On (Not) Discovering Disability in the World of Jane Austen

Disabled characters are present in Austen’s novels, but largely invisible in her cinematic remakes

Four cast members of "Fire Island" stand in a line and look skeptically toward something out of frame.
Screen shot from “Fire Island”.

It took thirty minutes for the first man I hooked up with after my spinal-cord injury to say he’d come over. I was usually rejected within ten. My bad habit was to offer too much, too soon—about a haphazard gait, the brace on my left leg, anomalies I couldn’t conceal. But with practice at least came a knack for self-preservation. Because getting blocked on Grindr can swerve into you nearly with the force of a pick-up truck. I should know, since it was just such a vehicle—dark red, with an American flag decal—that disrupted my neural pathways to begin with.

I’d spent hours staging photos that hid my double chin, though when he asked for full-body pics, I confided this much at least: “I’m not what you’d call ‘toned.’” “That’s fine,” this man with dusty blond stubble and bundled biceps confirmed. “Chubs are OK.”

I might have taken a beat had certain chores not required checking off—the sort done over toilet bowls with drugstore enemas. Like a jewel thief who hasn’t been wearing gloves, I also needed to scrub any trace of, in my case, disability. An obscure corner of the closet could house my cane for one night; my orthotic was hurled into a desk drawer. 

There’d be no chance for my body to reveal its deficits.

He’d walk in to find me already sprawled across the bed. There’d be no chance for my body to reveal its deficits. All the necessary accouterments were within reach, and I’d propped open the front door with a small rock. 

As a glimmer of hallway light leapt across my face, and I heard the first footfalls of his steady stride, celebration seemed in order. Even more so when his hands swam down the streams of my pinkish stretch marks without flinching.

Only then did his tepid breath tickle my ear. “Kneel down.” 

I hadn’t planned for this. 

“Did you hear me?” he asked.

I hoisted myself up from the bed and began lowering to the floor. My knees quivered together like teeth in chilly weather; the fuzzy contours of his brow folded inward at the sight. “What’s wrong with you?” he asked, this time without the gruffness in his voice. Without tenderness, also. I was about to confess—the guilt had been getting to me anyway—when this stranger halfway apologized, “Look I don’t think this is going to work,” zipped up his pants, and walked straight for the door as if in an emergency: with neither panic nor delay.

I wish I knew then, after plopping to the floor at long last, that ideas of disability as unsexy or troublesome or infantilizing run deep in our world—more so in a community that especially valorizes fitness. But I had yet to learn of “ableism.” Too ashamed to fall asleep, I reached for a Jane Austen novel on my nightstand, continuing a trend that began during in-patient rehab. Initially, her books offered escapist pleasure, as they have for so many others, but I was soon smitten with their attention to how supposedly universal truths impinge upon our quests for love and friendship. As someone who was increasingly calling himself gay in this period, too, I related to those couples—Elizabeth and Darcy, Elinor and Edward Ferrars—that buck their society’s rigid norms.

As a twenty-something trying to conceive of his disability as something other than tragic, I likewise appreciated an aspect of Austen’s fiction much rarer in the queer memoirs I was simultaneously reading: stigmatized bodies and minds, knowledge-generating conditions, corporealities not unlike my own, from Persuasion’s Mary Musgrove and Mrs. Smith to Mr. Woodhouse, a “valetudinarian,” in Emma to the heroine of Mansfield Park (and her veteran father), as at least one scholar has argued. Before long, I became entranced by how expertly Austen—who spent the last years of her life with Addison’s disease—explores the dovetailing of embodied and minded difference with other deviations from the patriarchal standards of wealthy, white, male bodyminds. That night, I was reading about the invalids of her unfinished Sanditon and identifying with its rotund Arthur most of all. Neither of us, it seemed, were understood by—or attractive to—others.

this past summer seemed the perfect time to revisit my admiration for the grande dame of English letters

Over the intervening years—just shy of a decade now—Austen has proved an important, but less consistent, resource. I’ve discovered disability studies, met a chosen family unwavering on the question of my sexiness, and lost seventy-five pounds during the COVID-19 pandemic—a story for another day. But after turning mostly to Renaissance literature in graduate school—and finally meeting a man who appreciates my body rather than dates me despite it—this past summer seemed the perfect time to revisit my admiration for the grande dame of English letters. A new season of PBS’s Sanditon dropped in February. June saw the release of the feature film Fire Island (dir. Andrew Ahn), which reimagines Pride and Prejudice with five gay men subbing in for the Bennet sisters. And in July came Netflix’s critical-bust of a Persuasion (dir. Carrie Cracknell). I was glad, of course, that adaptations were foregrounding progressive aspects of Austen’s fiction, but I hoped for more: maybe they’d carve out a fuller space for her disabled characters, relieving some of the imaginative work I usually do to visualize people like me—queer and crip—finding happiness. With the help of these popular reboots, perhaps more men—like the one who scurried out of my apartment that night—might think of us as sexy too.

It was disheartening, then, to discover that all three productions rely on, and reinscribe, facile cultural narratives about othered bodies and minds. Netflix’s Persuasion cuts Mrs. Smith and plays Mary as an insufferable narcissist. Masterpiece’s Sanditon caricatures its invalids. And most confounding, none of the intersectional identities Fire Island plumbs include disability. In the process, folks like me are erased from the creative vision of a film that touts its progressive ethos. 

We must mine these representational gaps to achieve a broader appreciation for disabled people moving forward.

I admit, however, that Fire Island is impressive. A critique cum celebration of gay culture from the perspective of those often marginalized by it, the film abounds with characters who resuscitate Austen’s originals without ever feeling unduly beholden to them.

The movie revolves around Noah (Joel Kim Booster, also its screenwriter) and Howie (Bowen Yang), avatars of Elizabeth and Jane, both Asian, both gay, one toned, the other chubby. (I’m rolling my eyes.) With them are three other friends—Luke (Matt Rogers), who’s white; Afro-Latino Keegan (Tomás Matos); and Max (Torian Miller), who’s Black. Every year, they travel to Fire Island to visit their surrogate mother, the newly cash-strapped and lesbian Erin (Margaret Cho), who’s just as hilarious, and surprisingly wise, as Mrs. Bennet. Together, they dramatize how, for many queer folks, water can in fact be thicker than blood. Proxies for Mr. Darcy and Bingley enter the picture too, as Will (Conrad Ricamora)—beautifully hewn but haughty, smart but straight-acting to Noah’s mind—and the white pediatrician Charlie (James Scully)—both of whom stay with their insufferable friends (a la the Bingley sisters) in a palatial beach house.

Noah flings his shirt aside, as if the chiseled abs underneath are a statue in need of unveiling.

As the film starts, on a ferry to Fire Island, Noah flings his shirt aside, as if the chiseled abs underneath are a statue in need of unveiling. The larger, and largely underdeveloped, Max ribs them. “Why would you conform to this community’s toxic body standards?” But our hero laments, “Whatever, I’m still invisible to most of these people,” which triggers Howie’s sobering reflection, “What does that make me?” “No fatties, no femmes, no Asians,” pipes up Keegan with a familiar refrain from Grindr. His point: Noah’s still “two out of the three”—a “bitchy” but astute comment, because “[i]n our community, money isn’t the only form of currency. Race, masculinity, abs. Just a few of the metrics we use to separate ourselves into upper and lower classes.”

Staying true to these initial themes, Booster never lets us forget that part of kind, doughy-eyed Charlie’s appeal is his adherence to the regnant image of Apollonian, gay perfection: fit, able-bodied, Caucasian, masculine but smart, successful, and professional too. Though viewers learn to love him anyway, we’re still meant to feel uneasy with the culmination of his partnership with Howie, a pre-fog Rudolph by comparison. The question Booster impels us to ask: are we happy for Howie for the right reasons? This is a query with personal stakes for me, of course, as one having spent much of his out life as one of those fatties excluded by the mantra Keegan recites.  

In my case, however, body size was always braided with impairment. Because though I was never slim or toned—and forever a connoisseur of my five-foot-two-inch grandmother’s Italian cooking—it wasn’t till after my spinal-cord injury, when I couldn’t play tennis or exercise as I had in high school, that I first inched into the category of “obese.” Rarely, in fact, does disability exist in a vacuum, since bodyminds that are gendered, or racialized, are often marked as aberrant—which in turn can license oppression parading as medicalized beneficence. (The category of homosexual was forged in such a crucible). What’s more, the lack of structural access to healthcare for many marginalized communities results in disabling impairment.

Given Fire Island’s interest in this kind of knotty identity formation, one might expect a disabled character to show up somewhere in the film. (Nor would it have required replotting for them to do so.) Perhaps a cane user at the underwear party, a wheelchair rolling through the Meat Rack, a guide dog marching across the boardwalk, someone with Down syndrome hanging in the crowds of people panned across, characters conversing in ASL. Perhaps Erin would live with an explicit mental disability in place of Mrs. Bennet’s “nerves.” Anything to suggest, however fleetingly, that disabled people—both of color and white—can also be queer, sexual beings. But after watching the film several times—and remembering that not all impairments announce themselves—I haven’t found anyone whom Booster means to belong to the most fluid of identity categories. (The same critique, incidentally, applies to Billy Eichner’s film Bros, though I can’t discuss it here).

it all feels like a ploy by haughty aristos to redirect their friend’s love life into the proper tax bracket.

The closest we get in Fire Island is the vapid smokeshow Rhys (Michael Graceffa), whose Lyme Disease possibly corresponds to the ailments of Catherine de Bourgh’s daughter, the woman designated for Darcy by his aunt in Pride and Prejudice. But it more importantly (and predictably) functions as a conflict-inducing plot device, an impetus for Charlie to rekindle an old flame at Howie’s expense. We never really see Lyme Disease affecting Rhys, and it all feels like a ploy by haughty aristos to redirect their friend’s love life into the proper tax bracket. At best, then, this is an uninspired attempt to adapt one of the most underdeveloped aspects of a novel from early in Austen’s career; at worst, it reinforces typical prejudices about the ways disabled people flaunt their impairments to get ahead—snakes seducing prey with aggressive mimicry—especially since the pressure comes mostly from de Bourgh, and not from her daughter’s body, in the source material.

To be clear, though: while going so far as to make one of the revamped Bennet sisters disabled would have added an important layer to his plot, I am not arguing that Booster should have highlighted the stories of disabled queer folks in place of his revelations about gay, Asian men. What’s more, lugging around over 7% body fat is at least socially disabling in Fire Island’s expertly-evoked world, a kind of embodiment constructed as undesirable. Yet the movie ultimately proves unconcerned with interrogating how fatness and disability identity can become two facets of the same gem. Instead, it focuses on triangulating between class, race, and sexuality. There’s only so much that can be handled responsibly, and compellingly, in less than two hours. But while more stories should center non-normative bodies and minds, viewers also need to be reminded that psycho/somatic variation is an inherent aspect of biodiversity that doesn’t always require explanation. All the more reason why characters with disabilities could, and should, have been casually represented as part of the fabric of a Fire Island becoming more inclusive in Booster’s otherwise exhilarating film.

Fainter praise is due to Andrew Davies’s Sanditon on PBS, which follows the entrepreneur Tom Parker as he collaborates with rich Lady Denham to build seaside Sanditon into England’s greatest spa town. Only 12 chapters were written when Austen died, but it’s not a less interesting book for this brevity, especially given its anxieties about for-profit healthcare. Unfortunately, Masterpiece’s adaptation seldom dramatizes them.

More frustrating, though, is Davies’s treatment of the novel’s invalids, Diana and Arthur, two of Mr. Parker’s siblings. “Invalidism” was common in Austen’s day—associated with serious symptoms but often coded as laziness or eccentricity. So upon arriving in Sanditon, Diana solipsistically sighs that they “have all been very ill, almost at death’s door,” while corpulent Arthur confides, “I thought I’d never leave my bed.” Later in the first season, a famous German physician treats them, and the show impels its viewers to accept his diagnosis as axiomatic: “It seems clear to me, Fraulein, that your symptoms derive from a simple case of hysteria. As for you, Herr Parker, your condition is entirely the result of a sedentary lifestyle.” The prescription: “regular and vigorous motion.” But when Arthur passes out from heat stroke, the good doctor chides him. Like so many other disabled folks, the Parker siblings are blamed for failing to manage their stigmatized bodies correctly.

Culpability in Austen’s novels is rarely so straightforward, however, just as it isn’t in life. After a nasty fall broke my kneecap three years ago, a surgeon (or one of the hospitalists or medical students or residents or PAs or NPs or nurses to whom he possibly delegated the task) failed to communicate effectively, either to me or to my rehabilitation team, that certain movements might require a second surgery. Unknowingly, then, and egged on by therapists who should’ve known better, I thought it a great victory to lift my leg into the shower. Meanwhile, my quadriceps were ripping apart my patella. That second surgery was indeed in the offing.

Which is to say that I sympathize with Arthur’s plight. A good close-reader, I’m likewise rooting my critique of PBS’s Sanditon in Austen’s text, which does much more, in chapter five, to prepare us for the Parker siblings’ reunion than its small-screen counterpart. Here, Tom explains to Charlotte—the story’s heroine—that although his (proud) brother Sidney fancies there’s “a good deal of Imagination in my two Sisters’ complaints”—one of whom is cut from the show—“it really is not so—or very little—They have wretched health.” But still, Tom implores Charlotte to note “how much they are occupied in promoting the good of others!” He’s even solicited their advice about which doctor should be recruited to Sanditon. In response, however, Diana insists that they “have entirely done with the whole Medical Tribe. We have consulted Physician after Physician in vain, till we are quite convinced that they can do nothing for us and that we must trust to our own knowledge of our own wretched Constitutions for any relief.” In contrast to Masterpiece’s program, then, Austen stresses Diana’s expertise (even as it verges towards the humorously wordy) and that embodied knowledge can count for just as much as formal training, which ends up casting a pall over Tom’s project.

This passage likewise throws shade on Charlotte’s surprise at first meeting the Parker invalids a few chapters later: “these are very great exertions,” she quips, “and I know what Invalids both you and your sister are.” “Invalids, indeed,” Diana confirms, “But my dear Miss Heywood, we are sent into this World to be as extensively useful as possible, and where some degree of Strength of Mind is given, it is not a feeble body which will excuse us.” Much like the many strangers—at garden parties, across grocery aisles, between rows of airplane seats—who ask me, “What happened to you?”, Charlotte has made certain assumptions about where invalids are allowed to turn up, what they’re allowed to do. Quite obviously, these assumptions are wrong.

it’s never a good idea to trust a Darcy-like character before he undergoes the maturation of an Austen plot.

Even as Austen pokes fun at Diana and Arthur’s peculiarities, then, she underscores that people whose bodies generally function with ease form ready expectations about—or ridicule—those who don’t, despite being warned not to. Because it’s never a good idea to trust a Darcy-like character before he undergoes the maturation of an Austen plot.

But while these missteps are disappointing, the movie Persuasion evokes something like despair: it turns us against one disabled character, Mary Musgrove, and excises another, Mrs. Smith.

It’s time, then, to claim the former as a fellow crip and reintroduce the latter. We should understand Persuasion as a novel that’s animated by competing meanings of its title: first, an argument in search of agreement; and second, a deeply held belief or understanding. Austen spotlights the difficulty of reconciling these two definitions, since the often embodied wisdom of the latter can rarely be verbalized with authority enough to persuade others of its truth.

Seven years before the book begins, our heroine Anne falls in love with Frederick Wentworth, a sailor to whom she’s engaged, until the maternal Lady Russell condemns their match for his penury and lack of prospects. Anne finally ends things—because her sense that Wentworth is the only man for her can’t compete with Lady Russell’s argumentative logic; she succumbs to resolute misery as a result. The novel will see them reunited. But meanwhile, Anne must realize that deep-seated, embodied persuasion is just as valid as its forensic counterpart. The disabled characters she comes across—Mary and Mrs. Smith—implicitly teach her this tough lesson.

First, the insufferable Mary, who grouses about her husband Charles, disregards her children, and erupts at the slightest provocation. Or so the movie, following nearly every scholar who’s written about Persuasion, insists.

At times, Austen even encourages such a reading, though she simultaneously scatters reasons for Mary’s dogged self-advocacy throughout the novel: to begin with, Charles initially wanted to marry Anne, still feels he settled, and often dictates what Mary’s body requires. During one arduous walk, he advises her to accompany him to his aunt’s home atop an incline; just a few minutes earlier, “she felt so tired.” But Mary retorts, “Oh! no, indeed!—walking up that hill again would do me more harm than any sitting down could do me good.” The general shape of this rejoinder feels familiar on my tongue, since I’m often barraged with advice—“swimming will help you walk again,” for instance—despite that what I’m doing at a given moment has typically offered the surest relief.

To make matters worse, screenwriters Ronald Bass and Alice Victoria Winslow depict him as a devoted family man, whereas Austen’s original behaves as outlandishly as Mary, so there remains grounds, at least sometimes, for siding with her. This interpretive leeway vanishes in the film. The same goes for Charles’s two sisters, the indistinguishable Miss Musgroves, who are as petty in Austen’s novel as they are affable in its Netflix adaptation. In the former, then, when they come by their brother’s home “for no other purpose than to say, that they were going to take a long walk, and therefore concluded Mary could not like to go with them,” we’re invited to sympathize with their sister-in-law, who “immediately replied, with some jealousy, at not being supposed a good walker, ‘Oh yes, I should like to join with you very much,’” though she’s previously demurred. The movie, again, forecloses any such possibility. As they painstakingly elude detection while passing behind Mary, she discovers them, and tiresomely invites herself along.

To most people, Mary’s paradoxical decisions—complaining of fatigue but shunning rest, refusing one walk and then demanding to join another—suggests a taste for malingering, but in my case at least, the tightness of a heel-cord or the pain of a knee can require caution one day that might be unnecessary the next. For those of us with especially quicksilver bodies and minds, function can never quite be counted on. Still, it’s amazing what we’ll do to avoid getting left out.

For weal or woe, Mary never tries to justify her somatic particularities, never explains more than is required.

Even if we forgive these shortcomings, however, Ross and Winslow should have at least reflected how the lived complexities of Mary’s body contribute to Persuasion’s plot. Because her (indeed, occasionally tetchy) insistence upon corporeal need leaves Anne with a model for valuing her own felt knowledge before reuniting with Wentworth. For weal or woe, Mary never tries to justify her somatic particularities, never explains more than is required. When Anne wonders how she could go to a neighbor’s house one day before falling ill the next, for instance, Mary replies that there was “nothing at all the matter with me till this morning,” without ever addressing the apparent contradiction. For her, embodied persuasion is more than enough.

Much the same can be said for Mrs. Smith later on. An old friend of Anne’s, she’s now suffering from “a severe rheumatic fever, which finally settling in her legs, ha[s] made her for the present a cripple.” Alarmed at the sight before her, our heroine can’t help but think that “[t]welve years had transformed the fine-looking, well-grown Miss Hamilton, in all the glow of health and confidence of superiority, into a poor, infirm, helpless widow.” Even so, the shut-in’s moments of “occupation and enjoyment” outweigh those of “languor and depression.” How can this be? Anne is at a loss.

Part of the secret lies with Nurse Rooke, who “besides nursing me most admirably,” Mrs. Smith reports, “has really proved an invaluable acquaintance.” Here, then, Austen begins to outline a new kind of healthcare buoyed by reciprocity and love—perhaps even queer desire bound up with physical incapacity—and enlivened by the importance of corporeal persuasion rather than perfectly-comprehensible logic.

For her, embodied persuasion is more than enough.

As such, Mrs. Smith rebuffs Anne’s attempts to disparage her body; pity is not the end-goal. Instead, what she’s after—what she licenses Anne to pursue as well—is interdependence upon those who embrace their loved ones’ persuasions rather than persuade them away. If Mary inadvertently begins to teach Anne the tune of heeding her embodied and minded wisdom, Mrs. Smith finishes the arrangement, transposing its initially querulous melody into the sonorous key of mutual vulnerability. At no moment is this clearer than when she provides essential information to confirm her friend’s suspicions about the sly Mr. Elliot (a new suitor whom Lady Russell supports). In doing so, she empowers Anne to trust her gut, to realize that should another opportunity present itself, her relationship to Wentworth must be embraced instead of bootlessly defended. In fact, this second chance does arrive, and Anne lets Lady Russel find out about their rapprochement at a card party along with everyone else. She still wants the matron in her life, desperately so, but not if it means becoming a doomed fly within verbal persuasion’s webs. Only with Mary and Mrs. Smith—their insights into embodied wisdom—does the novel’s culmination succeed.

Perhaps it’s clear by now that Persuasion is my favorite of Austen’s books—not simply because it’s the most “modern” or because its tone differs from her others’ (as Rachel Cohen has brilliantly shown) but because its rendering of romance feels the most capacious. The most capable of encompassing queer people whose persuasions must often submit to a bit of coercion. Or crips compelled to persuade others of their accommodation needs. Or queer and disabled folks, for whom the burden of proof can be heftier still.

Of all Austen’s novels, Persuasion claims the lion’s share of my attention for another reason too: since it consistently includes othered bodies and minds along with trenchant observations about nearly every character, adapting—and responding to adaptations of—the book presents a Rorschach test for how we understand disabled people and the supposed problems they pose. On the one hand, the source material’s wit allows revamps to foreground crip eccentricity and to downplay able-bodied counterparts’. On the other, the fact that Austen offers plenty of incision to go around means that the former aren’t so singularly egotistical after all. That is, she invites adaptors to bring the sometimes latent complexity of her disabled characters into starker relief (two-hundred years on, mind you). Of course, having the lived experience to realize that their apparent complaints are real problems many of us still deal with helps this process along. 

Austen certainly faced such challenges herself; she knew something of the loneliness—and even agony—that often dogs her disabled figures. But to the discerning reader, they are not (necessarily) reduced to this alienation. The affection of Mrs. Smith for Nurse Rooke merits a spin-off. Fanny Price’s physical and mental insecurities eventually unite her to Edward rather than repel him. And I once saw an otherwise-troubled staging of Persuasion where Mary and Charles’s banter crackled with a sexual electricity worthy of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. I don’t think this is quite right either, but it does go to show: my pleading that Austen’s disabled figures be quickened with new life is borne not simply from critical projection but from a recognition of disability’s dense experiential texture in the original novels themselves. 

We’d explored Boston the entire afternoon, and finally, I began to trail in the wake of my partner’s pace. No wonder; my lower half lives in endless neurological brownout. But B. falls back almost seamlessly now, which allows us to discuss his recent bedtime reading: a nod to my own research, Paradise Lost. “Who would have influenced Milton’s Satan?” he asks. Because navigating, walking, and discussing the greatest long poem in English proves perfectly manageable for the man whose right hand leads my shoulders down the shortcut he’s found. From the corner of my eye—otherwise scanning the ground for loose cobblestones—I catch sight of B.’s jawline. Unlike mine, it’s discernible even without the skin-pulling of a vigorous smile. 

To say my boyfriend’s fitter than I is no exercise in false modesty. One of our first weekends together revolved around his (strange) decision to swim a mile in the Charles River at 7:30 a.m. On other mornings, with more time, I cradle my head against his taut stomach, in the space left by rib cages on either side, and think there might even be an air of the Howie-Charlie dynamic between us. Probably, this is because assembling a framework for crip beauty can be painstaking work—for disabled folks just as much as for our able-bodied peers. He is firming up its foundations.

In part, through his reaction to what happened next, in that sidestreet, on the way to dinner. Not our inaugural kiss or sexual liaison, but the first time he watched me plummet to the pavement below. Propelled by Milton’s fusion of Shakespearean tragedy with classical epic, my eyes flitted to meet his, and suddenly the ground hurtled toward me—a torpedo striking the enemy’s ship. It’s a weird phenomenon, falling, one which I’ve undergone at least thirty times since my accident, thanks to a droopy, paralyzed left ankle. But for all this, the shame, terror, and helplessness of those initial moments, as you listen for the crunch of bones and look for pools of scarlet and feel for anything out of joint, never quite abates. 

Still, the experience can acquire new layers. B.’s hand envelopes mine, pulling me into him, and for a moment we stand looking at each other, till his scruffy cheek nuzzles mine, clean-shaven. 

These few moments were fleeting—we proceeded to his friend’s house without another word about them.

“Are you okay,” he murmurs in the gloaming; my head nods. Language hangs back. No matter, he smiles. “You’re pretty sexy when you get worked up about Milton.”

These few moments were fleeting—we proceeded to his friend’s house without another word about them. (I arose unscathed, this time.) And even now, they remain difficult to parse. But I remember my feelings, at least: the security and trust that ascended like glass spheres in a Galileo thermometer, the intimacy of that hand clasp—which in its own way rivaled anything that can be done with genitalia—and the realization that I am more than the sum of my body’s volatilities but attractive because of them as well. For the first time, perhaps, I was assured—not simply in scholarly terms but experiential ones—that sexuality and disability can be gloriously aligned.

What would it look like for this to be the story told by another cohort of Austen adaptors, I wonder later that evening, after returning to B.’s apartment, my ear so deeply burrowed in his ample chest hair that only shards of the Keira Knightley Pride and Prejudice poke through. It was B.’s pick—an attempt at cinematic comfort food and an opportunity to revisit Austen for himself, after hearing me prattle on. But to my mind, listening for dialogue is less important than picturing what none other than Lizzy Bennet might look like with crutches. Or an interpreter. Or a caregiver, rather than a chaperone. I say she would look damn good, and the man beside me agrees—though connoisseurs of the female form we’re not—and while he drifts asleep, I consider how less devastating that night eight years ago would’ve felt had I been able to conceive of a scenario such as this one, a day like the one we just shared. More daring adaptations of Austen, our cultural queen of courtship and romance, will help other queer crips—not to mention those who assume we’re uncomely—do just that.

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