Karine Jean-Pierre
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Ryan O'Connell Is an Unapologetic Gay Disabled Millennial

Ryan O'Connell

When Ryan O’Connell was writing blogs in his bedroom almost a decade ago, he never thought that by age 29, he’d be working with Jim Parsons to create a sitcom based on his life story of growing up gay with cerebral palsy.

Like most people, O’Connell never assumed his life would be made into a TV show. But the reality in which O’Connell finds himself now seemed impossible for a bigger reason: No one outside of a small inner circle knew he had cerebral palsy. That all changed when he wrote a blog post on Thought Catalog in January titled “Coming Out of the Disabled Closet.”

Somewhere between O’Connell’s early days of blogging and his staff writing job on the MTV high school comedy Awkward, he found the courage in himself to come out of the second closet many people had no idea he was hiding in.

I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves, O’Connell’s recently released book, was supposed to be a kitschy, hip coffee table book titled How to Be a Twentysomething. It was going to be the type of book carried at Urban Outfitters, loosely connected to the personal essays and viral lists he created for Thought Catalog about millennial life.

But being honest about his cerebral palsy let O’Connell relinquish the last thing that held him back from living as his true, authentic self. His book is printed proof of the potential that can be unleashed when one throws back the blinds and lets the world see who they truly are.

“I hate when people don’t talk about things,” he says. “I hate when people just sweep things under the rug. I’m, like, the anti-rug sweeper."

So it seems fitting that as O’Connell’s incredible year comes to a close, he’s poised to embark on a journey he never thought possible when he was blogging his way through his 20s, battling underemployment and depression in a profoundly millennial way.

Warner Bros. acquired the rights to I’m Special, and is currently developing the book into a half-hour sitcom. O’Connell will write and executive produce the show, along with Parsons and Todd Spiewak, who will executive-produce the show through That’s Wonderful Productions.

O’Connell knows that America is ready for a gay disabled character on television. And he hopes it, like the rest of his oeuvre, will be an experience in which people will see themselves reflected.

“Any gay person — spoiler, all gay people — that have felt ‘other’ and not like they fit into the mold, this is the show for them,” he says excitedly.

After coming out about his cerebral palsy, he says, “I don’t care about anything anymore and now that I’m open about it, I have nothing left to hide and I can just do whatever I want.”

"I mean, when you don’t own all of yourself, it’s going be a hard road for you,” he warns. “It really is. You can try to deny it, and be, like, I don’t need to address this, I don’t need to talk about it, but you do — because it’s a big part of what you do, and you’re ignoring it."

He may not be writing as many essays these days, but O’Connell’s latest effort is a deeply personal and meaningful project, that could make television history. 

“For me, putting a gay disabled character on TV is the number 1 most important thing,” he says. “We could help so many people by doing this.”

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