Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Pretender Article lives on...

So that article, 'Portrait of a Pretender', that Allen Rucker wrote about me a few weeks back? Since it was published on New Mobility, it's been picked up by several other places, including a mention by Roger Ebert.

Of course pretty much every place it was mentioned, there has been a lot of negativity coming from the disabled community, some of it rather prolific in it's promotion of exclusion and even hatred. I'm not at all shocked, of course - I've been doing this a long time - but I DO find it interesting that a community which talks so much about acceptance and understanding seems to be so completely devoid of the same.

I mean, it's not like I'm taking their parking spots or using up their medical benefits, I'm not doing anything at all that can possibly affect their daily lives, so why would they feel such vehemence against me? Is it the same argument heterosexuals use against gay marriage - that if a pretender uses a wheelchair it will somehow cheapen THEIR disability experience? It almost seems self-hating, like they're so disgusted by their own situation and their own disability that anyone who might actually find a positive in it, anyone who might even PREFER a wheelchair as a means of mobility for some reason, just HAS to be mentally ill or worse, because it's just so AWFUL. I find that an extremely dis-empowering point of view, personally...

Well, Allen saw the same thing, and he's posted a new article which I really like, called 'Looking to Be Insulted' - he makes some good points and has a really great point of view, it's certainly worth a read, if for not other reason than to see a well-respected disability advocate actually defending ME. Thanks for that, Allen!!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New Mobility article - full interview

A few people have commented that there isn't much 'interview' with me in the article written for New Mobility... This is true, but the author, Alan, actually asked me quite a few questions and I'm quite happy with my answers, if I may be immodest for a moment. I feel they give a pretty good view into 'me', much better than the article itself, so I wanted to post it here, unedited, in it's entirety. Let me know how you like it :)

1. Please describe your background in very general terms. Middle class/working class, urban/rural, college, profession, etc.

Cathy: I'd say middle class, urban. I live in a modest sized apartment with my girlfriend in a not-too-awful part of town. I have a pretty run-of-the-mill customer service job, she's a midlevel professional. I went to a little college didn't have the money to finish - I wasn't very self-confident, either. If I could have gone in a wheelchair, I probably would have finished with honors. Heather has a degree but never actually worked in the field she got her degree in. I'm not sure which one of us came out ahead on the college question.

2. When did you first notice a fetish for wheelchairs? Was there one life-changing incident? How did the realization make you feel?

Cathy: It came in stages. I remember my earliest feelings were when I would watch the Jerry Lewis telethon with my grandmother. I still remember seeing a girl about my age (probably 8 or 9) wearing a pretty, frilly dress and full metal legbraces, using a walker, and it fascinated me! This girl mesmerized me and I just wanted to BE her, or be like her. From that point on I was fascinated with mobility impairments, primarily crutches and wheelchairs - seeing people using them gave me a thrill I didn't completely understand, but I knew I liked it and wanted to experience it.
I know I was 11 when it really 'hit home' and solidified. I was at my grandmother's house, my mom was working so grandma was my occasional babysitter. She had an old push wheelchair in the basement, it was older than I was, I think. I remember using it down in the basement, wheeling myself around when I could sneak it, usually when she was watching soaps. One day, I had taken an ACE bandage from under the sink and wrapped my ankle with it, then wheeled around. It made me feel VERY strange, but good. Without going into detail that might make this article NSFW, I'll just say that I ended up having my first orgasm sitting in a wheelchair in my grandmother's basement - that was pretty much the 'life changing incident' that put me on the path to who I am today.

3. Please describe your wheelchair life today. Do you go out in public? Can you comfortably and confidently stay in a chair for long periods? In a public situation, could you fool me?

Cathy: I had been using a wheelchair more or less daily, at home, since I moved out on my own when I was twenty, first in a beat up hospital chair I bought for $25 at a garage sale, and then later in an Invacare rigid chair I bought for $600 from a medical surplus sale (I saved up for 2 years for that!).
About three years ago, my girlfriend Heather and I were in a really bad car accident. It totaled the car - they needed special equipment to get her door off - but thanks to modern technology, neither of us were badly injured. I had a sprained wrist, she had a few cuts, that was it - we were very lucky. Out of that incident, since it really happened and we had pictures of Heather's severely damaged car, etc..., we decided to take my pretending up a notch. Since then, I have lived every day as a wheelchair user, at work, with friends and family, at home, etc... The 'official story' is not paralysis, it's a back injury that causes me loads of pain and discomfort if I stand or walk for any amount of time. My 'treatment' is a chiropractor, and since chiropractors aren't covered by my health insurance, there's no way for work to question or disprove it. My job was always been a sit-down position, answering phones and using a computer, so they didn't even have to specially modify anything, so nobody questions it.
This is one of the things that has been most surprising to me - nobody questions me about my wheelchair. It's like they don't even want to know - I was afraid I wouldn't be able to pull it off long term, that I'd slip up and say something or do something that would make people know I was a fake, but what I really found out was that able-bodied people just don't bother, they don't pay that much attention and even avoid the topic all together. Even my family, after the first comple months of the 'when are you getting out of that chair?' questions, just stopped paying attention and pushed my 'unfortunate situation' to the side.
When I'm wheeling I make sure I don't make any kind of scene, I don't use any handicapped parking spots, I don't apply for any special services, etc... - I don't want to accidentally take up a service that a genuine chair user might need. I also get REALLY mad when I see someone without an appropriate sticker parking in a handicapped slot.

4. The benefits of chair culture to you seem primarily sexual, from your blog description. Please explain -- are you attracted to or aroused by women who are attracted or aroused by you in your chair?

Cathy: This is a multi-layered answer, and I'll do my best not to ramble too badly.
The quick answer is yes, I am sexually aroused by being in a wheelchair, and I am attracted to women with mobility impairments; primarily wheelchair users, but also leg braces, crutches, even casts sometimes.
As for me being in my wheelchair, it's far deeper than sexual - I only feel 'complete' or 'right' when I'm in my wheelchair. It's completely psychological; when I am in my wheelchair I am more self-confident, more outgoing, more able to focus, and I feel much more attractive. I'm much more open to meeting new people, I'm much more fun in public settings like parties or clubs, and I'm simply happier. Conversely, if I'm not in my chair I'm much less self confident and I'm very shy - before meeting Heather I would almost never go out, because without my chair I just felt somehow 'naked', like I left the house without makeup or like I was still wearing my pajamas.
Being in my chair is also very sexual for me - again, I feel more confident and sexy, and that, in turn, makes me more sexually confident and aroused. Getting out of bed in the morning by transferring to my wheelchair is an immediate emotional wake-up and, most days, an immediate arousal for me. Being 'helped' in my chair is the same, sometimes stronger - Heather helping me put on a pair of stockings when I'm sitting in my chair is some of the strongest erotic foreplay for me, as one example.
As far as Heather's take on it, she likes my chair and she understands and appreciates what it does for me, but she's not 'into' wheelchairs or paraplegics per-se, she's just 'into' me and the chair is part of that, it has been since our first date. For her it's more like a fantasy role-play. Not sure if this is too much information, but Heather is also a foot fetishist, that's her primary 'kink'. She approached me at a club because I was in my wheelchair and not wearing shoes, just stockings - she liked my feet :) We had a nice evening together, the next day I admitted that I was a wheelchair pretender and, instead of calling me a freak (that has happened seven different times with seven different lovers, and true or not it always hurts.) she admitted she was a foot worshiper, and we've been together ever since. Even though she's not 'into' the wheelchair pretending, she does treat me as a wheelchair user in our day to day lives, and that really helps me a lot.

5. Are there other perks to being a chair user? For instance, do you like the attention you get in public?

Cathy: Better parking? KIDDING!
Honestly I LOVE the attention I get in public. The working title of the book I'm putting out later this year is actually 'It's OK to stare'.
I never make a scene or try to 'stick out', but I love the little second glances I get, I love people holding a door open for me, things like that.
One 'perk' - well, I guess it's a perk, anyway - is something I've been doing since I got my Invacare rigid chair (because it looks more 'legitimate' than the old hospital chair) is shoe shopping. I would go to a nice shoe store and ask to try on a few pairs of shoes and ask for the sales woman to help put them on for me (especially if she was cute). It's always extremely exciting for me, both emotionally and erotically. I'd almost always buy a pair too - I felt weird not buying anything.

6. Do you consider your chair fetish to be what is known as a factitious disorder -- compulsively feigning illness or impairment -- or just a lifestyle choice? Is it in any way harmful, to you or others?

Cathy: For me I definitely consider it a lifestyle 'choice' in the same way that being a Lesbian is a 'choice' - there's not really a choice in the matter, if I don't use a wheelchair I deny part of who I am. I've read up a lot on BIID, I think parts of that describe me pretty well, but it's not a perfect fit.
The 'feigning illness' after the car accident is simply a vehicle to allow me to live this way full time, which is something I've fantasized about since I was a teenager. It's very, VERY rare for a pretender to be able to live in their preferred mode of 'disability' full time, I think I've only ever spoken to one other since I've been active in the community who has pulled this off, and even for them it involved moving to another state.
Is it harmful? Well, some would say psychologically harmful, and I probably believe that. I do have days, every so often, where just sitting in my wheelchair isn't enough. I have times when the fact that I can get up and stand and walk around just really frustrates me, and I want more. I have thought of hurting myself, gaining some real, permanent injury, usually paralysis. I've had myself worked up to the point where I was ready to fall out a second story window, back-first (Wearing a bike helmet), to try and break my spine. I've researched things like paralytic drugs that could be used to deaden legs permanently. I've come pretty close to taking actions that may have proven highly dangerous to me.
I've never told anyone this, but when I walked away from that that severe car accident unharmed, I cried deeply for two full days, I was inconsolable. I decided that walking away from a crash that (in my mind) SHOULD have paralyzed me was completely unfair and I wanted to break my back for real. I think that was the closest I have ever come to doing myself real, serious harm, and it was only Heather's idea of a compromise - using the accident to fake an injury - that brought me out of that place. I don't know what might have happened if she hadn't.

7. There are no stats that I can find about wheelchair pretenders or wannabes or fetishists. How many are out there, would you guess? Hundreds? Thousands?

Cathy: I'd love to know! For myself, based on my blog statistics gets an average of 12K - 15K unique pageviews per month, and it gets statistically higher if I'm more active (posting at least one to two stories or blog posts a week), so there's a decent population of people out there who at least have an interest. I also belonged to a web group for pretenders that had a few hundred people in it, but it wasn't all that active and unfortunately mostly full of spam.
It's such a taboo, as many things related to disability and sexuality are, that even on the world of the internet not many people come out and say they are pretenders or wannabes or even devotees. As someone who has friends and experiences in many sub-cultures, including GLBT, foot fetish, and BDSM groups, the pretender/wannabe subculture is the most secretive 'group' I know.

8. How do they/you know about each other besides the internet?

Cathy: Internet is it for me, because of some really negative issues that happened in the past with a 'meetup'.
I think the web is the primary means of connecting for the vast majority of people, though I do know one person who has said that the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco was a good place for meeting others. Germany seems to be a hotbed of activity as well. The folsom Street thing seems more a leather and bondage fetish scene there, but I do know there is a bit of crossover between leg brace pretenders and bondage enthusiasts. I know I'd love to check it out some day, and Heather has always wanted to visit San Fran - it's a Lesbian thing...

9. Having socialized with other pretenders or wannabes, how would you describe them in general? Is there a certain personality type -- rebel, say, or loner, or depressive, etc? Maybe you can't generalize at all. If not, just give me a quick thumbnail sketch of another pretender you know well.

Cathy: There's no way I can generalize, as the pretenders and wannabe's I've known over the years have all been very unique individuals. I know one who is a very happy family man, I know a couple pretenders who are alone and looking for a partner, I know a wannabe who is a little 'out there' and can be disturbing to chat with, and I've chatted with a single middle aged woman who likes to use a wheelchair to get attention for herself. I guess it's easier than filling your house with cats.
I will say there does seem to be an undercurrent of psychological issues I've seen among pretenders - myself included - but I don't believe that being a pretender or a wheelchair fetishist in itself is a 'psychological issue', but rather coming to the realization that we are so far outside the societal idea of 'normal' tends to be very isolating and frustrating for us.
Imagine being told, from the time you begin having a sexual identity of your own, that what you identify with is 'wrong', is 'sick', is 'disgusting' - but it's just a woman in a wheelchair, or on crutches? Take that woman out of the wheelchair and sit her on a couch, and suddenly that's a normal attraction, but put her in the wheelchair and you're a degenerate or a pervert. What would that do to you psychologically? I had the double-whammy of identifying as a Lesbian AND something that, at the time, didn't even have a NAME - at least not one that people knew. It really affected me and my social development, to have an attraction/desire/fetish that (as far as I knew) nobody else on the planet shared. It still affects me to this day.
I do know a number of male pretenders who are also either cross dressers or transvestites, so there is a lot of transformation going on there, and some of them look really good. They have said similar things to me, that they don't feel like 'themselves' unless they are in drag and either on crutches or in braces or a wheelchair.

10. This is a key question to me. Having no doubt observed a lot of wheelchair users like me, what insights can you pass along about us? I find most users to be timid, shy, quick to feel offended, and all too often self-centered, but then again, maybe that's my own bias.

Cathy: For me it's ironic because I'm timid and shy until I get IN my wheelchair, then I'm very open and friendly and outspoken.
Generally for wheelchair users I say 'Embrace it'. It's you, it's who you are, and if more wheelchair users embraced it and became more outspoken 'roll models' I think it would be a very positive thing. Be more outgoing and try to get into the media more! There are no good positive wheelchair users in the media, and for most roles that require a disabled/differently abled person, they choose an able-bodied actress - that's just stupid and insulting. Also, wheelchair ladies - you need to go barefoot FAR more often. (Just kidding, that's the fetish talking...)
Openly embrace sexuality too - the GLBT community did this and de-mystified homosexuality (which was considered a deviant paraphilia until the 1970s!!!). As I said before - put someone like A.J. Bray (I'm a HUGE fan) on a luxurious couch in sensual clothing and a seductive pose and that's hot, that's erotica. If you put her in her wheelchair, dressed the same way and in the same seductive pose, however, somehow it becomes perverse? It's deviant? That's stupid.
I don't know that I've ever offended a wheelchair user in person (though I'm certain I've offended MOST of them with my website over the years), but in general nobody should be easily offended or have a hair trigger - it's just not healthy. To paraphrase one of my favorite T-shirts - 'some people are dicks, get over it'
Also, if you're in a wheelchair stop obsessing about walking again. I know, that's a stupid thing for the wheelchair pretender to say, and I'm not talking about a real cure, like stem cells, I'm talking about all the braces and bizarre exoskeletons they're coming out with. These things are slow, they're hard to use, they're clumsy, and they're just there to make 'normal' people feel better - I've yet to see one that seems to be a genuine improvement on quality of life.

11. Did you see the movie, "Quid Pro Quo," about a pretender played by the actress Vera Farmiga? What did you think of it?

Cathy: I've seen it a number of times now. It's a good movie, I like it, I think Vera is REALLY hot in her wheelchair, but the big reveal scene with the braces fell very flat - she wasn't wearing them right or using them right, and if she were as hard core a pretender as she indicated, she would have known better.
The creepy little 'pretenders meeting' in the darkened/abandoned building was odd, but I could see myself taking part in something like that if it were real - especially pre-Heather. I would have preferred it to dig a little deeper into the subculture, but overall it was a pretty cool movie.

That's it for now. Please feel free to add anything you wish. It's your life. I'm just trying to accurately describe it.

Cathy: My whole idea of being a wheelchair user, being a paraplegic, is very romanticized and, in most cases, isn't based in reality. It's a fantasy, an idealized, almost fairy-tale concept of what my life would be like as a paraplegic in a wheelchair, and I know that. I know that 'not being able to walk' is probably the smallest issue most paraplegics need to deal with. I know that if I ever became genuinely paralyzed, I would probably hate it after a week, then I'd eventually get over it and get on with my life, just like anyone who becomes paralyzed. However, that's the logical part of my brain, and when it comes to wheelchairs that's just not the part of my brain that's in charge.
As an example - I have wheeled to a store that I REALLY wanted to go to, and then not gone in because there was a flight of steps down to get into the store (It was this little basement-level boutique). I could have just stood up and walked in, but in my mind that wasn't really possible, because I was in a wheelchair, so I left and I've never returned. I think they're closed now.
Pretenders don't hurt anyone, as long as they're not trying to scam government benefits or taking services away from people who actually need them. We have a fetish, an 'interest', even a 'disorder' - call it what you will, but we're just living our lives in the only way we really can, for the most part. For me, I could bury this deep in my subconscious and live a miserable life on two legs, or I can embrace my soul and live life happy and content, and in a wheelchair. That doesn't make a real wheelchair user any less 'legitimate', it doesn't diminish you in any way, it's just me sitting in a wheelchair, living my life.

Friday, September 2, 2011

ParaCathy featured in New Mobility!

So here's more big new for me! I was interviewed for an article in New Mobility on pretenders, which was just published yesterday! The author, Allen Rucker, interviewed me over the summer and I think the article came out quite good - I'm happy with it in any case! Check it out, and I hope you enjoy this small look into my mind and my world :) and please - if you're going to leave comments under the article, make sure they are non-confrontational and don't reflect badly on the P/D/W subculture. Thanks!!

Check out the article here!