As February and Turner Syndrome awareness month comes to a close, some old debates in the Turner Syndrome community rear their ugly heads. Every now and then, someone brings up the subject of how women with Turner Syndrome are portrayed in popular culture. Believe it or not, Turner Syndrome is portrayed in popular culture with varying degrees with accuracy. Some stereotypes do more harm than good.
One of my old favorite TV shows, Law and Order: SVU, once aired an episode named Clock with a protagonist, 17 year-old Janey Speer, with Turner Syndrome. Originally Stabler and Benson believe that Janey is the victim, but soon it becomes much more complicated than that. Inaccuracies relating to Turner Syndrome aside, the way in which Janey’s boyfriend is treated in the episode is particularly troubling to me. Essentially he is treated as a pedophile. Connor’s motives for being with Janey and going along with her plans – and they are certainly her plans – are continually questioned due to the fact that Janey looks so much younger than she actually is. Janey’s emotional and intellectual maturity is never mentioned.
The episode is also troubling because nothing is mentioned about hormone replacement therapy and suggests that most women with Turner Syndrome have a short window in which to become pregnant. I understand that this piece of information drives the plot; however, I worry that it gives younger girls with Turner Syndrome false hope. While this may be true for an extremely small percentage of women with Turner Syndrome (less than 5%), it certainly isn’t the norm. This fact was never mentioned in the episode.
There is one particular scene in Clock that I love though. When Janey is the hospital and her entire plot to become pregnant comes to light, someone mentions that women and girls with Turner Syndrome are extremely stubborn. While it is fair to mention that I would have been extremely stubborn anyway given family history, I love the idea that it is a trait of women and girls with Turner Syndrome. Why wouldn’t we be? We have to fight that much harder to get what we want out of life – and I see nothing wrong with that.
Another well-known portrayal of Turner Syndrome in popular culture, Gwen in The Condition by Jennifer Haigh, is much more realistic in my opinion. There is a scene in the beginning of the novel where Gwen is compared to her slightly older female cousin. That scene sticks with me because it is precisely what I did at that age. While the way in which Gwen’s family deals with the fact that she has Turner Syndrome is extreme and appears false to me, I love Gwen’s reaction to it all. She comes across as the most levelheaded person in her family. Ultimately, she realizes what she is missing in her life and pursues it with all that she has. Her decision to risk it all for love by uprooting her life and starting over in the Caribbean is one of the most personally satisfying endings to a novel that I have ever read. It is something I would consider if I were in Gwen’s situation. I couldn’t help but cheer for her sheer force of will to be happy.
Everyone seems to have a different opinion about Clock and The Condition. I admit that both have their issues, but it still amazes me that Turner Syndrome is portrayed in popular culture at all. What impresses me is that girls and women with Turner Syndrome are largely shown to be strong willed and determined to let nothing stop them from achieving anything. It may come across as naïve or overly optimistic, but I would rather be determined than resigned. Resignation never helped anyone.