Entertainment & Culture

Am I disabled or a mutant?

Hayleigh has a Masters in Creative Media Practises and is currently undertaking a Doctorate of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. She’s going to use her expertise to debate where the world of entertainment and disability meet. This month, the X-Men.

#DHguru – join in the debates on Twitter @DHorizons

I have a bit of an odd theory and I need you to stick with me for a little while with this. According to the X-Men movies, a mutant is created through a genetic mutation of the DNA (yes, I know Wolverine was technically created via scientific experiments blah, blah, blah).

My disability is the result of a mutation of the SMN 1 gene, which leads to the muscles atrophying. Basically, what I’m asking is, can I now claim to be a mutant? And does this make me eligible for a place within Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters?

Okay, I might be 28 so a bit past the school years, but I still think I could make a killer member of the X-Men! Obviously my unique talent would be a cut throat death stare topped with mind blowing sarcasm. One other major bonus is the fact that founder Professor Xavier is also in a wheelchair, and so the mansion will already be fully accessible!

The cause of my recent musings is the upcoming release of the latest X-Men movie, X-Men: Apocalypse. I can 100% guarantee that I will be booking my popcorn and Slush Puppie for that one! In fact I love the movies so much that I might even have to stretch to a portion of nachos – call me crazy!

It will come as no surprise to some of you that amongst my favourite characters is Storm (who doesn’t want to strike people down with a bolt of lightning when they have PMT?), Cyclops (to be fair, I think this is more James Marsden than the actual character) and Mystique (it’s the bad girl thing again, plus she gets to walk around naked… I’m not saying I would but having the option would be nice, no?).

My point is I have decided to redefine my disability. I say it loud and I say it proud – I am a mutant.

When watching the movies, I have often connected the symbolism of mutation to that of having a disability. For example, most of the characters identify with being labelled as ‘freaks’, ‘weirdos’ and ‘unhuman’, and sadly such words are often thrown around and aimed at those who have disabilities.

Being a mutant can encompass both physicality and mental powers, much like disability can affect appearance and social/learning ability. Take, for instance, Hank McCoy, otherwise known as ‘Beast.’ His mutation involves the outer appearance of blue fur covering him head to toe, fangs, cat like features and claws. The outside human world treats his ‘difference’ with contempt and cruelty due to a lack of understanding and an unwillingness to see beyond their own narrow views of normality. I

nstead of asking what the man can offer the world – he excels at Biochemistry and Genetics, teaching both Mathematics and Science – he is defined solely on his Otherness. It is not difficult to see how this could reflect the experiences of many persons with disability. How many of us have been judged on our physical inabilities and patronised just because a part of our anatomy is different to textbook perfect?

But no more!

The X-Men have on numerous occasions explained that genetic mutations are simply part of the next evolutionary cycle. In other words, a step up from couch potatoes and reality TV stars. So maybe that is what having a disability really means – our bodies are evolving past physicality, forcing us to renegotiate our limitations.

We know the potential our bodies and minds have in overcoming obstacles. We see beyond the rigid rules of normality and know what it takes to adapt and develop strength, not only physically but also emotionally and psychologically. This is what makes us greater than anyone could think possible.

It has been suggested that people with neuromuscular conditions (such as myself) have a higher than average IQ – no one knows exactly why. Perhaps that is my superpower, I will out-smart the shit out of the world!

Of course no-one will actually label me as a mutant; instead I’ll be one of those ‘inspirational’ people… If only they knew that I am secretly trying to bring together my own group of superhero mutants to take over the world. The fact that I am broadcasting this over the internet may not be the best plan for world domination. Or is it? If anyone would like to enquire, please send an e-mail!

Back to my original point. Those of us who live with a disability know that although it may pose challenges, it does not define who we are and certainly doesn’t make us any less of a person. Just like the X-Men, we are often judged and stereotyped but this does not mean that other people have the right to have power over us.

Now I’m not trying to suggest that you do a Magneto and attempt to wage a war against humanity, after all anyone in our real world can develop a disability. There would be no point fighting amongst ourselves. Mutant vs mutant never ends well in the movies (just look at what happened between Xavier and Mystique…) and I think life would definitely imitate art in this instance. However, that does not mean that we cannot take a stand and demand to be treated as equal members of society.

Like some of the students and teachers at Xavier’s school; like Rogue, Pyro and Jean Grey (later developed in future movies as Phoenix), I question what’s so wrong with being different anyway? Why is it that some parts of society still struggle with the idea of people not being like “them”? We are not a species for people to fear; we are not a threat to civilisation and we cannot infect others with our genetic make-up.

Perhaps Xavier is right in his method to guide and protect young mutants in reaching their full potential. In the disability culture, maybe it will be future generations who will reap the benefits of our fights. For now though, disabled, mutant or both we can claim this world and be proud at how far we have evolved beyond the expectations of others.

By Hayleigh Barclay

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Hayleigh Barclay

Graduated in 2019 with a Doctorate of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. Scottish based, usually plugged into her iPod or watching too many Viking documentaries.
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