Can you send me a picture of your feet?
Confused? So was I. The first time I got a message like this—yes, there have been multiple—I had no idea why this person wanted to see my feet. But I didn’t like it and, of course, did not oblige. In fact, I blocked them. And I blocked the person after that and the person after that and every person since. While I knew sharing my paralysis journey publicly would leave me open to a higher level of scrutiny, I never once considered it might subject me to a wave of sexual objectification and introduce me to a world where disability is fetished in such a way that it dehumanizes and exploits individuals. And yet…here we are.
Have you ever heard of a devotee? It’s someone with a sexual attraction to disability. Now, fetishes are the not the problem here. What two (or more) consenting adults do behind closed doors is not my issue nor should you make it yours. However, when you start using aspects of people’s lives that bring them pain and suffering for your own sexual pleasure or when you sexualize details of someone else’s life—that would not be considered sexual—without that someone’s consent, that’s where you and I have a problem.
Now, on the best of days, I’m a skeptical person—I have my anxiety to thank for that. If I don’t know who you are, the possibility that you are a serial killer is just as valid to me as the possibility—probability—that you are not. So when messages moved beyond requests for feet photos to questions that seemed like legitimate calls for advice or help, my guard was already up. And, as it turns out, it’s a good thing it was.
I began to get messages from other seemingly disabled people. They would almost always be a cry for help. The questions got more specific. Some focused solely on bladder and bowel care. I’ve seen someone change their username by one or two letters and send me similar messages but claimed to be different people with different injuries. In all cases the person seemed desperate because life was so hard for them and often they would be seeking out details on how my life is difficult—how I struggle. They wanted me to relate and then take pleasure in my responses. And whenever I would ask for proof they were in a chair or had a spinal cord injury, they wouldn’t provide it.
Laura Beck (@anhonestquad) has shared her struggles with this as well. Someone went as far as uploading a video she had posted to a porn website. The video was of her transferring from a car to her wheelchair—nothing sexual about it. And she had to fight with the website to get it taken down.
It is frustrating to put yourself out there in the name of awareness; to be open and honest with your life because you know it is something society needs to hear and in turn, be exploited for simply existing as you are. Fetishing a person for their disability takes the human aspect out of their existence and it pains me to think there are people with disabilities answering these types of messages and being taken advantage of by people who seek pleasure from their pain.
My advice? Don’t engage. I rarely respond to these types of messages and instead just block the sender. But today, just in case the people in the far dark corners of the internet didn’t hear me, I will give a response:
My disability is not for your sexual enjoyment. My sexuality has nothing to do with my disability. And no, you cannot have a photo of my feet. Stop asking.
Wow, what a thing to have to deal with. You handled this well, and I hope it stops.
Well said. As I have been more “out there” with my disability through my work in the Easy Walks community, similar stuff keeps happening to me. I have become very skilled at blocking people, removing their comments from discussion threads, and such. Such life skills…. Take care.
Yes I have quite the large list of blocked contacts. It’s very frustrating.