I remember the first time it happened. I must have been 21. This guy and I were making out, and all of a sudden he stopped me and said, "Oh, yeah, your wheels are so hot." I remember being thoroughly freaked out. The thoughts running through my head were:
- "Ewwwwwww. My disability gets him off? Why?"
- "He wants to fetishize me. All I am is my disability."
I proceeded to kick him out, and I did so to a number of other lovers, unsure of how to feel about what had transpired. I should have felt violated that this person's primary attraction to me was my disability, right? What I soon realized is that I had stumbled across a section of the sexual spectrum known as "devotees" -- individuals who are sexually attracted to persons with disabilities (PwDs) because of their disability alone. I remember talking with a lot of my fellow crips who would make the devotee sound like the boogeyman, out to prey on us poor, defenseless cripples.
The more that I started doing this type of work, discussing the lived experience of being both queer and crippled on this blog and in workshops, the more people would approach me and tell me that my wheelchair turned them on, that my disability was a very sexy trait to them, or that they had always secretly been attracted to PwDs but had never felt comfortable enough to say so. I'll admit that my first instinct was to think, "Ewwwww, you're gross," but the more people told me about their attraction, the more intrigued I became.
I am interested in devotees not solely because of their predilection for PwDs but because of what that predilection says about where we stand on issues of disability and sexuality as a society. Are we still not ready to accept PwDs as sexual beings on both sides? Why are these people demonized for their sexual attractions? For instance, I love men with red hair and a well-coiffed beard. (True fact: If I see a ginger I find even remotely attractive, I am like the woman in all those '90s romcoms who fights the others for the bouquet.) Does that make me gross? (By the way, if any sexy, bearded ginger men want to talk about my sexy wheels....)
I think that if our sexual preferences transform into pathology, we need to be careful (so if I started keeping a shrine to Conan O'Brien in my home, there may be an issue). Moreover, because devotees tend to be able-bodied, there is an implicit power imbalance that is ever-present, and that can be worrisome.
That said, so many PwDs have told me that they want to find someone who can look past their disability. What if we need to start saying, "Yes, look at my disability and love it"? I'm not gonna lie: If my wheels were the key to the greatest love story ever told (I'm pretty sure that romance title just wrote itself: The Wheels to Greatest Love Story Ever Told), I would be a fool to turn it down, wouldn't I?
Most importantly, I think that devotees are interesting because of the opportunity they have to introduce the world to a love of disability and those living it. They can help show society that disability can indeed be sexy and should be celebrated. Devotees can also show PwDs the sexual currency their bodies have, and maybe have a part in reversing the long-standing internalized ableism that many crips experience around their own sexuality, which constantly reminds them they're not allowed to be sexual.
So while I am not 100-percent sure about my thoughts as of yet, I do think that (A) there needs to be more research in the area of sexuality and disability with respect to the devotee, and (B) this raises the question: Are we devaluing the devotee altogether?
If you want to find out more about my work as a disability awareness consultant please head over to www.andrewmorrisongurza.com.