Latecomers Star Hannah Diviney On Becoming The First Disabled Person To Have A Sex Scene On Aussie TV

Image courtesy of SBS
Whether it's making headlines for holding Lizzo and Beyoncé accountable for their ableist lyrics, or capturing the attention of Reese Witherspoon with her 'Create a Disney Princess with Disabilities' campaign, it's been quite an eventful 18 months for Australian disability advocate Hannah Diviney.
But nothing quite compares to her landing her first acting gig in upcoming TV show, Latecomers, where she not only adds actor to her resume, but another unexpected title.
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"Somehow I will end up with the title of the first person with a disability in Australia to have a sex scene on television," Diviney tells Refinery29 Australia over the phone.
"No matter how many times I say that out loud, I'm like 'What the heck?'"
The 23-year-old with cerebral palsy plays a lead in the new SBS show, which follows two strangers with cerebral palsy, Frank (Angus Thompson) and Sarah (Diviney) who, after watching their carers hook up at a bar, decide to explore their own relationships with sex, and each other.
What ensues is an honest and authentic representation of sex and disability on the small screen, which Diviney says Australian media and Hollywood have struggled to capture thus far.
"The only other examples I can think of are a Netflix show created by Ryan O'Connell called Special, and there's also some disabled storylines in the more recent seasons of Sex Education," she says, before also commending the "neurodivergent/autistic representation" on Heartbreak High through Chloe Hayden's character.
But this show isn't about merely ticking a box by having a sex scene featuring disabled people. With an intimacy coordinator and, of course, input from people with lived experiences, this program strives to challenge people's perceptions about disability.
"It's a very conscious decision to make sure that there's not a lot that's insinuated," says Diviney. "You see all of it. We didn't want to shy away from it.
"We didn't just want the audience to be like, 'Oh, so now those characters are having sex'. It's gonna be like, 'No, you're gonna watch them have sex because this is important'.
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"It's also super important that you see what disabled people's bodies look like in that context."
Image courtesy of SBS
Hannah Diviney and Angus Thompson in Latecomers
As Diviney explains, we "all have insecurities" when it comes to dating and sex, and a particular scene in the show's trailer already demonstrates how moments of self-doubt can manifest and be projected onto others, in this case between two disabled people.
"I don't want to have sex with you," Diviney's character, Sarah tells Frank, to which he responds, "I bet you'll never find another guy that'll fuck you".
In reflecting on this scene, Diviney says, "Because of the ways that our bodies work and the lack of visibility we have just in general — even outside of conversations about sex and relationships — there's a lot of uncertainty about whether relationships and sex are paths that are open to us.
"It's important that Latecomers explores that, but then ultimately shows you that the answer is yes."
She says it's important that "that particular conversation about those insecurities is happening between two disabled people".
"It's not coming from the place of an able-bodied person trying to tell Sarah's character that she's never going to find anybody and should just make peace with being lonely and uncomfortable.
"It's an insecurity that is commonly shared between these two characters, that yes, is in this particular context weaponised to hurt Sarah. But it's a very real conversation between two disabled people who feel the same way about the situation."
Another scene of note is the opening sequence of the trailer, where Sarah's carer asks her to "hold still", to which Sarah responds, "Sure. Let me just hit pause on my cerebral palsy, why don't I?".
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Diviney certainly relates to this scene, having made the same comment in the past when her mother has done her makeup. But these quips aside, the underlying message Diviney hopes viewers receive is that people with a disability are still multi-faceted humans who don't need to be tiptoed around.
"People often react to my experience as a disabled person with a lot of uncertainty," she says. "They're not sure what to say. They don't want to offend me."
But what she wants to convey is that while her disability is a huge part of her, often guiding her decisions and shaping her values, it doesn't completely define her.
"It's not all of who I am as a person, and I think it's really special that Latecomers shows disabled people as humans with rich inner lives.
"I think that will be the message I hope the audience will take away from it, when it comes out."
Latecomers will premiere on Saturday 3 December (International Day of People with Disability) at 8:30pm AEDT on SBS VICELAND and SBS On Demand.
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