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An Interview with Vera Little

by Paul

Q: Tell us a little (well, you see what I mean...) about yourself and your background.
A: My early life isn't all that interesting, really. I am a East Coast based artist living on a very limited income. I study animation and sculpture at The School of The Museum of Fine Arts. I'm a terrific web designer and a fantastic hula hooper. I love obscure film and surrealist art. I hope to grow up to either join the circus or become a super-hero.

Q: What has happen to you and how did you initially react upon becoming an amputee?
A: I developed Toxic Shock Syndrome from a staph bacteria infection a week after having saline breast implant surgery. I became very ill and my blood pressure dropped so that major organs began shutting down and the blood supply to my extremities became poor. Eventually, this led to the amputation of my fingers (in a series of surgeries) and of both my legs below the knees. It was a slow, torturous process, obviously very difficult and painful.

Q: How did you learn about amputee devotees and what was your initial reaction?
A: You often hear about amputees who are approached by a devotee or who stumble upon a devotee website by chance. They often describe the experience as surprising or even disturbing. My experience was quite the opposite. It occurred to me that there might be an amputee fetish and I went online to find out.

I hadn't had any experience with the internet and asked some friends to walk me through it. We typed 'amputee' and 'sex' into a search engine and eventually found a picture of a woman masturbating with a coke bottle. She was an above the knee amputee. Actually it was a typical porn picture which someone had altered in photoshop to make the woman an amputee, but I didn't realize that then. Soon after that I found "Amputees are Beautiful," Carol Davis' site. I realized that what I had suspected was true.

I wasn't prepared for the intensity of the attraction for some devotees, or for some of the behaviors and feelings of devotees. But, I welcomed the idea of a ready made audience. I have never felt that I didn't deserve attention because of my physical differences.

I found the devotee audience very committed to their interest and very willing to support the people who provided content and products for their interest.

Q: Have you become intimate with some devotees and, if yes, what is your conclusions now that you have been in contact with some?
A: I've had some contact with devotees, mainly through email, but I've also developed some real time relationships as well. I'm hesitant to draw any general conclusions about groups of people. Although, there are some undeniable similarities in the feelings and behavior of some devotees.

I am aware of a sameness of tone and content in much of the online text and material, written by and for devotees. Most likely this is because the people in the community are influenced by each other.

There is an effort to speculate on who is a devotee. if you hear of someone who is with an amputee, like Paul McCartney, he must be a devotee. This is an issue of semantics; who is a devotee? Some of the text I've read on devotee websites suggests that anyone who would find an amputee attractive is a devotee. It paints a black and white picture. Devotees are attracted to amputees and every one else is repulsed by them. If a person is with an amputee who is not a devotee, there is no way he could find the amputee physically attractive. And if he did, then he must be a devotee.

In my small experience of the world, people are capable of a whole range of emotions past attraction or repulsion. Because a person could be attracted to a person who had an amputation doesn't make him turned on when he sees a stump. For example, I had a hairy boyfriend for about 4 years. Body hair wasn't anything I thought I would be much attracted to- actually I never thought much about it. However, I've come to really love his pelt. I am not attracted to all body hair and I don't seek that attribute in someone else. So I wouldn't say I'm a hirsute fetishist.

There is the assumption that the idea of amputations and deformations hold appeal only for devotees. But, I think that people have always been somehow fascinated, horrified and mystified with the physical 'other.' This is because Amputation is a powerful metaphor and it has had its place in literature and art. Amputations and references to amputees can be found often in history in various forms- fairy tales and children's literature (example: Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, The Cripple, Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz) Comic books, movies, and TV shows (The Bionic Woman, the 6 Million dollar man, Star Wars, Robocop). The interest and appeal of the physical other made some disabled performers famous in traveling side shows (the 1st disabled community?) . Deformation continues to be a crowd pleaser on TV talk shows (the modern day version of freak shows) and human interest stories. There is also a particular obsession with cyborgs in fiction and film, the melding of man and machine. This has obvious implications for prosthetic wearers. In art and fiction, the medical trauma has proven to be an opportunity for a metaphorical as well as physical transformation.

Q: This might be looking like being a little off-topic but actually it isn't, because perceptions of and reactions to devoteism may vary widely depending on the answer: are you straight, lesbian or bisexual?
A: Bisexual.

Q: Do you remember what you were thinking about disability before becoming an amputee yourself?
A: No. Not really. I think, like a lot of people, I felt my body was somewhat indestructible. I never thought much about disability.

Q: What is your present activities and what are your projects for the future?
A: Among other projects, much of my energy goes to The Vera Little Media Project and Homunculus. In the beginning, my website was simply a place to promote my modeling. But since then the project has evolved into a more conceptual project.

I am interested in the history of disabled people as performers and public figures and the way they have used media to alter their audience's perception of themselves (like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for example). The advent of the internet is a culmination of this phenomena because of the access it gives to anyone to self publish.

This summer I have been thinking a lot about myself as a representative, or spokesmodel, for the present and the future. In this age of technological sophistication, we rely on machines to live. And yet, we possess a distrust and fear of where our progress will take us. I, as someone who relies on prosthetics to function, represent a positive example of what we can do with technology. I have been thinking about ways to incorporate some of these ideas into my work on the The Vera Little Media Project. I am video documenting the progress of the fitting of my new prosthetics as the first part of a Human Cyborg Project. I am trying to work out some of the details of how to afford to put this work on my site.

I also am working on a new magnet set (The Super Hero Edition!) and I plan to offer a new photo series for sale. This is on top of all my sculpture and animation work. I am a girl who likes to keep busy.

Q: You call yourself "cyberprincess". That's fun. What do you mean by that?
A: Its often said that celebrities are our modern version of royalty. Keeping with my self made style, I thought I deserved a title.

Q: Your 2 websites have 2 different destinations. One, "The Vera Little Media Project", is essentially centered around you, while "Homunculus" is more centered around your work. Could you put both of them in perspective in relation with you being an amputee and the influence your work might have on the devotee community.
A: The Vera Little Media Project is home to the promotion and products having to do with Vera Little. This project and some of the products I sell may be of some interest to devotees. Although, I intend for my charms to appeal to everyone, and I no longer market strictly to a devotee audience.

Homunculus deals with the darker side of my brain. Its mainly an online journal and portfolio. It is also home to the webcam, which I turn on when I'm working. [No longer the case]

Q: Body image is an essential issue, for women in general, and for amputees in particular, even more than for other form of disability where the modifications are less dramatic for the body appearance. Being both, you are actively working on this through your websites. Tell us more about it.
A: Positive body image isn't always an easy thing to posses and sometimes it takes work to achieve. I think image is something to be played with; a medium for expression like any other. The difficulty in being a woman who is also a physical other is that you must constantly combat the voices of the cosmetics and clothing industries who want you to think that there is only one way to be beautiful. I would like women to stop thinking about the idea of beauty as something that is desirable because it will bring in attention from men. But rather, as a feeling of confidence and security that you project.

Q: Disability and sexuality; that's combining two taboos. That's probably one of the reasons why devotees are having such bad reputation. What's the position, from the amputee perspective (and one who loves to go after conventions, for that matter)? Could it be that there are as much untolerant people amongst the disabled community than there are in the community in general?
A: I'll have to consult the amputee handbook for the official perspective ;)
Perhaps you are right. For some people, amputees and non amputees alike, their sexuality is a sensitive issue. They are uncomfortable with the overt sexuality of devoteeism. Although, I can imagine a number of reasons why the idea of devotees might be unpopular to someone. One might just be the weirdness factor. Another might be because an amputee had a bad experience with a devotee who behaved badly. Perhaps they found an insensitive and offensive website. Perhaps, for some amputees, they can not get over the psychological dynamic. Their amputations might be something they associate with trauma and pain, or perhaps they are still the source of pain. They may feel, regardless of the truth, that the devotee gets off on their pain.

Q: Devotees are not very well perceived by the amputee community. Granted, some have behaved in less than standard manners, to say the least. But I believe there is more to it, like the tremendous difficulties for amputees and disabled persons in general, to recognize the fact that they are "different", and that this difference is actually a feature and not yet another limitation. You already know that I believe that this is one of the keys to understanding devoteism. As you are different (disabled) being different (artist) being different (provocative), I'm curious about your position about "being different".
A: I suppose how different you appear depends on the company you keep.

I think the dynamic between amputees and devotees is often a complex one. As you said, there are many amputees who are very resentful of their physical circumstances and this may prevent them from viewing devotees as anything other than perverse. However, the devotee's emotional and psychological position is as relevant as the amputees. Many devotees seem to suffer from pent up guilt and shame and it often seems very important to them that their interest be seen viewed as normal. Acceptance is important to many devotees, as appearing normal is to many amputees. The desire to fit in is one that surpasses issues of amputees and devotees.

Q: To me "normality" is the probable equivalent of "pretty-boring-indeed", being very conventional myself in all aspects of my life and body apprearance, this might be an element of my attraction towards amputees and disabled persons in general. The struggle of the disabled persons, and amputees in particular, to look, live and "be" as normal as possible is a wonder to me, but it's a fact. There is a social pressure and an imposed vision of what we "have" to be that causes terrible damages in the well being of mankind in general. I know: I'm a perfect example of the result of this pressure. Any idea about what to do to tackle this issue (not necessary from the amputee point of view, but also)?
A: Critical and creative thinking is the only cure. Avoid main stream media. Find art, books, and movies that stretch your imagination. Have coffee with someone who you have great conversations with.

Q: You've mentioned once that a significant part of your audience is made of people that are into some form of body modification like tattoos, scarring, piercing, branding, Teflon implants, etc,... and you suggested that devotees might be part of them.
A: No, you must have misunderstood what I said. I was trying to explain that my audience has expanded beyond the devotee community and provided the body modification crowd as an example of that. I think the differences between the two groups out weigh the fact that both may have an interest in someone who has an amputation. For example, the Bod Mod people are generally interested in an amputation because it is one way to alter or modify the form. It is a possibility among many options of modification and may be political or spiritual rather than sexual. The devotee is not usually interested in the amputee because it challenges body politics. Devotees are often quite specific about the particular amputations they find attractive and are not interested in other ones.

August 2001

It is understood that Vera Little, aka Lisa Bufano, passed away on October 3d, 2013 which makes us all very sad.

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