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W. And K.: A Complementary Couple
The dream of a lifetime for many of us is to form a loving relationship with that special person. Matters are complicated for people who have physical impairments and for people who are attracted to others who have physical impairments; but people do find one another and one such couple are W. and K. The man, W, is a devotee, and the woman, K, is an LAK amputee. They have agreed to be interviewed about their life together for OverGround. In the interview that follows I have marked questions addressed to W. Q W: and questions to K. Q K: (Just for information, W's answers are in English and he translated K's into English.)
W.: I am 48 years old and a devotee for around 30 years. I went through the usual stages like we all did and luckily discovered rather fast that I'm not alone. Over the years I got many (most not personal) contacts to other devotees (many of them in the US and some in UK) who now exist for many years, and unfortunately some passed away in the mean time too. From those I could meet personally I must say that I met many kind, nice, interesting people that normally I wouldn't have met. One I like especially to mention is Dr. Money who is certainly well known. It was not only a pleasure but an honour to meet him personally. Others should be mentioned too, but are not for obvious reasons.
Q W: Did you ever feel guilty about your feelings of devotion?
A W: Yes, like many have or had. I compare it like someone who discovers himself to be gay.
Q W: Did you ever search, for example in libraries for information about others who shared your feelings?
A W: Yes, a lot. But there's not much to find, as hardly any material exists. I got some hints too, but very little was found, i.e. Freud, Enzensberger. Most information came from Penthouse (the letters) and from the Newsletter by the Dixons (very interesting experiment) before Bette Hagglund took over and formed Fascination. I also read some articles by Dr. Money, and there was something in the Mainstream magazine and most important the old Ampix survey which was very interesting in several ways. Grant C. Riddle tried to explain it too and I really honour his work, but I think he went in the wrong direction. But it was less to find out if someone shares my feelings (I already knew this), I simply tried to find out why. But until today there do exist some strange theories (you have a good laugh when you read them) but so far no serious answer. So I finally gave up, didn't care anymore - for what?
K.: I'm now in the early forties and for 23 years I have been one-legged. It happened through an accident and looking back, I had, despite the things connected with it, in some way, luck. Due to the other severe injuries, I got morphine for quite some time so it saved me many things other amputees have to experience. After the hospital I was directly transfered to a rehabilitation hospital where I was in gait school when I got my first prosthesis. There I met some other amputees and the time we had to spend together made it for all, a little bit easier. But I too saw others who had a much worse destiny, and I came to the conclusion that my destiny seemed to be 'better'. As I mentioned I got for a long period morphine so the depressions others have to experience were not so bad. One important thing too was the social surrounding. I was asked to go back to work when I finally returned got out of hospital and I had no problems with friends and family. So I finally 'went' one-legged with a prosthesis and a cane back to work. Soon I was working full time again, practised well and left the cane at my grandmother's and returned finally so far adjusted and 'complete' to normal life. One year later I did my driving license and got my first car. This ment real independence for me. Advancement in prothetics following soon, helped me additionally a lot too.
Q K: I'd like to begin by asking you, K, how you feel about being referred to as a LAK?
A K: Well I don't care so much about labels; others might do more. It's maybe little bit impersonal, but in some ways we are all categorised, no matter if we like it or not. But that's what I am.
Q K: Would you tell us some thing about yourself, what sort of a job you do, what sort of clothes you wear, what you do in your leisure time?
A K: Our education system is a little bit different, but I am wholesale merchant, worked in the upper management of a company with around 120 employees. Luckily I dont have to work any more. Regarding clothes I wear mainly femine clothing, all kinds of skirts, dresses and I love high heels. I dress depending on the fashion, occasion, weather or mood. Limitations are not so big, just the colour difference between the prosthesis and my leg is sometimes a minor problem. Leisure time is driving a little bit abroad, eating, maybe catching a Guinness, all kind of music, travelling to the North, Britain, and Ireland.
Q K: Do you ever, as a matter of preference go about in public on crutches?
A K: I like that very much, but dont do it very often. Depends mainly on the weather when we do a nice walk. The reason is that I'm not so 'professional' in using crutches like maybe others, so I only do it when I go out together with W. Despite that I like it very much, I feel always a little bit disabled in that way because I can't use my hands for example opening a door, and have to care about the crutches. Despite the fact that I use mainly my prosthesis I really feel free when using crutches and enjoy it very much.
Q K: Have you a peg-leg?
A K: Yes, I have one. It's made from an old prosthesis. It's very comfortable and light and easy to use too. You only have to take care when you sit down. I feel that it would much easier for new amputees to use a peg leg first instead of a complete prosthesis. You put it on and start walking like nothing.
Q K: When do you use it?
A K: Only at home when I have to do some homework or just for fun. It's a different feeling because its much lighter and easy to walk with. I don't dare to use it in public because of the stares.
Q W: And the same background questions for you, W.
A W: By chance I have basically the same job, wholesale merchandiser (we met because of this) and I specialise in sales marketing and analysis. Dressing is naturally no problem for me, stick often too much in jeans instead of a suit. Leisure is computing, devotee issues, photography, 60's music, travelleling - like Britain, Ireland and the North most. Not to forget a good Guinness! So far we're lucky to have similar interest, no quarrels which way to travel.
Q K: Would you be willing to tell us about the events that led up to the amputation of your leg?
A K: As I mentioned I had a car accident on a slippery, icy road. My leg was ripped off.
Q K: Were you in a relationship at the time?
A K: Yes, my husband died in that accident.
Q K: What effect did your becoming an amputee have on your relationships?
A K: At that stage nothing or only second, as I had a hard time to arrange all things from the hospital. I had not much time to think about me. Maybe sounds strange ...
Q W: You told me before that before you met K. you were already aware of being especially attracted to amputees.
A W: Yes, very much.
Q W: When were you first aware of this special attraction?
A W: Like always, first impressions in childhood, and around 17, it became very aware to me.
Q W: Did you make a deliberate attempt to find a partner who is an amputee?
A W: Yes, but as many may know, it's rather difficult.
Q W: Have you had other partners who are amputees before you met K?
A W: Yes, I was so far lucky, but it didn't led to a longterm partnership.
Q K: When you were first in rehabilitation what were the aspects of becoming an amputee that most concerned you?
A K: So far the most important thing to me was being able to get back to work. As I mentioned I got morphine over a long period and this means you're not so aware of your situation and during rehabilitation I saw so many others, like wheelchair users, who were in a much worse situation and I knew I'll be able to walk again after some time, in contrast to them. It may sound strange or too easy to some, but as I said I was so far lucky that I had not to experience all kind of additional medical problems that others often have to.
Q K: Were you concerned about losing personal attractiveness then, or later in rehabilitation?
A K: As you know I had other problems, and during rehabilitation you're in a group with similar problems and at that time you don't care much about that. We were kept quite busy all day so my aim was learning to walk again. But I know too, that one husband was leaving his wife because he couldn't see her now disabled. One male amputee had a short sexual encounter with a woman who was not an amputee, but as I remember it was a failure.
Q K: Did any of the people involved in your rehabilitation reassure you about these matters?
A K: No, not at all. Rehabilitation covers mainly the physical aspects, not the very important psychological ones, at least the devotee topic.
Q K: Were you aware of the existence of devotees before you met W?
A K: No, absolutely not.
Q K: In the time between losing your leg and meeting W. did you have any other relationships?
A K: Yes, I had.
Q K: Did you feel that your personal attractiveness was severely reduced by your amputation?
A K: Not really, as you might remember this was secondary to me. I tried hard to walk again, and to work again. That was my main focus. Naturally some things had changed and I realised that; but since I was not in ice-skating or other such activities it was not such a big problem to adjust to the new situation. The challenge was to be 'complete' again, when you know what I mean.
Q K: How did you feel when you first found out about the existence of devotees?
A K: He told me about, or better said introduced me to the idea. It was very strange to me, and I first thought a lot about this interest but thought 'Why not?' There's nothing wrong I think.
Q K: If you had been told about the existence of devotees while you were still in rehabilitation do you think that this would have been positive or negative?
A K: We discussed that topic too. I personally feel that in my case it wouldn't help me, neither would I have believed it. But I would like to have experienced this some years earlier, maybe four or five years after the amputation. But I think it maybe could help others who have to be amputated because of illness and are in an absolutely different situation.
Q W: Do you collect or have you collected photographs of women who are amputees?
A W: Yes, naturally.
Q K: When you found out about picture-collecting, how did you feel about it?
A K: Well I think it's in some ways understandable. Most people collect something. So far he has not many any more. He had given away his collection after we met. He showed me some pictures and I must say they're so far harmless, no pornography at all. Most more or less good looking, dressed women. So what's the big deal? For me it's interesting to see how other amputee women look like, better or not, what kind of crutches or prosthesis they use.
I once felt very embarrased when someone took pictures of us in a very rude manner at an exhibition against our will. I think there's a lot of discussion about this topic and certainly a lot to say, but in general I don't object those who collect, I can understand it.
Q K: Did knowing about the existence of devotees alter your attitude to using things other than a cosmetic prosthesis as a mobility aid?
A K: Basically not. First it is for me an important aid which gives me quite some independence and I have to decide what is most comfortable to me, not pleasing unknown devotees and getting additional, unwanted attention in public. Until I met W. I hadn't even crutches at home. So I discovered the pleasure of using crutches and feel comfortable with them rather late. I have to add that I considered crutches as something very negative for many years and for obvious reasons. I was proud not needing them anymore. After I got some again, I felt they can be quite comfortable too when you don't have to use your hands, and it took a long time and some discussions (not persuading me) until I started using them in public too. But if I wouldn't enjoy it, I wouldn't use them. Maybe once in a while to please him but that's it. I remember well when we met a very nice couple and I tried her axillary crutches for the first time ... So far I changed a lot.
Q K: People tend to notice amputees going in public on crutches. How does it feel to be noticed?
A K: It may be different in UK, here you only see men on crutches. A woman on crutches is very unusual. I don't like it very much, but you get used to it. Today I hardly notice it and you really have to ignore it for self-protection too. But, and I feel this is very important, you don't have to be ashamed being an amputee. This can happen to anybody else on the spot. Sure, people are curious and some stare or even make remarks about you because you're different, but remarks are fortunately very rare. I have to say it depends on you a lot too. It's a big difference if you look nice and have a smile, or if you look like the poor cripple, then you'll get pity and that's the least one will get.
Q K: Have you ever been aware of being followed in the street by someone you suspected was a devotee?
A K: Yes, but I first couldn't really explain why. Later when I knew more, things explained.
Q K: Did you find it distressing?
A K: Naturally very much although I now know why and can understand it to a certain degree. As long as it is decently done and I don't notice it's maybe OK? But unfortunately devotees are sometimes very rude in their understandable, but not excusable vein. I don't know how they would react when it would be reverse. It's a hint to some rude devotees to imagine the very unpleasant situation of the amputee being scrutinised like a creature in a drop of water'. Remember your good manners. It's recognize and appreciated - not to mention the follow-ups, anonymous telephone calls etc.
Q K: I know that you have appeared in photographs that circulate in the devotee community. Would you tell me about the events that led to your agreeing to be photographed and selling your pictures?
A K: We discussed this for a long time and W. hesitated for a still longer time. He didn't want to push me, said these pictures are his, private. I think when people like to see a picture of a good-looking woman who happens to be missing a limb, there's nothing wrong as long it's decent and not pornographic, nor a freak show (maybe for some). So if you will, in some way it's a compliment. Remember how many good-looking women are around and nobody really looks at them, nor wants a picture of them or is even willing to pay for it. When I saw pictures of other amputees, I said why not?
Q W: How do you feel about the pictures of your partner being stared at by strangers?
A W: As K. said, I hesitated for a long time. I didn't want to share my private things. But K. convinced me in some way. Naturally I'm proud of K. and some already had seen her or the pics. So if someone likes to see a good looking, one-legged woman why not? She's seen everyday somewhere on the street by others and the pictures are not our best (Sorry to say that).
What people think and do when they see her pictures is their problem. The same happens everyday with the girl on page three. But, there's another idea behind to mention: these pictures, and from others as well, are a good example that one who happens to have only one leg, doesn't mean to be a cripple. There's still something positive. So let's show something positive, despite of a missing limb! K. did an interview many years ago for a Sunday paper just for this purpose. They did some pictures of her and published them together with an interview in a positive way. The paper got many letters from other amputees that they got hope for their own situation, not feeling being just a cripple, but reading and seeing something positive. It was important for them that one can despite a prosthesis look good again and that life can goes on again.
Q W: How important do you feel it is now for your relation ship that K. is an amputee? Would you say that it keeps your relationship together, or is a very important part of your relation ship, a significant part, or not very important at all?
A W: Important question. First, the reason we met was that K. is an amputee. To our surprise things turned that way that it is certainly important for both of us! But if this would be the only reason that would not be enough. We feel if this is the only reason in a relationship sooner or later it will break. Amputees are first people like all others too. We found that out very fast. This means if someone likes blondes, small ones, big bosoms it's all the same. Just a certain attribute isn't enough (as many certainly know or agree) but it adds something important. When people don't like each other, smell each other, have similar tastes, interests there's not way of going on. It will last a certain time, but that's it. So in this case it's still an important thing to us, but there's more...
Q W: Would you tell me more details about how you met?
A W: I was busy reading small ads hoping to find the right ad. I think this is one sure way like the fishnet method. It happened that I read an ad from an elderly arm amputee. I wrote her in hope that she might have contacts to other amputees. She answered my letter and after some time I got her phone number and I phoned her. She knew about devotees just recently and was very open. It was for her a new experience and she wanted to know more. In those talks which often were very unefficent and boring, I asked her if she knows other amputees too. She mentioned that she knows a nice young woman who is a leg amputee and lived in her house, but she had no contact to her. After some more phone talks (over a year) she finally gave me the name and the phone number of that young woman. A week later I took all my courage and simply called her. That's when it all began ...
Q W: When you became partners did any of your other friends make any comment either positive or negative about the fact that K. had a disability?
A W: No, so far not, except positive. First Karin looks good, walks good and can hide her disability quite good. So you only notice a slight limp. It's a question of personality if you're accepted or not and that depends on your own attitude, quite simple so far but for many a big, sometimes not understandable problem.
My thanks to two more victims who have politely answered all the impertinent personal questions I could think of asking them. I believe that this interview, and the one with Jama Bennett are evidence that things really are changing for the better for us all. In the meantime I am sure that the readers of OverGround would wish to join with me in sending our best wishes to W. and K. for continuing happiness together.
see Interview with Jama
, the founder of ASCOT World