Ryan O’Connell is our very own Mary Poppins, delivering a spoonful of life’s hard truths in the sweetest way possible. The writer and author of I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves takes five from writing for Will & Grace and producing his new show, Special, to discuss how being vulnerable will get you laid, gay iconography and manifesting self worth.
YOUTH and ROLEMODELS
How was your first kiss and who would be your pipe dream boyfriend?
My first kiss was with a boy who is now married to a woman and I’d say it got the job done. I ended up also giving him a BJ, which was a mistake. It was too big and only meant for advanced users. Re: my pipe dream boyfriend, I’d have to say maybe my actual boyfriend, Jonathan. Not to get all romantic but he really is the poppers to my brain damage. But! If I could have a pipe dream fuck, it’d have to be comedian Rob Delaney. Random, I know, but I have a thing for loller daddies with A+ butts.
Growing up can you recall being drawn to any fictional characters that in hindsight could be considered gay iconography and what is the importance of a role model?
Yes, of course! I can think of three big ones. Karen Walker, obvs. And Mary Cherry and Nicole Julian from a short-lived TV show called Popular. I didn’t know why I was so drawn to these ladies like a moth to a flamer but in 9th grade I read Susan Sontag’s essay “Notes On Camp” and it kind of all clicked. I wish I had more icons in terms of actual gay characters but it was slim pickins’ back in the ‘early aughts.
You had a somewhat destructive relationship with health and fitness in your 20s. What does being healthy mean to you now?
Yes, by destructive, you mean ‘non-existent’ right? Up until the age of 27, my version of exercise was picking up a 10/325 Percocet and putting it in my mouth. I had no relationship with my body and that’s because whenever I looked at myself all I could see was my cerebral palsy and my scars and tight muscles. But then I started exercising five days a week and my life changed forever. I know this sounds cheesy but I’m just in constant awe of what my body can actually do. I feel like I’m taking this sketchy broken down home with carpet and cottage cheese ceilings and flipping it into a cute little Craftsman with a nice outdoor patio vibe. (Can you tell I spend all my time on Zillow?)
If someone at home right now feels inhibited by what they view as their weaknesses or flaws what would you tell them about turning your vulnerabilities into your strengths?
One thing you have to realize is that people are so horny for vulnerability. Really, they are just innately attracted to authenticity and relatability. So, by showcasing your flaws you’re A.) endearing yourself to other people and B.) going to realize that you are not alone in the ‘I like myself’ struggle. Also, it’s just freeing as fuck to be honest. Once you own everything, no one can take anything away from you.
Throughout your career you’ve written about the cruel realities of life, self awareness and owning your future. If you were to give your adolescent self advice, what would it be?
Don’t go ten years without a dick in your ass. It’ll fuck you up in your thirties! Also, get a lawyer. (My version of getting fucked in my twenties was not sex, it was signing bad contracts.)
“REPRESENTATION, BABY. REPRESENTATION = NORMALIZATION.”
WRITING and ACTIVISM
What can the LGBTQ community do to help the destigmatisation of disabled LGBTQ individuals?
REPRESENTATION, BABY. REPRESENTATION = NORMALIZATION.
Was there a moment in your career where rejection or failure ended up catalysing you towards success?
Yes. My brain metabolizes “No’s” as “I DARE YOU TO DO THIS THING AND PROVE ME WRONG.” So I don’t shut down. I use it as fuel. Working in this business you face a lot of rejection and you have to eat a lot of shit sandwiches. When we first went out with my show Special, all the cable networks passed and the underneath to it was “Gay? Disabled? Too much.” And I never got downtrodden about it. I just kept going until we sold it. I remember I had a meeting on that show Speechless, which is all about a kid with cerebral palsy, and I didn’t get the job. That wrecked me, tbh, but then I was just like, “Pick yourself up and get to work. You’re going to be doing your own show about CP.” There’s two quotes I love that speak about this. “Be the heroine of your life, not the victim” which Nora Ephron said. And “Never underestimate the power of ‘I’ll show you.'” Harvey Levin, founder of TMZ, said that.
We’ve all had that moment of “I hate my body.” How can we create a sense of self worth and avoid craving validation from our peers?
Um, that’s hard. My self-worth is way up. I genuinely like myself and the way I look. But I still need a stranger from Arizona to comment on my Instagram and say ‘Ur hot come sit on my face.’ And I hate it! I wish I didn’t crave that but I do. So, I don’t know. If someone figures this out, DM me, k?
11 years ago as a 20 year old you were hit by a car whilst walking in San Francisco. In moments like that when life throws you punches (or in your case a K.O.) how did you keep motivated and counter punch from that period in your life?
I think when you’re young, you’re weirdly more equipped to deal with unexpected life trolls. Like, at 31, I’m in a great place with myself but I do think I’m more emotionally fragile. Like, I’m sensitive as fuck, which, I think, just happens when you’re on this planet accruing experiences and enduring hardships. So I think there was an advantage to being twenty and having greater emotional elasticity. Don’t get me wrong, it was still traumatic as fuck but it was also like, “Um, okay. I guess I won’t study abroad and just take the semester off of college to recover. UGHHHH!!!”
Your Go-To tracks for exercising?
I weirdly listen to a lot of shoegaze like No Joy and Tamaryn, which is INSANE, I know. But I also listen to a lot of classic rock like The Who and Led Zeppelin. Honestly, I think classic rock pumps me up the most because it’s so big and anthemic.
Shooting my show Special! Oh, and sleep with Rob Delaney.
Tell us about your babein’ podcast Babe??
Babe? is a podcast I started with my best frond, Lara, and it’s really just an excuse for us to hang out and lol. We’ve created this new terminology for when you’re behaving crazy. We say you’re being a “Babe?” And there are different levels. If you’re displaying behavior that’s concerning, you’re being a “Babe?” If you’ve gone completely off the rails. you’re being a “Babe…” and if you’ve recovered and are in an empowered place, you’re a “Babe!” I’ve actually never tried to type this out and I realize now it sounds insane but it’s not. The podcast is just a way to kind of check in with each other and make sure we’re not going off the deep end.
What have you learnt about yourself over the past year?
That I need to chill out and implement a “Live and Let Live” policy. Learning to relinquish control is a biggie for me.
Goals for 2018?
Shooting my show Special! Oh, and sleep with Rob Delaney.
Do you have any future projects that you’re currently working on?
Well, I’m in the thick of working on Special right now but beyond that, I don’t know.
What would you graffiti on the back of a toilet door?
Honey? Me? Graffiti something? I don’t have the hand-eye coordination for that.