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Are Disability Fetishists Exploiting People with Disabilities?

Devoteeism is a sexual fetish in which people get all horned up over a wide range of disabilities. As someone with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair, my feelings on devotees are complicated.

by Spencer Williams
Nov 24 2016, 6:45pm
Recently, while talking about my last column with a friend over coffee, she asked me why I don't date devotees. "You would be like Ryan Reynolds to them," she said.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the term "devotee," Urban Dictionary defines it thusly:

A slang term for an "Acrotomophile". This is a paraphillia, or sexual fetish, in which sexuerotic arousal and facilitation, OR attainment of orgasm, is dependant upon their partner being an amputee.

That's partly accurate, but it's a narrow definition. Basically, devoteeism is a sexual fetish in which people get all horned up over a wide range of disabilities, not just amputations. I had heard about it before, but had never given it much thought. After talking to my friend, however, my curiosity was piqued. I went home and turned to my trusty research partner, Google.

A search for "devotee disability" turned up a number of articles, forums, and YouTube videos, some from devotees and others from people with disabilities. The comments on these videos and articles vary wildly, some comparing it to pedophilia and others insisting it's a perfectly acceptable activity between consenting adults.

My own opinion falls more on the conservative side. I have friends who have experimented with, and even dated, devotees, which is fine. They seem to enjoy it and that's their right. That said, I use a wheelchair as my main mobility aid in day-to-day life and I do not find it sexy. I'm not who I am because of the wheelchair, and I don't want to be with someone who only cares about my equipment or condition. I want a woman who likes me for me, someone who understands that I'm more than my chair. I'm not some giant human vibrator on wheels.

One of the videos I saw featured a woman who liked watching individuals with disabilities getting dressed. In another, a woman needed a wheelchair in the room to get off. The subtext of these videos is that there is something arousing about the vulnerability of people with disabilities. As someone who requires assistance with getting up and dressing myself on a daily basis, it upsets me that others take pleasure in watching people like me struggle to complete everyday tasks.

For their part, devotees often choose to remain anonymous, perhaps because they are scared or embarrassed, despite claiming that there is nothing exploitative about the fetish.

As for my friends who engage with devotees, I don't know whether to be excited, nervous, or scared for them. I know people who have had successful relationships with devotees, but it's not for me. It seems like people with disabilities who are involved in this "trend" are being sought after and objectified for things that they don't find attractive about themselves, and are going along with it despite this. As a commenter on one video put it, "I am chronically underlaid, I don't mind being objectified for a fuck."

On some level, I understand that point of view. If you had asked me about devotees a couple of years ago I might have been more receptive to the idea, as I really was just looking to get laid. But today I would rather have someone admire me for my strengths and abilities, unique though they may be, instead of what I am not able to do and what makes me weak.

I was born with cerebral palsy. It wasn't easy, but I've learned to adapt and make my quality of life the best it can be. I can't prepare food or go to the bathroom on my own. It makes me sad that there are people out there who get themselves wet over my struggle while others reject me because of it. I wish there were a way to meet somewhere in the middle, a place where I could still be seen as funny, smart, sexy, and confident. Just like Ryan Reynolds.

These are my views. Obviously they aren't representative of everyone inside the disabled community, or outside of it for that matter. I would love to open a dialogue on this topic. Are you an able-bodied person with a fetish for disabilities? Or maybe a handicapped person who likes playing with devotees? Why does this turn you on? Let's talk about it. You can get in touch with me by emailing my editor.

This is a big topic and one I'm still learning about. Let's do it together.

If you've got more general questions or would like advice about dating and sex in the disabled community drop us a line and Spencer will try to address it in a future column.