When an Ottawa man, who now calls himself "One Hand Jason," cut off his right arm with a power tool, he let everyone think it was an accident. But he had in fact been planning for it for months, trying different methods of cutting and crushing this limb (which never really felt like his own), after training himself in first aid so that he would not bleed to death. He even had a butcher help him practice on animal legs.
Bizarrely, Jason’s whole intention was to become disabled; he says that his goal was to do it with no chance of reconstruction or re-attaching it, and by using a method he could stomach. His story is told on the body modification website ModBlog.
People like this man are now classified as “transabled” - they feel like impostors in their own bodies, when their arms, legs, etc, are all in full working order. Researchers have discovered that most of the people who identify as transabled are men, and most crave paralysis or amputation, although there have been some who want to be blind or have their penises removed. This phenomenon, transability, is also known as Body Integrity Identity Disorder and was added to the “emerging models” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 2013. Many transabled people desire to see it added in full to this psychiatric bible, as it would then legitimize their experience. BIID is also related to xenomelia, which is defined as “the dysphoric feeling that one or more limbs of one’s body do not belong to oneself.” (quoted from Wikipedia).
Some of the participants in a recent research project draw parallels to transgenderism, a similar phenomenon where people feel that they are born in the wrong body. Clive Baldwin, a Canadian professor of social studies, says that this disorder is beginning to be seen as a neurological problem with the mapping of the body, rather than a mental illness. He intimates that it is just another type of body diversity, like transgenderism, and amputation may help someone to achieve a similar objective to, for example, someone having cosmetic surgery to bring their body in line with who they believe their optimum self to be.
As there becomes more public acceptance of transgender people, the transabled within the disability movement are also seeking legitimacy, or some understanding at least, in a world which cannot fathom why anyone would not want to be able-bodied and healthy. This validation-seeking has encountered a lot of resistance in both the disabled and the transgendered communities. Transabled people tend to be seen as dishonest and attention-seekers, people who are trying to steal resources from the community by not being genuine. It is frequently considered by the disabled to be highly disrespectful, by romanticizing or fetishizing the reality of disability. In the case of transgender people, they take a dim view of the transabled, because they have put a lot of work into de-pathologising transgenderism, what is known as “gender dysphoria”, and to have the condition removed from the DSM.
It is not exactly surprising that this bizarre condition is not accepted by those who are disabled by no fault or action of their own. Where should we draw the line between body diversity and legitimate lifestyle choice, and serious psychiatric disorder?
Picture courtesy of www.dailymail.com