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How I Came to Terms with People Fetishizing My Disability

I thought being a fetish gave me power, but instead, it surrounded me with lovers who saw me as a peg leg, not a power.

The author with her prosthetic leg

I lost my leg in the summer of 1992, while driving a blue Honda Nighthawk 450 motorcycle. A woman with the windows rolled up later told police "it was dusk and hard to see," after making an illegal left turn into my leg. When an ambulance arrived on the scene, my leather jacket was soaked in fresh blood and the skin from my ankle to my knee had been peeled clean; my tibia and fibula had splintered through my shin. The impact was so forceful that my shoes flew off, my glasses shattered, my hip and left thumb snapped, my helmet cracked.

When the paramedic cut off my jeans, I remembered I hadn't worn underwear that day, and so I lay on the stretcher fully exposed to four EMTs, two gas station attendants from the nearby Chevron, a dozen passersby, and the woman who'd have to live with the fact that she'd caused this macabre vignette. In that moment, I felt sorry for her. I figured I'd die from my injuries, but she'd have to live with her guilt and embarrassment at seeing me there, bloody and exposed.

I didn't die, though. After two weeks of metal rods, a vein transplant, and chemical debridement that caused searing, impossible pain, doctors would saw off everything six inches below my knee. Seven surgeries and three months of hospitalization later, I would move back in with my dad and stepmother, trying to adjust to life as a 21-year-old without a leg.

When you become an amputee, doctors warn you about the things that will be difficult—things like learning how to walk with an aluminum walker. No one warned me about what it would be like to have sex without my leg. I hadn't had much sex in my life up to then, most of what I had had involved wearing a t-shirt and dwelling on my body insecurities. Now, no t-shirt could hide my stump.

The first time I tried to have sex as an amputee was with a girl I'd known for about a year. I'd asked her out a few times before I'd lost my leg, but she always said no. This time, though, she was game for what I assumed was a pity-fuck. I tried to climb on her, over and over, but I couldn't bend my stump knee past 90 degrees. I cried, threw up from my own shame, and asked her to leave.

The stump became a symbol of my own sexual failure. So when a woman told me about amputee fetishes, it was sort of lost on me, and seemed kinda rude. When I later slept with that woman and she revealed she wanted me because of my stump—she wanted smell it, lick it, have me screw her with it—I became more interested in the power of my own fetish appeal.

Having people want me with that sort of desperate hunger was an intoxicating force I could use to my advantage. Now that I had this superpower to attract women, I was obsessed with it. I started going to lesbian bars where I wooed women with tales of my courage in the face of the accident, where I'd take my prosthetic leg off and whomp it proudly on the bar. Once, a bartender offered to pour champagne into my hollow leg (though I declined, saying the prosthetic would rust). I was the life of the party, and now that I'd found my tribe, I was way more popular with my stump than I'd ever been with my leg.

I played into the fetish for a decade, until one night, I realized how lonely I'd become. By 2013, I'd lived as many years as an amputee as I had as a non-amputee, and I realized my social and sexual life post-amputation was empty. I thought being a fetish gave me power—that it was some great trick to get women in bed—but instead, it surrounded me with lovers who saw me as a peg leg, not a person.

Now, I've "hung up the fake leg," so to speak. I eventually married someone who appreciates the person beneath the stump, who gets to smell the stump sweat, witness the subway stairs as they bust open the skin on my knee, and see the blood and guts of what makes me mortal. To her, I'm not a fetish; I'm a person who has had to walk a long way to be brave.

Follow Aleks Kang on Twitter.