**This contains NO spoilers about the show, so don’t worry! Totally safe to read!**
Dear people in the right-side in and the upside down,
I have been enchanted by the Netflix show Stranger Things. I mean, how could I not be? It has clever children, weird sci-fi stuff, and takes place in the 1980’s. It was practically made for me.
There are many main characters in the show, but by far my favorite is the little dude you see above. In the show his name is Dustin; in real life, his name is Gaten Matarazzo. He is a wonderful actor, and his character is amazing for an infinite amount of reasons. However, the most unique thing about my new favorite tiny human is the fact that not just Dustin, but Gaten himself has Cleidocranial Dysplasia.The condition has a plethora of symptoms and information regarding it, so I won’t write a summary for fear I wouldn’t do it justice. But you can read about it here.
For Gaten, one of the symptoms of his condition is that he is missing his front teeth, because those who have Cleidocranial Dysplasia often will have the growth of their permanent teeth delayed. This has resulted in his charming, unique smile and his speech impediment; two things we rarely see on television.
One of my many illnesses is called a facial maloclussion (which incidentally can often be a symptom of Cleidocranial Dysplasia as well). My maloclussion is the result of a genetic defect which caused my face and jaw to be deformed. As I have grown, my face has become more deformed and elongated, my teeth have grown in crooked, and I have a severe underbite which causes me to have a speech impediment.
Several times in the show, Dustin is teased for his lack of teeth and his speech impediment, and every time he is bullied, my mind cannot help but to flash back to my childhood days, when I was teased relentlessly by strangers, friends, my siblings, and even grown adults, including dentists, for the way I look and speak. Children would ask me, “what’s wrong with your face?” or “why do you talk weird?” and until I was 20, I didn’t even have an answer. It wasn’t until my early adult years that I found out that I wasn’t just a freak, but had a genetic defect, that there were others in the world like me, and that there was a name for it besides “deformity.”
When I was 21, I went to see to a dentist who I was referred to by another doctor of mine. The dentist called over everyone working in his office, and they all crowded around me as if I was a creature on display. “Are you self conscious about how you look?” he bluntly asked me. Before I could answer, he smiled and said, “well of course you are, I mean, look at you,” then continued on to tell me that he didn’t have the time to “deal with me,” as my case was too severe. I returned to my car, called my best friend, and cried.
Flashback even further to when I was 7. I was forced into a theater program at my elementary school. I absolutely hated it; I would have much rather been at home with my grandmother, watching her cook as I did my homework. As time went on, though, I began to find a passion in performing. I became so passionate, in fact, that I decided early on I wanted to be an actress, and was on stage as much as I had the opportunity. When I was 18, I had a collection of terrible social experiences within the theater community at my college that made me question whether acting was really my calling. Around the same time, my health began to rapidly decline, and I was becoming more weak, less able to do what I normally could, and my pain was increasing all over my body.
I was still trying to fight my way through it all, but I ended up having to stop going to college altogether because I became too sick. Since my mother still wanted to have me do something with my life, I found an adult acting class to go to, just for the sake of not feeling entirely useless. One night after performing a monologue for the class, the teacher took a blow to me that finally destroyed the last little bit of passion I retained. She told me, “You’re really funny; but you’ll never get hired, because you can’t speak clearly, and no one can understand what you’re saying.” And just like the play Macbeth, everything inside me died. (If that was a spoiler for you, you should probably just read more). This was not the first time I was told something like this, but it was the harshest, and the last.
Now back to the present with Gaten/Dustin. After all I have been through with my speech impediment and facial maloclussion, especially in the world of theater and acting, seeing this little boy on my television with his lack of teeth and speech impediment has made my heart soar. Within the first half of the show, my immediate thought was, “I wonder if he really has Clediocranial Dysplasia?” Thanks to the Magic Google Machine, I found out that he really does, and I was nearly brought to tears.
I truly hope Gaten is aware of how he is impacting society just by being himself. I found an article that talked about how he’s inspiring other kids who are like him, but the reality is that he is not just inspiring children. I am supposedly an adulty adult and he inspires me, too. Seeing him in what has instantly become a popular show makes me feel not only proud but also represented, and while this subject is for another post entirely, I cannot stress enough how incredibly important and valuable representation of all people in the media is. IT IS SO FUCKING IMPORTANT, YOU GUYS.
Gaten has taken his medical condition, which can be seen as a massive hinderance to his life, and has made it into a tremendous asset. While his character on the show is bullied now and then for his impediment, the most beautiful thing about the show is that his missing teeth and speech impediment are not his character’s defining feature. The character isn’t just the kid who talks funny. Dustin is compassionate, hilarious, brilliant and brave. He is so much more than his medical condition, and that is exactly the kind of message that people like us need to receive from the media; we are still whole people. Even people like me who are riddled with a collection of illnesses that make most days a treacherous war are still more than just sick. I wish I could scream this from the goddamn mountaintops, but I live in Missouri where mountains aren’t really a thing, and since I have a facial maloclussion the right side of my jaw would most likely dislocate…again. For now, I suppose bold font will do the trick.
I am so thankful to the writers and creators of the show for composing Gaten’s character the way they have; they gave him full personality and life, just as they did with all the other characters, and have not allowed any part of him to be left empty simply because he is obviously different than the rest.
There are a million reasons to watch this show. It’s thoughtful and intiguing and creative, and Gaten is really just the cherry atop the freakishly delicious caked that is Stranger Things. It also helps that at one point they use my name for *bleep*, to which I responded by totally freaking the fuck and then screaming, “They used my name! Eleanores rule! Yes!” While my boyfriend looked at me as if I was a little bit insane.
Well, maybe I am. But as Dustin says, you can’t keep this curiosity door shut!
This indecision’s buggin’ me (Indecisión me molesta)
If you don’t want me, set me free (Si no me quieres, librame)
Exactly whom I’m supposed to be (Dime! ¿Qué tengo ser?)
Don’t you know which clothes even fit me? (¿Sabes que ropa me quedar?)
Come on and let me know (Pero tienes que decir)
Should I cool it or should I blow? (¿Me debo ir o quedarme?)