A week ago, the usually one of my favorite things, Saturday Night Live: Weekend Update, strayed away from politics for a moment to break the following news and subsequently offend thousands of people:
“McDonalds has announced it will be offering two new versions of the Big Mac – one for each type of diabetes”
I’m not going to lie, I laughed. I even saw a silver lining that he, at the very least, had the decency to mention both types of diabetes. Yes, I know that’s sad. But that’s a win in my book!
However, after talking with some of you, and brushing the joke off as no big deal, I thought about if from the perspectives of people who aren’t in my shoes.
My experience is this:
- I’m 28 and a half years old but have had diabetes for 12 of them.
- I was diagnosed as I was practically walking into adulthood at age 17
- I was not diagnosed because I was in DKA. I was peeing a lot and got lucky that my mom has a killer spidey sense, and had a pediatrician that totally understood her concerns
- Because of my age, I was never terribly dependent on my parents to take care of me, forcing them to staying up all night managing my numbers or calling school nurses to check-in every few hours
- My family’s learning curve was fast-ish because we’ve all had our go with chronic illness to some degree
- My body was done growing so my hormones were easy on me
- I was responsible enough to understand that I couldn’t just ignore this thing forever
- My family (and this is a big one) was financially stable enough for me to get good supplies and doctors in a timely manner without too many meltdowns.
- I now live in NYC where there are doctors, bodegas, resources, and diabetics literally everywhere
- I have a job with private health insurance
- I have friends with diabetes and have created this community and therefore am already very comfortable talking about and the idea of living with diabetes
- I tend not to get offended by diabetes jokes, even when they’re way, way, way, way off the mark. But that’s because I’ve been incredibly fortunate and never had to go through a lot of the really scary stuff that can happen in the beginning if you’re very young with type 1 diabetes.
So for the parents who spend a large portion of their income on their child’s uninsured insulin pump supplies because their insurance company does not deem it a “medical necessity”: diabetes is not funny
For the first grader who gets teased in school because she has to go to the nurse’s office during lunch and wonders why she’s different from other kids: diabetes is not funny
For the dad on a business trip across the country who gets an urgent low glucose alarm on his Dexcom Share app in the middle of a meeting and doesn’t know if his son is safely bouncing on the trampoline, or having a seizure somewhere: diabetes is not funny
For the family living below the poverty line with a child who just came out of DKA and they’re trying to figure out how to do this for one week, let alone forever: diabetes is not funny
For the woman who wants to start a family but is too afraid to eat because of the dangers of wonky blood sugars during pregnancy: diabetes is not funny
Of course it would be wildly dramatic and unfair of me to portray diabetes as this scary, ominous, intense, and dangerous monster that haunts every single one of us all of the time. But when diabetes isn’t funny to someone… it’s really really really not fucking funny.
Almost my entire platform here at The Sugars is to promote self-love and empowerment. And to do so, I use a lot of humor in my tone to provide a sense of levity in an otherwise bleak, sterilized, medicinal, blasé space. But that’s absolutely as far as diabetes jokes, or any joke, for that matter, should go. Once someone has pushed past the point of “lightening the mood” and moved into “bullying, belittling, intimidating, or wrongly associating” territory, we all need to make sure to pull the plug on that person’s punchline.
We are currently living in a world where people are being straight up dicks to one another. No one is listening. No one is seeing that there are 2 sides to every coin. People are being cruel, cold, and unwilling to budge on their points of view. It’s a frightening time to say the least. A lot of what we know about our diabetes care could change in the near future with changes to our country’s healthcare system, and that’s putting a lot of people on edge. So, Colin, when you mentioned that we type 1’s now get our own hamburger at McDonalds, aside from wishing I literally got my own burger at Micky D’s, your joke was really dumb. We all have bigger fish to fry right now, and to be subtly embarrassed on national television really…just.. wasn’t helpful, dude. I’m sure you’re a perfectly nice guy, and you never meant to be malicious, but if you thought you could slip a fast one by an audience that wasn’t listening, you thought very, very wrong.
And, to be fair to Colin, we should take our angry mob mentality away from him for a minute and realize that this whole debacle really has very little to do about one joke. It’s about the fact that type 1 diabetics are still completely misrepresented, treated, and understood in society as a whole. I don’t really give a hoot about how people “perceive me”. If you want to believe that I got diabetes because I eat too many pieces of candy, that’s your prerogative. What I do I care about, is preventing “alternative facts” from dangerously spreading around to other people and leading to misdiagnosis or treatment. What we should all care about doctors knowing the symptoms of type 1, and teachers understanding how to care for an empower their young t1d students to thrive in the classroom despite their special needs. What I do care about respecting and acknowledging (ok, fine, BOWING DOWN TO) the unbelievably strong parents who work their asses off and have sacrificed so much of their own sanity to keep their diabetic kiddos safe.
So, when I realized that I was laughing at the joke, and telling people on the Internet to calm down, not get so easily offended, and we all need a laugh about diabetes now and again or we’d all turn to stone, I had to remind myself the same exact thing I told myself just hours before the episode aired on SNL when I was walking in the Women’s March here in NYC:
Libby, this isn’t about you and your comfort level.
It’s about providing love, light, and a voice for others who are hurting.
(It’s also about fighting for what’s right, speaking up when we’re feeling marginalized and bullied, and educating people who fundamentally the wrong idea about who we are and what we’re about but that whole argument is for a different day, my friends)
So, fellow diabuddies/diaparents (because really, this post is for you guys), repeat after me:
“I (Or my kiddo) have (has) diabetes and that’s not funny. I (We) did not do something to deserve a disease that hasn’t taken so much as a 5 minute break from my (child’s) body or mind since the day I (my lil’ baby) was diagnosed. Because SNL deems it appropriate to tease me (my kid) and perpetuate unfair stigmas about type 1 diabetes does not make me any weaker, inferior, or lesser than anybody else. Because 1.25 million of us can be incorrectly perceived as obese or lazy at the mention of our diabetes, is even more fuel to show the world how incredible I (my kid) am (is). I (We) am (are) tough. I (We) am (are) strong. I (my kid) have (has) a badass pain tolerance. I (We) am (are) not broken or defective, I’m (we’re) super human. From this day forward, every time someone tries to bring me or all the dope a$$ people I know with diabetes down with completely foolish jokes, I am going to make a bigger public effort to educate, and a louder public effort to advocate for the people who get hurt by this comedic laziness the most. I have an opportunity to good. I have the chance to make a difference. I’m not going to let the media dictate how the world sees me. I am (We are) #MeFirst, diabetes second, and let it be known that if McDonald’s really did have a burger specifically designed for people with type 1, you bet your ass I’d be the first in line to order it, shove it in my face, and love every minute of it.”
Don’t be mad at Colin, be mad that some people still think type 1 diabetes is your fault. And don’t be discouraged that others before you haven’t positioned diabetes in a more positive light. Feel empowered that you have the potential to make a huge difference for yourself, and many others in this world. I’m almost inclined to thank Colin, for gently reminding us all to stay focused on the good fight, and make sure our voices grow a little bit louder.
And a final note because I feel morally obligated to remind everyone (and myself, because I can get v heated v quickly)…When you do go out out there and advocate for diabetes, remember: don’t be mean. Don’t be yell-y or polarizing. It’s no one’s fault for being uninformed about diabetes. Hell, if everyone on this earth was expected to be well-read or versed in every chronic illness out there, we’d all be very prestigious doctors. Use your voice wisely and always be kind.