April 15, 2021
This week, the podcast “Disability After Dark” released an interview that Z and I did a couple of months ago. “Disability After Dark” is a podcast hosted by Andrew Gurza, an advocate for the sexuality of people with disabilities.
I have evaded listening to this interview for the past week. Apparently, it’s good, Z has listened to it. Z’s mom, M, some of our friends and even some strangers on the internet have listened and they all say it’s a good interview. They’ve even assured me that my voice doesn’t sound as bad on recording as I think it does. Still, I can’t listen. The reason I can’t listen is because in the interview I talk about something quite controversial: being a dev. Hearing myself admit on that podcast that I am a dev, even writing on here that I am a dev and outing myself, terrifies me. “Dev” is short for “devotee,” something unheard of by most, confusing to all, and hated by many.
So what does it mean to be a devotee? Well, it has something to do with attraction and disability. For me, being a dev means that I find certain disabilities attractive and I’m more likely to be interested in someone who has one of those disabilities. My therapist understood being a dev as similar to being a person who is attracted to folks with red hair or glasses. You might be naturally attracted to people with glasses and still like somebody who doesn’t have them because other factors draw you to that person, but a person with glasses would be more likely to attract you at a glance. Still, other devs might have completely different ways of experiencing their devness or conceptualizing it.
The most general definition I’ve come up with is this: Devs are people who have a sexual or romantic preference toward people with certain physical disabilities. I like this definition because it’s neutral, it doesn’t get into why someone might have this preference and it doesn’t cast moral judgements. But to fully explain being a dev and how it has affected my personal journey, we do need to look at those things.
The first question most people have when I tell them I’m a dev is “why?” For that reason, it’ll be one of the first things I get out of the way: I don’t know. To my knowledge, I’ve had no major formative events that involved disability, in fact I grew up not really knowing any PWDs (people with disabilities). When I discovered the community of devs and PWD that Z and I met through, I was shocked to read that many devs enjoyed the same types of early childhood play, things like caretaking for my stuffed animals, playing hospital, making up stories in which I had healing abilities, etc. These are games that I had loved, but never attributed to devness. They came very early in my life, for this reason I have to believe that I was born a dev. Soon after, I became ashamed of it.
When things like playing hospital went out of style amongst my peers I still wanted to keep playing it. Later, when kids began developing fascinations with people that turned into crushes, my fascinations were very different.
I wonder now, what Z was going through at that age. Perhaps he was also feeling outcast from the other kids in his community, perhaps he was also worried about whether his desires were acceptable. One of the reasons that Andrew Gurza’s podcast is so important is that many people look at PWDs as non-sexual. Had Z discovered that yet?
The first time I ever heard the word “devotee” was at the end of my high school career. I had done a good job up until then of evading (like I’ve been doing with this interview) my sexuality. Other people may remember the crushes they had at that time, but I had no crushes, or I would not acknowledge any that I had. I told my parents I was asexual, it felt right at the time, I had buried everything so deep. I love YouTube and I did back then as well, I spent hours just watching videos and one day a video came up in my suggested, it was a short video about “wheelchair fetishists.” To be honest, I don’t remember too much about it. I’m pretty sure it was this documentary about a woman with a disability who had “infiltrated” the devotee community, but that could be a video I watched later. Whatever it was, I remember it skewed negative on the topic, but it gave me a word that I thought could be used to describe me and the video wasn’t so negative that I didn’t feel inclined to google the word. Googling was my first mistake. I might have expected confusion, disgust, or even hatred from AB (able-bodied) people, many AB people look at PWDs as asexual and non-desirable, and others look at them as incapable of providing consent, which would make devs predators. What I didn’t expect was the hatred of devs by the disabled community. When I googled “devotee” I found that the disability community was afraid of devs, they found them creepy, objectifying, and found the existence of devs to be othering. I certainly didn’t want to be these things. I was a shy high schooler who’s only wish in life was to be universally liked, and it seemed to me that being this creepy, gross thing would make me universally hated.
To be clear, the disabled community is not suspicious of devs without reason. I’ve read some horror stories about PWD’s interactions with devotees that make me furious and ashamed, but the truth is that every sexuality has outliers who act badly (I’ve experienced that as a woman time and time again). Unfortunately, these outliers tend to be the ones who are the loudest about their preference, as opposed to the devs like me, who are so ashamed of being seen as that creepy devotee that they won’t admit to being one at all.
I wouldn’t admit to being one for a long time. It took me a year with my therapist to admit it to her, even though that was one of the main reasons I was even in therapy. When I was finally able to say it, I spent the rest of my session inconsolable. After that it got easier to say. I’ve told most of my friends about it now, even my parents. Some people accept it, others are mostly confused, but nobody has hated me for it yet. Still, sometimes I feel all of that shame and embarrassment that I once had come back. The first time I went to Ithaca to visit Z, for example, I was terrified, not just to be traveling so far to meet someone I had only ever spoken to virtually, but because Z had unthinkingly told everyone that I was a dev. I was going somewhere where everyone I met only knew one thing about me, and it was the thing that I had always believed was the worst thing about me, the rotten thing at my core. It could have been my worst nightmare. I’m scared of writing about it now. However, I’m writing this because I think that being open about being a dev could help change the stigma around it. When I first read what people thought of devs, I thought that I must be evil because I am one, but I am not evil. Being a dev does not change who I am, but I can change the perception of what devs are.
The more I think about the separation between the dev community and the PWD community, the less sense it makes to me. Both communities deserve love and deserve to consensually fulfill their desires. In our podcast interview, I said that these two communities were like two magnets with the wrong polarities facing each other, if we simply were willing to turn the magnets around everything could just click into place. Z and I did actually meet on a forum where Devs and PWDs coexist, it’s a very respectful, surprisingly lovely corner of the internet and it makes me happy knowing that it exists.
There’s so much more that I want to discuss in this post. It’s such a complicated topic and I’ve barely scratched the surface of what devs are, let alone the implications of our existence. I’m sure that you have questions and if you would like to you can certainly reach out to me or Z to ask those, but that’s all for now.
P.S. I wasn’t brave enough to listen to our interview, but you certainly can be, just follow the link below: