© Mik Scarlet. First published in The Independent as ‘I don’t want a normal life. Why does that shock you?’ on 14th November 2000.
I don’t normally get asked to write articles on such a sensible topic as social rights. I usually get asked to write about sex, clubbing, partying, fashion, and sex again. But then I think that’s what social rights are really. The right to do what everyone else does, what everyone else takes for granted. I have always felt that during the fight for civil rights, those at the front line sometimes forgot that there is more to equality than just having access to public transport or the right to work. I must admit I have always been more interested in the fight to make nightclubs accessible than public transport. (From the horror stories I hear about train crashes, faulty train lines, and overcrowded tubes and buses, I think I’ll stick to my little blue sports car). In the past I have been condemned for being too interested in having fun, but this once very unpopular view is now becoming more accepted, even trendy. With the event of campaigns like “Attitude is Everything”(the new drive to make live music venues and clubs accessible to us disabled types), the right to entertainment and enjoyment is being acknowledged. I see the fight for equality as the fight to do what you want to do, to live your life your way.
Before I go on, I want to tell you how I joined our very elite social group. I came to disability in a kind of two-pronged approach. I was born with Cancer. A Neuroblastoma of the right kidney. I was one of the first children in the world to be cured of childhood cancers like mine, after an experimental drug was tested on me. Monkeys first… then me. Now this wonder treatment left me without much chance of ever running, walking, or even sitting up according to the doctors. Of course, I was soon walking with a calliper on one leg and, at the age of five, I started at Stopsley Infants School in my hometown of Luton. It was a normal school and I was the first disabled kid to ever go there. This was the start of my personal battle for social rights. My mum tells a fantastic story of watching me from the school gates limp into the school playground and, kids being the evil little shits they are, within seconds I was being bullied mercilessly. As she started to rush towards me, intent on saving me from the taunts, she saw that instead of crying and being beaten shitless, I had backed against a wall (you can’t be attacked from behind then), and with my calliper covered leg I was kicking the shit out of my tormenters. She knew I’d be OK from then on. And I was. This approach is one I still use today, OK not with my legs (their kicking days are over) but with my acid tongue.
So I sailed through school, being a good, brainy kid, always getting away with the naught stuff… well I was the poor little crippled boy… milk it! However at the age of fifteen my spine collapsed as a result of the treatment I was given as a baby, (on the way home from Gary Numan’s farewell concert) and, thanks to a mistake with a scalpel during a spinal operation, that was the walking wounded part of my life well and truly over. I was now a fully paid up member of the wheelchair using crew. One of the more memorable moments during my 9-month illness was when I was told I had terminal cancer (wrong!!) and had to spend over 24 hours thinking of all the stuff I had never done. I’d never dyed my hair, I’d never been out all night, but most importantly I’d never had sex!!!! It was this event that started me off on my “You only live once” lifestyle. Luckily for me, a lovely 19-year-old trainee nurse took pity on my virginal state a bit later on in my hospital stay, and popped my cherry during a bed bath. Arh, nurse Tina (the name has been changed to protect the guilty)… Let us just dwell on that a while…
On leaving hospital, and nurse Tina, I found that world outside was not as accepting of a wheelie as it was of a limp-a-long. Not only had most of my school friends run scared of this sickly “Davros-a-like” that used to Mik, but all the places where I might make new friends were up stairs. So I spent my first year after hospital in my bedroom, dying my hair very funny colours and teaching myself to play synthesizers. I then started at Luton 6th Form, the first disabled student there too, and I formed my first band. I began living. Drinking, partying, dressing like an alien, and of course girls! Then during a gig with the bands I was in, got my first break into the world of television, when I was spotted by a producer, and the rest is history.
Something that has always shocked me is the way that seemingly tolerant people are so shocked by my wanting to not have a normal life. Not only the able bodied, but disabled people too. I knew that after my time laying in a hospital bed that I did not want to just get a job, get married, produce my 2.4 little Miks and then die. I did not want to conform, and this is where I believe the fight for social rights come into the fight for civil rights. We as disabled people should have the right to be as socially acceptable as WE want to be. After all the pain I’ve had, I think it’s up to me how I live. Something I always say to the armies of sporty disabled types that frown on my lifestyle of endless partying is “It’s already broken. Being good at sport isn’t going to cure me!” I’m not knocking sport, I watched the paralympics, and I was well impressed. “We’ve won loads of golds!!!” I just think it’s funny how the whole country got behind the paralympians when they started winning medals, yet those winners still haven’t got full equal rights! And if they ever hold the para-lytics, I’ll be captain of the team.
Honestly though, disabled people must now admit that if the experience of disability will mean we have a lot in common, we are also different. It’s like being in a club that no one really wanted to join, with people that we wouldn’t normally want to be with. Yet here we are, in the club all working together.
That’s one of the fantastic things about being disabled; having a common bond with people you wouldn’t normally have any connection with. We are fully integrated within our social group, even if we’re not in society as a whole.
The fight we have now is to remember our differences and be proud of them. We must start to fight to be recognized as a person first and disabled second. We must be as tolerant of each other as we ask society to be of us, and we must start making society realize that we’re all different. Tanni Grey-Thompson is a friend of mine and I think she’s great, but I wouldn’t wheel as far as she does before breakfast if my life depended on it. I know she hears my tales of three-day, no sleep, full on partying and winces at the horror of it all. You see, we’ve fought for our rights to be integrated and we’re gradually winning. Now we can fight for our right to be seen as individuals and not as a homogenous lump. We must now fight for our right to be as conformist or non-conformist as we want to be.
This is one fight I’m really up for. I’ve got my back against the wall and my kicking leg is ready. All I’m saying it is now time to fight for the right to do what you want, when you want, and how you want to do it. We no longer have to conform to deserve rights.
In the word of the Beastie Boys…”We want to fight, for the right to PAAAAAARTY!”
Or you might want to stay in and watch Corrie with a nice cup of tea. Either way, we should have the right to do it.