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Friday, July 13, 2012

SL Letter of the Day: Devoted Devotees

Posted by Dan Savage on Fri, Jul 13, 2012 at 10:29 AM

I was so sad to read another letter about a crazy devotee in your column this week. What that woman did was horrible, and the girlfriend should absolutely dump her. But I'd appreciate it if you could let your readers know that not all devotees are like that. Most of us are moral, responsible adults who would never objectify someone the way GIMP's girlfriend did. Devotees get a lot of bad press because of a few bad actors, but you never hear about those of us who have successful, healthy relationships.—Not Like That

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I invited NLT to write something about herself—what does a healthy devotee look like?—and it's after the jump.

And a quick programming note: Pretty much any group can wind up looking bad in my column because... well, because people don't send me questions when everything's going great. I hear from folks when someone has done 'em wrong or when they've done someone wrong. This problem is exacerbated when the bad actor in a particular situation represents a group like devotees, i.e. people who are rarely out to friends family members about their sexual identities and/or interests. When a bad devotee makes an appearance in "Savage Love" my readers can't weigh what they're learning about this one particular devotee against what they know about the devotees they know and love... because the devotees they know and love aren't out to them about being devotees. It's something to bear in mind, gentle readers, when someone with rare or deeply stigmatized sexual interests makes an appearance in the column.

NLT's response to my invitation to share her story—and a few bonus letters (including one from someone who would like to meet a good devotee)—after the jump...

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Thanks so much for the quick reply! I've been a fan for years, and you really helped me come to terms with having this unusual attraction, which is why I felt I had to write in.

Devotees have a bad reputation because people make negative assumptions about us: that we are just looking to abuse and exploit disabled people, or that we are desperate losers who are too unattractive or messed up to date "normal" people. Some people seem to be offended that we even exist. But that assumes that we made a conscious choice to be devotees, like I woke up one day and thought, "That guy in the wheelchair looks vulnerable, I think I'll go after him." Nothing could be further from the truth. I've had this attraction for as long as I can remember, since I was four years old. It's always been a part of me one a deep, pre-conscious, pre-rational level. Nothing triggered it, it was just always there. I have talked to many other devotees online and the consensus seems to be that it begins in early childhood, for no easily explainable reason.

Another misconception is that we are only into amputees. Not so, there are devotees for every kind of physical disability, including spinal cord injury, blindness, deafness, leg braces, crutches, stuttering, or anything else. Devotees can be male or female, gay or straight. I am a straight female.

Many of us grow up feeling tremendous shame, guilt and isolation. In my case, I was convinced until my mid 20s that I was the only person in the world with this attraction. Finding out that there were others like me made a huge difference in coming to terms with it. I have dated several guys with various disabilities, and I am always upfront with them about my attraction, so they can make an informed decision about how they feel about it. And I have never, ever shared or posted photos, or engaged in any kind of abusive behavior.
Of the many devotees I have talked to, I am convinced that most of us are respectful, mature adults. I know of many happy, successful relationships. But in everyday life, those relationships remain invisible. Most people assume the able bodied partner is just "seeing past" the disability. The only time people hear about us is when someone does something horrible. But being devotees does not make us immoral. We can be caring, considerate partners, and we care deeply about accessibility and disability rights.

I just wanted to say to any one reading this who is struggling with this attraction, you are not alone. Anyone who wants some insight into what it's like to grow up as a devotee should read the novel (W)hole by Ruth Madison.

Thanks so much for giving me a chance to say something positive about us.—NLT

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A response to the lesbian-devotee-Internet-pictures letter by GIMP. Dan, you hit the spot with DTMFA. I am a female devotee, and am predominantly attracted to men with disabilities. I am heartbroken by stories like these—especially when it comes from a person who had their reservations about dating devotees in the first place. I always hope to meet people with disabilities who are wary of devotees so they can ask me questions, share their fears or doubts and hear me out, because I am a respectful, honest human being who respects my partners. I would never post pictures of any partner online without their consent. (I would also tell my partner before nine months had gone by about my particular attraction too, but thats another issue.) That is absolutely unforgivable behavior. There are good devotees out there but GIMP has probably been scared off devotees for good. Whoever GIMP decides to date next, she should find a partner who respects her privacy and her humanity and who doesn't treat her body like an object or a novelty.—Disgusted By Bad Apples

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I am a straight female devotee who is happily married to a great guy who is also an amputee. He is aware of my attraction and enjoys the benefits he gets because of it. We have a very typical life together. I just wanted to say that what this devotee did to her girlfriend is inexcusable and completely inappropriate. While this type of behavior happens, not all devotees are like this. Devotees get a bad reputation because of bad apples like this woman. It doesn't help that stories like these are the ones that get published and put out for the public to see. It gives perpetuates the inaccuracy that all devotees are like this. I know many devotees, both male and female who would never steal and post pictures or other inappropriate things. These same devotees constantly fight to improve the reputation of devotees. It is very frustrating. I have never thought about taking pictures of my husband and posting them on picture sharing sites for other devotees to see and get off of. In fact I keep an eye on those sites and look for pictures of him and others we know that have been stolen without the persons permission. It would be nice if you shared this side of devotees on your site as well so people don't assume all devotees are like this.—E

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I'm starting to wonder if my deodorant isn't working. Because I'm a bi, disabled woman in her thirties who has never met a devotee to her knowledge. I guess I'm okay with that, in general, but I suppose it's a measure of the complete lack of sexual attention I've gotten overall—I was born with cerebral palsy—that I'm reading this soul-wrenching letter and halfway through I start thinking, "I wish somebody wanted to make me a fetish object." It's like what they say about kids: they'll take negative attention over none at all. Your advice, however, was spot-on: the betrayal here is the real issue.—Good, Gimpy, and Green

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