Admirers, Devotees, Wannabes and Pretenders


On this page I use "him" or "he" frequently. As abasiophilia can be both a male and female condition, please understand the genders may be interchanged.


There are many people who know, admire, or are attracted to, disabled people and for these people this is nothing out of the ordinary at all. For some however, this becomes an overwhelming fascination and the conscious and sub-conscious focus on leg-braces and their users becomes so great that it dominates an individual's daily life. It is this condition that has been termed abasiophilia, which is a class of paraphilia. The most recent version of the handbook of the American Psychiatric Association, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, defines paraphilia in DSM-IV thus:

"The Paraphilias are characterized by recurrent, intense sexual urges, fantasies, or behaviors that involve unusual objects, activities, or situations and cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning."

Whether or not an individual devotee's fascination reaches this stage depends on the degree to which it dominates his life, health, sexual behaviour and mental wellbeing. Thankfully, for most this stage is not reached: the interest in leg-braces and their users is just a facet of their life and not a dominating factor.

Although leg-brace fascination most definitely occurs in women it is far more common in men. It is more usual for the fascination to be for disabled women than for disabled men, although this is not always the case. There are certainly women devotees and wannabes and there are both men and women who are attracted to, or at least fascinated by, leg-brace users of the same sex.  I am not a medical professional or psychologist so hold no certain answers as to why this fascination occurs but I have some theories and these are shared here and elsewhere on this site.

ADMIRERS, DEVOTEES, WANNABES AND PRETENDERS

Leg-brace fascination may present itself at several levels and in several ways depending on the degree of fascination that a disabled person, and her orthopaedic appliances, represents.

    1. The Admirer

    The admirer puts the disabled person on a pedestal and sees her as someone to be admired for her courage in overcoming a handicap. He is impressed by the way she copes year after year with her disability and gets on with life so well despite it. He may well seek work with the disabled community and look for ways to genuinely help physically disabled people. Indeed some people working in orthopaedics and orthotics have chosen careers because of their admiration for disabled people. He may well have an interest in things to do with the disability movement and shows an altruistic and concerned interest in the issues of physical disability. Perhaps he helps with charity events, fund raising for polio eradication in the third world, or helping in the local hospital.

    He may collect images, books and films showing people in leg-braces but he sees his motive more of an interested observer than voyeur. He may justify his interest as being almost on the level of scientific research. By studying books and images he thinks he will be better informed and more able to understand the issues and concerns of disabled people he'd like to help.

    By the norms of society the admirer is perfectly acceptable. Indeed, he himself might be admired as one who does good works in his community.

    2. The Devotee

    The devotee, for reasons quite out of his control, takes an almost obsessive interest in looking at disabled people. Although many are too ashamed of their feelings to actively stalk disabled people they may do so in a clandestine manner which is not obvious to the object of their gaze or to the public at large. If the opportunity presents itself, they may photograph their subject or even video them struggling to walk. For the devotee seeking real-life sightings of people in leg-braces becomes an obsessive, life-driving activity: it rules his thinking and can dominate much of his free time.

    With the exception of some third world countries where diseases such as polio still exist there are fewer opportunities nowadays to see people wearing leg-braces. This contrasts greatly from the middle decades of the 20th century when the sight of a child or adult in leg-braces was an almost daily occurrence. So, the collection of pictures, books and films showing leg-braces and people using them becomes the next best thing. Many devotees have extensive collections built up over many years of searching libraries, video shops and, latterly, the Internet. There are Internet groups whose main purpose is to allow the sharing of such material between devotees. Some devotees also turn to another method of satisfying their need known as ES or electronic surgery. Images of non-disabled people are electronically modified using a computer image manipulation package to add leg-braces. Alternatively, images already showing people wearing leg-braces are doctored to show a new body or face.

    3. The Pretender

    The pretender is so attracted to the state of disability that he feels driven to act out the disabled lifestyle in some way, if only occasionally. He may make or buy the accoutrements of physical disability - crutches, leg-braces, a wheelchair - and act out his fantasy of being disabled. Often this is a hidden activity done in the secrecy of the home. The more daring and self-accepting pretender may venture into public places. He may travel far from home to an anonymous city where he is not known, to act out his disabled lifestyle. Being on the receiving end of the curious stare becomes something to be sought. Internally, he feels good about looking and behaving disabled. Sometimes this good feeling is balanced by self-doubt and guilt over his desires to pretend.

    4. The Wannabe

    For the wannabe the occasional pretence of disability is not enough. He feels the overwhelming need to be disabled. For him, life is unfulfilled and incomplete unless he becomes a full member of the disabled community as a physically disabled person. The leg-braces are the outward symbol of an inner struggle with self-identity that isn't won until the disabled state is achieved and he somehow "comes home" to his "real" self. There are striking parallels between how the wannabe feels and how someone with gender dysphoria feels - the "I'm in the wrong body" crisis.

For many people there is some oscillation between all of the above over time. Abasiophilia is not restricted to leg-braces. Other examples are attractions to people using wheelchairs, prosthetic legs and arms, spinal braces and plaster casts. In fact abasiophilia is more common when linked to amputees and cast users.

The important thing to remember is that there is no choice in the above. The person feels "programmed" to behave in this way and he has little or no ability to alter his behaviour: much though he may feel ashamed of his feelings, desires and obsessions he can do little about them.

WHY DOES IT OCCUR?

Almost all LDWs report that they first became aware of their leg-brace attraction in very early childhood. Most report that they were aware well before the onset of puberty with ages between 4 and 10 being most common. In nearly all reported cases there is some interaction with a person with a physical disability. Usually, there is someone with polio or some other disabling condition somewhere in the early life history of the LDW.

There is some indication that the early onset of abasiophilia is linked to attention seeking in the young child. The disabled "other person" who is noted in their recollection is often a neighbour's child who becomes disabled by polio, is forced to use leg-braces and is seen as the centre of special attention. This disabled child is singled out at school to be helped get around, gets the extra gifts and toys, is given lots of love and care. This is often contrasted against the lack of these in some way or other in the case of the LDW to be. There is lots of talk of "that poor child with polio" by the parents, friends and neighbours.

A similar situation arises when another youngster breaks a leg. For a period the child with the broken leg attracts similar attention to the young child with polio. He is in a plaster cast, is immobile, gets about with difficulty using crutches, has to skip sport at school, is allowed special treatment and given more attention than the norm. In some cases breaking a leg oneself results in the same scenario - for a time the child becomes the centre of attention and receives extra love and care. Then, when the leg is healed, things return to normal and the child notices the difference. He wishes the special attention could go on and on.

The result of both of these is an identification of disability as a means of getting attention. Imprinted on the young mind is the belief that being disabled opens a door to attention, care and love that may not be there without the disability. This may be an incorrect association but the imprinting is there and, remarkably, leaves its mark for decades to come. In a few cases, this trigger occurs later in life but this is much more unusual.

So, there is some evidence that the trigger is childhood exposure to disability linked with some degree of attention seeking at the time. It occurs at a pre-sexual stage in the child's development yet, for many, it becomes a fixation with a strong sexual element in later life.

The lack of sightings of people using leg-braces almost certainly explains why the leg-brace LDW is a phenomenon associated mainly with people in their 40s, 50s, or older. These are the generations who saw the "poor, crippled, children" having to deal with the damage caused by polio. The leg-braced child was a relatively common sight in the 1950s when polio had still to be beaten in the West. Today's children no longer see these sights. It also helps to explain why abasiophilia is more commonly associated with amputees or wheelchair users as there is a higher chance of seeing these today than someone in leg-braces.

What cannot be ruled out is some genetic predisposition to LDW behaviour in addition to the triggers that appear to be common factors. In the same way that gender dysphoria has a genetic element perhaps this is also true of LDWs?

A SEXUAL TURN-ON FROM LEG-BRACES?

For many LDWs a metamorphosis occurs turning what was a childhood fear into an adult sexual attraction for adult leg-brace users. Why is this?

Why does childhood exposure to the world of physical disability turn into a sexual turn-on for many in adult life? There are no easy answers but here are some thoughts. There would appear to be at least two factors at work.

  • Firstly there is a need to give love and care. This in itself can be a sexual thing in a loving adult relationship.

  • Secondly there is the aspect of vulnerability and domination. This is altogether more difficult territory.

Although one must be careful not to a generalise, research suggests that most LDWs are sensitive and caring individuals. Such individuals need to express their caring nature in a loving relationship and/or in altruistic good works in the community. In a relationship with a disabled person the need to love and care are met both in terms of a loving relationship and the additional opportunities to help the person cope with his/her disability. So, in theory, the sexual chemistry has a double opportunity to work. But, there is some evidence in the literature that things rarely work out this way. The disabled partner of the LDW does not always match up to the image of the "perfect disabled person" built up over many years of fantasy. There are notable exceptions but sexual relationships do not have a history of happy endings for LDWs!

Then there is the vulnerability and domination aspect. Bondage is a strong turn-on for a surprisingly large number of people although many would not like to admit this is the case. Common in the bondage "scene" are leather leg and body harnesses, straps and buckles, and the more complex and restrictive the more is the turn-on. The similarity of bondage gear to orthopaedic appliances is remarkable. Orthopaedic bracing has a medical purpose whereas bondage is about restrictiveness leading to sexual pleasure. It is no coincidence that what turns on those in the bondage community is mirrored by LDWs with leg-braces.

Also, consider shoes and boots: thigh-high boots with loads of straps, laces and buckles can hardly be practical foot and legwear yet these have been the height of fashion on and off for at least a century. They are as popular today as they were in Victorian England. It is no coincidence that people like Helmut Newton, the famous fashion photographer, chose in the 1980s to adorn his models in neck, back and leg braces. The soft-hard contrast of smooth human flesh against the hard, sharp edges of the brace causes confusion in the mind of the viewer and he does not know quite how to react. What is certain is that the reaction is a sexual one. All corsetry is by nature restrictive and at the same time sexual. Women are prepared to accept "disabling" fashion in order to attract and satisfy a mate.

Steve Dwoskin, the avant-garde film director also understood the odd parallels between restrictive fashion wear and the leg-brace in his famous dressing up scene in his 1980s film "Outside In". In the film his girlfriend dresses in his long leg-braces. In an interview years later Dwoskin, himself badly disabled by polio, admitted that this scene was triggered by his wish to expore this strange contrast between the orthopaedic appliances and something worn to be attractive to the other sex for sexual reasons.

DO DEVOTEES WANT TO BE CURED?

If abasiophilia is such a cause for self-doubt in so many people why don't leg-brace devotees and wannabes rush to find ways of ridding themselves of their troublesome obsession?

The usual answer is they do not look for a cure because, for many, childhood leg-brace imprinting evolves into a sexual preference in teenage and adult life. As we all know, sex is both fun and pleasurable for most people but it is hard to understand and explain why this metamorphosis of feelings and emotions occurs.

There are some exceptions to this rule though. Firstly, many LDWs feel very guilty about their "little secret". Why this should be is understandable: sex and disability remain a taboo subject even in today's enlightened times although little by little this is changing. Whereas at one time the idea of a disabled person having a sex life was thought of as abnormal and to be stopped at all costs, times have thankfully progressed. Today, a person with a disability is accepted as a full and valued member of society with the same rights to sex and love as anyone else. But attitudes still take a time to change and somehow the idea that a person can be sexually attracted to someone with a physical impairment is still viewed as odd by many.

So, the open discussion of the attraction is clouded with a taboo that still lingers on. This element of guilt means that many LDWs may be unable to discuss their innermost thoughts and feelings with others, including their wives or partners. There may even be open hostility if the matter is discussed so their guilt is compounded and they feel the need to rid themselves of the feelings in order to preserve their relationship. It may be that the non-disabled partner feels threatened by a mate who would really prefer sex with someone with a disability. Some relationships survive, and even thrive, by using fantasy to help the devotee manage his wishes. Others find the idea of a disability fantasy as abhorrent and the relationship may be severely tested.

There is also an element of self-doubt over the morality of taking sexual pleasure from the misfortune of others. Although very few LDWs would wish a handicap on anyone they have to admit that seeing someone struggling to move in a heavy and ugly leg-brace is a powerful sexual thing for them. This is, to say the least, confusing to someone who is trying to be loving, caring and altruistic! So, the sexual pleasure is tainted with guilt. The common pattern is to destroy all pictures, videos etc. that have been collected over many years and try to start afresh. It usually fails miserably and the old obsessions and drives return again just a few weeks later.

In an ideal world LDWs would like to enjoy their fantasy of seeing people in leg-braces, or better still meeting and falling in love with such a person, but without causing any hurt or distress in the process. This is especially difficult when there are few leg-brace users to be seen and met these days. Those that are seen then run the risk of being the subject of voyeuristic attention with the clandestine photo or video clip being the only way for the LDW to enjoy the "little secret" later.

And the simple truth is the LDW can't help himself. He is driven by his imprinted need to satisfy his obsession and with this being, for many, a sexual thing, he feels no real wish to be cured. The only limiting factor is his own confusion and occasional feelings of guilt and self-doubt.

HOW DOES ONE COPE?

There can never be a simple answer as this depends so much on the individual and his circumstances.

The ideal situation is firstly self-acceptance and acknowledgment by the person of the person he is, not what he would rather be. Then, if the situation allows, it is best to share his LDW feelings with someone, if only on the internet anonymously. At least this allows discussion of what might otherwise be a source of inner turmoil and heartache. It is often an amazing surprise to find loads of others out there who share the same thoughts and feelings. The many leg-brace devotee Yahoo groups have a very large membership compared with that of many others indicating that this fascination cannot be anything like as unusual as one might have once thought.  In the last year groups have started to appear on the internet that aim to "build bridges" between disabled people and their admirers and devotees and there is already evidence that the old taboos and misunderstandings are slowly beginning to be overcome.

The other important thing is to find some way to come to terms with the way these drives work. For many it is cyclic: there are times when the feelings are barely there and life continues normally. Then, perhaps after a chance sighting of a person in leg-braces, the feelings rise and rise and there may be weeks of almost obsessional behaviour. At these times many hours of the waking day are dominated by the obsession to the point that other activities suffer. It is important to recognise this pattern and try to avoid the obsession getting out of hand if at all possible. Whether drugs to deal with obsessive-compulsive disorders help at such times I do not know.

For some the collection of images may be their only "escape valve". To an outsider the collection of such pictures may be abhorrent but to the LDW it may be a legitimate way of dealing with what otherwise would be an unsatisfied need. Looking at pictures is, arguably, an acceptable and non-intrusive activity as far as the disabled community is concerned. The disabled community may view LDWs with suspicion as they fear that they will be the victims of stalking, or worse. This fear is legitimate although I think few, if any LDWs would ever want to harm a disabled person, who is after all almost an object of veneration. The LDW can look at the pictures and videos and satisfy his curiosity without having to be a nuisance to disabled people.

Others go the whole way and purchase leg-braces for their own use although many would probably prefer to have their partners wear them. Many who do buy braces of their own report that it is an enormous relief to wear them, if only on occasions and indoors in the privacy of their own homes. It is as if a curiosity has been satisfied and they at last know what it feels like to be that child they so admired and stared at all those years ago.

Others report that getting their own braces leaves them strangely unsatisfied. They want to wear the brace for real and not for play. Pretending is not acceptable. For the wannabe this may be a really deeply seated feeling and perhaps it really is something in the genes. Or, perhaps the imprinting in childhood is so very strong that to become that disabled child is what is really sought. Some have talked of survivor guilt - they survived childhood without getting polio whereas their friends did not. All those years later they feel the deep seated need to become disabled to become the real "them" they feel they ought to be.

COMMON TRAITS

This is a collection of common traits that many leg-brace devotees and wannabes share. Do they strike a chord with you?

  • Usually starts well before puberty -most report first being aware of their fascination for leg-braces, and people who use them, between 4 and 10 years old.
  • More common with people aged over 50 who saw friends and family members crippled by polio in their childhood.
  • Seeing someone in leg-braces triggers a massive and overwhelming physiological response.
  • Some report a link to attention seeking or high parental expectations as a child.
  • Some report childhood bullying
  • More common in men than women (about 10:1 ratio).
  • Unusually high percentage have a professional or hobby interest in engineering of some form.
  • Photographic memory for leg-brace "sightings" stretching back to childhood.
  • Many claim an almost 6th sense for detecting people in leg-braces nearby - "brace radar".
  • Many devotees and wannabes are altruistic, thoughtful and caring people with an often unfulfilled need to give and love.
  • Seems most common in white, middle-class, middle-aged, educated individuals and thought to be almost exclusively a condition of people in 1st World countries.
  • A sexual thing to some extent for most, although more than this for some.
  • The "disability wannabe" phenomenon seems more to do with desired body image than sex.
  • Denial of feelings usually fails: fight the feelings and they come back again later.
  • Enjoyment of the feelings often accompanied by guilt.
  • Belief that no-one else could have such an odd desire.
  • Desire to be in leg-braces does not diminish with time for the wannabe.
  • Sometimes feelings overpowering, othertimes less so, depending on other pressures of day-to-day living.
  • Sometimes linked with gender/sexuality ambiguity.
  • Sometimes linked with other paraphilic psycho-sexual conditions.