“His parents left him in a dumpster when he was a baby.” Those shocking words leap out at you, three lines in to actor Ken Harrower’s short biography on a press release. How can you read those words without your guts being wrenched out? And how do you even begin to live those words? If you are Harrower, you turn anger into care, even joy.
Harrower is the star of a beautiful Canadian short film called Hole written and directed by Martin Edralin, and I interviewed the out gay actor as part of Daily Xtra’s coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival prior to the film’s sold-out North American premiere on Sept 7.
Harrower’s moving performance offers a frank, unsentimental depiction of the extreme lengths a severely disabled man will go to have sex. Hole is an important, poignant film — a rarity in a media environment that pays scant attention to people with disabilities, let alone sexually active people with disabilities.
Harrower has arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (AMC), a condition resulting in severely contracted joints. He’s confined to a wheelchair and his speech can be laboured. His story is as terrifying as it is inspiring. Born in northern Manitoba, Harrower grew up in a series of foster homes, some of them abusive. At 18, legal adulthood in the province, he was faced with a permanent move into a group home or institution; he was not given the option of living on his own. He ran away to Ontario and lived on the streets until he was able to secure his own place. Now, at 53, he’s a passionate advocate for the rights of people with disabilities.
And he’s got charisma to spare.
“As a teenager, I had a choice: be angry, be bitter and take it out on everybody else,” he says, “or be as positive as I can be in what I have. After I saw a lot of disabled students either die or becoming addicts, angry and bitter, I made a conscious choice: I’m not going to be that way, I don’t want to be that way.
“But it wasn’t easy. Hell no.”
In our interview, Harrower is forthright about everything from looking for love and hiring hustlers to facing down addiction. “My life is an open book,” he says.
Harrower recently graduated from the Toronto Film School and is now pursuing his childhood dream of being an actor.
Filmmaker Edralin says that a chance meeting with Harrower inspired him to get back into making films, to write and direct films that mattered. Perhaps this chance meeting with Harrower will inspire you, too.
Hole is screening at TIFF, which runs until Sept 14.