Some people are becoming disabled by choice and calling themselves “transabled.” Researchers in Canada are trying to better understand how transabled people think and feel.
Clive Baldwin, a Canada ResearchCHAIR in Narrative Studies who teaches social work at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, N.B., has interviewed 37 people worldwide who identify as transabled. Most of them are men.
About half are in Germany and Switzerland, but he knows of a few in Canada. Most crave an amputation or paralysis, though he has interviewed one person who wants his penis removed. Another wants to be blind.
Most of them arrange “accidents” to help achieve the goal. One dropped an incredibly heavy concrete block on his legs — an attempt to injure himself so bad an amputation would be necessary. But doctors saved the leg. He limps, but it’s not the disability he wanted.
The transabled are very secretive and often keep their desires to themselves, Baldwin says. One 78-year-old man told Baldwin he’d lived with the secret for 60 years and never told his wife.
Some of his study participants do draw parallels to the experience many transgender people express of not feeling like they’re in the right body. Baldwin says this disorder is starting to be thought of as a neurological problem with the body’s mapping, rather than a mental illness.
In the late 1990s, Scottish surgeon Dr. Robert Smith amputated the legs of two patients at their request. While the surgery involved National Health Service staff, each patient paid nearly $6,000 for their procedures.
As the public begins to embrace people who identify as transgender, the trans people within the disability movement are also seeking their due, or at very least a bit of understanding in a public that cannot fathom why anyone would want to be anything other than healthy and mobile.