One of the first sexual subcultures I came into contact with on the internet were devotees. Devotees are people who have a fetish or intense sexual interest or desire for someone living with a disability. Most commonly devotees are men who are attracted to women with amputations, but there are also people who fetishize other aspects of living with a mobility disability like wheelchairs, leg braces, etc… and devotees can be men or women.
As someone who is currently non disabled but for whom disability is intimately linked to my personal and professional life, I've never managed to stick to one opinion about devotees. At first I thought they were bad news. Then, after talking to writer and broadcaster Kath Duncan, who produced a wonderful radio series on devotees as well as a film documentary called My One Legged Lover, I allowed my thinking to get more complicated about it. Over the years I’ve talked to more people, both those who identify as devotees and people living with disabilities who have had sometimes brief and sometimes long relationships with devotees.
Is expressing a preference for a visible disability any different than a preference for a hair color, or body type, or cultural background? Do I have a problem with people who express those kinds of preferences? And what kinds of preferences are these exactly? Are they sexual preferences or romantic ones?
One of the things that is most interesting to me about having this conversation with people is the way it makes people rethink disability. They can begin to get a glimpse of disability as identity, and as disability as something more complicated than the hassle of not getting on the bus, or not being able to feed yourself. And I’d say almost half of the conversations I have with non disabled people about devotees ends with them telling me that they once found this disabled person really hot. These conversations can also leave me feeling weird, but at the same time there’s something a little radical about people who hold all sorts of disability phobic ideas admitting their attractions.
I was thinking about all this when I screened an episode about devotees on the award winning Canadian documentary program Sex TV (a show I consult for) The short clip and description (which you can view for free on their website) don't do the whole piece justice, but they're worth checking out, and hopefully one day the program will make its way on line in its entirety.
Related - Sexuality and Disability