Within the shallow world of online dating, being a person with a disability presents a different range of difficulties.
When the film Me Before You was released, a series of negative reviews and criticisms from the disabled community started flooding the Internet. The film, starring Emilia Clarke and Sam Caflin, portrays the relationship between Will (Sam Caflin) and his caretaker after a car accident left him paralyzed. Many of the reviews focus on the end of the film and Will's decision to end a life he considers not worth living. The writer Ryan O'Connell, who grew up with cerebral palsy, wrote that Me Before You reminded him that often, when able-bodied people acknowledge the disabled, it’s tinged with pity for their condition.
An exciting example that, luckily, goes in the opposite direction is Johnny McKnight's play, Wendy Hoose. The play presents a hilarious point of view about online dating, modern romance, and sexuality. It’s a story that defies our expectations and urges us to move beyond appearances when it's time to meet somebody new, to set aside our preconceived ideas, and appreciate what comes next.
The main characters, Jake and Laura, meet at her place for a night of casual sex after matching on a dating app. Laura prepares the whole encounter with a clear head about what she wants and how to get it. However, she has decided to hide a particular detail about herself with her partner for the night: she has no legs. With disability and online dating as the central themes, Wendy Hoose is the kind of rare comedy that will make you think about difficult subjects, such as class and parenthood, without feeling like a lecture. And more importantly, it includes a fun and relatable character portrayed by a disabled actress.
We rarely get to see disabled characters on TV and film, and when we do, they're often portrayed by able-bodied actors. The importance of these issues in the entertainment industry goes beyond the presence or absence of disabled characters. As we grow up watching TV shows and movies, we build our identity and our sense of self. So, imagine how it feels to be absent in the stories we enjoyed in our childhood? Or what does it mean to finally see yourself on the screen, only to find you're just a punchline?
Amy Conachan, the lead of Wendy Hoose, adds into the play her own experience of dating as a disabled person. She was involved in the development of the script, which probably explains the depth of her character: a disabled woman who’s unafraid to express her sexuality within a society that shames any woman who chooses to do so. The actress describes Laura as a woman in control of her desires. As we all know, female sexuality is often seen as more passive, or even less frequent, than that of men, as well as something that needs to be hidden and repressed. If female sexuality is basically invisible, that of a disabled woman is even more unrepresented. That's why a play like Wendy Hoose feels revolutionary. Within the shallow world of online dating, being a person with a disability presents a different range of difficulties, especially being open about their physical condition.
We're taught to hide important sides of ourselves online. It's easy to photoshop our pictures and curate the photos we like and those we don't, what is acceptable and what isn't. We all do it, but this dilemma of showing ourselves as we are or trying to hide that during the first dates can become even more difficult for the disabled community. However, works like Wendy Hoose invite us to analyze our reasons to do these things.
When internalized shame leads us to hide or pretend in front of the people, what do we expect to get? What connections are we trying to build through a convenient facade? A character like Laura can inspire us to be ourselves and to accept others when they decide to show us who they are. The more we experience fictional worlds in which characters who look like us are comfortable in their skin, the more we'll give ourselves permission to do the same. Good stories about and by people with disabilities are rare, which makes Wendy Hoose a treasure. Hopefully, its success will incite the production of more stories that need exposure to expand our ideas about lives that are worth living.
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