Or everyone in this is an ableist asshat.
[Image description: A person in a suit with their body bent to literally stick their head up their ass.]
[Trigger warning: I could be this on the entire series really as Me Before You is a hot ableist mess but in particular I will talk about suicide in this installment. Tread carefully.]
In light of what happened in Orlando, I’ve decided in this installment I will address why Me Before You is a disingenuous portrayal of disability in terms of representation (also). I believe representation is the greatest way to fight bigotry. Despite all the strides forward we’ve made there is still a deep-rooted fear of homosexuality in my country and many countries. We need more visibility if we are to ever overcome.
And that includes portraying disabled queer people and disabled people of color who are queer or not.
I personally identify as bisexual. It’s not something I speak of very often, and perhaps because when I was growing up there was a deep biphobia in the homosexual and heterosexual communities. Nevertheless it’s shaped my sexuality and art (there’s a reason f/f relationships are prevalent in my work). You rarely see someone like me even able in media, and never as a disabled person in mainstream media.
People of color are also notoriously left behind even in mainstream disabled activism. The one portrayal of a disabled person of color I have ever seen was also an example of “cripping up” (when an able person plays a disabled person). It must be noted the Orlando shooter targeted Pulse on their well-known Latinx night.
I could have brought up this point at any time in my critique but as this chapter is when we first meet Will’s mother and see how wealthy they are, it seems appropriate. Rich, white males are the standard disability portrayal. Stephen Hawking is likely the first person people think of when they think “disabled person”. This leads to the idea all disabled people are in such a privileged position. Given the hatred that we are leeches many able bigots seem to think the purse strings just come loose when a person is disabled.
This is ludicrous.
People seem to be surprised I have to set up my own wheelchair when I go anywhere. Or that I go out alone to run errands at all. That I don’t have an aide to help me. Of course a personal aide is far too expensive for me and my spouse to afford, and it would be an intractable fight with the insurance to get one, especially as I am undiagnosed.
And this is because of portrayals of wealthy white disabled people who have every option and as much help as can be gotten.
This isn’t the reality however of most disabled people. Most disabled people live in or near poverty level because of the reluctance of able people to hire them. Or they cannot work at all due to their condition and must rely on government aide. Many are denied help because most insurance companies are extremely reluctant to pay for aides and expensive equipment.
People of color experience discrimination in trying to be diagnosed and may end up languishing for years. Transpeople can have their healthcare confounded by a decision to transition or not, or by doctors who don’t understand trans healthcare. Queer people may experience discrimination for their sexuality or by doctors not understanding their needs because they are non-binary.
Me Before You is just another sanitized portrayal of disability by an able person who didn’t bother to make any inroads into our community. Especially as Me Before You is set in Britain yet never addresses all the horrid machinations of the DWP. There will be no mention of all the suicides associated with the “Fit to Work” program.
Mostly because Will has no disabled friends, and is isolated from the disabled community. A community that would have accepted him and he could have experienced a culture outside the ableist one he finds himself in and drives him to suicide. It is terrible for a disabled person to be separated from people who understand what he’s going through.
Instead Me Before You focuses on “oh no bum wiping!”
“Your mother is a saint,” Dad said. Which I took to mean that she wiped his bum without running screaming from the house.
[Image description: Gif of person clapping in a movie theater with an intense expression. The image is in black and white.]
She’s talking about her own grandfather, by the way.
This all said, let’s get into our review.
The chapter starts off with Lou describing the inferiority she feels compared to her more academically inclined older sister Katrina or “Treena”. She also describes her lack of direction in life. She has no want for a professional career and has figured she will simply marry her boyfriend Patrick at some distant time.
This is all decent character building yet I am not sure I can forgive it when I know it’s building to Will teaching Lou to “live”. Because after all you can be disabled one day and then your life would be over!
[Image description: Gif of Lucille Bluth of Arrested Development rolling her eyes.]
Lou is getting ready for her interview. For cheap laughs she wear her mother’s old suit from the late eighties. Though after all:
“Because wearing pinstripes will be vital if I’m spoon feeding a geriatric.”
[Image description: Captain Picard of Star Trek covering his face with his palm.]
I could almost just quote all these ableist lines and just let them stand for themselves with no commentary. Again, why isn’t the plot of this book about Lou learning to not be such an ableist asshat?!
Again Lou mentions she has been reassured by her job officer that there is a male nurse to handle all of Will’s “intimate needs” (which she shudders about). This almost makes it sound like he has a live-in gigolo which would have been a far more interesting plot. Nevertheless we all know disabled people don’t have sex. (Speaking as a disabled person who got plowed last night.)
When Lou gets to the home of the Traynors (Will’s family) she passes a woman dressed in scrubs. Suggesting that far more competent people have applied. Lou proceeds to give a disastrous interview worthy of any Adam Sandler comedy (that is not a compliment) including a torn skirt that exposes her thigh. She also admits she has no idea about caregiving and when asked what she knows about quadriplegia she responds:
“When…you’re stuck in a wheelchair?”
[Image description: Gif of people applauding in an audience, including some standing up as they clap.]
And when Mrs. Traynor says her son Will can be difficult Lou responds with:
“Believe me after working at a chicken processing plant working in Guantanamo Bay for six months looks attractive.”
[Image description: Jack Nicholson in The Shining making a confused expression that ends in a disturbing smile.]
I am not sure if that was supposed to be funny or if Moyes was just really out to show how unqualified Lou is as she chuckles to herself about the peril of informed readers of her work.
Somehow, of course because this is apparently a reality where basic logic doesn’t apply, she gets the job. Specifically because:
“…What we want is somebody robust…and upbeat.”
[Image description: Poor Captain Picard again still covering his face with his palm.]
I’m sorry I used that again but…seriously a nurse or an experienced caregiver is incapable of being “robust and upbeat”? Moyes, have you ever interacted with health care workers? Yes some get burned out and bitter. But many are genuinely compassionate people are health care workers and an upbeat attitude is a great trait to have in the healthcare field.
I had a nurse sit and talk with me for an hour about Multiple Sclerosis because she also has MS. She reassured me and told me about the great resource of the MS foundation. Whenever she sees me at the office she always comes over to say hello. This is the kind of person you would want for a caregiver. Not some awkward, immature twenty-something who is obsessed with bum wiping. You can’t make me believe all the healthcare workers you interviewed were dour sourpusses.
But, yes, somehow Lou gets the job despite her extreme lack of qualification to be a caregiver not just in skill but in personality. Would it have been so hard for her to have been a caregiver Moyes so this just be a little bit more believable? But then again she may have been aware then it’s frowned upon for caregivers to date their charges if she came from an actual medical background. This way she can be totally unprofessional!
[Image description: Person tearing their hair our while screaming.]
“Well let’s just say his mental welfare is as important to us as his physical welfare.”
NO IT’S NOT.
Holy shit, no it’s not! If you cared about his mental welfare he would be in therapy. You are an ableist asshat too Mrs. Traynor if you think the way to console your isolated son is to throw this inexperienced and immature caregiver at him. What is so bad about getting him a psychologist and even a psychiatrist? You are obviously loaded!
Why can’t you engage him in the local disabled community? Why don’t you let him meet other disabled people so he can see life “stuck” in a wheelchair is actually freeing? So he can see many disabled people love their wheelchairs and the freedom it gives them?
Prior to my wheelchair I was greatly restricted in what I could do. I couldn’t even go to the library prior to my wheelchair because there are no carts and I can’t stand or walk for long. Now however I can browse as long as I want and get as many books as I want with no restrictions. I can go to doctor’s appointments by myself.
My wheelchair is the best thing that’s ever happened to me regarding my disability.
What? Would you be even more ashamed of your son if he was in therapy? He’s had a huge life change! And it’s hard to adjust. You go from being able to do anything to being restricted at every turn because the disabled are an afterthought in our society.
You killed your own son Mrs. Traynor. You killed him by not getting him the help he actually needed. Because of a ridiculous stigma.
[Image description: Gif of three older female-presenting persons, two are standing and speaking to another while the third is seated. One is making aggravated gestures as they speak. The gif is subtitled: “That’s not how this works! That’s not how any of this works!”]
The rest of the chapter is a family dinner with Patrick where there’s an apparent contest going on to see who can be the most ableist.
And my apologies, I realize now that the conversation between Lou’s father and Patrick about a disabled man being no sexual threat is in this chapter, not Chapter One. One of my symptoms is difficulty in cognitive processing so I do easily get mixed up about the order of things. It’s going to probably happen again, so apologies in advance.
Nevertheless the ableism I already commented on still stands.
Lou’s family is just horrid, honestly. There’s her sister making fun of the device Stephen Hawking uses to speak. (Let’s see you redefine our understanding of black holes you supposedly brilliant asshat.) And this all comes about anyway because Lou’s mother thinks being in a wheelchair means you can’t talk for some reason. Again probably because Stephen Hawking is the first person most people think of when they think of disability. Though very few people have ALS, the disease Stephen Hawking has.
Again, as hard as this is to read (and many disabled people have reported having a very difficult time getting through this book because of scenes like this) I could forgive all this if the ableism would be later rectified by the lesson that disabled people are human beings and not fodder for jokes. However as we already know this is Lou’s story and Will is a prop to her own self-actualization, we know this is not going to be rectified in any great way.
And Lou again mentions she’s a terrible caregiver by reporting she has killed a hamster, goldfish, and stick insect. Again, clearly the sort of person you want caring for you.
[Image description: A gif of a person making a horrified expression that includes mild gagging and an open mouth.]
And I am done. Just done. And it only gets worse from here. I am only on Chapter Four and my living room wall is in danger of being as pock marked as the moon.