I often refer to myself as special as a joke. When chatting to my friends, say, or when trying to justify why I should have that last piece of cake, I’ll say ‘because I’m special’. Of course, there’s nothing special about me – I’m just an average student who happens to have cerebral palsy; I’m not particularly bright or clever. What makes me special.
It’s an odd word, really. It has come to refer to people with ‘special needs’, and can be used as an insult. Like many such insults, however, it has been reclaimed by the crip community, and we use it to refer, jokingly, to ourselves.
However, yesterday afternoon, I saw a bloke walking around campus wearing a tee shirt with the words ‘I’m special’ and a picture of south park’s Timmy on it. This fellow didn’t appear to have any disabilities, and for some reason I felt instantly offended. Had he been a wheelchair user wearing it, I’d have had no problem, and would have found it highly amusing. It was kind of like he was making light of disability and the disabled community. I almost felt insulted – but why? I like jokes as much as anyone, and that’s what this tee shirt is.
I probably felt insulted because this man would have known nothing of disability; nothing of what it feels like to be on the outside of society. Yes, I refer to myself as special, but the irony of that is me and my friends know I’m not! The joke works because of this irony. To the chap wearing the tee shirt, the joke was not in the irony, but a glamorisation of disability. Disability isn’t always fun.
I am not, however, in the tee shirt police. I’m also probably being too anal about this. but why the hell does it get to me?