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Against Either-or-ism: The Way To Find The Special Friend

by J.

Medical statistics show that there are about 66000 amputees in the population of Britain. Of these about 52000 have had legs amputated. In the crudest terms this amounts to a little fewer than one amputee per thousand in the population. Of those who have lost legs about half, say 26000, have had a leg amputated above the knee. The great majority of these are old people who have lost limbs through circulatory disease. A detailed breakdown by age and sex of the vital statistics of the British population of amputees is available, but a bit of crude estimation will do to emphasise the point I wish to make; and that is that it is unlikely that more than ten percent of 26000 amputees will be young women, say 2600, and the proportion might be as low as a tenth of this, 260 in the population as a whole. Let's take a compromise figure of 1000 in the whole of Britain. Now what proportion of mariageable young women are not in long-term relationships at any moment? My guess is that the proportion is around 5 percent. A further guess is that the most people find women who are amputees much less attractive than the remaining female population, so let us assume that 15 percent of the target population are available to form relationships at any time. The total is reduced to about 150. These are very crude figures but I believe that we would be correct in believing that the population is probably more than 15 and fewer than 1500. In broad terms the devotee is confronted with the problem of finding one woman in at the least a population of 370000. This argument is developed in the context of my own desire to meet and offer my friendship to the woman who would be perfect for me, other people are attracted to members of other groups, the statistics will be different, but the problem remains the same. One of the most important features of devotion is that it is elicited by people who belong to very small groups, people encountered by chance only very rarely.

If she wants to find someone who is a devotee the problems of an amputee are of a similar order of magnitude. There is no way of estimating the size of the population of men who find such women especially attractive. Perhaps the only evidence available for estimating this is the personal advertisements in Forum. A purely subjective impression I have is that there are something like fifteen adverts by devotees searching for women who are amputees to every one advert by women who are amputees who are searching for partners. This estimate is extremely crude but it is the only way I can think of of obtaining evidence about the extent of the population of devotees. There will probably be no more than 50 devotees per amputee - There's really no way of being sure - but even if there are that many it is still extremely unlikely that a woman who is an amputee will meet by chance a man who is a devotee. If the devotee and the amputee are to find their ideally complementary friends they will have to search for each other in some systematic way. For the devotee advertising is likely to be useless not only because the women to whom the advert is addressed are likely to be disinclined to reply if they saw it; but they would be unlikely even to see the advertisement in the first place, simply because of the limited circulation of the specialist periodicals that carry such columns and allow explicit reference to be made to the search for a friend who is an amputee.

If the devotee is to find his special friend he has to go looking for her in the sort of place where he is most likely to find her, that is a place that caters especially, even exclusively, for the needs of amputees, and that is the only place he stands a chance of finding her. The only place to search is the local limb centre. So the search is really straight-forward. All the devotee has to do is to find the local limb centre and stick up a notice on a public notice board. In an open society that would be easy. All he needs to do is to list his virtues and his desires and wait for someone to reply; but it is not that simple. We all know that it was difficult to admit even to the people who love us, who are most likely to remember our more conventional virtues, that we find amputees attractive. It is difficult to approach the strangers staffing the limb centre and ask permission to post the notice. Members of the 'caring' professions often feel that they have a duty to protect the disabled from exploitation: this may extend to the feeling that they should protect the disabled from the depredations of the able-bodied deviants who have sexual designs on them, and doctors especially seem to take a puritanical prescriptive view of what constitutes appropriate sexual behaviour for the physically disabled: none. All of this makes it unlikely that the devotee would make the open approach, and if he did, unlikely that the open approach would be acceptable to the authorities in charge (I don't know. I suppose I should find out. It's just that I haven't got the guts.) Anyway the open approach is unlikely to be successful. Would you reply to a lonely hearts ad. pinned up by some weirdo in the doctor's waiting room?

There would, of course, be no objection to wishing to make contact with the desired amputees for the purposes of conducting research into attitudes towards disability, or as part of a campaign to increase access for the disabled to public buildings and places of entertainment, or on any other pretext that could be explained as having to do with social responsibility. There is no objection to making contact with the physically disabled as long as they are treated as objects for research or compassion: it is only when they might become the subjects of friendly, loving, even sexual, relationships that they are perceived as needing to be protected. The question that has to be asked is: Do they need to be protected? but this is the wrong question. However hard one tries to break out of the corset of habit it still constricts one's thinking. The question is not even 'Do they want to be protected? the question is 'Do you want to be protected?'

The object of making contact with a woman who is an amputee for the purposes of making friends with her might be achieved under the pretext of making her acquaintance as an object of research: 'I want to talk to you about your experiences, as a disabled person, using the public amenities of Edinburgh.' says the James, his brow sweating, eyes starting out of his head, to Jenny, a one-legged young woman who has volunteered to take part in the investigation; and after the discussion is completed, 'Now that that's over, I hope you don't mind, but I'd really like to take you for a cup of coffee...' and there is the opportunity to make friends: they might not become friends; but they have had the chance. It's a common enough scenario, enacted everywhere by young men: Gasping with ill-controlled lust, hypnotised perhaps by pretty breasts beneath a tight sweater: ' ... No, really. I admire your mind ...' John says to Jane. Everybody understands the difference between what society makes us say and what we want to say; and the woman, even if she is wearing a sweater that fits, is not a sexual commodity, and would presumably prefer not to be seen solely as one. It is likely that she would prefer not to be sought out just for her body, pretty though it may be, and pleasing as it is to be admired, but also to be liked as a person, and even, perhaps, to be admired for her mind; and the man, although concerned mostly with sex at the time, would in calmer moments admit to himself that there is more to love than just friction, be happy that she has a pleasing personality, and might even admire her mind as well. I suggest that there is no fundamental difference between the two examples: both are morally reprehensible in that what is spoken is not the whole truth, indeed it may not be the truth at all; but society's response to them is likely to be different. In the first case the immorality may be seen to be much more serious than the second. Attempting to mislead the disabled woman is perceived as more serious than attempting to mislead the able-bodied one. I don't believe that it is. If the woman were mentally disabled matters would be quite different; but the loss of a limb is unlikely to affect the mental powers; and of course most women are astute enough not to be misled in the first place, and furthermore, men's attempts to mislead are likely to be lacking in conviction. Social intercourse concerned with sexual matters is always a counterpoint of what is said and what is meant.

It seems then that the only way the devotee can expect to make contact with the women he is most strongly attracted to is through the misrepresentation of his interest in them, and that is no different in principle from the kind of misrepresentation of interest that many men do of their interests in women, especially during the early period of courtship.

Amputees are in a better position to find devotees if they should want to do so. The subscribers to OverGround and Fascination would be delighted to make contact with them; but the perennial problem is that amputees on the whole do not find the phenomenon of devotion appealing, and the first task of the devotee is to prove that his other virtues compensate for his bizarre and unattractive idiosyncracy.

To eschew completely the misrepresentation of what is found attractive is to fall into what I suggest may be termed 'either-or-ism': this is the view that the devotee must artificially separate into two subdivisions his interest in women who are amputees, and at one time be interested in them either as subjects only for social and anthropological research or as subjects only for love and friendship. Life, I believe, is more complex than that, and social interactions more subtle. If John said what he is thinking: 'How beautiful your breasts are... I'd like to get undressed with you right now and fuck on the spot...' to Jane, she may be much less likely to respond favourably to him, especially in the early days of their relationship, than if he says 'No, really, it's your brains I admire.' even if she doesn't entirely believe his sincerity, she may believe that her brains are admirable, and be contented that they will be admired in the future. Equally, if James said what he is thinking. 'Your having only one leg adds to all the other things about you that attract me... I'd like to get undressed with you ...' etc. Jenny is less likely to respond to him positively, because Jenny is unlikely at first to regard with favour someone attracted to her in part because she is an amputee. I believe we should avoid either-or-ism: not to do so seems to me to demean the disabled depending as it does so on the implicit assumption that they are less perceptive than the rest of us, and are unable to solve the transparent puzzle of extracting meaning from the conventions of flirtation or courtship.

Of course most of us do not meet the ideal partner, or rather we meet partners whose other virtues more than compensate for the fact that they do not belong to the most desired physical type. I have been happily married for many years to a loving wife who accepts, though with some regret, the fact that I have the quirk of finding some one-legged women distractingly attractive. I dare say that the typical man, someone who is not a devotee, married to a women who is an amputee, has feelings corresponding to mine about his wife: that all the other things about her more than compensate for her disability; and of course there would be nothing surprising in his finding other women attractive.

It is said that what women want most is love without sex and that what men want most is sex without love. Because I am married and am faithful to my wife I can offer to the ideal woman exactly what the stereotype asserts she wants, friendship, tenderness, the bitter sweetness of unassuageable yearning, in the context of my continuing commitment to my wife. To a single woman what I am offering might seem limited, incomplete, and unsatisfactory, the offer of a man who wants to gain something without giving anything; but to a woman who is an amputee, married to someone who is not a devotee, a man who regrets her disability, such a friendship as I can offer might be as fulfilling a supplement to her life as it would be to mine. Matters would be perfect if her husband and my wife formed the corresponding and complementary friendship. In this way nobody would be betrayed and nobody would lose. It sounds like a libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte. The sad thing is that people like us will never meet one another.

There is one consolation however, research! (No really, it's how you interact in the social milieu that I'm interested in (sigh).) So in conclusion I should like to ask women who are amputees who live in Scotland (or anywhere else for that matter), who are interested in assisting my research into social attitudes towards the disabled, to write to me then we can make arrangements to meet, discuss these matters, and afterwards perhaps we could go and have a cup of coffee or a drink ...


Notes

... about 66000 amputees ...
Rehabilitation of the physically disabled adult
C. John Goodwill (1988)
Croom Helm, London, UK.

... the search for a friend who is an amputee ...
The following advertisement was not acceptable to a national newspaper in the UK:

Man, forties, tall, fit, bearded, full of tenderness, seeks a lady, unconventional, artistic, an amputee. Unusual? Yes, but isn't it nice to think someone finds you specially attractive?
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