Delving In: Devotees

In Columns, Features, My Life: Straight Up with a Twist by Tashauna Swanson

Audacity Magazine Impossible

Tashauna Swanson

For those who may not know what a devotee is, it is someone who desires to be with a disabled partner. That is the simple definition. Opinions about this topic vary. While some people recoil in disgust upon the mere mention of the word, others have come to accept what devotees are.

The first time I had ever heard of a devotee, I was in high school.

I was about fifteen at the time and I had entered into my first chat room for people with disabilities. I believe I was the youngest person there, and I was warned by the others to be careful of what information I gave out in the chat.

I was told there were devotee lurkers in the room who might use my personal information to contact and harass me.

Believe me, I was freaked out by that idea! I promptly left that chat room in favor of ones that provided a bit more security and anonymity, and never thought about returning. I do not think I again heard the word “devotee,” until years later.

My encounters with devotees, or devs for short, has been somewhat limited.

As I have gotten older and my web presence has grown, more devotees have approached me. My most recent incident was different from the rest. While most of the devs I have met have been nothing short of respectful, there are others out there who are not.

I am not entirely surprised this most recent even occurred.

I have a MySpace and a Facebook with photo albums, and my pictures are not always set to private. I do not feel I have anything to hide so I usually do not see the need to privatize my photo albums.

I knew that someday, an image of mine could be stolen and reposted somewhere so I was aware of the risk.

A MySpace message was sent to me a few weeks ago by an individual who informed me there were pictures of me posted in a devotee message forum. If I wanted them removed I should contact the site administrator.

The sender included the URL and I decided to check it out. Sure enough, there I was amongst photos of other young women in wheelchairs. Following the initial post were comments talking about a few of us and how “heartbreakingly lovely” we are, or how “you just have to admire someone like that, coping with such a severe disability.”

Ugh. The fact my photo was plastered there was irritating enough, but it is how they were discussing us that bothered me more. Heartbreakingly lovely? Please. Save it for a flowery romance novel.

Coping with such a severe disability? I might cope with the occasional cold symptoms or below zero temperatures, but when one has a disability I do not think of it in terms of something to be coped with. I live with mine. I might deal with it sometimes, but more often than not I live. The language they used was so tragic sounding.

My life is no tragedy, and I hope these other young women would say the same about their own.

I debated about the action I should take and even how I should feel about the situation. Let me state now, I have nothing against devs. Everyone has different preferences as to what characteristics attract them to another human being.

Who are we to judge anyone for that? If their attraction breaks some kind of law or hurts someone, then it is most certainly wrong.

I do not think that it is a bad thing when someone has an attraction for a person with a disability, but it has to be for the right reasons. I never want to be viewed as someone who is weak, dependent, or fragile.

The general impression I have gotten from a few devotees is just that. They see us as being needy. They do not really see past the disability, but rather make it a central focus. In my mind, this would be called more of a fetish than an attraction. Personally, I do not feel like discussing my disability in every conversation let alone hearing how attractive my bent arms are in the middle of a totally unrelated topic.

I know I am different; I am the last person who needs to be reminded of that fact.

The message forum my picture was posted at became subjected to my secret desire to be an investigator. First of all, I wanted to find out who stole my photo and how he decided he had permission to play show-and-tell with it.

Second, I wanted to search his collections to see if he had stolen any more pictures of me or anyone I knew. Third, I wanted to know if he was selling them.

I politely emailed the administrator and asked him to remove my photo from the forum. I explained that I do not care if people from the devotee community view my pictures, but I think it is wrong for someone to steal my image without my permission and knowledge.

A response was received from the administrator that evening, and he very nicely apologized and removed my photo. He assured me he had not seen any more of me posted there. I hope he was telling the truth!

My investigation of the poster was not exactly successful. I created a fake profile on the site and sent him a private message asking about his own devotee group and the alleged photo collections housed there.

I can be a creative writer; I was trying to sound like a dev. Unfortunately, I never received an answer to my query. Maybe he figured out my profile was a fake.

The first reaction that goes through the minds of most when they learn about devotees is massive shock. That is the same thing I felt ten years ago when I learned what they were. It is quite a controversial topic, but what we should all do is learn more about things before we decide they are weird or creepy.

It wasn’t until about two years ago that I began to look more in depth at this issue. As an adult, I see things differently. I am someone who likes answers and I wanted to know when devoteeism came about, how, why, everything.

I cannot write the complete information I have discovered about devotees in this article, but if more information is sought, point your browsers to Search for the term “attraction to disability.”

It covers everything from a brief history to the psychology. It is something I found to be interesting and the information helped me to better understand their subculture.

Many of the devotees I have chatted with do not know why they developed this attraction. Sometimes it is something or someone from childhood that triggers it. There are also as many kinds of different devotees as there are disabilities. Some hide who they are for fear they will be rejected by family, friends, or society in general.

Should we reject a subculture that regards our subculture as attractive? I do not believe so. If devotees can see us for who we are and not focus on the disability aspect of our lives, why not just accept them for who they are as well?

Have you had experience with a devotee?



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