Queer Eye Season 4 features the first wheelchair user to receive a transformation thanks to the Fab Five. This is so important, because non-disabled people need to learn more about what life is life for people with disabilities, a community I belong to. But tweets about Queer Eye's Wesley show the disabled community has mixed feelings about the episode for complicated and valid reasons.
Wesley became paralyzed after being shot seven years before the episode aired, which means he is still learning how to navigate the world as a wheelchair user.
This is growth that I choose to respect instead of criticize. I've been disabled since birth and I still learn new things about being disabled and make mistakes every day. There isn't a handbook titled "How to Navigate The World While Disabled." Sometimes I wish there were, but the lack of rules mean that everyone within the community has the right to make their own. However, not all disabled people feel the same way I do, as is clear on Twitter.
Wesley has a non-profit organization called Disabled But Not Really that helps people with disabilities get fit and address mental health issues like depression. Some people find the name of the non-profit problematic because it's implying that there is something negative about owning the "disabled" part of your identity. Other people think that viewers need to let Wesley grow into his identity.
Some people on Twitter also had a problem with Karamo Brown's conversations on the episode, first asking Wesley's mother if he's ever said "thank you" for the care she's given him and also for reaching out to the man who shot Wesley, Maurice. Brown's actions and the way hairstylist Jonathan Van Ness talked to Wesley was perceived as ablest.
Saying "thank you" for care you need to live can make some people feel like burdens. Van Ness' conversation was lighter, saying Wesley took a "hard pill to swallow" and turned it into a "multivitamin."
Some people were also upset that the episode featured Wesley actually meeting with the man who almost killed him. However, in The Kansas City Star Wesley says he knew about the meeting, approved it, and helped producers find Maurice. “I took the effort to find him. I knew his name. I did my research. I didn’t just talk to him directly, but I did make sure they knew the right contacts to reach out.”
Everyone is going to express their opinion on Twitter. But disabled activist Vilissa Thompson, argued disabled Twitter is largely missing the point of Wesley's journey. "I'm literally sitting here wondering if I'm watching the same episode as you all did that generated such a reaction," one of her tweets reads.
Thompson notes that Wesley's experience with disability is compounded by the fact that he is also a black man, and many on Twitter are ignoring this. Only other black folks with disabilities are going to get what's going on in this episode, she argues, specifically citing the engagement between Wesley and Karamo.
These nuanced discussions within the disability community are important, and most non-disabled people don't know they happen.
The disability community has multi-layered battles to fight and Twitter is where many of us feel like we are heard. But sometimes it's more important to listen.