HomeHealthOpEd: Asian Am with Tourette tired of being punch line

OpEd: Asian Am with Tourette tired of being punch line

By Peter Zhao

“No Ted it’s not just the cursing”

I was a 12-year-old skinny Chinese kid who has only been learning English for 2 years. During my second year in America I gave a much taller and bigger bully a black eye the size of a Black Hole.

Later at the Principal’s office we were told to write our statements. The other kid was Latin and he spoke English and Spanish. We were both sitting at the same desk on each end face to face. I’m looking at him suffering from the throbbing black eye and trying hard to squeeze out enough words to make up his one paragraph statement. 

My mother tongue is Mandarin and at the time I was able to read and write simplified Chinese. I remember myself writing with ease. I recall my middle school English teacher encouraged his students in creative writing. At the time I had a passion to write short stories.

Last weekend I read a Twitter post from Senator Ted Cruz of Texas who was caught in a Twitter spat with popular comedian Seth Rogan. Apparently this all started from a post about Disney movies. Ted Cruz made a comment about a childhood movie which caught the comedian’s attention and inspired a joke. From this joke, Ted and Seth got into a heated Twitter exchange which resulted in Ted Cruz writing the following statement:

“They’re all dead. So I think we’re good. And Walt Disney was a Republican.

“Even though you behave online like a Marxist with Tourette’s (screaming “F U! F U!” is really, really clever), your movies are typically pretty funny. I’m sure you hate that I enjoy them”.

When I read this twitter post from Senator Ted Cruz I immediately time traveled back to that very afternoon in 1992 after the school fight. I saw my 12-year-old self sitting on the same desk shared with my bully writing our statements to document the school fight we were involved in. My bully squeezed out a short paragraph and put great emphasis on how I started throwing kicks and punches first and how I gave him a black eye. 

In my nearly 2 pages essay I introduced myself, described where I am from, talked about what Tourette’s syndrome really is, and how I have endured the bullying until I really can’t take it anymore. I mentioned how my mother was instrumental in the encouragement of my defensive action by using my own fists to defend myself when the adults failed to step in to end her son’s torment.

When my mother showed up in school and preached to the principal about how her son was forced to defend himself regardless of who threw the first punch because the adults in the room failed to intervene when they have clearly witnessed the daily tormenting of her son.

The daily abuse I was subjected to wasn’t because of the color of my skin, or the language I spoke, but it was because of the seizure likes body jerks, the unusually fast eye blinks, the neck twists and shoulder jerks, the barks, and many many other symptoms of the neurological condition called Tourette’s syndrome. I went to school in Bayside Queens in the early 1990s. Kids were cruel in junior high and my condition was taunted and mocked daily by kids of all colors, race and backgrounds. 
I was the freak of the school.

I was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome with co-occurring symptoms Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders and Obsessive Compulsive disorder at age 12. I was put on medication for 8 years straight. The anti-psychotic medicine I took meant to suppress my symptoms left me with permanent side effects such as manic episodes and mood disorders. And throughout the medicating timeframe I have experienced paranoia and hallucination.

At one point I wanted to end my own life.

My Tourette’s syndrome experience evolved in stages. 
At one stage of my tourette’s syndrome experience I have had the “signature” tourette’s symptoms called Coprolalia which is the behavior involving repetitive usage of profane and obscene language. Because the uncontrollable behavior of outbursting expletives seem to be the most shocking of all Tourette’s symptoms, this type of Tourette’s behavior became the stigmatic Tourette’s stereotype. I have struggled hard to control my own outbursts and it took me more than a decade to use behavior modification methods to train my brain to turn the impulse of the outbursting profanity into a different type of action like a knee jerk or make a noise.

According to Ted Cruz’s biography online, he graduated from Princeton as well as Harvard Law. Whether you like him or not, Ted Cruz could be an inspiring figure for a child out there who aspires to become a future leader. Unfortunately Ted is sending the wrong message to the future leaders of America. Despite his high position of power and privilege, not only did he choose to participate in a social media shouting match with a celebrity critic but out of all the words in the English Language he just had to pick “Tourette,” a term associated with a disability and use this term to politicize his own political opinion.

There is nothing political about the word Tourette. 
Ted Cruz intentionally picked that word because, despite the first recorded Tourette’s Syndrome case was back in 1825, almost 200 years later Tourette is still a mysterious taboo and the sheer mentioning of the term brings up imagery of some uncivilized wild crazy person who uncontrollably outbursts profanity.

Tourette’s syndrome as a condition has no limits in gender, race, cultural or political boundaries. According to 2020 data, 1 to 10 in every 1000 children could have such an occurrence. 

As an Asian American living in a nation that has yet brought equality to everyone, representation matters. 

As a person living in America managing a tourette’s lifestyle, representation matters too. As an elected official, what Senator Ted Cruz should engage in the realm of Tourette’s syndrome as well as other disabilities is to work on legislation to improve research and help make healthcare easy and affordable for everyone.

The very ignorance of Senator Ted Cruz’s decision to misuse and politicize tourette made me realize the tourette’s advocacy I’ve undertake since 8th grade is more than just worthwhile but a necessary component in the fight against the negative stigma and stereotypes. The world needs to see what tourette’s is and what tourette is not.

Tourette’s syndrome is more than just someone repeatedly outbursting profanity. Tourette’s syndrome brings about a juxtaposition of movements sounds and thoughts. There are physical symptoms and vocal symptoms of Tourette one can be easily detected using our senses, but there are also a lot more Tourette’s symptoms hiding underneath in the form of mental health.

I am an Asian American who fights back racist stereotypes to ensure Asians in America are treated equally and fairly.

I am a person with Tourette’s syndrome who will continue to spread Tourette’s awareness because there is only so much that meets the eyes. 
If you are struggling with tourettes and you care about what other people think of you, my advice to you is the same I have practiced since 8th grade.
Take little steps and put yourself out there in front of your class or in front of your colleagues. Be genuine and sincere to talk about who you are and what is Tourette’s syndrome. You want to feel empowered to tell the world who you are rather than letting the world judge who you are not.


  1. Bravo to this intelligent and tremendously courageous response to your Tourettes. Keep on keeping on in your mission to humanize all persons in the eyes of others so that any of us are seen and gotten beyond the externals. Hip hip hooray!

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