©2000 Douglas A. Martin and Nerve.com, Inc.
read by the author
download the free realplayer 7 basic
It was a moment of pure teenage angst.
“What if we’re, like, making out, and then I’m like, ‘Just a minute, I gotta take off my fake leg!’ He’d be totally grossed out!”
I had never before articulated this fear, even to myself. I was born with proximal femural focal deficiency, a congenital birth defect, and had my foot amputated at age three. I had grown up with my disability, I was used to it and I didn’t seem to have self-esteem issues about it. Until that point, my missing limb hadn’t been an issue with my “boyfriends.” But I was fourteen, and people were starting to date for real. My friends were losing their virginity and I knew that sooner or later it would be my turn.
“Maybe he’ll find it sexy,” my friend Daniella said.
She didn’t say, “Maybe he will like you anyway,” which was what I had expected to hear.
She said something that had never even occurred to me as a possibility there might be people in the world who would not just get over it, but get off on it.
Three years later, a boy I knew named Steven told me about a story he’d read where a man lured an amputee into a barn loft and stole her prosthesis so he could jerk off with it.
“Weird,” I said.
“Oh, there are a lot of people who get turned on by amputees, who think that’s really sexy,” he said, nervously. “I, uh, . . . I’m one of them.”
In the years between then and now, I heard occasional references to amputee-related fetishes the infamous police raid of Annie Sprinkle’s amputee porn shoot, the stump-fuck scene in Bruce La Bruce’s Hustler White. But nothing prompted me to investigate the whole phenomenon until recently, when I read a recent news story that exposed another angle of this fetish a seventy-nine-year-old New York man named Philip Bondy died of gangrene after paying an unlicensed doctor $10,000 to have his leg amputated in a hotel room in Mexico. Apparently, this is not the first such case. Reporters referred to the “bizarre sex fetish” which led him to fulfill his fantasy of becoming an amputee. Reading about this case made me uncomfortable; I figured anyone who wanted to become an amputee must be out of touch with the reality of what life is like as a disabled person. My friend, Hellery Homosex, lost both of her legs below the knee in a train-hopping accident three years ago, and has since become well-known for her zine, Ring of Fire which is dedicated to “queer sex, genderfuck and the advancement of amputees everywhere.” She has inspired me and many others to believe that being an amputee is a positive, sexy thing. Still, she had her misgivings about amputee fetishists. “Either society denies our existence or fetishizes us like we’re some hot taboo. Most of the world doesn’t see us at all because of our disability. Getting attention solely because of it doesn’t make it any better.”
Unsettled but intrigued by my slight knowledge of this fetish, I decided to go online to try to find out more. As with all fetish communities, one needs to first decode their terminology. Basic appreciators are called devotees (or
admirers, hobbyists, amelotatists (AMTs), or acrotomophiles); more shocking to the general public are pretenders, who are not only attracted to amputees, but who simulate being amputees in their private lives; and wannabes, people who actually wish to become amputees themselves.
Your average amputee devotee is a white, heterosexual, middle-aged, professional male. Devotees typically prefer single or double above-knee amputees, though many say they like paraplegics and other types of disabled people as well. Most insist that their attraction to amputees is not a fetish; they liken it to any other sexual preference some people like big tits, some like big asses, some like blondes, some like amputees. As long as you’re not hurting or exploiting anybody, the devotees told me, there’s nothing wrong with it. One told me that his partner’s stump was “merely an added attraction” and that he was “making love to a person, which has far more rewarding emotional and arousal potential than the details of her disability.”
Mainstream disability rights organizations have criticized devotees and admirers, saying that their attraction to amputees must be a result of a desire to dominate women who they perceive to be insecure and easy to control. This may be true of some devotees, but for the most part, the people I met online convinced me that the attraction isn’t about power it really is about sex.
Their histories read like any queer’s coming-out tale. They told me woeful anecdotes about painful sexual awakenings, years spent trying to hide their attraction from their friends, families and lovers, thinking that their desires were sick or depraved. They all knew they were different even before they hit puberty, some as young as three years old. One self-proclaimed admirer told me a childhood story about drawing a picture of a one-legged woman on crutches, and when asked why, saying it made his “doo-dab” feel good. Like most devotees, he doesn’t know why the sight of an amputee woman turns him on, but he knows that attraction has been there for a very long time.
The problem is, there are a lot of big tits in the world, a lot of big asses, a lot of blondes but not so many amputees. Many of the devotees I met on the Internet had never actually known an amputee. Several confessed to having followed amputees around, wishing they could meet them but not knowing what they would say if they did. Devotees with more extreme levels of repression sometimes lead double lives, married to “normal” women, while cruising emergency rooms for new amputees in their spare time.
By and large, devotees have a bad reputation with amputees. Like most people, amputees don’t enjoy being objectified and sexualized simply for one part of our bodies. Several women online expressed a sentiment of being seen “just as stumps” by devotees. On top of that, being an amputee has been a source of pain in many of our lives. For people who have lost limbs through trauma, the attention of devotees can feel like a sexualization of the trauma itself. For both amputees who lost their limbs later in life and those of us who were born
with missing or partial limbs (“congens,” they call us), the daily struggles and inconveniences of being a disabled person can make the attraction feel a little misplaced.
On the other hand, there are plenty of amputees who are happy to know that there are people who think we’re sexy. It’s always nice to know that you’ve got something someone else wants. “After several years of being rejected by some men because I was an amputee, I thought it was great that some men not only didn’t mind, but considered it an asset,” says Jama Bennett, founder of ASCOT-World, a forum for amputees and devotees to meet each other. “True, admirers are sexually interested in amputees, but there is much more to it,” she told me. “They are also interested in who we are and what we have overcome as a result of being amputees . . . I have met many admirers in the last few years and most of them are intelligent, caring, successful men who any woman would be proud to know.”
Pretenders and wannabes bring up a different set of issues. Pretenders often use wheelchairs, braces, crutches and other props to simulate disability. For most pretenders, this doesn’t come from an actual desire to be disabled. They “pretend” either because the props turn them on, or in hopes of interacting with real amputees.
Wannabes, however, have a strong desire to actually become amputees, and sometimes resort to surgery or self-mutilation to make it so. The wannabes I met online said that they would feel more comfortable in the world, ironically more whole, as amputees. Interestingly, two wannabes were also transsexual women. One has actually achieved her goal of becoming a double above-knee amputee, and the other, Dana, is currently in a mental institution because of an attempt at self-amputation.
“I am comfortable as a female in society. I am comfortable as a wheelchair user. I believe that I would be equally comfortable as an amputee,” wrote Dana. “I was drawn to disabled people, before I became one, because I expect to find depth that is often missing in people who have the luxury of taking everything for granted. I feel they are part of my tribe.”
After years of wishing to be an amputee, Dana recently became disabled by a spinal cord dysfunction, and now uses a wheelchair out of necessity. At this point, she says that becoming an amputee would relieve her of “unnecessary
weight.” She speaks eloquently about the responsibility involved in making such a huge life-changing alteration to your body: “In the transgender community I have seen cross-dressers or transsexuals who have not one jot of interest in women’s issues. They want the mainstream woman to embrace them, but do not really understand where women are coming from. Pretenders and devotees are not, to my mind, people who can know where we’ve been. The wannabe perhaps can. I know, myself, that should I succeed in becoming an amputee, I will have some hard lessons to learn. I will indeed need to grieve for my lost limbs.”
Most wannabes never succeed in becoming amputees obviously, it is extremely difficult to get a limb amputated for non-medical reasons. Philip Bondy died, like many pregnant women and transsexuals before him, because of the unavailability of a certified doctor. The doctor who performed the illegal surgery had a history of preying upon the desperate in 1977, he lost his medical license after three of his patients nearly died from sex change operations he performed (one in a garage, another in a hotel). Bondy’s death was not just a function of his desire to be an amputee, but of the social stigma that has been attached to that desire.
My experience as an amputee has led me to understanding the temporary and volatile nature of the body. In general, body modification doesn’t shock me much and the tattoos, piercings and cuttings that I’ve gotten over the years have helped me in my process of reclaiming my physical being, my appearance and the sensations that I choose to experience. I’ve had a number of friends who’ve gone through hormonal treatments and/or undergone reconstructive surgery in order to make their appearance match their gender identities. I never ask transsexual women why they chose to give up their privileges as men and become women in a society where they are treated poorly. For transsexuals, it’s not necessarily a matter of how hard life may become, it’s a matter of identity. It’s not such a stretch for me to think of wannabes in this same way.
Coming from a community that has in the past few years reclaimed and even rejoiced in the words “pervert” and “freak,” I’m inclined to feel more allied with devotees and wannabes than I do with those who would judge them. I am excited to see people exploring the eroticism of disability, although I think that devotees, pretenders and wannabes could stand to learn a few things about the struggles that disabled people face. Their attraction should not be a means to an end, but a starting point in understanding a largely ignored stratum of society.
Listen to other stories in The Read It/Hear It Issue
Turn us on. NerveRadio, music for the mind and body.