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Cory Silverberg

Devotees

By August 15, 2007

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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

Comments
August 17, 2007 at 11:59 pm
(1) Duane says:

wow, i’m disabled and this shocks me. the concept isn’t a 180 degree turn because i have been with non-disabled women that didn’t care but to even think that a woman might have a preference for me BECAUSE of my disability is mind boggling. would be nice if the dating web sites offered “disability” options as preferences rather than ignore them because “it shouldn’t really matter (BUT IT DOES!)”. if there are any, i haven’t seen them and i happily stand corrected if i’m wrong.

May 8, 2008 at 7:19 am
(2) Patricia says:

I had polio since I was a baby and although some consider me extremely beautiful, an over-achiever, and also very successful and well-known, men in the world would look at me and turn around.
I just met, however, for the first time in my life a “devotee” whom at the beginning I thought he was plain “nuts”, but when we met, he treated me with care, with warmth and, yes, with passion… but he is married so nothing is possible. But, I just wanted to share with you that, for once, I got a glimpse of real human warmth in my life… thanks to my handsome European devotee…

December 15, 2008 at 2:52 am
(3) Hannah says:

I agree with Patricia. Where was that “handsome European devotee” from?
I worry that these men are going around from one polio woman to another. I also had polio as a baby, am beautiful, successful, well-known, and had just met a wonderful “handsome European devotee” who is married -but I fell in love with him, and of course he is married. I don’t agree if this people are just going around and ‘tasting’ one polio woman after the other. Sure, we need it badly, but isn’t it better to have someone for good? Your thoughts are welcome.

January 26, 2011 at 12:07 am
(4) Debra says:

I am an amputee, but most wouldn’t know this by looking at me. Do you know that there are so many devotees out there looking at amputee women that it actually gets in the way of amputees supporting each other? It is crucial for new amputees to have that connection to other amputees, but when all online forums are overrun with devotees, it is kind of hard. The grops have to be invite only and you have to prove you are an amputee. Devotees are not wanted in those forums where amputees are trying to help and support eachother.

January 26, 2011 at 9:59 pm
(5) Cory says:

Hi Debra, thanks for sharing your experience here. While there are a lot of different attitudes toward devotees I think (hope) everyone agrees that what you’re talking about is not appropriate. We all should be able to have spaces that are not only safe for us to share experiences, but also where our voices can be put first, heard loud and clear. To have devotees, who are as far as I know always people who are not currently disabled, go into forums which are set up for amputees to share, is, at least in my opinion, disrespectful and a kind of silencing, that folks who have more privilege and power do all the time. As a white, currently non-disabled person who identifies as an ally, I feel it is my responsibility to know when to shut up and listen, and when I’m asked to not participate in something to agree and respect that request. Thanks again for your comments. Cory

April 18, 2011 at 12:40 pm
(6) Donna says:

I have heard of this type of person before, and I assumed it was mainly out of pity or just plain curiosity that caused able-bodied people to be enamored, fixated or something other than having true, honest and positive feelings of love and admiration for the disabled person. Frankly, I would not want this kind of relationship at all. If it is not a relationship built on love, acceptence and maturity, it is NOT a real relationship. We are entitled to the same loving, nurturing, caring and respectful relationship that everyone else is. In my opinion, devotees are misguided, immature and maybe even a little self-centered.

August 12, 2013 at 11:45 pm
(7) Ian McPherson says:

Dear Donna
May I say you have a very narrow minded and ill informed view on the subject to which you purport to speak with some authority.I may say that I to am similarly uninformed but I know the term “devotee” is a very broad term to describe a group of people who are attracted to people with disabilities.This umbrella term does not ,like any broad spectrum term describing a group, that there are many and varied types of people within a group ranging from the very good and well meaning people to the very bad and malevolent.It does not allow that what ever the initial attraction between two people, superficial or otherwise, there can develop a long and lasting genuine love and devotion.There are many matches,not necessarily in the devotee community, that are not exactly made in heaven but turn out to be very successful.

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