Caliper Fascination

Since he was a very young child growing up in England in the mid 1950s Steve has been fascinated by leg-braces, or calipers as they are known in the UK.

It was Christmas 1956 and I remember sitting around the wireless with my family hearing Wilfred Pickles, a famous broadcaster at the time talking to young children of about my age who were confined to hospital beds and crippled with polio. He was asking some of these children how long they had been there and I remember vividly when some of them said, "several years". The children mentioned something called "irons" which they wore on their paralysed legs. I remember thinking how horrific it must be to get polio and to be forced to be parted from my mum and dad for all those years and being unable to walk, and having ones legs in those contraptions: it all filled me with dread.

And then I can recall seeing some of children my age with polio hobbling around the town in their calipers. Some were unable to move except with great hardship using big wooden crutches. Their little legs were encased from top to bottom in a complex arrangement of steel bars and leather straps that tightly held their withered limbs straight. Some of the children had simpler things on their legs which only came up to just below the knees and some only had these on one leg. They seemed able to get about a bit more easily but still they were the object of my stares and curiosity. What must it be like to be like them? How would they play if they couldn't run about? Would they be like that for ever? Again, fear and dread best sums up the workings of that little mind of mine. That winter I recall making some crutches from Meccano and playing handicapped with two of my friends. These crutches were flimsy and weak but for a few minutes we played the game up in the attic playroom.

Then, one warm evening the next spring I was out playing ball with a friend. I actually hated all kinds of ball games; I'd much rather have played inside with my toy trains on my own. I preferred my own company really. Then, all of a sudden, I went to trap the ball and somehow slipped. I remember a clamp like pain in my lower leg and I was unable to put any weight on it. I was rushed to the doctor and then to the hospital some 20 miles away where I found out I'd broken my tibia bone.

There followed some 3-4 months of trips to hospital with my leg in various types and sizes of plaster cast and of course the wooden crutches to help me walk. At one point I was nearly put in an iron (AFO), just like those polio children, for 3 months but the doctor at the hospital changed his mind and it was back in plaster for another month or so. All this time I was in and out of hospital for X-rays and new casts. All around me were those little children in their calipers and irons forced on them by polio.

Now, all this while I was getting special treatment. I got to miss school, got given extra presents, had people read me an extra story at bedtime, didn't have to play football and was the very centre of attention. One dear aunt remarked that I was "a right little cripple". I liked this!

And something even more important was happening in my young life. The family had decided to emigrate that winter. All the papers were filled in and everything was arranged including a job for my dad in the new country. I didn't want to go as it meant leaving my pets and an auntie who I loved like my own mother. There were tears for many nights that winter. With the broken leg to think about, my mind almost forgot emigration. To a child life is very much about the here and now. When I eventually asked when we were going I heard the magic words, "we've decided not to go any more". Whether my leg was the real reason I'll never know but it was the best news I could have had.

What has all this to do with leg-brace abasiophilia? Well, quite a lot I believe. Somehow, all those years ago these events, experiences, fears and dreads churned around in my growing mind and implanted something very odd. In some unusual way, the fear and dread of polio and calipers was transformed into something positive for me: if one was disabled you got special treats, people made a real fuss of you, you had power. In my childhood subconscious mind was sown an association between disability and nice things. And if you had polio perhaps these nice things went on and on? I became envious of the kids with the irons or calipers, despite the difficulties they had in getting about.

So, ever so subtly, the childhood experience of children with polio, of breaking my leg, of getting extra attention, evolved into leg-brace abasiophilia. It was many years later that I became consciously aware of this fascination and I don't have any real explanation for the metamorphosis that occurred. Somewhere down the years this thing became sexual. Why? Why is the idea of having my leg in a leg-brace such an attractive, and sexual thought? Why does seeing someone in a movie, or better still in the street, with a brace on their leg turn me on so much?

My adult, logical, mind tells me that this is the stuff of nonsense. At the same time something in my subconscious still tells me otherwise. For over fifty years I've battled with these feelings thinking I must be odd in the extreme. Surely no-one else would think like this; it must be sick to be turned on by disabled people who are unable to get about like me. Now, thanks to the internet I've found out there are plenty of people out there who are just like me. Their stories are all different but a surprising number have more than a little in common with my own.

In all other respects apart from my "thing" about leg-braces I think I'd pass as, and indeed am, a pretty normal person. I'm happily married to a wife who can't understand any of this stuff. The two boys are grown now and doing fine. I'm a professional engineer with a successful and demanding career. My relationships with other people are quite normal and I have plenty of friends. And I even enjoyed sports a bit in my teens and early twenties.

From what I've read there are plenty of people just like me about - normal, regular guys with normal families - but who have this "little secret" that they often feel so bad about. They don't understand why they feel like they do, why they find calipers a sexual turn-on. In all probability it all started long ago in their childhood when something quite innocent triggered a series of events that formed their psyche into what it is today. Like me, I'm sure they mean no-one any harm and certainly wouldn't want anyone who wasn't disabled to become disabled. They feel strongly for the rights and welfare of disabled people.

Don't feel bad about your own leg-brace fascination: you didn't ask for it - it just happened. Try to accept it as part of the "you" that you are. We are all unique, each with our own little quirks and odd ways. There is no such thing as normal.