The following letter is typical of many like it. It expresses the overwhelming relief
when, often after many years, someone finds they are not alone in being a legbrace
devotee or wannabe. To avoid embarrassment I have altered some of the names and details slightly.
First, some biographical
detail, so that you can see how I fit into the categories in the poll
survey. I'm a 59-year old male, Caucasian (Anglo-Saxon, actually), a
graduate professional, retired, happily married for 38 years, with 3
grown-up children. I've never been in a personal relationship with a
brace-user, probably because the opportunity has never arisen. I would
say that my primary interest is in brace-users and only secondly in
amputees, though the latter interest is also quite strong. There is a
strong wannabe element for both these conditions.
Several years ago I told my wife of my
lifelong interest in and fascination with people wearing legbraces, but
I don't think she had any real idea of how strong the urge had become
to wear a brace. For the past six years I've been wearing
orthopaedic-type boots on most occasions, saying I prefer them to shoes
for their comfort and ankle support. But this only goes a little way
towards satisfying my longing to wear proper legbraces.
April 2001 was a milestone month for
me. First, I found the courage to tell my wife that I had actually
made a sort of legbrace (from metal rods and scrap leather) and wanted
to wear it in the privacy of our bedroom. What I feared most was that
she would recoil from something she might regard as too deviant, too
sick, and thus also from me. I need not have worried. Her lovely
nature and the strength of our relationship resulted in her showing the
greatest understanding and acceptance. This was an indescribable
relief, and led directly to the second important event.
As we were now openly discussing this
strange fascination of mine, it occurred to me to use the internet to
see whether there was any information about it, whether it was a known
and described condition. And so I found your website. My reaction is
the same as you've had from so many others: an amazing sense of
liberation from a feeling of being alone with a shameful secret. It's
difficult to exaggerate that sense of relief. I read the "Threads"
page and ticked off item after item which exactly reflected my own
experience over sixty years -- especially the early onset, the
photographic memories of sightings, the increasing strength of the urge
as time goes on, the feelings of shame and fear of discovery.
When I try to account for my being a
devotee/wannabe, all I can do is recall certain incidents from my
childhood which may be relevant. I think my very first sighting must
have been at the age of 3 or 4. My parents had taken me to the zoo,
where one of the attractions for children was a ride on the resident
Indian elephant, Nellie. Six children sat in a special seat, three and
three, back-to-back. My parents thought I would like the ride, and
bought a ticket. But when it came to actually climbing up the wooden
steps and sitting 8 or 9 feet above the ground on a huge animal's back,
I was overcome with fear and refused to go. Coaxing had no effect. I
wailed and cried until my parents gave up the attempt. I suppose they
got a refund, but I didn't know that, and I remember feeling bad
because they had spent money on me and I had somehow let them down.
Now comes the interesting part: my place on the elephant was taken,
with no fuss at all, by a little boy of about my own age who was
wearing braces on both legs. (I didn't know what they were -- I just
had the impression of leather straps criss-crossed up his legs.) He
was lifted to the top of the mounting platform, took his seat, and off
went Nellie with her full load. I was left in fear, shame and guilt.
So much for my first remembered encounter with anyone in legbraces.
About the same time, on a day trip to
the seaside in the family's Baby Ford, I recall with absolute clarity
that my father had to slow down to let three boys cross the road in
front of us. One of them was wearing a legbrace and a boot built up
quite high to compensate for a short leg. It wasn't a solid sole, but
seemed to be a sort of open frame or platform under the boot.
At about that age, I recall a train
journey with my mother, who got talking to a woman sitting opposite.
One of the topics of conversation was a little crippled boy known to
the other woman, and how he coped with his disability. Despite wearing
"cripple boots and irons" (I suppose that was the current popular
terminology in the 1930s) and walking with crutches, he was "very
good", "no trouble at all" and amused himself playing alone in the
garden for hours on end.
When I was about 9, at our Wolf Cub pack
meeting one evening Richard H. announced to everyone that our
fellow-Cub John F. "had infantile paralysis". (The word "polio" wasn't
yet in general use.) After an absence of a month or so, John F.
reappeared at Cub meetings with his right leg in a brace, and with a
characteristic plunging gait. He managed to take part in the pack
activities that didn't involve running or jumping, but when we sat
cross-legged on the floor for a game or a story, he would sit down and
get up rather clumsily with his stiff leg. It seems that legbraces with
unlocking knee joints weren't much in use then. I remember being
amazed to think that his leg would have to be kept stiff and straight
all day, from getting dressed in the morning until bedtime.
By that time in my life the fascination
was firmly entrenched. Sightings were disturbing yet pleasant
experiences, and minutely remembered. In adolescence the most exciting
sexual fantasies and dreams involved myself as a disabled person, in
legbraces, enjoying the attention and pity of others. (I knew even
then, of course, that real PWDs usually dislike or resent this kind of
attention.) In parallel with this, the ordinary romantic life of a
teenager developed, but I was never in the position of going out with a
Though the fascination was always there,
the preoccupations of courtship, marriage and fatherhood seemed for a
time to make it less insistent. However, as many of your respondents
have indicated, it simply doesn't diminish or go away, and in my
sixties I found myself as disturbed, fascinated, even tormented by the
same feelings I had when I was fourteen. As I have now openly
acknowledged it all (at least to my wife) I intend somehow or other to
get some proper legbraces, so that after all these years I can really
experience what it feels like to wear them.
A comment on one aspect of your
respondents' feedback on the website: I suppose we've all had the
thought that if we really were disabled and were compelled to wear
legbraces for mobility, it would be a very different situation, and the
fascination might disappear once and for all. It doesn't take much to
imagine the inconvenience, discomfort and frustration suffered by
physically disabled people wearing legbraces. It was interesting
therefore to read that one devotee who had
to start wearing braces in his late twenties found that his fascination
did not diminish in the new situation. Perhaps this was because his
condition (loose-unstable joints) didn't involve serious loss of
function, as in paralysis, and therefore there wouldn't be the same
laborious physical effort involved in walking. I tend to agree with the
respondent who thinks that "... if [he] spent much time close to the
mundane reality of disability and braces and such like, the attraction
would rapidly evaporate." It would be very interesting to get the
evidence of more wannabes who actually became PWDs and were forced by
serious loss of muscle function to become legbrace wearers. There must
be a number of them.
Finally, I would like to know how
different people cope with and live with the wannabe condition in their
everyday lives. How can one give expression to it (as one feels
compelled to do) in a community where one is known to be ablebodied,
without causing widespread amazement, amusement, aversion,
If all this has been a bit long-winded and boring, I apologise.