.”

“I felt such a relief taken off my shoulders because I wanted disabled people to feel seen and heard from the show,” O’Connell said. “Even if it wasn’t exactly to their experience.”

Watch the full interview here:

Full interview: @ryanoconn talks with #AM2DM about getting his show #Special off the ground and why it's much more fun to watch sex scenes than to film them

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.