BBC3: Cherry Healey: How to Get A Life

I generally try to avoid blogging when I’m feeling particularly charged about an issue, I know that it’s best to allow time for the fog to clear and think about things before putting fingers to keyboard.

However tonight I want to write while I’m still feeling so frustrated.

I’ve just finished watching Cherry Healey’s How to Get a Life, I was looking forward to this episode addressing issues around prejudice because I knew they were going to feature an interesting piece on disability and sexuality. ( I had been asked to contribute and really wanted to but I was away in the US during filming).

Cherry was very honest about her own experiences (or lack therof) with disabled people, I appreciated her asking the questions that most people are secretly dying to ask but are unlikely to unless they know someone with a disability. She interviewed a young woman who is paraplegic and participates in pornography and was totally open about her own surprise that disabled people have the same sexual desires as anyone else.

I was expecting frank and forthright conversation about disability and sex from a confident and sexually positive young disabled woman who would be able to dispel a few myths about disability and perhaps change a few prejudiced attitudes.

Instead we saw a young woman who clearly hasn’t adjusted to life as a wheelchair user yet; she struck me as still being quite raw and full of emotions that are still yet to be resolved. I’m loathe to make assumptions about someone I’ve only watched on television but I’m fairly certain she’s got pretty low self esteem, her own opinion of herself and her body were so harsh and negative it doesn’t require PHD in psychology to gather she’s neither confident nor positive.

I actually felt rather concerned about the emotional welfare of the woman herself; appearing in porn while clearly battling psychological issues is not the path to confidence and happiness. This woman has her entire life ahead of her, she is a bright, sparky young woman; she is totally independent, she is only paralysed from the waist down, not the neck down and that in itself is one hell of a gift. I hope she eventually realises this….

Anyway, what pissed me off is that rather than challenge stereotypes the programme has simply confirmed them.  There was too much focus on how miserable she is in the chair, the things that frustrate her, what she misses from her previous life and how much she thinks about walking because it’s easier to do things. (Do I spend time wishing I could walk? Honestly? Maybe a total of 90 minutes per YEAR.) All that does is confirm what able bodied people think life is like for a paraplegic.

So why does this piss me off so much? Because this programme will in some way inform how some people react to me and to other wheelchair users. I continuously strive to change attitudes towards disability but thanks to portrayals like this there will be people who will mistakenly assume that I’m bitter, aggressive, unhappy, sexually unsatisfied and physically unable to enjoy sex and I’ll have to spend time convincing them otherwise. Thanks for that.

The media has a large role to play in educating people about the realities of living with a disability and they are still falling short of that responsibility. It’s a depressing fact, but attitudes can be changed or confirmed based on television programmes.  What did the programme show that others haven’t? Nothing. It almost took a step backwards when considering the issue of wheelchair users dating each other; are we still so blinkered that people believe like must date like? Would I have dated a paraplegic before my accident? I don’t know, but I like to think that if I had met a guy that I liked, his wheelchair wouldn’t have been a deterrent. Would I date another wheelchair user now? No, but purely because it would be so impractical to have consider the logistics of 2 wheelchairs every time we went out. Have I fancied other guys in chairs? Yes, I’ve met good looking, funny, confident guys in chairs but the it’s the practicalities that deter me, not a prejudice against their physical disability. I felt disappointed that the choice to not date another wheelchair user was portrayed as based in prejudice when in reality it’s about more than that. There was a real opportunity to open people’s minds to the abilities of disabled people, to the normality, to the sexuality but I guess it was easier to conform to the stereotypes.

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About Shannon Murray

I am an actress, broadcaster, writer and lawyer; not really that unusual but I am also paraplegic as a result of an accident as a teenager.
This entry was posted in Body Image, Disability, Sex & Relationships, Television and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to BBC3: Cherry Healey: How to Get A Life

  1. I saw the programme too. Maybe it’s just me but Isn’t the fact that it was on BBC3 some kind of prejudice in itself? A programme tackling such an important topic surely should have been on 1 or 2 and at a better time. Anyway look it’s easy for me to say I know, but I think you should not be disheartened by it. You must not feel that your work is fruitless and all the hard work and good that you do is wasted when something like this gets aired. It’s so very important that you overcome such portrayals and continue trying to raise the profile of disability in the media whereever you can. I only wish you are given a better platform to go and educate the masses. It’s absurd you are not more well known than you already are ! No disrespect to the girl featured, but I wish you had done that programme and further wish it had gone out in a prime time slot. Maybe next time eh ? Until then keep up the good work, I assure you some of us are watching, listening and taking note, Kudos.

  2. Ann says:

    Hi
    I love this post.

    I’m 17 and am in a wheelchair due to a genetic condition. I do find it very annoying that people, especial boys, tend to think that I don’t have the same feelings as them. I think they think because I’m in a chair that I must be mentally disabled as well! It does get very annoying.

    I get what you say about going out with someone in a wheel chair. I’ve had a thing going with a guy who’s in a chair and it is very hard to go out but at the moment it’s the only way I can have a relationship because most able bodied guys are prejudiced.

    You’re a great representative for the disabled and I hope that you get the message that disabled people are just like anyone else out there.

  3. Nicky says:

    Um “mentally disabled as well”? That’s little harsh isn’t it?

  4. lawrence says:

    Oh yes, and this is how I found your blog Shannon. Caught this episode on iPlayer the other night and it wound me up something proper, pretty much felt exactly the same way as yourself.

    My sexual desires and tastes have never changed, before and after chair. Can say hand on heart that despite my disability, I’m still very much repelled by vacuous, self centred women like Cherry Healey.

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