Kirk Cameron’s Acne: Accepting My Disabled Self in an Ableist World

I gave a version of this talk during a panel entitled “Community, Reconciliation, and Healing” during the Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Conference at Guilford College on May 6, 2015 under the title of “Learning to be Whole: Finding my Sexuality as a Person with a Disability in an Ableist World”. I have edited the manuscript and retitled it.

I feel that my journey in realizing my sexuality in an ableist world is paralleled to my spiritual journey. As a campus minister, these two journeys are so intertwined. I find that I cannot talk about one journey without the other.

When I was young, probably 8 or 9, I remember at least once crying at night and asking my mother why me? What did I do wrong to deserve a speech impediment? Why did God do this to me? I didn’t feel whole.


This is what I imagine when I think of a perfect Jesus and the first image shown when I did a Google search for “Perfect Jesus”. (Source)

Since a young age, I have had a difficult relationship with God. For a long time I tried to disassociate myself from Christianity because growing up on the northern edge of the Bible Belt there was a lot of talk about God, Christ, and perfection, as if perfection was the third part of the Trinity instead of the Holy Spirit. I often wondered: Why should I follow a God who curse me with a disability?

Since a young age, I treated my speech impediment as not part of my whole self. In essence, it was a detriment that kept me from succeeding in life. Part of this thinking was due to being misdiagnosed early in life. I remember, throughout elementary school, doctors thinking that I would grow out of my speech impediment by high school. I could not wait until high school.

Around this same time, I remember seeing a Full House episode, where two teenage girl characters, DJ and Kimmy, were talking about one of DJ’s male cousins, Steve, coming back to visit. Steve was supposed to be “nerdy-looking” or as Kimmy called him a “Geek-burger with cheese”: Glasses, braces, and acne.


Isn’t he a hottie? (Source)

Yet, when they open the door, he had no glasses, nice teeth and clear skin. The two girls found him to be hot. (The actor playing the cousin was Kirk Cameron, who in the late 1980s was considered to be one of the more attractive young male actors.)

The two teenage girls asked what happened to him. He explained that he now had contacts, the braces came off and the acne cleared up.

For years afterwards, I remembered the scene incorrectly. In my mind, Steve had said:One morning I woke up and bam the acne was gone.”

After watching that episode and having the wrong recollection of the scene, I dreamt that: One day I would awake and find that my speech impediment was totally gone, like Kirk Cameron’s acne.

I wished for that day to come for years! Once that day happened, I would be more accepted and girls would finally find me attractive.

But that day never came. I felt disappointed as high school went by and my speech impediment continued to stay, like unwanted acne.

I spent a lot of my teenage years and my twenties feeling alone and just wanting to be loved. Even though I had a loving family and a huge network of friends, I felt that I just needed romantic love to finally feel whole. But for the most part I didn’t have any luck with dating in college or right after.

Yet when my relationship with my now-wife, Jenn, started over four years ago, I quickly realized that, nope, romantic relationships were not the magical cure to the depth of self-hate I had. I still did not feel whole.

Soon after I started dating Jenn, I enrolled at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey. Over the years, I had felt called by God to ministry in different ways. Then, after college, I felt a call to seminary and I resisted the call for years, but I finally caved in and applied.

Throughout seminary I wrestled with my anger towards God and why God chose to give me a disability or at least why God did not prevent it. At one point in seminary, I started to view my disability as a gift as an attempt to quickly reconcile my anger with God with my calling to ministry in God’s name. But one of my field education supervisors called me out on using that kind of messed-up theology.

After that intervention with my supervisor, I was again at a loss for how to reconcile my anger with God and I realized it would be a difficult path.

Finally, in my last semester of seminary, I took Sexuality and the Christian Body. Through the class, I had finally able to deal with my anger with God about my disability and actually confront my feelings of feeling lonely and abandoned by God

Through the class I was able to admit that, yes my disability was not a gift, it felt more like a burden, but also I learned that I was not as alone as I once thought.

In reading Disabled God, by Nancy Eisland, for my final paper in the class, I realized that the Savior that I had been worshipped was differently-abled too. In her book, Eisland writes: “The disabled God repudiates the conception of disability as a consequence of individual sin… Our bodies… are not artifacts of sin, original or otherwise. Our bodies participate in the imago Dei, not in spite of our impairments and contingencies, but through them.”

In the Gospel of John, there is a scene after the Crucifixion when Jesus has been resurrected from the dead. In the scene, all of the apostles, besides Thomas, have encountered him after the Resurrection. But Thomas does not believe the others and Thomas says he will only believe when he sees Jesus with his own eyes and touch the wounds that Jesus had sustained on the cross.


The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio

Jesus appears to Thomas and allows him to touch his wounds. This scene is known as Doubting Thomas and this story is mainly used to preach about the virtues of believing without seeing.

Yet, rereading this through the lens of Eisland’s book, I see this scene in a completely different way. Through this scene, I realized my conception of a perfect God, a perfect Jesus, was false. Christ could have come back perfect but He didn’t. Instead He bore the wounds He had suffered up on the Cross. He came back differently-abled.

My disability is not a hindrance to the Kingdom of God but just a part of my whole being, just as God created. I am indeed made in the image of God, as it is written in Genesis 1.

For years, I have let my sexuality and my spirituality be defined in an ableist world where perfection is the measure, but not anymore. My disability is not like Kirk Cameron’s acne. My speech impediment is part of me, not an unwanted inconvenience that will clear up one day.

I am disabled and both God and Jenn love me just as I am!


A Personal Journey in Acknowledging my Ableism… (and finding love)

In my last blog post “I’m the Man”, I began to unpack how Greg and I strive for a partnership built on equality, looking specifically at how we address sexism and patriarchy in our relationship. I referenced towards the end of the post that part of building an equal partnership is being aware of other systems of oppression impacting our relationships including ableism. Greg was born with a disability that impacted his speech and fine motor skills and he has faced discrimination and oppression as a person with a disability throughout his life. I am (currently) an able bodied person.

In that last post, I made it sound as if it were so simple and easy for me to address my ableism when in reality, it has been and continues to be a difficult and ongoing journey. In fact, acknowledging my ableism was a key step in the story of Greg and I coming together.

See Greg and I are were friends 1½ years before we started dating. Greg pursued me within 4 months of us meeting with homemade pumpkin pie and drinks at a bar and a night of cooking. And while I can easily reference our differing opinions about living in an urban vs. rural setting or my commitment issues and fear of being in a serious relationship as the reasons for not dating when first pursued – all of which is part of the truth – I often omit from the tale my own prejudices towards people with disabilities. It took me confronting my ableism before I took Greg seriously as a dating partner.

A photo from SOJUCA the event that brought Greg and I together as friends

Social Justice Camp (SOJUCA) DC in Jan. 2010, the event that brought Greg and I together as friends as we helped in the organizing.

In the fall of 2010 (a year after meeting Greg), I started my Masters of Social Work and took a diversity class with Dr. Michael Sheridan. In this course, we looked at different systems of oppression and examined our status within each system – whether in the privileged/agent group or oppressed/targeted group. Early on, we were encouraged to visit Project Implicit  which has tests for measuring implicit thoughts/attitudes towards groups. When I took the test that measured implicit thoughts/attitudes on disability/ability, I was shocked at the result – a strong implicit preference for abled bodied persons if memory serves. This realization led to a cascade of reading, self-reflection, research and writing that semester to challenge my implicit attitudes, stereotypes and prejudice towards people with disabilities.

I share below a couple (of many) of the attitudes/prejudices/stereotypes I examined.

Disability as an Unbearable Condition / The Devaluing of Persons with Disabilities

It’s common to think or say in reaction to people with disabilities, whether physical, emotional, or cognitive, “I am blessed” or “I am lucky”. Within these statements, an implicit value is placed upon the person with the disability as a person less than. These statements say “I’m lucky not to be like that”  with that being an undesirable/unbearable conditionIn writing this blog, I re-read one of my personal learning journals from my diversity class that reveals me realizing my own devaluing of persons with disabilities. (Note this one paragraph could probably spur it’s own series of posts and makes me cringe today but here goes):

“I remember thinking when I was a kid how awful it would be to have a disability, particularly one that impacted cognitive abilities. This thought was often followed by a worry that God/Fate would punish me for these thoughts by giving me a child with disabilities if I ever had kids. When I was a child, I put a lot of meaning into being book smart as doing good in school was a means for affirmation and attention and really came to define who I was. I imagine I found it hard to believe that life could be just as rich and meaningful for persons that have disabilities.”

These attitudes engender at best feelings of pity in the abled bodied person and at worst fear, dislike, and scorn. And for the person with the disability, being confronted with these attitudes can potentially make one feel shame, guilt, and a lack of confidence. 

Greg powerfully said in a sermon“People with disabilities are not here for abled body people to feel blessed or feel lucky. We are not here for others’ self-realizations.”

Persons with Disabilities as Non-Sexual

A common myth about people with disabilities is that they are non-sexual. In the mainstream media, there is little representation of people with disabilities engaging in dating, relationships, or sex. A recent article in the Atlantic titled “Disabled and Fighting for a Sex Life” includes a quote from actor Matt Fraser stating: “When you are disabled the two things people think you can’t do are fight and have sex … so I’ve got a black belt and I’m really good at shagging. The physical pleasures in life are really important to me.”

Take this attitude to another level and you get a perspective that sex with a person with a disability is gross or disgusting. And, an even darker version of this attitude is the idea that people with disabilities shouldn’t engage in sex and procreate which is of course an attitude that fueled eugenics in the 20th century.

Creating fertile ground. These attitudes, stereotypes, and prejudices were not fertile ground for attraction or love. I’m not sure I ever consciously thought to myself, “Sure. Greg’s nice but I pity him and am a little weirded out by him because he’s got a speech impediment. And is he really shagg-able with his disability?”. But it wasn’t until I confronted my ableism and the implicit attitudes/beliefs/prejudices/stereotypes that came with it that I took Greg seriously as a suitor. And so one day, after I had also worked through the before mentioned commitment issues, the ground was fertile for me to say yes to Greg, let’s give this relationship a try.

Greg and I the day we started dating

Greg and I the day we started dating


My partner Greg has several blog posts and sermons relating to his experiences with a disability that are linked to below:

‘I’m the Man’

On our road trip last summer, Greg started posing for some photos in a body builder stance which he and I came to call his “I’m the Man” pose.

In a way, it’s like a funny inside joke for us because he and I both consider ourselves feminists and strive for a relationship that acknowledges the patriarchal, sexist world we live in while creating a partnership based on equality.

He and I haven’t read any how-to blogs or books on how to do this and while it has certainly been intentional that we work for an equal partnership, it’s not exactly an orderly process. Lastly, as in most things of life, I don’t believe in a one-size fit all, so what has worked for us, won’t necessarily be true for another.

First, I think the act of acknowledging that our relationship exists in a society that is sexist and patriarchal has been essential. It’s difficult to counter a dominant narrative if we were to pretend it didn’t exist.

The primary building block to our partnership is communication. I know; it’s pretty cliché. But I think Greg and I utilize a certain set of communication skills that work well in building our partnership including: empathy, active listening, ability to reflect and change, and self-awareness. Our communication is more than being able to share our thoughts, emotions, and experiences. Sharing about the -isms of the world, including sexism, makes one vulnerable and knowing your partner is empathetic creates a safer space to share in. In our discussions about sexism, we actively listen to each other, trying to understand each other’s perspective. Greg and I also try to be reflective and consider that we may need to change. I have brought to Greg’s attention times when he has expressed sexist perspectives and he has been able to hear that and reflect on that. (And don’t worry, he’s called me out about -isms too). It isn’t comfortable, and it’s easy for us to get defensive, argumentative, and to want to be right. And it would be hard to have this kind of communication if we didn’t possess some level of self-awareness and commitment to self-growth.

Another factor we have considered is the division of labor in the home.  Historically speaking, household chores (cooking, cleaning, raising children) were the woman’s domain. Greg and I have made the active choice to divide chores at home. Some tasks are decided based on passions (I enjoy cooking more and Greg loves baking). And other tasks decided by fairness (whoever doesn’t cook does the dishes, major household cleaning is done when we are both able to do it together, I do my laundry and he does his own). As a number of our fights have been about household chores, division of labor has been harder to figure out than I am making it seem and is an ongoing process.

For me, the most difficult aspect to navigate in our relationship has been promoting and fostering both careers. Having meaningful and fulfilling work is important for both Greg and I. Before dating Greg, I had frequently stated that I would not move for a man or put his career first. Words which I ate as I made decisions to move from my home and career in DC to Princeton NJ where Greg was in school and then again as we moved from NJ to Greensboro NC for his job. I’ve heard of partnerships where couples alternate over the years whose career they focus on which is an approach that Greg and I have discussed. Right now, it’s worked out well for both of us. I have found work in Greensboro that is in a field I want, that advances my career, and that is meaningful and fulfilling. And Greg is doing work he loves. Win-Win for now.

Of course, we exist in a world that has multiple systems of oppression in addition to sexism that have to be addressed in a relationship working to be equal. Greg, as a male, belongs to the privileged group when it comes to sexism but there are other systems that impact our relationship. Greg has a speech impediment and has faced discrimination and oppression as a person with a disability and I am the privileged partner as the person (currently) with an able body. As a partner, I have to be conscious that I do not speak for Greg when someone cannot understand him unless he asks me to and that I do not finish his statements for him. Greg lets me know when he feels like I am speaking for him or ‘babying’ him because of his disability.

And beyond the power dynamics within our relationship, our relationship is privileged above others which we cannot ignore in our efforts for justice and equality. As an opposite sex couple, Greg and I can get married in any state and if we want, we can adopt children without question, unlike same-sex couples. Further, Greg and I are in the privileged group for a number of -isms, including race, education and class, and part of our work to build an equal partnership is to support each other in getting involved in anti-oppressive efforts.

Tree Huggers

How Do We Proclaim This is the “Year of Lord’s Favor”?

I preached this sermon on December 14, 2014 at Spring Friends Meeting, near Snow Camp, NC. The text I used for this passage was Isaiah 61:1-4; 8-11.

Over the last few weeks, we have heard the voices of the oppressed. We have heard their voices coming from Ferguson, Missouri, Staten Island, New York, Cleveland, Ohio, and beyond. We have heard their cries yelling #BlackLivesMatter

Perhaps we have even tried to cry with them as we stood in the streets or as we prayed.

A week and half ago I stood in the streets the evening after the Grand Jury did not indict the police officers involved in killing Eric Garner over untaxed cigarettes. It was a time for public mourning. The tears and the anger all came out at once. It was not just about Eric and the way he died. He is just the latest one who did not get justice at all. People of color are tired of the injustice that criminalizes their bodies and are weary of the continuous fight to make their lives matter to the wider world.

In our Scripture reading today, we are hearing that it is the right time to proclaim that this is the “year of Lord’s Favor.” How do we proclaim that this is the “year of Lord’s Favor” in such a time full of injustice and mourning?

We are hearing from a prophet whom scholars call the third Isaiah. This third prophet appears in the Book of Isaiah when the Israelites have returned to their land from the exile in Babylon. What should be a joyous return has been marked with conflict between those who stayed behind and those who are returning. This is not what one would think would be exactly the events for a year to be declared the “year of Lord’s Favor”.

In this time that other Christians call Advent, the season right before Christmas, many see allusions in this Old Testament reading today to the coming of Christ, to the birth of the Messiah. In less than two weeks, that Good News is coming, Christ is coming, coming to be born to Mary & Joseph in a manger in Bethlehem.

This text from Isaiah is one that Jesus Himself preaches. According to the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, upon returning to Nazareth, Jesus reads this scripture in the temple. As we see throughout Luke, in Jesus’ time, Israel has its fair share of injustice and is being ruled once again by an outside Empire.

How can we proclaim that this is the “year of the Lord’s favor” during such a time of outrage and tragedy? When people feel the farthest from God’s love and righteousness?

In my own faith journey, there was a long time that I felt estranged from Christ. As a boy with a pronounced speech impediment, I did not feel God’s love when I suffered taunts and stares. Even today with two degrees, strangers still treat me as less than human upon hearing me speak. As if a person who is mentally handicapped is less than human. I often wondered: “Why did God curse me with an imperfect body?”

Even with my experiences, I do not know what it is like to have my whole existence as a human being disregarded just because of the pigment of my skin. What is like to be treated as nothing more than an animal, before and after death, like Tanisha Anderson in Cleveland? I do not know what it means to have a loved one lay out in the middle of the street for four and half hours in broad daylight in one’s own neighborhood, like Michael Brown in Ferguson.

How do we proclaim that this is “the year of the Lord’s favor”? What does the Good News to the Oppressed mean when there is only mourning in the streets and no sense of justice?

Christ’s beginning is not what we generally think about as “good news”. Jesus was born to poor parents outside in the elements because there was no room for them to stay at the inn. Shortly thereafter they all had to flee from an oppressive regime into a foreign land.

Years later, Jesus was later mocked and brutally executed by this same oppressive Empire. Yet another person of color executed in unfair circumstances, whose body was left outside for a long period of time to be mocked. Yet, in the end, we all know that the Roman Empire did not win. In the story of Christ, we know the ending; the State killed him after a sham of a trial, only to be Risen again. In that ultimate injustice, there was an everlasting justice that happened and is still happening today.

So how do we proclaim that this is “the year of the Lord’s favor”?

This starts by realizing that our human justice system is flawed.

In the second part of the passage we heard today from Isaiah, we hear Isaiah say while channeling the Lord, “For I the Lord love justice” What does God’s justice look like? Let us first remember Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Within this we can also remember the Quaker saying that there is a piece of God within each of us.

These two things are not taken in account in our humanly courtrooms. As we further divide ourselves into stringent categories of good and bad. We criminalize and demonize the part of humanity that does not fit in or fall in line, like bodies of color and disabled bodies.

We can start fighting for the kind of justice that builds God’s Kingdom here on Earth, where the Lord’s justice will forever reign. This is where people of color will be treated as fully human. This is where people with disabilities will be treated as valuable members of the community with diverse gifts to offer.

Our justice comes from a higher power and we are being called into the streets to proclaim this. This is the year of the Lord’s favor!

At the end of this passage from Isaiah, the prophet says, “The Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.”

In this barren winter land, I know there are the seeds of justice that are able to burst up at any moment. We do not have to wait until the spring for this new growth. This seed of God’s Kingdom is within each of us and we can share this when we stand up for justice for all!

Let’s go out and proclaim that this is the year of the Lord’s favor and fight for this everlasting justice to reign here on Earth!

Confronting Ableism within Christianity

Last Monday, noted Jeopardy winner and Mormon Ken Jennings tweeted out:

When I saw that tweet shortly, I was disheartened to see such an ableist and ignorant tweet. The tweet reminded me of the meme that George Takei posted on social media last month which mocked a woman in a wheelchair reaching up and grabbing a bottle of alcohol. Like Takei had, after the posting Ken received numerous replies saying that his attempt at humor was in poor taste and calling him an ableist. Sadly, unlike Takei, when challenged, Jennings did not rescind his tweet or make any effort to apologize.

As a Christian with a disability, this brings up a topic that I have struggled with, like many people with disabilities, for a long time: Being desired while embodying an imperfect body. As I grew up, I yearned to be deemed “dateable” by my female peers. People would say I was nice, but I was never referred to as hot or attractive. I felt left out in the whole dating scene for most of my teenage and young adult years. In part, I now see this yearning also as a cry for love that I could not give myself because I had internalized the hate that was directed towards me over the years. All the taunts, jokes, and stares when I spoke affected my own self worth to an extent that I am just now realizing.

Last Spring I reflected on my sexuality as a Christian with a disability when I took a class entitled Sexuality and the Christian Body. When I was a child, I thought that God gave me a speech impediment as a sin. One reason was that I was often reminded how I was different than others. Within the church then and today, Christians often talk about the perfect body of Christ. This “perfect” talk leaves many of us with disabilities feeling left out of the Body of Christ with our deformities of one kind or other. Often, we are treated as charity cases, rather than valuable members of the body of Christ. This talk affects how we are seen outside of Church setting too. More often, we are pitied rather than desired because our bodies are deemed imperfect.

But as I was working through these issues during the Lenten and the Easter seasons, I started to view the body of Christ in a new way. When Christ is resurrected, the apostle Thomas does not believe and states “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’” (John 20:25 NRSV).

When Christ does appear to Thomas, He invites Thomas to touch his wounds. Christ does not appear wound-free, but nevertheless He is perfect. This is the body we are invited into as disciples: A perfect differently-abled body of Christ. We are all invited no matter our abilities into this body.

Like most Christians, Jennings unfortunately refuses to see the beauty of people with disabilities. Denying the beauty of our differently-abled bodies denies the differently-abled body of Christ which we are all a part of.

– Greg