A description of a leg-brace wannabe's first "outing" into the outside world. Written in 2004.
First attempt and a sighting yesterday I made my first public pretending attempt. This has been several years in preparation because until now I have been unable to make a brace that had reliable knee locks and was sufficiently robust. I have pretended for many hours privately in the apartments or small houses where I have lived while away from home on various assignments but of course this was very limited and, as I quickly discovered today, posed few of the challenges that arise in "real" life. I have been an almost lifelong admirer of women brace wearers [even before puberty] and a pretender for many years but I am not a wannabe. Paradoxically my main form of exercise in normal life is walking. I first began to make braces about 15 years ago using steel bars and scrap materials that I could pick up here and there following the British pattern with the ankle part pinned into the heel of the shoe and without knee hinges. Each time my assignment comes to an end I have to scrap what I have made but this does make me think again each time. About five years ago I started to use aluminium bars, which were much easier to work and can be used in thicker sections without becoming unrealistically heavy but I was still unable to make a knee lock that was reliable. In a correspondence a year or so ago Tassouth gave me a clue and this time I have made both knee joints with reliable drop locks and ankle joints, which don't have locks. These restrict the range of movement allowing the leg to bend forward but preventing foot drop. I don't have a workshop so they look pretty awful but they work. I thought that this would not matter becasue they would be hidden by my trousers but,sitting in the food hall, I was embarrassed to realise that the knee joints had pulled up the lower part of my trousers so that the ankle joints were very visible to any one that looked [I doubt if anyone noticed]. While I was preparing for this recently, I saw a lady in our local hypermarket with what may have been a new replacement KAFO. She was in a wheel chair so her knee was bent and I was able to position myself to look at it while apparently looking at the other side of display of back to school stationery and so on. The metal bars were very shiny, as if chromium plated and the drop locks looked carefully made and finely finished but very simple. The leatherwork was clearly new in dark brown leather — I was very envious. She was wearing open sandals with about 2 cm of build up on her braced leg. I could not easily compare her braced leg with the other but it did not seem very atrophied although the shortening might suggest polio. She was in her late thirties or forties I should think, her children were perhaps 8 –12 and I would guess that she came from an East European or former Soviet country. I have tried using bilateral KAFO's but without knee joints they were so very inconvenient that I did not use them much. Now my choice is to use one KAFO without crutches or a cane. [How realistic is that? Estella never seems to use either when wearing her brace. I know that I unconsciously use my foot muscles to some extent to help with balance when I am standing]. Yesterday after using the new KAFO for several weeks for increasing periods around the apartment and some limited forays around the apartment complex at night I decided to take the plunge. I live in a large Asian city so I stand out to some extent anyway so I decided to go to a busy shopping area where there would be a few other foreigners but not enough, I hoped, that I might meet someone I knew. My first problem though was to get past the security of the apartment complex without being noticed so I modified the drop locks so that I could suspend them on a string up to my belt and was thus able to walk carefully out. I kept them free until I got on the bus. I had decided to travel by public transport to gain maximum exposure to challenges but in fact I cheated through this part and did not lock the knees until I got off the bus. I decided to get a meal in a self-serve food complex and I when I got to my table was able to disengage the locks successfully without having to visibly fiddle with them. I then wandered around the area looking at computers and all manner of things that I had no wish to buy but in doing so learned how uneven sidewalks can be. Every store had a barrier of steps at the entrance and I quickly got the hang of walking up the ramp sections provided for wheel chairs. I was nearly thrown off an escalator when I left my braced leg too far back and the step rose up underneath it and in the crowds I seemed to get bumped and obstructed far more than usual. Piles of rubbish and stacks of boxes present a much greater obstacle too. Later I went down into the metro station and here there were hundreds of steps. Going down I could do nothing but take them one step at a time [braced leg down first of course], which was very slow. Going up was the same until the crowds thinned out a bit as it got later and I tried stepping up two steps with my free leg and grabbing my braced leg to swing it up one more while pulling on the substantial handrail. [Is this a recommended technique?] I returned home by taxi, which took me past the security desk, and I was able to discreetly limp into my block and up the single flight of steps. Now having achieved this I am wondering why I did it. Why do I pretend? The actual performance was interesting in that it taught me that wearing KAFO is more of a hindrance than I had imagined [and of course I have full strength in my hips as well as using my foot muscles instinctively and more or less unconsciously to help with balance]. But how do I feel tonight? There is a sexual aspect to this as I think most of us realise and I fantasize about having a brace-wearing lover [I am long and comfortably married but my wife has no idea about this interest of mine] but that was not in my mind as I wandered about tonight. My foot is sore where there was pressure from the stirrup plate [worn inside the shoe to avoid the need for modifications to the shoe] but otherwise there is nothing to show for it. Or is there? I think it will be too risky to repeat the public foray very often so much will depend on how I feel over the next week or two. Will I be driven to go for longer and more arduous attempts or will I find it not worthwhile? My conscious self will have little to do with it, any more than it is able to put down this whole interest. I can and do control my actions [especially I hope to avoid annoyance to those who have no choice but to wear braces] but I cannot make my interest go away. Any sighting or other stimulus reawakens it instantly — it is no more voluntary than suffering from polio itself but of course a thousand times less inconvenient. Some of the others say that one reason that they pretend because they like the attention that their braces, canes and crutches attract but [like my other self] I am not an attention seeker so that is not a reason for me. Tonight I tried again and this time I didn't cheat on the bus, but engaged the knee locks discreetly as soon as I was out of site of the security window, I managed to get on the bus with out tripping over myself and stood in the aisle until the seat next to where I was standing came free. Fortunately the knee locks freed easily and I sat down without difficulty. Engaging the locks is easier than freeing them in fact they usually do it themselves. I had worked out that the stop before the shopping area, although slightly further away was did not involve crossing over a bridge or tunnel so I got off there. I walked almost continuously for an hour and a half with no ill effects before catching a taxi home. I have improved the way the stirrup fits in the shoe so I had no problem there tonight. Next weekend I plan to try to wear it from the moment I get up until the moment I go to bed again. My regards to all the group and deepest gratitude and respect to those who use braces from need and yet are broad minded enough to share their experience with us who do not.