Partially Sighted, Fully Capable: Finding Representation in the Unlikeliest of Places

It is unusual for me to write personal testimonials, but this was important enough for me to make a social media post about it, and I was encouraged to share it here on TMS.

There are many people who need better representation in media - pretty much any group that isn't made up of cisgender, straight, white men - and I will admit to my privilege in most arenas. Still, when a part of you goes unremarked in film or television, especially if it's a huge part of your daily life, it can feel like you're unrepresented in some way.

I didn’t realize I had felt like I needed representation until I found it.

I am often told that I don’t “look” or “act” blind, and in truth, I’m not; I have always been a borderline case – too sighted to be considered properly blind, but too impaired to be unaffected by my visual limitations. I’ve had to adapt to life in a fully-sighted world as a result, and it’s often been a sore spot in my personal history in terms of challenges and the perceptions of others. In some ways, it’s easy to say that my disability is just part of who I am as a person – in others, it’s the most difficult thing for me to talk about, because most of the time, I don’t like to focus on it. I don’t draw attention to it unless I have to.

I was born with cataracts due to a condition called Congenital Rubella Syndrome, which meant that I had a lot of eye surgeries during a time before memory, and while I count myself among the lucky who have CRS that have all their limbs and are not paralyzed or completely deaf-blind, I've still suffered limited vision as a circumstance of my congenital disorder. I don’t have much peripheral vision on either side, and my depth perception is practically nonexistent. But I can read, I don’t need too much adaptive technology, and I’m sighted enough to be extremely independent. In terms of media tropes, I don’t fit in a tidy box, and it’s rare to find too many characters in fiction who straddle this strange margin between the sighted and the blind.

Most characters in media who are visually impaired are completely blind, and are either treated like Daredevil (enhanced precisely because of his blindness) or are ancient mystics whose blindness make them "seers" (yeah, we're not all Tiresias, thanks), or they're just sort of there, with their white cane or service dog, figuring out the Braille code or being some kind of musical prodigy. It's rare to find someone in film or television who is affected by partial sight loss – even rarer to find someone whose characters are partially sighted because they, themselves, are in real life.

A few weeks ago, some of us local TMS writers gathered for a little winter party. We catch up with one another, have some food and drink, and watch a few movies together. Before this gathering, I'd never seen any of Jason Trost's films, but we watched both of The FP movies, and I found a bit of a hero in him. I didn't know it, but I've really needed the kind of representation that he's given me. I certainly didn’t expect to find it in a pair of hilariously absurd B-movies.

Trost is blind in one eye, and has sight in the other, so the trademark eyepatch he wears is a necessity for him. His character in the FP series, JTRO, is a hero who doesn't dwell on his disability, and it doesn't even really come up at all in the films except in a few sly jokes made about it. It isn't the focus of who he is, and it doesn't hinder his quest to be a better person. But it also doesn't help him become a better person, which is equally as important. It's just a part of him, like all of his other physical and mental qualities of strength, stubbornness, and self-doubt. There are none of those weird tropes generally assigned to blind people (or other disabled people) in media associated with JTRO – he doesn’t become unrealistically adept with his other senses, and he isn’t treated like some kind of wise blind sage, either. His eye is just "gone", as he says, and that's all he says about it. There’s no inspiration porn attached to his character; he’s just a guy who has a duty to uphold and people to protect, like any other hero. The fact that Trost struggles with partial sight in his daily life makes his FP character all the more wonderful, for me. I saw a caricatured version of myself, and it filled me with gratitude. I’ve since learned that Trost has found personal difficulties regarding his partial sightedness during his career, just as I have, and has had to deal with the unique adaptations required to live and work in a world that we sometimes are not as well-equipped to deal with. It has felt like solidarity that I hadn’t known was missing, for me.

I love these movies because they're hilarious and ridiculous, but I also love them because they put the spotlight on a character (and an actor/director/writer, etc.) who is like me in a way that doesn't often get spoken to. I'm so glad that I got the chance to see them, and to learn a bit about the man who made them. And maybe it seems a little weird to be so moved by such silly films, but I believe we must take inspiration wherever we can find it, and I've found it in Jason Trost. I’ll certainly have my eye – the good one, at least – on his future projects from now on.

-Dana Culling