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The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time

by J.
'... the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.'
'The dog did nothing in the night-time.'
'That was the curious incident,' said Sherlock Holmes.

In the article A particular perspective the author notes that there has been no significant academic interest in the phenomenon of sexual attraction felt by people for amputees, but fails to account for this. I believe that there are two main reasons for this. First the phenomenon is very rare, and it is therefore difficult to find sufficient subjects to make a statistical analysis of the features they share, but second and most important, I believe that the reason students of aspects of unusual sexuality have ignored it is that until recently the attraction has not been regarded as an aberration.

Many works of narrative art deal more or less directly with the relationship between an able-bodied person and disabled one and in doing so they deal quite innocently with the phenomena of devotion, for example, consider three examples from the cinema: Reach for the Sky, (dir. Lewis Gilbert), is a biographical film about Douglas Bader, an airman in the RAF who lost both legs in plane crash, but who went on to to be a squadron-leader in the RAF in the Second World War. His wife, played by Muriel Pavlow, is portrayed without any suggestion of sexual aberration or waywardness. Her character portrays more than wifely stoicism and support however, because in the film, and in real life for all I know, she met Bader after he had lost his legs. Equally no suggestion of perversity attached itself to the woman, played by Theresa Wright, who eventually married a war-wounded paraplegic, played by Marlon Brando in the film The Men (dir. Fred Zinneman). More recently Jane Fonda gave good old able-bodied - if not able-minded - Bruce Dern the shaft, in favour of paraplegic Jon Voigt in the film Coming Home (dir. Hal Ashby). (Incidentally this film would have been much more impressive if it had been cast against, type with beefy Jon Voight playing the dickheaded militarist and weasely Bruce Dern the paraplegic hero.) This last film is particularly interesting because it explicitly reveals the sexual relationship between the paraplegic man and the able-bodied woman.

All these manifestations of popular culture can be reinterpreted as a kind of protofeminist polemic which says the men may be just about tolerable after they have been cut down to size; but there is a strong, presumably culturally determined, tendency to idealize the apparently self-sacrificing nature of these relationships. When Reach for the sky was televised one Sunday afternoon I wasn't interested in it myself: I'm attracted to women who have lost limbs, hardly interested at all in a film of Kenneth More pretending to be a man who had lost his legs, so instead I watched the audience. I was amazed by the innocent unselfconscious avidity with which the women in the audience devoured the film.

The typical relationship that a woman might expect to have with a man until the sixties was much the same as the one depicted in the films. The only difference is that the disabled member of the couple was the woman. Until the sixties almost every woman was systematically disabled by the culture she lived in, by being deprived of the education that would make her self-supporting, and deprived also of the opportunities to use her talents in the world dominated by male prejudice. As well as being culturally disabled, women were also physically disabled, until recently by being blackmailed into wearing tight corsets and high-heeled shoes and all the rest of the shackles. Consequently men were culturally encouraged to support them. Of course the men have a sexual reason for having a permanent partner dependent on them, it is more certain than prostitution, it can be given a culturally acceptable gloss, and it provides a minimally inconvenient environment for raising children.

There is therefore a very strong historical precedent for able-bodied people (men) having continuing relationships with more or less disabled people (women). In such a social milieu, I suggest, the selection by a man of an unusually seriously disabled member of the opposite sex, such as a woman who is an amputee, is not seen as a sexual aberration, but rather, as an extreme of the culturally propagated myth about the duty of the man to support the woman, and that the erotic component of the relationship, the specialness, would not need to be recognized explicitly. Indeed there is no way that the erotic potential could be disentangled from the culturally acceptable, even admirable, behaviour of accepting the more than usually onerous duty of supporting the disabled person.

Evidence for this interpretation being the current perception as late as 1946 is supplied by Louise Baker in her autobiography. Louise Baker had her right leg amputated in childhood. She wrote that she fell into the habit of preferring to use crutches because prostheses didn't grow with her as she grew up, (In these sophisticated days we might wonder if that was the whole story ...) She wrote of travelling on the bus with her mother when she was in her teens, and of a man, a very respectable man, a banker, a member of the Harvard Club, introducing himself to her mother and explaining that he was charmed with Louise and asking permission to call and visit the family. (In an aside to her account Louise Baker is ironical about her charm remarking that she was particularly 'brattish' at the time.)

What would a mother make of such an approach today? I believe that with modern sophistication she would immediately be aware of the underlying sexual motivation and fear it. Louise's mother was doubtful, but in due course the banker provided character references, and Louise found a good friend. The approach made by the man was in public, and while it was an unusual one, to be accepted, if at all, with circumspection, was, after precautions had been taken, an acceptable approach.

The event I have described must have taken place in the thirties and I suggest that this was probably the cusp point where attitudes changed to the modern one that recognizes the sexual component only, and is guilty about it. It seems that sexual sophistication far from cleaning our minds has dirtied them.

In Britain the most widely available published materials written by devotees themselves are the letters to Forum. In every case that I remember the letters deal with the most conventionally acceptable of desires, for loving, even tenderly romantic, long-term relationships with members of the opposite sex. Now the truthfulness of some letters to Forum is obviously questionable; but the letters by the devotees seem to me to ring true. By the standards of the behaviour described in much of the correspondence in Forum, enacted if not in reality at least in fantasy, the letters by the devotees are more than acceptable: they represent aspirations that the most conventional, even conservative, social arbiter would find ideal.

As well as finding one-legged women very attractive, I also find women with red-hair attractive - imagine a tall beautiful one-legged woman with red hair who (incredibly!) was irresistibly attracted to tall bearded middle-aged academics who were into yoga and karate ... what bliss ...

Once the good old supportive medical profession hears about this they go rooting about in their clamp of Greek roots - just the place to look to describe someone attracted to carrot-tops - and decide that I am not just an acroto-thingy but I am rhodotrichophile as well. Hell, that sounds terrible - nothing like Greek to make you sound really weird.

My conclusion, is that the reason that the phenomenon of sexual desire felt for amputees was not studied in the past by the psychologists interested in aberrant sexuality is the same as the reason they haven't studied rhodotrichophilia: they perceived no aberrant sexuality to study and neither should we.

The curious incident of the dog in the night-time was no curious incident: the dog didn't bark because there was nothing to bark at.

Notes and references

The silver blaze
The memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1928)
... shackles ...
A discussion of the physical injuries and deformities caused by dressing fashionably is given in:
The unfashionable human body
B. Rudofsky (1972)
Hart-Davis, London, UK.
Out on a limb
Louise Baker (1946)
McGraw-Hill New York, USA
The book is available online here
... supportive medical profession ...

A horrifying historical account of the ignorance, prejudice, and incompetence of the medical profession in dealing with sexual matters is given in: The anxiety makers
by Alex Comfort (1968)
Panther Modern Society, Panther Books, London.

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