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With Friends Like These...

by J.

The following article entitled "Whatever turns you on" is quoted from the May 1994 number of Disability Now:

Another topic which keeps bubbling in this column is that of men who find amputees' stumps sexy. But are they also enamoured of the amputee herself?

Fiona is under no illusion:
'As an amputee, I have had the doubtful pleasure of knowing two such men. I was newly divorced after a long mariage with the only man I had ever slept with. So I was not only very vulnerable but very naÔve too and I ended up sleeping with him. I really thought he was interested in me, but the morning after, he was moody and seemed to regret the intimacy - once I even caught a look of distaste on his face.

'The second man was developing a fetish for amputees. He carried photos of his former amputee girlfriend, only showing the empty side of her skirt taken from a back view of her! He also carried a photo of her artificial leg.

'When I caught him taking a similar photo of me, from behind, that was it for that relationship. I find men are very devious in hiding their fetishes. We disabled women must be careful.'

This article makes me feel sorrowful and ashamed. The behaviour of the men involved seems to me to exemplify everything that OverGround stands against, but the worst of it all is the dissimulation. It is clear that the men were attracted to Fiona because she is an amputee. It is also clear that the men never openly admitted to her that they found her especially attractive because she was an amputee, and you can understand why from their point of view. Fearful, perhaps, that Fiona would be disgusted by their attraction, as they probably are themselves, they chose to try to keep their real feelings secret. Perhaps Fiona would have been shocked if they had admitted from the beginning their feelings of attraction, but my own experience is that when I have admitted to women who are amputees that I am attracted to women who are amputees, my feelings have usually been accepted as unusual or 'odd but comforting'.

The men who choose not to admit their feelings always get caught in the end. It may be that the revelation of what they really feel has taken place piecemeal, without either partner really being aware of when the truth came to light. In this case, the final revelation need not be too traumatic for either partner, merely the explicit acknowledgement of something that had already been tacitly recognized; but if the devotee has managed to keep his secret for a long time, perhaps years, the final revelation is going to tarnish the relationship in retrospect, as his partner revises her interpretation of the whole of the life they have shared together, and this will be true whether or not she is an amputee. Of course the revelation of true feelings at the beginning of the relationship might bring it to a sudden end, and 'Hi, I think your stump is really sexy.' might not be the most persuasive opening gambit in a conversation, but openness in the early stages is almost a prerequisite for the continuance of a relationship.

The openness is important from another point of view as well. Devotees more than other people must be aware of the sense of loss: loss of function, and loss of personal wholeness, that must follow from undergoing an amputation. For most people who lose limbs the loss of a limb means the loss of sexual attractiveness, and many people, both men and women, have lost partners as a result of losing limbs. This is an added tragedy. The existence of devotees is convincing evidence that the loss of a limb need not imply the loss of sexual desirability. Perhaps a person's set of potential partners will have changed as a result of becoming an amputee, but there is a set of potential partners to choose among, and these potential partners will find the amputee especially physically attractive.

If the people who become amputees could be aware of the existence of devotees as a matter of course, common knowledge, no big deal, the consequence would be that the amputee would not be surprised when devotees turned up. Expecting the devotees to appear would make it easier for everybody involved. The amputee would not be obliged to welcome the appearance of a devotee, just because he was a devotee, but hedged about with the usual 'other things being equal' provisos, might be willing to accept, or even to welcome devotion in the context of all the other virtues that made him a congenial partner, and also it would not be a surprise when he finally admitted his feelings. Of course the amputee may prefer to seek a relationship with someone attracted to her despite the fact that she was an amputee: obviously such people are rare, and are likely to be able to find partners who are not amputees and who can be desired without any such qualification.

The policy of OverGround is to be open about our feelings: people may not like them; but they are left in no doubt about what our feelings are. We are particularly concerned to emphasize that there is no need to feel ashamed of, or guilty about our feelings of attraction; and although many of us find physically impaired people attractive, we are interested in relationships with people: we do not want to reduce people just to their disabilities. Our goal is to foster open loving relationships between people who are attracted to one another. Therefore I found it very depressing indeed to read Fiona's story.

Everything that we stand for is betrayed by the behaviour of the men Fiona writes about. I believe, though, that her experience ought to be publicised within the OverGround community, if only to show what we are all, devotees and amputees up against. It is no wonder that disabled women do not trust us; and all I can say in our defence is that we are not all like that. The men's behaviour is horrible, but I think I can explain it; this is not to excuse it, but to shed some light on their behaviour for Fiona and for other people who have had similar experiences.

Many of our members believe themselves to be disgusting perverts. They have extremely strong feelings of attraction which lead them to seek relationships with the people who possess the particular stigma that attracts them. They feel extremely guilty and ashamed of their feelings, and because of this they try to hide them from everybody, including their potential partners, for fear of disgusting them. A man with such feelings, after sex, will be satiated for a while, and will then feel very guilty indeed, and ashamed of giving into what he sees as his perversion, and he will also blame his partner for colluding in his degradation. This is tragic for everybody involved.

OverGround offers a way of escaping for both partners. There is no reason to believe that there is anything perverted about being attracted to someone who is an amputee, and since there is nothing wrong with being found attractive in part because you are an amputee, there is nothing for either partner to be ashamed of, and therefore no need for secrecy and dissimulation. If there is nothing wrong with the attraction, there is no need to feel guilty after making love, no need for shame, no need for guilt or for disgust. All that is necessary is complete openness on the one side and an acceptance of admiration and desire on the other.

OverGround reiterates until I'm bored with writing it: You can't expect a loving relationship to develop if the only reason that it holds together is that one person finds a part of the other's body sexy; but if people share all the things necessary for a long-term relationship: tastes, attitudes, feelings, mutual tenderness, and if she has a stump, and he finds thinks it makes her especially beautiful and sexy, she might even find his feelings some small compensation for the disaster of the amputation.

Fiona writes 'I find men are very devious about hiding their fetishes ...' I've explained why they might feel the need to be secretive, not because they evil manipulators, but because they are crucified with misplaced shame.

In conclusion I have to state that is as depressing for me to have my feelings of tenderness and attraction called 'fetishes' as I'm sure it would be for Fiona if people were to refer to her in her hearing as a cripple. There are kinder ways of describing conditions that neither of us would have chosen.

The article quoted above appeared as part of the Share your problems column in Disability Now, May 1994 p. 28. I wish to thank the author of the column, Ann Darnbrough, for permission to reproduce the article.

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