As I write this, I’m trembling with bald, naked vulnerability.
Some of you have noticed that I’ve changed my tone here and that my posts have gotten sporadic. Not so much writer’s block; there’s much I want to say. More like laryngitis. It’s become difficult, painful to give voice to all I want to say. I’ve retreated from posting here to rethink whether or not I should be writing at all because I’ve become aware that I have a new devo stalker.
What’s a devo?
A devo (devotee, dev, “compassionate admirer”) is a fetishist who is sexually attracted to my wheelchair. Some devos are attracted to braces or amputees’ stumps or the deformations caused by polio.
I had no idea that this… subculture… existed until a friend; a more seasoned fellow wheeler clued me in. Turns out that the brand new wheeler I was comforting online was actually a man pretending to be a newly injured woman. The devo’s character told me how “she” was traumatized by the routine of self-catheterization, “she” just couldn’t get it right and “her” health was suffering. Would I help? Remembering my own struggles early on and knowing that proper self-cathing technique was critical to “her” health longevity and overall wellbeing, how could I not help? We went through every excruciatingly intimate detail over and over.
I felt so dirty and so STOOPID that I had fallen for someone so depraved. I retreated into myself vowing never again to be fodder for another devo’s twisted fantasies. But in order to avoid them, I had to know more about them.
I did a Google search and found out way more about this world that I could ever want to know. I wish there was a way to erase some knowledge once you obtain it. I wish I’d never seen the photos secretly taken of women with disabilities just living their everyday lives. I wish I’d never read the comments about “floppy legs” or the come-hither attraction of a pain-wracked spine so twisted by scoliosis that the woman can no longer walk or breathe fully. I wish devos did not now own a small corner of my brain.
I really discourage you from a Google search but some of you will insist so I’ll wait… g’head, look it up…
I told you so.
I’d feel less dirty turning on the light and find my kitchen teeming with cockroaches.
For those of you smart enough not to plant that image in your head, here’s an analogy. Imagine you posted your kid’s talent show video for your family and friends to enjoy on your facebook page. Unbeknownst to you, one of your facebook friends is NOT what they seem. Now imagine that “friend” posted your YouTube vid on a pedophile site and along with that surreptitiously filmed your kid at the playground and posted that in the same place. Now, pedophiles from all over the world are viewing this very innocent footage and making sexual comments. Your child is most likely physically safe since most of these people have no idea where to find you. But still, that sexualized context remains.
Over a month ago, I learned that my image was being used in such a manner on a couple of devo sites. Videos that I had made for work had been “repurposed” as devo porn. With help I saw my work video with all the devo comments. I could barely breathe and the itchy, icky, I-need-a-shower-before-I-vomit feeling overwhelmed me. The comment that created the most activity also caused me the most horror. “It has nice feet.” One of my feet was indeed discreetly bandaged.
“It has nice feet.”
Since then, every time I focus on writing, I can feel them, the devos, out there waiting. I find I’m editing myself to avoid creating an orgiastic devo rush.
That post I made after my fall? The one many of tell me you read on the edge of your seat? Devos also read it breathlessly. My helplessness, my struggle against my “useless” legs, my fear. Pure. Devo. Porn.
I’ve had 3 encounters with devos in my real-time life.
Early in my life as a wheeler, pre-social network, the first showed up at my house out of the blue with a gift. We had never communicated before that moment at my door. He was certain I’d be thrilled by his attention. He wanted pictures of my legs. A friend helped him understand that his attention was unwanted.
The second was a serendipitous encounter in the grocery store. As I was at the self-checkout lane, he came in. He actually squealed with delight and rooted himself in front of me. He stood rapt as I struggled to reach the money slot, dropped my change on the floor and spent way too long trying to pick it up. When I finished, he clapped in delight and asked when he could see me again. Pearl was there. I wanted to let her eat him like candy.
The last stalked me while I was in the hospital after my major fall late last winter. Some of you may remember that drama. I was facing amputation of my legs due the severity of the fractures. He contacted me on a pretext using a name familiar to me. I didn’t see through that pretext due to the haze of painkillers and anesthesia for my multiple surgeries. For this particular devo, that trauma was a siren call of sexual promise. He wanted to be there; breathe in my pain and fear. He wanted to see my fresh stumps. Touch them. Help bandage them. He was disappointed when I turned the corner, began to heal and kept both legs. As I healed and relied less on pain medication, the mind-fog cleared and that space of confusion that allowed this devo to move freely through my life cleared too. With help from friends, I locked down my life, severed the link outside of my hospital room to my support system and choked off his access to me.
So, when the devos come along here and comment on how harmless they are and voice their protests at my stereotyping, bear these moments in mind.
December marked a real crisis of faith for me. I considered shutting down this blog and hiding away from those I consider sexual deviants. Every post I make on my life with SCI is devo fuel.
I’ve brought some of this on myself I suppose. Since my injury was so public in my region, I decided to live my spinal cord injury just as publically; my small act of advocacy. I know that before my injury, I had no clue about some of the issues that I now deal with regularly as a person with a spinal cord injury. How can I expect the rest of you to understand and relate if you have no context?
Early in my wheeler life I found support in an on-line community. I was struck by the honesty and willingness to share the most intimate details of life with a spinal cord injury. In this community I often heard “If only the able-bodied world knew X about us (wheelers) then maybe we could move toward Y result.” Based on this, I felt my decision to live so publically was a good one.
There are issues I’d rather not discuss. Times I rather skirt some of the realities of life with a spinal cord injury. But if you don’t understand my risk of public incontinence, how can you understand just how valuable reliable access to public restrooms is? If I don’t explain all the ways I’m now different, how can we lobby together for equitable access so we can explore our similarities?
That person with the smartphone? Are they capturing the scene around us for an innocent reason or to post it to a fee-based devo site?
The guy that says hello and stares in Starbucks? Is he captivated by my charm and beauty or getting wood because of my wheels?
Once again, the world feels dangerous and hostile.
How do I move through the world with confidence and trust when it feels like it’s full of devos? How do I trust? Anyone?
What do I do? Do I continue to live a big, bold, open life or do I hide away in the house? Do I continue to share my life with you unfiltered and honest or do I start editing?
Am I safe?
Is there an ulterior motive to that new person’s interest in me?
How do I get those devo-site comments and images out of my head?
When the person next to me in public looks down transfixed, is he thinking “There’s that quarter I just dropped.” Or “It has nice feet.”
I am a woman, not a wheelchair. A fully realized adult woman. I have all the same desires and interests I did pre-injury. I AM still a sexual being. I’m not as inanimate as my wheelchair. I’m attracted to men who delight in my strength and capabilities but shelter my vulnerabilities. You can’t have just part of me. That’s the piece that freaks me out most of all. These people; devos; revel in my helplessness, not my strengths and abilities.
I have spent the past seven years clawing my way back from a devastating moment. I have worked to develop a space where I fit again. I no longer fit in the box my old life came in.
Devos, I do not welcome your attention. I cannot stop you from co-opting my image. You may yet trick me into unwitting participation in your fantasies. Any you take of me, you steal. I will not curtail my life any further to avoid you. I will not wear your shame. You will NOT steal my voice.
I am a woman, fully human. Not an it.