Monday, July 23, 2007

The girl, the gang & the wheelchair: Devotees, Pretenders, Wannabes

The wonderful/icky aspect of humanity is that we can seem to be sexually turned on by just about anything. Invent something and five years later there is a fetish group on yahoo dedicated to it. I bet right now someone is stroking their computer mouse in ecstasy. It wasn’t until I was a wheelchair that I became aware of DPW’s: Devotees of wheelchair users (usually female users), Pretenders (people who pretend to have a mobility impairment for sexual/attention and/or other reasons) and Wannabe’s (people who want to be permanently mobility impaired).

I was planning to do an objective survey about this for some time but every time I have tried I tend to get mentally and physically ill. So, this isn’t going to be objective for a few reasons:

1) One of the ways I found out about DPW’s was finding links to my youtube videos and/or blog photos on sites I couldn’t access.

2) The subject matter is one which I am living through. My mobility is an ongoing issue with high emotional costs. Reading someone having a life fantasy to “replicate” my mobility state while being perfectly healthy brings out strong emotions. Reading about someone enjoying my mobility impairment brings out stronger ones.

3) The methods of some Devotees are very similar to those I used to fight in the UK regarding exploiting naked pictures of young children including: the requirements of sending in x number of pictures to get into a “Sharing” club, taking photos and videos of females in wheelchairs without consent, sharing photos and video and selling them without a person’s knowledge or consent.

Am I saying “Devotee’s are pedophiles.” No. What I am saying is when I come across a “closed” site which says, “to become a member send one movie, which shows a female para with naked feet” and earlier in the week I find that some of the people subscribed to my films also are subscribed to films of women in wheelchairs taken “secretly” I begin to wonder what the hell is going on.

I guess that is the first question: what is going on? What is the focus of the interest in these women? When I look at the blog Wheelchair ladies in movies there are common themes: very traditional looking women and a sexual description of wasted legs: “She gets off when he spanks her lifeless legs.”; “Her atropied little legs are of no use. Raven drags her crippled legs into the car and is on the move.” Linda believes that this is an extension of the view of women who are innocent, helpless, and vulnerable and I agree. Recently I have been approached by several people who come across as “devotees” including some who follow me quite some distance before approaching with a “can I push you?” and ending usually with them giving me their number to call them. A site called Devotee central, which gained 24 members in just the last week, features a photo which clearly makes the wasted legs the most sexual aspect of this woman (indeed, her breasts, hips or other traditional erotic markers are not visable, even in outline). I am sure some good feminist crit could jump in now and tell you why some devotees love the “flaccid useless foot” and others the wasted leg of women in wheelchairs. Since I am watching the atrophy of my own legs, the growing inability to feel and move them in significant ways along with the very, very likely prospect that I will not “get better”; that doctors haven’t talked about recovery in a long time, it is with some horror that my physical degeneration and emotional trauma is getting someone’s dick hard.

You see, when the villain in Seven makes someone waste away, he is a monster. When a woman does’s erotic?

Of course there aren’t too many links to my boxing videos because while there are guys who like being dominated by strong women and guys who like weak, helpless or sexualized women in wheelchairs there aren’t many guys who like strong women beating four types of pain out of heavy bag from a wheelchair. Guess I’m not the right “image” yet, lucky me. My PT said that when one of the children she fits with wheelchairs was a bit actor in some films her picture kept showing up on “sites we needed to get it removed from.” I guess children in a wheelchair are more vulnerable and exciting than just plain old children for some.

See, right now, writing this post, I want to just reach through the internet screen and grab someone and say “I am not a toy, I am not a masturbation fantasy, stop dehumanizing me for your pleasure.” I know that guys with tall fetishes would come up to me a lot, usually with “I saw you.....” Okay, I dealt with that. Yet being secretly filmed or watched during moments of my greatest vulnerability like a chair to pool transfer seems vastly different. Obscene.

I read some wannabe stories, as much as I could. Reading what has been the most difficult, painful and traumatic change in my life being somewhere between an erotic and a wish fulfillment makes me feel nausea, feel angry, feel tired. I wish I could somehow depict my life enough to make these people choke. Wake up! I don’t get attention, I don’t get extra love. Instead, what I want is the assurance I will not shit myself and my bed over the next month. Want me to keep you updated? A pay-per-view blog on my bowel control?

There are some, you know, pay-per-view sites of para’s with sexy wasted leg pictures in various poses. Like Candisland at $29.95 (or $65 for three months) with updated pictures/videos of her crawling up the stairs or transferring into bed and other such erotic events (I wish I was kidding). I guess the idea of pimping my disability as sort of exploitive deconstruction seems interesting, but not until my emotional scabbing heals over. Of course now I am thinking, “Damn, how much money could I have made on those corset shots?” (That was a joke, a sick joke).

I guess the other burr in my paw is that these people are pretty ignorant of the type of people who use wheelchairs. If a woman moves her foot they assume “Pretender” while I assume “Muscular Dystrophy” or “MS.” The fantasies, the pretend, the erotic all tends to assume paraplegics. Life is more complicated than that.

Perhaps the double shock is because for all intents and purposes I have no sexual or erotic currency as a functioning woman. I have asked straight guys how they view women in wheelchairs and it is basically, “Too complicated, look for something as good looking but upright.” Can you have sex? How hard is it? These questions bring all too much complication when on babe alert apparently. So after complaining about the guys attracted to me as tall/strong women for so long, now I started to miss them. I have 20 year old’s calling me sweetheart in the way you talk to a girl who has lost her balloon. Yeah, all those years of getting the doctorate are really paiding off. So now, ho ho, someone is interested in me, only it turns out they like the wheelchair more and talk to me as long as I stay within the bounds of innocent, vulnerable, etc (I scared one off permanently by whipping out the oxygen). Who would have thought I would miss the “good ole days” of some guy staring at my breasts?

Ask me some other time, some other year and maybe I’ll be philosophical about it, or maybe I’ll be selling photos and videos on a CD for home viewing. At one point I felt that at least wannabe’s and pretends have SOME idea of what being in a chair is like. Now I feel that until that squat, inefficient, expensive piece of metal sits in the middle of your conscious, dictating every decision from where you go to eat, to vacation, how you get places, what places you can get, everything, then you don’t know. As usual, I take it all in my mature fashion: I fantasize about getting strong enough to find the next person who puts up my picture on a “site,” slide out of chair and beat them with the wheelchair itself. Eroticize that!


The Goldfish said...

I wrote a post about this myself last year. I feel that there's a lot of things going on here. Stuff which is coercive or intrusive is unacceptable, full stop.

However, lots of different women get objectified like this for different reasons, most of them relating to the cultural shorthand of gender politics. Some men fantasise about nurses or police officers or school teachers - not because being a nurse, police officer or school teacher actually means anything sexually, but it's subliminal code for nurturing, authoritative or disciplinary. This isn't good because it reveals the way that women's role are viewed as sexual whatever they're doing.

Wheelchair-use appears to imply innate vulnerability. That turns people on and I would speculate that it is mostly people who feel threatened by women; not those who wish to harm women and are therefore drawn to the most vulnerable. Whilst disabled women can be subject to abuse, it doesn't seem to be at the hands of fetishist as such.

And I have met women who are genuinely turned on by the way that amputees walk on prosthetics. And the woman with the sexiest walk I've ever seen had CP. But it's so much less scary for me to say that, isn't it?

As an equal opportunities lech, I don't think heterosexual men without fetishes dismiss wheelie ladies. As someone who is in and out of the wheelchair, I don't notice a profound difference in the attention I receive - accept that actually, I get less of the crap when I'm in the wheelchair.

Meanwhile, I did have some exchanges with a chap who identified as 'transabled' when I did Blogging Against Disablism Day - he contributed both years. My interpretation of his profound desire to be paraplegic was that this was a mental health issue (body dysmorphic disorder) and as such, he was disabled by the tremendous stigma he faced. He was one of us.

Sorry this is so long - will now shut up. ;-)

GayProf said...

Sadly, the fetish of people in wheelchairs surprises me less than the wannabes. I can't help but think of wannabes as a sort of Marie-Antoinette in the sheep farm. For them, it's fun to play in a wheelchair, but they can (literally) walk away at any moment.

kathz said...

I think what the goldfish writes is very interesting and thoughtful but I can quite see why this particular fetish should be very disturbing and upsetting. I don't know how to deal with something so strange to me. I can imagine loving someone in a wheelchair and finding them sexy, but not finding them sexy just because they are in a wheelchair (though I suppose in those circumstances the wheelchair itself might be included in the general sense of what I found erotic). In a different context, I notice that children like to play in and with wheelchairs, given an opportunity (for instance, when they find a few parked on a hospital visit). These are both different from the fetish but I wonder if some experiences like this might give rise to the fetish.

One problem is where the boundary lies between being acceptable and being abusive - and I don't know.

All I can do is say that it must be horrible for you - I would hate it in your circumstances - and send you slightly hurried best wishes.

Elizabeth McClung said...

goldfish: like I said, I am not particularly objective right now. I think for me the difference between a nurse or teacher fantasy is that to me, this is something that is being done to me, like some drawn out violence. And while I am okay with people having rape fantasies, I am not okay about people collecting pictures or having links to rape victims as a form of erotic links. One is a fantasy, the other is a real person. Maybe, when things normalize or stabilize or something I will try to own myself and my image sexually, but to sexualize the act which turns one from AB to disabled using real life people I find highly disturbing.

I did find it a relief when I was in the chair to start because I could go places I normally couldn't before and the guys who were hitting on my before were now helping my accessibility. But after a few months of vaccuum and realization that I was treated as a child or sexless thing started to bug me. Maybe I should happy without the hassle.

Gayprof: yes, I think even in the first few months people with disabilites are in "pretend", I know I was going around telling everyone I would be back in training the end of the year. When I ordered the chair, it was exciting, it was new, and I wasn't going to be in it for more than a few months to a year anyway (cause I'd be fixed).

Now my feelings about the chair are love/hate. I think even knowing that you will get out, that you one day can get out is far different than knowing you can't. I imagine for all the mental prep, once I get a final diagnosis, and (if) that 5% chance is gone, it's going to be a few dark days.

Kathz: wow, thanks for checking in. I think if someone and you see the wheelchair or another mobility aid as part of you, why shouldn't you want to sex it up, or be seen as sexy with it. That's one side. The other side is that while you are going through it, it is like someone isn't just trivialize what you are going through, but using it for what seems kinda freaky purposes.

The Goldfish said...

I'm ever so sorry, Elizabeth; I've been very dopey and out of it and today was the first day I thought I was half awake. However, my earlier comment was extremely clumsy and sounded almost dismissive, which wasn't my intention at all. Really, very sorry.

I suppose I wanted to reassure you that I don't think that anyone's dick is getting hard about your pain. It's all about fantasy, but a fantasy which is completely removed from the messy, complicated and often distressing reality of our situations. But no, I'm not sure that does help given the combination of events.

I really am very sorry for my earlier comment. I'd take it down if it wouldn't make a nonsense of later comments.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Goldfish: No I appreciated both of your comments. The first one made me reevaluate how I might feel from a different space, also I think the point about wheelchairs being a percieved nuetralizer is a good point.

I guess what bothers me is the way that many of the sites actively promote secret taping and such - one article I read from an amputee talked about how she found herself in picture form not only on a site as a Top 10 download but that the people on the site felt that as they didn't see her amputation as much it was valid for them to secretly photograph her (public property ala movie stars). Plus they were making money selling her photos.

If I weren't precisely where I am at in the process it probably wouldn't bother me as much, after all in the early days I had a new wardrobe to reemphasize my sexual nature in corsets and such - but again that was saying, looks at ME not look at my disability.

You are right, it is fantasy I realize, but a enacted fantasy for pretenders and such that I cannot currently emotionally seperate it from my reality. Why it hurts or threatens me is something to think about - I think a great deal of this is about my own view of illness and my illness and how I think of it as "taking away" instead of enhancing. Now I'm the one wondering if that made sense.

Sober @ Sundown said...

This is another eye opening post. You always open my mind with information that I would never conceive of, or seek out. I am a bit shocked that this kind of behavior is happening.

I don't have a lot to add, but I do want to stop by and say, "HI".

The Goldfish said...

Thanks, Elizabeth - in my exuberance in being able to construct sentences again, I appear to have trailed about the blogosphere yesterday, leaving comments which slightly missed the point on all manner of subjects. This mattered more than most because it is an emotionally-charged subject.

I totally agree about instrusion. I find that very disturbing, very dehumanising and I wish the law on this stuff was more fervently applied - as well as all forms of on-line harassment, defamation and so on.

How you feel about your illness does make sense. It is also a major threat to your self-image, which, along with various aspects of your identity, is going through a process of change (and right now you don't even know the parameters you can expect to be working within). You're a very groovy person and I hope the whole thing gets a lot easier for you really soon. But in the meantime, I can totally dig how this stuff can only compound that.

Having used the words "groovy" and the verb "dig" in the same paragraph, I shall now retire. ;-)

hexyhex said...

There's a woman in Australia who works as a Dominatrix under the name Mistress Maihem. She has cerebral palsy and uses a motorised wheelchair.

It's not my place to judge whether her work is a good thing or a bad thing in any context, but I do find her fascinating in the sense that (while the fetishisation of wheelchairs and disability is clearly not absent) she seems to challenge the idea of WWD being fetishised for their perceived weakness.

Kara said...

There was an interesting study I read in Disability and Sexuality that might interest you (I feel very much as you do on these issues and thought it provided support for my thoughts)....They recognized the very negative reaction that many of us (PWD) have towards devotees and they researched whether the reason was 1)because we are insecure about the parts of our bodies that are most "disabled" and those are the aspects devotees express their attraction to, so we are uncomfortable (to say the least).
OR 2) that the manner in which devotees approach us and the the exploitive/sneaky aspect is what turned us off the most....

(Obviously I'm leaving out the psychology jargon!) This study found support for the SECOND reason-it's the way they approach and their behavior not what body parts they happen to like...I completely agree-it's unfortunate that their fantasy and right to access their fetish depends on us...including those of us that want no part in it.

Anyways~reallly enjoyed your entry to the carnival and the comments are really thought provoking as well!

shiva said...

I just tried to post a comment but the word verification stopped me 3 times (i typed the word as it appeared, but it just went back to the form with a different word) and on the 3rd time the computer crashed...

shiva said...

Try again...

"while there are guys who like being dominated by strong women and guys who like weak, helpless or sexualized women in wheelchairs there aren’t many guys who like strong women beating four types of pain out of heavy bag from a wheelchair."

Well, there's me... in fact, the image of you beating me up with a wheelchair is one i find pretty erotic as well...

(you've made me think of Oracle from the Batman and Birds of Prey comics now - a character i think you'd identify with...)

OK, by some definitions i'm a "devotee". I find unusual-looking bodies attractive, and i find disabled people more approachable as potential partners. But i'm quite horrified by this whole idea of finding disabled women sexier because they are "weaker", more vulnerable, someone to exert power over (it reminds me of the Chinese foot-binding tradition - basically men deliberately inflicting physical impairments on women to make them weaker, more dependent, more "feminine") - when i'm attracted to a woman, i want to give her power over me...

OK, i find vulnerability (of sorts) attractive in a sense, because my own vulnerability makes me empathise with it... but with(in) that vulnerability in people i find attractive, i always see strength... if that makes sense - think Frida Kahlo, Billie Holiday, Sylvia Plath, Tracy Chapman for examples...

I think all that stuff about filiming women without their consent, having "clubs" to share objectifying pictures, etc is utterly out of order in any circumstances, regardless of disability - definitely not something i would ever want to do or approve of - but to me that just looks like typical patriarchal male sexuality...

Anyway, i'd like it to be the case that someone can find a disabled body attractive without fetishizing sexist ideas of "dependency" and "weakness"...

Anonymous said...

Like any cross section of society, there are 'good' people, and 'creepy' people. The nature of their behaviour is NOT directly related to their 'devness' any more than bitchiness or intolerance is related to having a disability.
A jerk is a jerk, regardless of attractor.

What most PWDs do not seem to realize is the great POWER that they have OVER devotees. We GIVE you a great deal of power over us by allowing ourselves to be attracted to your differences.
Do you think we LIKE being reviled by the very people we find attractive?
Wouldn't it be a LOT easier for us if we had the 'normal' attractors like big boobs, or long legs, or a particular kind of hair or face or body mass? It would certainly increase our options for finding a compatible partner.
And since devness comes in many degrees, just like any other attractor, there should someone out there for every one of you, if you give them a chance.

I find it ironic that some PWD so despise devotees, yet it is a devotee that would be most accepting of your difference, seeing it as a positive contribution to the relationship, rather than a negative.

ALL the other factors that make a relationship work must of course be in place, but having that 'extra' attractive feature that makes you 'special' should be a bonus, not something that is 'tolerated'.

A DAK amputee by the name of Kim Barreda has an interesting take on devotees.
Some people think I'm attractive.
And according to a number of "learned" professionals and a small but vocal segment of the amputee community, if you think that adds to my attractiveness, you have a mental illness.

How do you like them apples? I'm different. And even though society promotes individuality, if you like me, you may be sick and perverted. In fact, there are actual words to describe your affliction: try acrotophile or fetishist... your attraction is even categorized by the psychiatric community as a deviation. You are the dreaded devotee.

Yup, that's right, get a stiffy for an amputee, (no matter how hot), and you're a freak.

So, they say finding an amputee attractive is a deviation.

Wonderful. That just makes my day.

I am so horribly disgusting and deformed that anyone who is attracted to me must be sick. What kind of perverted logic is that? I don't know about you, but I refuse to allow that sort of backward thinking to pollute my view of myself.

It's not about 'vulnerability' (at least for most devs). It's about finding "differences" to be attractive.


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Anonymous said...

Well, I have to agree that the stalkers and other creepiness is valid reason for serious and perhaps violent anger.

As someone with a disability, however, I do admire disabled "sex symbols" like Ellen Stohl and Sharry Konopski. I'm not a wheelchair user, I am quite firm in my belief that those of us with disabilities are sexual beings and that shouldn't be denied or made taboo. The mother of an ex girlfriend triggered a severe verbal conflict many years ago for having cited my disability as her reason for disapproving of my relationship with her daughter.

Foolishly, I chose in a moment of pride/anguish/anger to end the relationship for my ex's having complained to me afterward that I had been too harsh and disrespectful in pointing out her mother's ignorance. "Since you sided with her on this, we're finished." Many years later, however, she and I were miraculously reunited.

Anonymous said...

I am a 21 year old female and have been in and out of a wheelchair all my life. I have always been fine with wearing shorts in warm weather, exposing my deformities. This article, but mostly the comments following it, have made me really reconsider doing that anymore.

I have never heard of this particular fetish before, and it disturbs me. No matter how many pretty word pictures these devotees paint, ("they are more approachable, vulnerable") I am being viewed as a sexual toy for something that has been a barrier for me throughout my life.

I wouldn't want someone to persue me strictly because I had nice breasts/eyes/ass/whatever. Why would I be comfortable with some freak (yes Bob, freak) chasing me just to molest my legs and never really want to know me.

I do not let my disability define me. I am an honest hardworking person and the partners I have had in the past have been able to appreciate that, along with my body without objectifying me.

I think that a lot of the comments from the devotees may change the way I view the motives of prospective dates... wow.

Angela said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

That's a very interesting post. And everything you have said about the invasion of privacy, such as taking/posting pictures without consent of the subject are, obviously, wrong. Being an admirer and having been a member of various groups, I have a firsthand experience how such things go on. However every coin has two sides, and this phenomenon too has a better side to it. I just hope you will come across the better side more than the one you are finding today. said...

I have to say first and foremost I am a devotee and also suffer from Body Identity Integrity Disorder or BIID. There are a few studies on the subject from Michael First. I personally don't understand why I am like this, the devotee part i compare to just something I like in a woman sort of like a nice body or blond hair, I like a woman who is paralyzed. I am not a creeper who takes secret videos or pictures, that to me is what gives someone like me a bad name. My girlfriend is in a wheelchair and knows about all of this and accepts me for it, but I'm also not with her just because of the chair. Anyway, the other part is wanting to be in a chair, this I can only compare to transgender, not being in the right body. Yes the feeling is real and yes pretending to be in a chair helps a little with it. This is not something that is understood to well yet in the psychology field yet but is being studied. I have to say it is very frustrating to deal with and I am sure being in a wheelchair is by no means easy, would I try and hurt myself no but I know inside that I need to be in a chair and not understanding why bothers me more. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions or comments for me. I am opening up to telling people about this and trying to stand up for people with this condition. I do not agree with people secretly taking videos and such, that is by no means who I am. Thank you


I thoroughly enjoyed this piece after stumbling upon it. I too use a chair and am baffled by this fetish community. Although I feel I should be somehow flattered - I find the whole thing extremely shortsighted. These people want "soap opera cripple" like perfectly healthy just sitting down which is ridiculous. I write for a blog called that girl in the wheelchair and think you should check it out