For actor Daniel Monks, creating art has proven to be a healing process in navigating being both gay and living with a disability.
Daniel Monks had always dreamt of being an actor. You could say it was a birthright. His first gig came when his mother, a NIDA trained actor, staged a one-woman show while she was 7-month’s pregnant with him.
“I played the in-utero baby,” said Daniel.
“So I’ve been on the stage since before I was born. It’s all I ever loved and all I ever wanted to do.”
His dreams of acting were put on hold when at age 11 a large tumour was discovered in his spinal cord, and complications from the initial biopsy ultimately left him hemiplegic.
“At that time I thought there was no way I could be an actor with a disability, because I didn’t see disabled actors who had sustainable careers.”
It didn’t help that around this time, Daniel was also discovering his sexuality.
“Suddenly I was thrust into these two minorities that society and media say make me lesser than my abled straight counterparts and that was really hard. It made me feel really isolated.”
During this period of isolation, Daniel found comfort in the cinema, queer cinema in particular.
“It was very much queer cinema that made me feel so much less alone in my experience as a gay person. I also realised what being gay meant or what it could mean and what my life could look like in a way that wasn’t reflected in mainstream media.”
It was the act of seeing film made by queer artists, with queer people in queer roles that Daniel started to question why there weren’t more accurate representations of disabled people on screen.
“It reinforced harmful narratives that to have a disability is the most tragic thing that an abled person could envision. That it’s a tragic life and something that must be overcome, as opposed to my experience - my disability is one of the richest most beautiful parts of my life.”
“I don’t have to overcome my disability to live. I have to overcome the physical and attitudinal barriers that society puts in my way to be able to live my life to the fullest.”
“These are the stories that needed to be told.”
It was this desire for accurate portrayals of his lived experience that spurred Daniel to premiere his first feature-length film, Pulse, in 2017. Written and starring Daniel, Pulse follows gay disabled teenager Olly, who jumps at the chance to avoid the degenerative disease ravaging his body by having his mind transferred into the body of an attractive young woman.
“Life can be hard, but art can give meaning to the pain, and it also helps turn it into something beautiful and creative and constructive as opposed to destructive.”
With a blossoming career on stage and screen taking off and more attention within the arts turning to telling more accurate stories of disabled people, Daniel feels that there are some lessons the LGBTQI+ community could learn.
“I feel like the more representation we have within this community and the more disabled queer people are seen, the more we are normalised and that ableism can be broken down and the community can be as inclusive as I feel it wants to be.”
For Daniel, Mardi Gras provides an important platform for this visibility.
“It is so important for people with a disability to be seen in Mardi Gras or in pride events and having that kind of visibility.”
Daniel sees a lot of hope for more inclusivity in the future, especially within the new generation of queer people.
“During COVID times TikTok really saved me from COVID depression. It was deeply bolstering and hopeful to see so many young people, Gen Z, who are just so incredibly inclusive, progressive and accepting. That is the norm for them.”
“To see the next generation be so inclusive and progressive not only with disability but also with gender diversity, neurodiversity and body positivity, gives me hope for what the future of our community might be.”
“This year’s Mardi Gras theme is RISE.
I rise for art. For me, art gives meaning to life."