I was in a chat room today and a guy asked if he could see my belly button. Of course, my fetish alarm went off. Turns out this guy is 19, disabled, and feels like a total social/sexual outcast. Because of his physical problems and his fetish, he said he felt like he’d never have a normal relationship. I couldn’t lie to the kid and say “Don’t worry, pumpkin, your soul mate will find you someday,” so instead I offered “Most people are assholes—and this comes from an able-bodied vanilla girl, so yeah, your life’s gonna be tough.”
Then I thought there must be some kind of internet group out there for disabled fetishists. It might also make him feel more normal, and he may be able to arrange an amazing you-can-fetishize-my-disability-if-I-can-jerk-off-in-your-belly-button relationship. I’m torn up thinking about this kid and want to do something for him. —Trying To Help A Kid Out
“Your reader probably feels like she is doing a good thing,” says Cory, “but she should tone down the condescension [about fetishes and disability].” Cory feels strongly that people with disabilities shouldn’t be told they must look exclusively to disability fetishists for partners. “But there are people who have a specific sexual preference for people with disabilities,” says Cory, “and they identify themselves as devotees and in most cases the disabilities they prefer are people missing limbs and people in wheelchairs.”
Ascot World (ascotworld.com), according to Cory, “is still one of the biggest and best devotee sites and offers links to discussion groups, which, if this guy is interested, are one place to look for people.”
Now before angry able-bodied folks take offense on behalf of the disabled and fill my inbox with angry letters about creepy devotees, please wrap your able-bodied heads around this: If you believe in equal treatment for people with disabilities—and you do, right?—then that extends to sex. We all want to be objectified from time to time, and a disabled person has just as much right to healthy objectification as any able-bodied person. There’s really not much difference between a leg man and a lack-of-leg man—well, except this: The more common a fetish is, the less likely we are to regard it as one.
“But a lot of devotees don’t think of themselves as fetishists,” adds Cory. “They compare their interests to someone who likes red hair or big boobs, more of a preference or something they have an emotional connection to rather than something they absolutely need to get off.”
Please help me. I’m 38 and have no boyfriend or friends to go out with. I have been in a wheelchair for 10 years with a hereditary condition. I have low self-esteem, which does not help. I don’t know how to fix it. If I do ever go somewhere on my own, I never find people that want to talk, and my life is so boring. —Dying Out Here
“The effects of the social isolation people with disabilities face can include depression,” says Cory, “and from this brief note, that’s my first concern.” Cory thinks you might benefit from seeing someone—le shrink—about your general mental health before you start looking for a boyfriend. “The reader wants to ‘fix’ the problem, but the truth is that there isn’t any quick or easy fix, especially when it comes to self-esteem. But taking some action to change your situation can make you feel more positive about yourself and what you have to offer others.”
Once you’ve sought out some help for your depression, Cory suggests you “find some volunteer work that is accessible [or] join a social group or club”—basically follow the standard-issue advice for any lonely person, able-bodied or not. You also might want to check out these disability dating websites: dawn-disabled-dating.com, disableddatingclub.com, enablelove.com, lovebyrd.com, and specialsinglesonline.com.
Cory also wanted me to pass on these resources: Independent Living USA (ilusa.com); info on seeing a sexual surrogate (pacificnews.org/marko/sex-surrogate.html); some practical suggestions from Outsiders, a UK disability-rights group (outsiders.org.uk/practical-suggestions); and Queers on Wheels (queersonwheels.com). Cory also writes for, and maintains, a sex and disability resources page at About.com.
Finally, all three authors of The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability—Miriam Kaufman, Fran Odette, and Cory Silverberg—are happy to help others with suggestions and can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Cory also takes questions this week on the Savage Lovecast, my weekly podcast, which you can download at thestranger.com/savage.