update: my employee uses a wheelchair … but I found out he doesn’t really need one

Remember the letter-writer earlier this year whose employee uses a wheelchair and had mentioned being paralyzed, but was seen in a video saying he wasn’t actually paralyzed and uses it because he feels he was meant to be paraplegic? Here’s the update.

Firstly I would like to re-iterate that it was definitely Drew. Someone in the comments mentioned dopplegangers but it was 100% him (same first and name, hairdo, height, tattoo, and voice). Someone said I had seen the documentary after my other employee brought it to my attention. I had actually seen the documentary before this and knew what she was talking about as soon as she mentioned it.

There was no baiting and switching, Drew participated openly knowing it would be seen. He said as much in it as did the others who appeared. He said people would probably see it that he knew. In the documentary Drew did more than take a few steps. He walked, ran, rode a bike, went up and down stairs, and kicked a ball. By his own words he is 100% physically healthy and can use his legs fine/normally. But he uses a wheelchair full-time even when he is home alone and tells everyone he is a paraplegic with no use of his legs at all. He mentions having gone to therapy in the past and all they would do is force him to use his legs and no wheelchair so he quit and now does not go to therapy or see anyone. He said nothing is mentally wrong with him and he wishes he was paralyzed and could find a doctor to do it although no doctor will.

Drew participates in athletics for people in wheelchairs and is a disability activist according to the documentary. After some of his friends saw the documentary, I guess they felt deceived. Last week Drew tearfully gave one week’s notice. I didn’t mention the documentary but Drew did and he said was moving because his friends won’t talk to him because they found out he lied and he was kicked off the teams he is on. He mentioned being investigated for using a fake a disabled parking tag. In the documentary he mentioned being estranged from his family because they would not accommodate his wheelchair.

After he left, people began talking about the documentary. The employee who had brought it to my attention left here for a management job somewhere else long before Drew left and him being in documentary got out here. It was not her who outed him, I don’t know who did. People were angry when they found out but Drew had already left.

Drew had no formal accommodations. All the doors were already wide enough and there are many working elevators and large single washrooms here. People would do things for Drew on their own like get things from the printer or run to another floor (Drew was on the ground floor) because Drew always asked but did those things himself if no one was around.

One person in the comments mentioned the company putting in ramps and rearranging the desks for Drew. I was baffled when I read it because nothing of the sort was done. I had mentioned clearly in my question that nothing had to be done to accommodate Drew besides giving him the disabled space closest to the door. There was no ramps or moving the desks and I want to make it clear that statement was completely false.

That is all I have for my update. Thank you for answering my question. Your answer was well thought out as always. Take care and cheers Alison!

{ 598 comments… read them below }

    1. Beth Jacobs*

      I think that’s why the comments got a bit speculative on that one. People were just so perplexed by the situation, that they tried to make up anything that would help them make sense of it.

      But then again – the bizzare stories are what I’m here for.

    2. Elan Morin Tedronai*

      Think he’s just a severe hypochondriac or has Munchausen by proxy… Either way, it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility if he’s got a mental issue rather than a physical one.

      1. Sethra Lavode*

        Munchausen’s by proxy would involve him creating illness in someone else; if he believed he was ill, it would be plain old Munchausen’s, since no proxy is involved. That said, I don’t think it’s possible to diagnose him or that you should try, especially given site rules.

        1. Angie*

          This! Unless you are a licensed psychiatrist you just need to leave this one alone. You are definitely not qualified.

          1. Licensed mental health professional*

            Even licensed psychiatrists (or other professionals qualified to diagnose and treat mental illness – psychologists, LCSWs, some LMFTs or LPCCs, psychiatric NPs…) cannot ethically armchair diagnose with such limited information, tempting though it may be sometimes.

            Source: see user name

        2. Elan Morin Tedronai*

          My point is that Drew has a mental issue rather than a physical one. Not trying to diagnose anything.

          1. Amy J.*

            Mental health IS health. Attempting to separate the two stigmatizes mental illness in ways that only harm people and society.

          2. Annonymouse*

            Actually, you were. But lots of people are guilty of this (I’ve done it). We shouldn’t, though.

      2. Just Visiting*

        With respect to the idea that you can’t diagnose anyone over the Internet (true), it’s most likely to be Body Integrity Identity Disorder. Most people like this want to amputate their limbs, but there are also ones who want to be paralyzed or blinded. It’s actually a pretty fascinating condition.

        1. Scarlet*

          Exactly. I think I might have seen the documentary referred to by OP, actually. Can’t remember the title because it was a few years ago.

        2. Mr McGregor's Gardener*

          Yeah, wasn’t there a guy who rigged up some kind of guillotine arrangement because his doctor wouldn’t amputate a healthy limb?

        3. JB*

          I’ve heard of this too. It’s utterly bizarre, and it was the first thing I thought of when I read this.

          Not saying this is definitely the case. Some people are just assholes.

      3. Liet-Kinda*

        You have precisely zero point nada idea what psychiatric conditions he has, or might have, and speculating on them is both pointless and unhelpful.

    3. Jenny*

      Some of the people like Drew call themselves “transabled.” Of course, unlike transgender it’s not a “thing” and is most likely a result from mental illness. People in the disability community find it extremely offensive. Akin to wearing blackface.

      1. selena81*

        and i’m assuming the ‘transabled’ people respond to that by pointing out that transgenderism was once considered an illness too.
        calling it blackface seems rather unfair: when did he go up on a stage and mock handicapped people?

        regardless, there will always be backlash against ‘the prince playing pauper’: someone pretending to be part of a disadvantaged social group (be they handicapped, female, foreign, poor, etc), for reasons ranging from ‘research’ to ‘fraudulently obtaining money/sympathy’.
        _especially_ if said prince does not give up all his privilege: it appears this guy regularly leaves the wheelchair, if he has enough strength to ride a bike and kick a ball.

        1. Anna*

          There is no comparison between people who are transgendered and people who call themselves “transabled”. It reminds of someone I know who says she is Irish “in her soul” and once referred to herself as “transethnic.” It’s BS and ignores the absolute hell the transgendered community goes through to gain acceptance. People who wish they had some sort of disability will not face and have not faced the kinds of discrimination people in the trans community have faced just trying to live their lives.

          1. Jenny*

            Also, many people in wheelchairs actually can walk. It doesn’t mean they don’t need a wheelchair, and people who are faking it make it worse for people who are disabled and sometimes have to use a wheelchair, as on their “good” days others will think they are faking it.

            1. Avalon Angel*

              Exactly! I have MS. On a good day, I can walk with a cane. On bad days, I use the chair. As I age and the disease progresses, I have fewer good days. So I am happy to get them and actually walk around!

              But it has led some people to assume I am either not sick or “not THAT sick.” And the “transabled” contribute to it.

    4. Avalon Angel*

      Unfortunately, I have become almost accustomed to this particular brand of bizarre.

      I have a progressive form of MS. Over the years, we have had to eject people from the support groups who don’t have MS…they just wish they did. They never say this up-front, only admitting it if they get caught. They know the rules before joining; while we have groups for those not yet diagnosed/going through the diagnostic procedures, they never show up in those groups…just the ones where it is strictly forbidden to join without a diagnosis. They also don’t tend to appear in the groups for the non-progressive types, and seem to like groups focused on mobility. It makes it hard to trust the group with such personal details of your medical condition with someone who is pretending to do the same.

      Even worse are the ones who then hijack YOUR story to further their desires. I once saw someone giving the exact same details of a recent hospitalization (including the same first names of the nurses I had and the meals that I ate) on a forum they clearly didn’t know I also belonged to. One of the “outed” non-disabled members admitted to using the group to help him with “ideas on how to be more authentically disabled.” I know it’s a mental illness, but it’s hard to be sympathetic when your photos are being used by a perfectly healthy person who is claiming they are hers.

      In this case, I can’t help but think how the sports teams are now affected by his behavior. Any games they won will likely have to be forfeited. Not to mention the legitimately disabled people who tried out for a spot and lost it to a man who isn’t disabled.

      And in the end, people like this foster a distrust of the disabled. It encourages people to confront those in disabled spots or insist a service dog be removed from a store. So you’ll have to forgive me for my lack of sympathy to this guy and people like him.

      1. PJs of Steven Tyler*

        That is frigging horrifying. I’m sorry you are being put through that in addition to the MS – it must feel so erasing and enraging.

      2. Jenny*

        How disgusting. I watched a documentary about these people. I guess some of them are well aware they have some mental illness going on. I have had multiple chronic illnesses over my lifetime. No one has ever accused me of faking being bipolar. That would be so weird. I think these people more fetishize physical disability.

    1. Antilles*

      Same. I have no real idea what to think here. Zip, zero, zilch.
      On one hand, I can see why people would be angry that he was ‘faking’ an illness. On the other hand, it seems like he neither asked for nor got any accommodations except for getting park slightly closer to the door at the office so it doesn’t really seem like ‘faking’ in the usual implication of conning the system – especially since he’s apparently continued his wheelchair use even after becoming estranged from his family because of it.

      1. Legal Beagle*

        I understand the coworkers feeling upset and lied to, but…I feel much more sorry for Drew. This must be an enormous struggle for him, and he lost his family and friends over it. I hope he finds a new town and job where he can rebuild and feel comfortable.

        As far as being a “disability activist,” that’s a much more complicated issue and I totally understand feelings of anger and betrayal from those folks, more than from coworkers who weren’t as personally impacted. It seems comparable to a Rachel Dolezal situation. And although he may indeed have a disability – perhaps this is a mental illness – he is not a paraplegic, as he claimed. So there is deception involved.

        1. Stormfeather*

          Yeah, it’s hard to know what to feel about it overall, but I do think he was definitely wrong in taking part in the sports and so forth – he’s still going to have an advantage even if it’s just in keeping his balance in certain ways, or in using more muscles than those he’s competing against can use.

          And while it would be difficult and embarrassing… I really think that honesty is the way to go when taking part in this sort of thing.

          (Also not a fan of the decision to just stop going to therapy, in any sort of mental health situation, but… it’s tough.)

          So yeah, tl;dr I feel for Drew and think he’s in a tough spot, but also think he’s handled some of the situations badly. But then it’s such an out-of-there situation, it’s gotta be tough to know how he SHOULD handle things.

          1. Lance*

            I admit, I am a bit curious what he was going to therapy for. What would he expect people to do, except try and help him get over this feeling of ‘I shouldn’t be able to use my legs’? More concerning is, in a sense, wishing harm on himself so he could physically be what he mentally feels.

            At any rate, I hope Drew can, at the very least, find a place good for him, whatever that might be.

            1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

              Like many people who go to therapy at the suggestion of others, he was hoping to find support. But the support he wants is to continue living as he does, not as he can. I’m not going to say “as he should,” but rather as he can. Therapy can be helpful for existential crises, but typically can only succeed if the patient is seeking to live an authentic life, not continue to live a lie – whether that lie is malicious, or with criminal intent, or genuinely a mental disorder. And Drew believes he is a paralyzed person and wouldn’t let therapy change that.

              1. Lilo*

                I mean, there is often a severe self-harm aspect to this kind of delusion (“make myself disabled”) that can be life threatening. That’s why you hope the guy gets help.

                1. Tisiphone*

                  I’d have to agree. Muscles that aren’t used will atrophy, as I discovered after six weeks in a CAM boot a couple years ago.

                2. Tin Cormorant*

                  Especially if he decides “no doctor will make me disabled, so I’m going to have to do it myself.”

            2. JSPA*

              If he feels conflicted or ashamed (or “shameful but not ashamed”) or like people would hate him if he came out about his real disability (the mental one) or on tenterhooks about coming out (as someone with body dysmorphia, and as someone whose apparent disability is not actually located in his legs, but between his ears), he could very reasonably seek counseling and support for that.

              And if this flavor of body dysmorphia is as deeply integral to his psyche (and potentially based in a physically-based perceptual problem, and thus not really open to long-term modification) he probably felt something analogous to what trans or gay people feel if they try to get general psychiatric support for, say, depression, and are instead told to manifest their assigned gender, or act straight, as if that will cure their depression.

              Just because a syndrome is rare and hard to empathize with doesn’t mean we should say, “this person’s perception of their life can be ignored and vilified.” This isn’t, say, an urge to attack people. There’s minimal potential definable harm to other people (outside of the sports situation, where yeah, he probably should not participate, outside of “just for fun” matches.)

              (The likelihood that he, specifically, is taking the last disabled space–as opposed to any of the other disabled people who could be competing for the space–has got to be vanishingly small.) In which case, seems to be it should go firmly in the “what’s it to you?” category. His life, his (extra complex) monkeys.

              We don’t ask if people can’t use their legs because their muscles are malfunctioning or because their bones are brittle or because their motor neurons are not working or because their lower spine is eroding and they have intermittent extreme pain or because of a spinal cord injury because their MS is acting up–even if it’s not an “always, everyday” thing. So why pile on this guy because (like a gay guy in “reparative” therapy who manages to kiss girls) he can occasionally get around his hard-wiring, and use his legs?

              I know from amputee friends how miserable a phantom limb can be, especially if it feels twisted or cramped or stuck. I’m sure that the opposite situation is no picnic, either.

              1. Blue Roses*

                I am really taken aback at your comparison of treatment for BID being the same as sending a gay person to conversion therapy.

                1. JSPA*

                  You’re assuming a gender and identity for me that are very likely wrong and incomplete. I know whereof I speak.

                2. JSPA*

                  To be very clear, I’m not saying that the two are somehow equivalent.

                  I’m saying that when people have a crystal clear view of their own identity, we should not treat that the way we would treat someone who passingly loses touch with reality.

                  I’m saying that we need to ask ourselves some tough questions whenever we feel the need to challenge someone’s deeply-held, core-level self-concepts, simply because they don’t resonate with the majority, don’t make sense to the majority, or make the majority uncomfortable.

                  Yes, gay is now normal.

                  But I remember, as a kid, reading the Doonesbury cartoon in the mid 1970’s.

                  Clyde (a recurrent black character, walking into campaign headquarters for candidate Ginny Slade, his girlfriend): Hey, man–Ginny tells me you bin recruited to write for her!
                  Andy (a recurrent gay character, friend group of both Clyde and Ginny): Yeah, that’s right Clyde.
                  Clyde: Don’t you think you could be kind of an embarrassment to the campaign?
                  Andy [looking up at Clyde]: How’s that, Clyde?
                  Clyde: Well, I hear you’re gay!
                  Andy: That’s right–and I hear you’re black.
                  Clyde: Yeah, but that’s normal!
                  Andy [going back to his work]: Didn’t used to be.

                  We don’t know which of our current “not normal” categories will be 2060’s “didn’t used to be’s. When I read that cartoon in the mid 70’s, Stonewall had happened 5 or 6 years previously (but the vast majority of straight people were entirely unaware it had happened–ditto most gay people). The damnation crowd and the compassion crowd–and a lot of gay people themselves–were on board with the “being gay is to suffer” presumption, and the “search for a medical cure.” The idea of a “good gay life” struck even well-meaning people, including far too many gay people of the era, as somewhere between preposterous and purely theoretical.

                  That was rather less than 50 years ago.

                  I’m therefore pointing out that history does not judge gently society’s insitance on telling otherwise compos-mentis people with a non-standard identity, what their reality should be.

                3. selena81*

                  …We don’t know which of our current “not normal” categories will be 2060’s “didn’t used to be’s….

                  Our understanding of *normal* has changed back and forth waaay too much over the course of just a century (and just as much in every century before that) to go around diagnosing ‘some kind of mental illness, not sure which one but that stuff is just too weird’ onto people with a consistent and not-hurting-anyone-else desire to be *different*

              2. Raine*

                I can’t comment specifically on Drew’s situation, but I know that this brought up feelings of erasure for me as someone who can’t access accommodations or services easily. I don’t use a mobility device all the time and have had people assume I am faking, even going so far to throw fruit at my car when I was in an accessible bay with a placard because I was able to walk myself around to the trunk to grab my crutches. While Drew may have a need to do what he is doing, societies perception of individuals like him makes my life as someone with an invisible disability difficult because I either have to out myself and give away a lot of personal information to prove that I am disabled or deal with people accusing me of faking.

                1. Clodagh*

                  Someone threw fruit at your car?! That’s horrible and I’m really sorry you had to go through that. Honestly, what is wrong with people sometimes??

                2. Amelia Pond*

                  As someone with an invisible disability, I just hurt for Drew. Just because it’s not physical doesn’t mean it’s any less real. The fact so many people, both abled and not, are throwing him under the bus as if it’s something he’s chosen is breaking my heart. Where’s the compassion? The empathy?

                3. selena81*

                  I hear some wheelchair people tend to always stay in their chair because they don’t want the angry looks of people who don’t understand that those 3 wobbly steps is all they can manage before sitting down.

                  Part of it may be Hollywood: when does a movie ever show a character who can walk a bit on crutches but mostly uses a wheelchair, someone who needs huge glasses but is not entirely blind? Handicaps tend to be depicted as absolutes with absolute cures.

              3. Paper Librarian*

                JSPA, People seem to be upset by your comment, but I think I largely agree with you? This BIID of course is not comparable to LGTB+ issues and the long history of persecution and pain that comes with it. But… I think we can learn from the struggles of LGTB+ issues and ask ourselves whether we should or need to prescribe how people live their lives. (In cases where no harm comes to others.) If amputation would make an individual happier than having legs, maybe, as a society, it’s better to provide that individual with a safe way of getting that procedure? I know, that sounds super counter intuitive, but I cannot even begin to put myself into the mind of someone like Drew, so I don’t know how I could deny his feelings and beliefs. I don’t want to make people offended, I’m just trying to process Drew’s situation as I can…

                1. selena81*

                  We cut of b**bs or d*cks to make people happier, so why not arms and legs?

                  Of course neither of those is a decision that should be taken lightly: such extreme irreversible body-modification should only be available after years of therapy to find out amongst other things wether it’s a genuine wish or more of an unhealthy fixation (‘once i have my new body i will instantly be self-confident, my career will blossom because of that, etc etc’)

            3. irritable vowel*

              The mention of “they tried to force him to use his legs and no wheelchair” made me think it was *physical* therapy, rather than mental health therapy, but perhaps I’m wrong.

              1. Indigo a la mode*

                It could have been exposure therapy, like treatment for phobias that involves gently confronting the fear?

                1. JSPA*

                  Yes, that’s what I gathered in the follow up comments in the original post.

                  And for those of you too young to remember it…that was also the (deeply misguided) rationale behind much early conversion therapy (the incorrect presumption that it sprung from fear of the opposite sex, not from attraction to the same sex).

                  What works for some phobias is not likely to work when the phobia model is misguided. As it is with conversion therapy. And as it quite probably is here, as well.

            4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              He likely thought he would find support and that his therapist would tell him that his feelings about his body were rational.

            5. MM*

              If he showed up to a therapist who immediately started trying to get him to abandon the wheelchair altogether, I’m not surprised he stopped going. He needed to be shown this person could understand and support him before trying for anything so radical. There are therapists out there who don’t have the sense to tag themselves out when they’re not equipped handle something (I speak from experience).

            6. Mia*

              There’s a condition called “body integrity identity disorder” that causes people to feel like parts of their body should be amputated or non-functioning, so he might have been seeking a diagnosis or treatment for that or something similar.

        2. Wintermute*

          Yeah, people in a tight-knit community that’s bonded by societal adversity are going to have a tough time accepting someone “faked their credentials” to get in, though honestly if he puts up with society and the scorn of what would normally be his supportive peers over this, I find it hard to have any animosity towards him. The sports teams I completely understand being upset though, losing use of your legs is not the only effect of partial paralysis on the body, someone who still has the balancing-keeping ability from having a functional lower spine and who chooses to use a wheelchair is going to physically outperform someone who doesn’t have any functionality at all.

          1. Aveline*

            It’s not just that. A lot of these leagues get outside funding/charitable donations.

            If he was participating in groups designed for those with mobility issues and those unable to walk, his fraud denied someone else that slot.

            His fraud is a form of theft of limited resources and opportunities. It is not ok.

            I one worked with a group that served kids w x disabiliy. Funds were limited. People tried to get in the group bc they had access to sleek facility. People tried to fake their kids having the disability. Had they been successful, a kid with the Disability would have not gotten in. Too much demand, too few slot.

            It is a mistake to think there is no material harm from his fraud. We don’t know. He may well have taken spots that should of went to others on the waiting list

            1. AnnaBananna*

              I didn’t even think about the funding. The scandal alone could severely impact their ability to get further funding. YIKES. Oh, Drew….

            2. wellywell*

              Also if people donated money and found out that the money benefited someone who did not have the disability, the organization could lose future donations.

            3. selena81*

              If parents went that far i hope you took it as a sign that non-handicapped children were getting the shorter end of the stick there and something really needed to be done for them too.

              Taking care of the very-very-very-disadvantaged should not be at the expense of the very-very-disadvantaged, which is a common problem when sponsors and volunteers are involved (everyone wants to put their effort ‘where it is most needed’ and that can lead to overlooking groups that are aaaallllmost as deserving)

          2. Anonyish*

            He should try wheelchair rugby, if it’s available where he is, which everyone plays in wheelchairs , but which has leagues that include players both with and without disabilities on the same team.

        3. MCMonkeyBean*

          Yeah, I can understand why people who are actually paralyzed would be not okay with him… but it does seem like this is some sort of mental illness and that it is kind of ruining his life at this point, isolating him from family and friends. It’s not like using a wheelchair all the time is fun.

        4. Loose Seal*

          I’d like to push back a bit that someone can’t be an activist without having a disability. Sure, this case is way beyond what most of us can imagine but, speaking for myself as a member of the (physically) disabled community, I don’t want people to think they can’t be an activist unless they too are disabled. I would hope they would listen to those who need the accommodations if they are present and defer to them. But I’m in a lot of meetings where I’m the only person in a wheelchair present. And when I’m not there, I’d absolutely appreciate it if those that are there remember to advocate for me and others like me just as strongly as they would if I wasn’t there.

          1. KimberlyR*

            But you would likely want the activist to represent themselves as they are, not as someone with that disability. It is absolutely appropriate and valid for me to be an advocate for accessability and helping to change perceptions of disabilities. It is not ok for me, a person who can walk, to represent myself as a wheelchair-bound person in whatever form or fashion.

            1. Legal Beagle*

              Yes, this is exactly what I meant! I consider myself an ally and advocate for groups of people with whom I don’t share the “status” at issue – immigrants, LGBT people, domestic violence survivors, etc. But I would never pretend to be LGBT, for example, or join groups intended for exclusive membership by LGBT people. That isn’t activism; it’s deceit, and it harms the people you are trying to support.

        5. Venus*

          I have a disability, and I help manage a support group on a social media site, and almost all of the ‘admin’ time is spent checking up on new applicants to the group. There are many people who find our problem ‘neat’, and ‘beautiful’, so now we ask questions designed to assess if someone actually has the disability, and I look through their personal (publically available) information for clues. I only do a few of these a week, so it’s manageable to spend 5 minutes per person, but I definitely take the time because there are a lot of people who have no clue about the true effects of the disability, and seem to only focus on how it makes us different, to the point where some manage to be weirdly creepy about it.

          I have no comment on this specific situation, but as someone who is disabled in a specific way – I actively work to create a community which is safe for my peers. And, while I learn about and support some other disabilities (mainly because friends experience them) I am clear in those situations that I am an ally (which, related to my comment above, we also have a group for allies yet people still pretend to be disabled in order to join the smaller group). If we found out that someone was lying in order to join our group, we would immediately remove them.

          1. Raine*

            This +1000. There are lots of people that fetishize all sorts of disabilities and take it to the point of stalking, photographing, and giving away the location of people with the disability that they find particularly attractive. It’s great to be an advocate, an ally, and/or supportive person, but there are very few spaces that disabled people can be sure no one is trying to take advantage of them, like those who pretend they have the disability you have to get into your smaller group.

        6. Liz*

          I don’t think it’s comparable to a Rachel Dolezal situation. A person with a disability, even an invisible one, has an objective alteration in normal bodily function. Race is purely a social construct.

          As some background, I’m a black woman with some very light-skinned relatives. When I was in nursing school, I took a sociology class with a lot of Brazilians, which reinforced hust how much race is influenced by culture. They were amazed by America’s “one-drop” rule, I was amazed by how many different racial groups there. I also have a niece who recently came out as trans.

          My point- in current mainstream American culture, both race and gender are purely social constructs. If Rachel Dolezal had decided she was really Richard Dolezal, she would be supported. Maya Rudolph and Rashida Jones are generally accepted as black, despite having light skin. If a person can feel a gender, why can’t they feel a race?

          1. Paper Librarian*

            Can I break topic for a moment? There scientific studies that prove transgender feelings, and there is no proof of “trans racial.” In my experience, trans racial claims are used to invalidate transgender folx, and I’m not going to support white people “passing” as black until I see some conclusive studies. Also, while gender is a social construct, sex / genitalia are not.

            1. Starbuck*

              There… kind of are. The one I see cited most often was done after the subjects had undergone hormone treatment, so it doesn’t quite demonstrate what people say it does. Certainly you’re right that one can’t change their sex.

              1. Paper Librarian*

                I didn’t say sex couldn’t be changed. I said it was not a social construct. I’d be happy to read studies about trans-racialism; I might need to re-think my stance on that. But otherwise, I think we are getting way off topic.

            2. anon4now*

              “There scientific studies that prove transgender feelings”
              Huh? What studies and how? Wouldn’t it all be user reported (which proves nothing)?

              1. Paper Librarian*

                It is, in fact, not all user reported. I don’t claim to be an expert on it all, and it’s hard to explain because agreeing on gender and sex language is already so difficult. But the first way I heard of it was a study that showed a trans woman’s brain matched a cis woman’s brain more closely than a cis man’s brain. Below is a more recent study I’ve been referring to.

                And of course, looking at the brain ignores all the genetic kerotype research that shows that gender and sex are more than XX and XY.

          2. Delphine*

            No. Come on. Skin color isn’t what differentiates black people from brown people from white people.

        7. Avalon Angel*

          I also wonder how the sports teams were affected. They likely had to forfeit games they had won, not to mention the fact that he fraudulently took a spot from someone who is qualified.

      2. Kes*

        Well, it does say people would do things for Drew like getting things from the printer for him or running to another floor. I could see being pretty annoyed after doing favors for him because I thought he couldn’t, to find out he was physically capable of doing it himself the whole time.

        However, it does seem like Drew has some issues mentally if not physically, that are driving him to continue using the wheelchair even when he doesn’t need it physically and he’s gotten so much negativity as a result of it.

        1. Yorick*

          Right, when someone regularly asks you to put down what you’re doing to help them because they’re handicapped, and then you find out they’re not handicapped? I’d be pretty mad.

        2. RUKiddingMe*

          “People would do things for Drew on their own like get things from the printer or run to another floor (Drew was on the ground floor) because Drew always asked but did those things himself if no one was around.”

          Note that it says he would always ask them to do it for him, but do it himself if no one was around to impose on.

          This would piss me right off. Not only did he completely misrepresent himself, he was taking advantage of others’ willingness to help him out —when he didn’t at all need it.

          As someone with multiple invisible disabilities, if Drew had gotten the closer parking spot because of his wheelchair and not me because no wheelchair despite severe mobility issues, and then found out he was faking the whole time (regardless of his reasons) I would be livid. To be clear I don’t know if anyone else who could have used it didn’t get it…just projecting on that.

          1. AnnaBananna*

            Yes, as someone with an invisible disability also I feel a little sketch about this, but I also have a ton of compassion for him. Having both an invisible disease and mental health issues they become entwined after a while. And sitting in a wheelchair all day every day does some damage to the body just by itself (ask me how I know). So even though he wants to get rid of the use of his legs, over time he just may get his wish. The spine is not meant to be in that position constantly, and his discs will likely rupture over time. Eventually he will not be able to stand or sit comfortably. Even walking will hurt. I don’t envy him, it’s a terribly painful process.

            1. AKchic*

              That’s where I fall on this too.
              I *can* get a disabled tag for my vehicle. Unfortunately, I’m under 40, and it’s an invisible disability, so I don’t do it because I don’t want to deal with the inevitable parking vigilantes who will crop up (and they do in my state).
              I also have mental health issues, and while I feel for the mental health conundrum here, this is just such a quandary for me. He actively deceived people. Coworkers wouldn’t have gone out of their way to do things for him had they known he could have done it himself. There was an implied obligation / burden put upon them by believing he had a disability (and I do not mean in any way to imply that any individual living with a disability of any kind is a burden, I am merely using this terminology for the physical effort of running errands within the office for Drew out of a false sense of obligation to be kind when they didn’t actually need to).

              I agree with you that eventually, his spine will pay the price, even if he has a nice wheelchair. My spine is my problem, and regardless of precautions, it only gets worse.

            2. DarlaMushrooms*

              I feel compassion for Drew as well. I think I’d be confused but not angry if I were Drew’s co-worker. But then I have battled a mental illness for years and have family members who can behave in extremely strange ways. My grandmother decided in her 70s that she wasn’t going to walk anymore, despite being capable of it, and her muscles deteriorated to the point that she could no longer walk even if she wanted to. My mother is going the same way. I don’t understand it and it frustrates me, but no one does something like that without an underlying reason. As irrational as it may seem to me, it’s rational to them.

              1. AKchic*

                My maternal grandmother did that too. Because *her* father did it to her and she carried him around in his final years (granted, there was some serious issues with my great-grandfather and grandmother’s relationship, but I won’t get into that here), so my grandma feels entitled to stop walking and have us carry her and dote upon her as she did for her father.
                Problem is – none of us are in a financial position to do so. She wanted to stay in her own home, but not have anyone live with her, and only have the women care for her. That was my mom and I, who both are the main money-makers for our homes, and neither can carry her (my physical disabilities, and my mom just isn’t strong enough at her age) and my grandma will deadweight herself and refuse to help in any way.
                She was furious when we put her in an assisted care facility last year, but we had to. She won’t help herself, none of us can care for her and insurance won’t pay for an in-home caregiver unless she actually passes all the tests (she refuses all MRIs, X-rays, and won’t try stand up on her own unless she’s about to be kicked off of insurance).

        3. Legal Beagle*

          I would be mad, for sure, but I’d hope that my compassion for him would ultimately outweigh my annoyance at having done some extra small tasks. Not saying I’d feel that immediately, or execute it perfectly, but that is the perspective I would try to cultivate. Note: I say this as an able-bodied person who would not be materially impacted by someone faking a physical disability at work.

          1. selena81*

            I would definitely be annoyed and angry for a while.
            But it’s not THAT much extra work, so it’s not something to be upset over months later

      3. Clorinda*

        I don’t think he’s faking an illness. I think he HAS an illness, just not the one he thinks he has. This is so sad for him, and it doesn’t sound like he’s any closer to seeking the help he needs.

        1. Yorick*

          But he’s faking a different illness.

          Maybe he “feels” like he “should” be paraplegic. But he clearly knows that he is not.

      4. Quickbeam*

        As a person with an actual mobility impairment, it’s hard for me to feel for Drew’s desire for disabled parking. If I had to park even 15 feet further away so that he could live out his sense of self, I’d be annoyed.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          This is where I’m at. Sure I feel bad that he has whatever this thing is inside his head saying he should be paraplegic. That … I just can’t even imagine.

          Nevertheless I am mobility impaired and like you say the extra 15 feet can be (usually is) excruciating. It’s degenerative for the most part so it will not get better…ever. I’m getting older and I can feel it getting worse, particularly lately my knees (yay) so the standing/walking thing is an even bigger issue than it has been to this point.

          Because I’m not in a wheelchair, because I’m not elderly, because I mostly come off looking younger (from a distance) than I really am, I get massive side-eye and occasionally confrontation when I use my placard. The placard that my doctors and the state think I’m entitled to have/use.

          When I park if there’s an open spot next to the disabled spot I always take it in case someone with a chair/walker/etc. needs it because I’m all thoughtful like that. But you better believe that if it’s the only space I will take it. If I was working at this company and Drew had the spot and I had to walk extra..I would be mad.

  1. Jubilance*

    I appreciate that so many of these updates address the speculation that happens on so many posts. We’re all human, and we all want to fill in the gaps, but sometimes the rampant speculation leads people down paths that aren’t at all related to the actual question.

    Thanks for the update OP!

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I agree. It’s nice that in the updates they address the burning questions or speculations. It’s so much easier to follow and nips the issues from being rehashed in the updates as well.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Everyone in that comment section was convinced he had BID and responded accordingly. It was infuriating.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Drew said he has nothing mentally wrong with him. He walked, ran, rode a bike, went up and down stairs, and kicked a ball. By his own words he is 100% physically healthy and can use his legs fine/normally.

          1. Arctic*

            People with BID don’t believe it’s a mental health issue. They believe that they should be disabled. He has actively tried to get a doctor to disable him. That’s a clear sign of the disorder. As is thinking you don’t have a mental health issue.

          2. That Would be a Good Band Name*

            I’m fairly certain that someone who has gone to a doctor and asked them to make them disabled is the definition of having something “mentally wrong”. This isn’t someone just trying to scam a good parking spot or looking for someone to donate to him personally. He has actually asked to have his body altered so that he can’t use portions of it. He has issues regardless of whether he thinks he does.

          3. Rusty Shackelford*

            A lot of people will mental illness would say there’s nothing mentally wrong with them. That doesn’t make it so.

          4. Amelia Pond*

            Accept the fact he was in a documentary on people with BIID. I think that’s pretty compelling evidence all in itself. He always knew he risked getting caught, as he was already estranged from his family, which likely caused him a great deal of emotional pain. And now he’s been found out again, going through that pain again. Those aren’t the actions of a person doing this solely to get attention or fill a need. This is causing him emotional pain and trauma. Just because BIID isn’t very well known or very well studied (with a total lack of any evidence based treatment working) doesn’t mean he should be totally shunned by society. How many times have humans done that before, ostracizing people with both mental and physical problems? Too many. To still be doing it in this day and age, and having it come from people that themselves know what it’s like to be ostracized. I know all too well what it’s like but I don’t turn around and start beating up on the person behind me.

            I’m seriously not understanding the utter lack of compassion from people here, from people I thought were between than this. We’ve all generally agreed illness is illness, be it mental or physical. We generally agree there shouldn’t be such horrible stigma about it and now that we’ve come upon this situation, those opinions are being shredded like tissue paper. It really makes me feel like AAM isn’t a safe site for me anymore.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Because there are people who are stuck in wheelchairs and wish they weren’t and everyone is acting like it’s fact that he has this diagnosis when there is no evidence that he does.

          1. Kaitlyn*

            There’s actually lots of evidence that he does. And I’m not sure what his desire to use a wheelchair has to do with anyone else’s requirement of same. The people who have to use mobility devices are allowed feel any damn way they want about it: annoyed, neutral, enraged, empowered, whatever. They would feel that way regardless of if there were Drews out there in the world.

          2. SignalLost*

            Well, a, there’s a lot of evidence he does, and some of it comes straight from his own mouth, and b, whether you like it or not, whether other people are “stuck” in wheelchairs (great phrasing!) that doesn’t change the fact that this person’s actions come as close as possible to screaming BID, and the update makes a strong case this is correct.

            Wanting to find a doctor to make your body match your mental identity is not the sign of someone who does not have a mental disorder. Stating that one does not have a mental disorder is a very common symptom of mental disorders.

            But I still don’t know what one person’s mental health problems has to do with other people who use wheelchairs.

            1. ThursdaysGeek*

              “Wanting to find a doctor to make your body match your mental identity is not the sign of someone who does not have a mental disorder.”

              Wait. What does that mean about someone who desires to change their physical gender?

              Please! Do not reply to this! This is not the right place at all. But, perhaps we could discuss this on the weekend thread?

              1. SignalLost*

                I actually am not interested in waiting three days to defend myself against an implication that I’m transphobic, thanks.

                In the case of BID, if Drew has it, western bioethics is currently clear that it is generally not a recommended solution to alter one’s body. In the case of gender identity disorder, I’m not aware that that’s not seen as a mental health issue where one solution is to physically correct the aberrant body, but in any case, bioethics is marginally further along in accepting that treatment can be surgical.

                But in any event, I didn’t say “wanting to find a doctor who will make your body match your mental identity is the only sign of mental illness and it should never be treated.” I was responding to Amy’s (repeated) statement that Drew doesn’t have a mental illness because of course healthy people get limbs intentionally lopped off all the time.

                1. Green*

                  I don’t want us to get sidetracked, but I would suggest that the difference here is that body modification is not inherently self-harm. It is not harmful (or even abnormal) for people to have a vagina or breasts or vice versa. We do still view unnecessary amputation or active creation of severe mobility issues (i.e. paraplegia/quadriplegia) as a form of harm. It’s still a very complex issue, and there are actually a number of people who do argue that it’s the best form of treatment for people with this dysmorphia, but I can certainly see important distinctions.

              2. Myrin*

                There was actually a (pretty long, IIRC) thread on exactly this in the weekend-free-for-all after the original letter was released – you may want to check that out also, I remember it had some awesome comments!

              3. Starbuck*

                “physical gender” is kind of a confusing term to use. Anyone can change the way they express their gender identity without any surgical or hormonal alterations to their bodies.

            2. Avalon Angel*

              As to the phrasing, I personally dislike “stuck in” or “confined to” a wheelchair. “Uses a wheelchair” is perfectly fine.

    3. SignalLost*

      I’m really happy the OP called it out as sharply as she did. There’s a lot of speculation that just gets so ridiculous and isn’t marked as speculation.

    4. selena81*

      i like hearing how those situations played out and the feedback regarding comments: to me it brings home that those are actual people and not a story that we can write ourselves

    1. CastIrony*

      I saw an episode of this women empowerment show (popular in Spanish-Speaking countries, such as Mexico) where a man with this disorder ended up to freeze his leg to the point where it had to be amputated in a secluded location in his car so that he could finally have his way and be happy. It worked because he now felt “complete”.

      It was a long time ago, and I may have had the details wrong.

    2. Darling Wendy*

      THIS! and agreed, we aren’t here to diagnose this guy but it helps to understand things like this exist. I’d be frustrated and angry too if a friend who’d pretended to be disabled really wasn’t. It’s a unique type of betrayal, for sure.

  2. LadiesRoomMonitorLizard*

    I wonder if it was like Munchausen’s, No proxy. I feel for him and hope he finds happiness another way. I know it is not helpful to arm chair diagnose, I am just sad.

    1. MuseumChick*

      I am NOT a doctor but my first thought was body integrity identity disorder. It could also be, as you say Munchausen’s (no proxy), and possibly even something else. I understand why people are angry but I also feel very sad for Drew. He is clearly under distress of some kind and hasn’t found the right help for it.

    2. Amelia Pond*

      BIID isn’t like Munchausen’s. People with Munchausen’s (and by proxy) do it for attention. People with BIID truly believe they’re supposed to be a certain way, be it paralyzed, blind, without a certain limb and such. I encourage people to look into BIID if they really want to understand it. Just please, don’t think Munchausen’s and BIID are the same.

  3. Kaitlyn*

    OP, do you know about Body Integrity Dysmorphia? This is an rare but real condition where people feel they should be disabled in some way—usually through amputation, or a desire to become deaf or blind. Your original post and this update brought that to mind, and I wonder how the ADA would accommodate this.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      He said nothing is mentally wrong with him and he wishes he was paralyzed and could find a doctor to do it although no doctor will.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          I was referring to the “Drew said there is nothing mentally wrong with him”. Everyone in the original post an already in this one are saying he has BID when he clearly does not.

          1. Kaitlyn*

            I think one of the primary tenets of BID is that they don’t actually feel like there’s something wrong with them to desire the disability; it’s NOT having the disability that makes them feel unwell.

          2. Kelsi*

            Drew may believe there is nothing mentally wrong with him, but Drew is incorrect. Mentally healthy people don’t wish they could be paralyzed.

            Obviously we can’t diagnose him over the internet, but I think it’s pretty damn clear that Drew is not a credible source about the status of his own mental health, and I’m not sure why you’re so convinced that if he says nothing is wrong then it must be true.

            1. SignalLost*

              Yeah, I’m not bipolar and I don’t have ADD. I mean, saying I don’t have those conditions means I don’t have them, so I guess all my problems are now solved!

              1. Autumnheart*

                I’m reminded of a letter or two in the past where one employee clearly suffered from anxiety, and rather than seek treatment, they wanted to drastically change their coworkers’ behavior in the office as an accommodation (e.g. wanting coworkers to avoid certain items of clothing, wanting coworkers to drive them home and sit with them for hours, etc.).

                I don’t know if there’s a comprehensive way to phrase it, but if one’s mental state requires that, in order to feel well, they must cause a significant impact on another person’s ability to go about their own lives (like requiring a doctor to break the law/egregiously violate their industry’s ethical requirements) then That Is A Problem which should, at the very least, be checked out.

          3. Observer*

            You are simply incorrect. The fact that he’s claiming that he doesn’t have a problem absolutely does NOT make that correct. And, in the case of BID, that’s actually a known issue.

            Your emotions are what they are, and no one can tell you how to feel. But it’s just not right to keep on insisting on something that just runs counter to the facts.

          4. Parenthetically*

            Genuinely not understanding why you believe that the fact that he says there’s nothing mentally wrong with him means he can’t have BID. Isn’t that denial itself a symptom of BID, denial that there’s anything wrong with the fact that they wish they were in a wheelchair or had their legs amputated or whatever?

          5. Forrest*

            A lot of people with mental health issues claim there’s nothing wrong with them. It’s not exactly a ringing endorsement when someone who says they want to chop off or destroy their limbs say they don’t have a mental health issue.

            1. animaniactoo*

              In support of this – my birth mom was likely paranoid schizophrenic by the end of her life (if not before). She was homeless and became hysterical and outright refused to even consider it when her social worker suggested trying to be evaluated because she might qualify for disability financial aid. I got quite the phone call that night. It was my own therapist who helped me sort through what I was getting from her and the most likely reasons why she did or said the things she did. It was my therapist’s opinion that she probably had paranoid schizophrenia, but she (therapist) had no ability to confirm that without being able to see and speak with her.

              (N.B., my therapist had also seen my father and older sister and had more than just my narrative to work from).

          6. Psyche*

            It is kind of like someone with anorexia saying that there is nothing mentally wrong with them, they just need to lose weight and they will be fine. He says the only thing wrong with him is that he isn’t paralyzed. In his opinion, everything would be fixed if he could find a doctor that would deliberately paralyze him.

          7. Totally Minnie*

            A lot of people with mental health issues insist that there is “nothing mentally wrong” with them. I myself did it for years before I was able to accept the fact that I had PTSD. Saying “there’s nothing mentally wrong with me” is not an indication that you don’t suffer from a mental health condition.

          8. JSPA*

            “wrong” is a value judgement, and that’s likely what he’s rejecting. He doesn’t want his sense of self to be changed. He’s comfortable with his sense of self. He’s not comfortable with his legs. So he likely feels that he has a legal problem–in that the right to have his legs removed isn’t an actual right. The rest of us can say, this probably stems from damage to perceptual nerves or signal processing and leads to a defined disorder or syndrome. We then get to decide whether it’s socially appropriate to define something as a disorder when the person who has the syndrome does not consider it a disorder.

          9. Sylvan*

            It’s clearly a possibility, as everything he said lines up perfectly with BID. Why do you keep shooting it down? I’m not getting this impression, but do you have some education?

            1. Sylvan*

              OH MY GOD, OOPS. I meant “Do you have some education on BID?”

              I did not mean, “By the way, are you totally uneducated?”


          10. Kj*

            Some mental illnesses are such that people don’t know they have them. Not trying to diagnosis Drew, but “not knowing you are ill” is a pretty common thing in certain mental illnesses. Think schizophrenia- many people with it think their hallucinations are real and will vigorously argue that what they see and hear is reality, so they are not ill.

          11. Amelia Pond*

            He may still have a diagnosis, one he simply refuses to accept. In the same manner some people with, say, schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder may deny their diagnosis. Or he could’ve gotten a wrong diagnosis, and also refuses to accept it. Without going into many details, I once ended up being accused of Munchausen’s by an incompetent surgeon who couldn’t recognize I had a pancreatic leak. That accusation nearly cost me my life, though it was throughly disproven. So I had a diagnosis- just the wrong one. Though the OP may have spoken to Drew, it doesn’t mean we have Drew’s entire background, so I would really appreciate if people would stop un-diagnosing him- it’s just as damaging as trying to diagnose him.

        2. Geoffrey B*

          ObPedant: many modern-day doctors haven’t taken the Hippocratic Oath, and a lot of the material in the original oath is at odds with modern medical practice.

          For instance, the oath forbids surgery, and it requires doctors to treat their teacher as family and teach his family for free.

        3. Temperance*

          The Hippocratic Oath isn’t binding. It’s just a ceremony.

          There are plenty of crap doctors out there who actually do harm.

        4. SaffyTaffy*

          @Kaitlyn, it’s a pretty culturally dependent interpretation of whatever oath doctors take (almost no medical schools still use the Hippocratic oath. The most common in the US is the Lasagna Oath, for example, but there are others). If you search BIID on PubMed, you’ll find some doctors from countries with very Humanistic cultures (Germany, Sweden) who have performed amputations on BIID patients and are gratified to find that their patients’ lives improve tremendously.

        1. Antilles*

          Exactly. I don’t think his statement is worth anything on this issue. Part of mental illness is often that you yourself don’t recognize that your behavior is abnormal.

      1. animaniactoo*

        There’s nothing mentally wrong with him as far as he knows or will accept.

        But someone who feels like they should be paraplegic and is actively investigating the possibility of someone paralyzing him on purpose is not mentally whole. This is not a logical or sane thought process and there is something very very wrong there.

        It is also very possible that the original therapists he saw were not very qualified therapists if* all they did was try to make him use his legs vs trying to dig into why he felt that way and bring his inner view into alignment with his reality before pushing him to start using his legs.

        *I say if, because we only have Drew’s word that’s what they did.

        1. fposte*

          Right. Borderline and ASPD are other syndromes where people often will feel there’s nothing wrong with them. For that matter, denial is a common symptom of heart attacks. Somebody saying there isn’t anything wrong with them really doesn’t prove anything.

          1. Trust Your Instincts*

            Can confirm. I was diagnosed with Borderline and took over a year to accept the diagnosis. To my credit, I was also Type 1 bipolar. 1 year on medication and it’s only now looking back I can see how offbase I was, to put it kindly.

      2. CommanderBanana*

        I watched a documentary about BIID involving people who want a limb amputated, and some of the people in the documentary were able to find doctors in other countries who would amputate a healthy limb.

        There was a really interesting article about how this particular aspect of BIID might be a very specific sort of neural wiring defect in which the limb in question isn’t “mapped” onto the rest of the neural wiring of the body, so the limb feels foreign and wrong to the owner.

        1. Old Admin*

          There is an interesting book written by the neurologist and neuropsychiatrist Oliver Sacks: “A Leg To Stand On” (he’s known for the book “Awakenings”).
          It describes his own mountaineering accident and severe leg injury, and how he lost all mental contact / body image of his leg for a while. It simply didn’t “belong to him”, “felt alien”, and he was unable to walk for months on a healthy leg. The issue did resolve eventually, but it taught him a great deal about the relationship of body and mind/perception.
          URL below.

          1. LKW*

            Phantom limb is a common ailment for amputees. Because of the ongoing Iraq/Afghanistan wars, there are a lot of new amputees and so there are newer techniques for helping with these disorders including using mirrors and other visual techniques to help the brain remap and rewire. It’s pretty cool.

            1. Avalon Angel*

              My grandfather lost several fingers in WWII. He would sometimes say his missing fingers hurt or felt cold.

          2. blink14*

            This is fascinating! I had a complicated ankle surgery done several years ago, and I am still SO aware of that ankle on a daily basis, especially given some now lifelong physical limitations and nerve damage (the surgery was successful, the injury was just too bizarre to bring everything back 100%). Your body knows something is different and becomes hyper focused on it, it’s crazy. I’m aware of it even in my sleep, I’ll wake up in strange positions with my ankle cradled by my other leg.

        2. KRM*

          I’ve read articles where doctors will amputate a healthy limb for people with this disorder in order to prevent them from taking more drastic, unsanitary, and ultimately more harmful measures on their own. There are news articles about people blinding themselves because of their BIID. It’s very real, and those who have it are pretty insistent that the only thing wrong with them is that they HAVE a left arm/ability to see/however it manifests.

          1. Grouchy 2 cents*

            But one thing that people who have lost the offending piece/limb (whether by professional medical or by dangerous methods)say is that they gain relief…for a while. But they have reported feeling that another piece/limb then becomes the one that they feel should be missing. So while amputation may work for some of these folks it is by no means a sure solution.

            1. SignalLost*

              That may be why there is a distinction to be made between gender identity issues and BID. Thanks for mentioning this!

              1. Jasper*

                It is not an entirely unknown complication for gender issues either — getting The Operation doesn’t magically Make Everything Alright there, either — and it shouldn’t have to.

                1. Starbuck*

                  Yeah, as long as our society isn’t super welcoming to gender expressions outside the rigid historical binary, the struggle for acceptance (self and social) will presumably continue.

        3. fposte*

          Old Admin notes Sacks; Ramachandran is another good read on stuff like this, the not always solid relationship between the body and the brain’s perception of it. I think it’s one of those discrepancies that’s really hard to imagine if you don’t experience it.

          I also remember, as I think I mentioned in the original post, a guy who’d been born with shortened arms; interestingly, his mental map was that they were too *long*, and he actually had surgery to shorten them. He was very happy to have done it.

          1. yasmara*

            Wow, that Sacks article was fascinating! I had some (luckily temporary) nerve damage in my foot & a couple of toes and the way he describes it is exactly how I tried to describe it to my orthopedist, but failed completely. I kept saying “numb” but that wasn’t quite it.

            1. JSPA*

              Like your tongue after dental surgery, when it’s confusing to have that irksome bit of “not me” in your mouth, that seems so very much larger and more unwieldy than your regular tongue? And so you end up biting it, slobbering, and generally feeling freaky? The problem isn’t the numbness per se, it’s the “not mine-ness.”

      3. Kathlynn*

        Just because I didn’t think that I had an issue with high anxiety prior to therapy, in spite of my tests saying that I did, doesn’t mean that I was right, nor did my anxiety magically disappear. I just didn’t realize that I had anxiety (in my case due to people/family belittling my anxiety symptoms. I was just over sensitive and/or a worry wart. Etc. )

        1. CommanderBanana*

          Same with my depression; I didn’t really have a barometer of “not-depressed” to compare it to, so I thought it was pretty normal to feel numb or despairing all the time. Turns out it’s not!

          1. Kathlynn*

            Me too. I knew I was numb, but because that blocked the sad feelings, I didn’t think I deserved help… And felt like seeking therapy would take resources other people deserved/needed more. And at that point I had been struggling with high anxiety for 15-20 years and major depression for at least 10 years. (and I was only anout 21)

            1. Jean (just Jean)*

              Oh my. Hugs (Internet–and only if you want them). I hope you’ve found relief from both anxiety and depression.

              1. Kathlynn*

                While the enviroment I’m in can make my symptoms worse, for me it’s mostly genetic. So I’m stuck with some level of depression and anxiety. But I’ve had a 90% improvement with the depression and about 50% improvement with the anxiety. But that’s because the anxiety is more complicated for me, and the really complicated stuff skews the curve. (and I needed to go onto meds to get that last 20% for my depression, and all of that 50% for my anxiety)

        2. Hmph*

          I have a hypersomnolence disorder similar to narcolepsy. I wasn’t diagnosed til my mid 30s. I don’t know what “well rested” feels like but I am now able to stay awake in public and don’t sleep 12 hours a day thanks to meds. “Normal” is only based on your frame of reference. Sleepy is all I’ve ever known. I thought everyone felt like me but I was just lazy and couldn’t handle regular life.

    2. Kate*

      A friend of mine introduced to me to this because she is struggling with it as a school administrator. It’s called transableism.

      “They feel like imposters in their bodies, their arms and legs in full working order.” From a SSHRC study in 2015.

    3. Cringing 24/7*

      This! Ever since I heard about this disorder, I’ve always been curious as to what sort of accommodations could/should/would be made for it in places like the workplace and the medical community!

    4. sfigato*

      In the latest Robert Galbraith/JK Rowlings detective book “Lethal White,” there is a plot point about people who have the condition where they are able-bodied but feel like they should be paralyzed/amputees/etc. The main character, being an actual amputee, is not very sympathetic. I had to look it up and yes, it is a real thing.

      1. Beaded Librarian*

        Interesting I know it was also brought up in the last book because that’s how someone became a murder victim. Didn’t realize she’d used that again. I need to pick up that book.

  4. Slanted & Enchanted*

    This update just makes me sad. It seems so clear that this is a mental health issue, and Drew isn’t interested in treating it. It sounds like word was getting around in their community since he had been kicked asked to leave the groups and teams he was involved in. The OP seems to have handled an unusual situation as well as could be expected, but then had to handle the fallout after the truth came out. Probably just as well that Drew had already left at that point.

    1. Amelia Pond*

      From what the OP says, he did try to get it treated but according to Drew it by trying to force him to not use a wheelchair, which sounds like a step he wasn’t ready to take. If you force a patient into taking a step they aren’t willing to take, it will backfire. Besides, right now, there is NO evidence based treatment for BIID. So anything they try is basically just throwing something at the wall and hoping it sticks.

  5. Knitting Cat Lady*

    There is a form of body dysmorphia and dysphoria that makes people insist that their leg or arm doesn’t belong to them.

    I think that it’s likely that Drew is one of those people.

    And I totally get why his friends felt betrayed by him.

    1. a girl has no name*

      That occurs when there’s brain damage. It seems it’s more likely he has Body Integrity Dysmorphia as mentioned above. I’ve heard of people who think they should be amputees, and some have found doctors that will cut off their perfectly healthy limbs; before this I hadn’t heard of people who think they should be paralyzed but it it makes sense there would be.

      1. JSPA*

        invisible localized brain damage (or for that matter, unusual or incomplete development) is hardly rare. Just because he didn’t get a bullet in his brain doesn’t mean it’s “not physical.” The boundaries between the conditions are largely conventions based on what we can currently detect; they’re not handed down from the omniscient heavens.

    2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      This is one of those situations where you can be both sides and no one is really wrong, but there is nothing anyone can do to fix it. On the one hand Drew had a mental health issue – something we should all be compassionate about, but on the other asking people who are actually paralyzed to be understanding about it and to let him onto their athletic teams when he wishes he could find a dr. to paralyze him is just too much of an ask. It is a hard situation all around because he wants to belong to a community that is going to be offended by his presence there.

      1. Kathlynn*

        I feel like there is room for sympathy/understanding, but without letting him have full access to disabled space like sports teams. (like going “okay what ever, use disability parking spaces, or accepting that he is going to use the chair)

        1. Anonyish*

          + 1 Using a wheelchair is a solution that seems to work for Drew at the moment. He’s clearly got a serious problem, but at the same time he’s able to hold down a job, have a social life etc. If he were able to get therapy that would support him in using a wheelchair a lot, but managing this in a way that didn’t impinge on the rights of others, that could be a good option, if he’s a resistant to being ‘cured’, because being a socially active person is generally beneficial. If he stops using disabled spaces (or gets a legal badge to do so, because he has a mental health condition that qualifies him), and tells people on his sports team before joining, and doesn’t ask other people to get stuff from the photocopier for him*, then he might find people OK with living with it. People will often shrug off stuff that seems weird as long as they aren’t being asked to put themselves out.

          *Something that my disabled colleagues don’t generally do, I note. Drew appears to wish to be disabled, but not to accept all the inconveniences like it takes longer to get to the photocopier if you always have to use the lift.

          1. Not Today*

            “If he stops using disabled spaces (or gets a legal badge to do so, because he has a mental health condition that qualifies him)”

            In my state,,the criteria for handicapped parking placards are stringent and the applicable handicapping conditions conditions are enumerated. Mental disabilities would not qualify.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              I don’t know what state you’re in but that’s the way it is here (Washington state) as well.

              There are only a few criteria that meet the conditions. Of course there are many conditions that could cause one to meet those criteria, but mental illness is not one of them.

              The state I think has decided that those are for people who have a physical disability limiting their mobility. While a mental illness is medical and may even be considered “physical,” he is not likely to fall over and die from his heart exploding if he has to walk too far.

        2. RUKiddingMe*

          I’m confused. Are you saying to not let hm have access to disability spaces like sports teams but to let him have access to disabled parking spaces?

  6. Ginger*

    Mind still blown over this one.

    I hope if I encountered someone like this in my life, I would be patient and have empathy but man, this is hard one to understand.

  7. AK*

    I’m sorry things ended so poorly for Drew. It doesn’t sound like there was any real harm done to anyone but I can understand people feeling deceived and confused once they found out.

    1. SignalLost*

      Well … I don’t know about harm, but I do know about spokespeople who are masquerading as members of a group and removing focus from people who actually have the condition/are the people/are affected by the identity or event they are spokespeople for. It’s really frustrating, and it’s worse to find that someone you thought was a member of the group isn’t because now there’s more fuel for antiwhatever jerks to claim that it isn’t real. I would characterize that as harm, but I may be drawing a fine line there.

      1. P*

        Yeah it’s… kind of creepy and destroys people’s trust. I once read an online account about someone who joined an online cancer support group; other people battling cancer would sometimes help them get fairly expensive medical equipment they said they needed, despite the fact that they were struggling themselves. The person turned out not to have cancer. All third hand information now but I don’t think they person was selling the stuff (that is another kettle of fish; the people who are actually just stealing money/supplies for their own gain). IDK, the world of somatoform disorders and primary or secondary morbid gains are difficult

        1. Neptune*

          This is where I stand, although I would absolutely characterise it as a type of harm. One of the great things about the activist/support spaces that I’ve been involved in is the sense of trust and mutual understanding within the group, which is partially built on shared experiences (allies excepted). There’s a sense that the group/team/society is a space where you can be authentically yourself, without having to pretend to be less gay (for example) to make other people happy, because the other members understand your struggle. Discovering that someone within that group DIDN’T understand that struggle because he had only been through it when he found it convenient, and had been lying about their identity in such a huge way, would be incredibly upsetting and destructive, and I do think that’s harmful.

  8. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I had to bow out of the comments on that letter because I was so enraged and everyone acted like I was wrong for being angry. This update proves exactly what I figured was going on and I have zero sympathy for Drew that he had to move because his actually disabled friends were mad at him for lying.

    1. Observer*

      I really don’t understand what you figure is going on? This person clearly has a mental illness. He’s not getting benefits or money out of this, nor is he running fundraisers etc for himself.

      Sure, I understand why his friends feel betrayed, but the rage makes no sense to me – he really hasn’t hurt anyone.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        He said nothing is mentally wrong with him and he wishes he was paralyzed

        That’s why I was angry. Because he was causing emotional harm to people who actually are paralyzed.

        1. Arctic*

          Of course he says that! Part of the whole disorder is that you genuinely believe you should be disabled and don’t think that’s a mental health issue.

            1. Arctic*

              Using that rule as an excuse not to have empathy for someone who has literally sought out a doctor to disable them is morally wrong.

            2. Observer*

              That’s kind of disingenuous. Claiming that there is nothing the matter is as much “diagnosing” as saying that there is something the matter with him.

              And, all the facts say that you are wrong, as it happens. We don’t have enough facts to state definitively what is the problem, but there can be no doubt that this person has some significant issues, given how self-destructive his behavior is.

            3. Ask a Manager* Post author

              But that’s inherent in the disorder. So the fact that he says he doesn’t have a mental illness is not any kind of proof that he doesn’t, particularly in a context where he wants to amputate a leg.

              1. Girl friday*

                It’s anosognosia? I think that’s how you spell it? People who are ill but don’t know it. Like being noseblind but with illness. There’s a Real Stories documentary about a man who thinks he’s Jesus, in Australia. He talks about grief, and you feel bad for him, but he also is running a church and taking money from people. So not too bad. I recommend the documentary for people who want to understand more.

              1. Rabies*

                I happen to think Detective Amy is way off base, but this is definitely not true. Diagnosing does not go both ways. That is in fact the exact opposite of how the scientific method is applied.

              1. Detective Amy Santiago*

                You do know that I’m not actually a detective, right? It’s the name of a fictional character.

                1. Villanelle*

                  Some friendly advice Amy – if the original letter provoked such a response from you and it seems that the update also has, maybe you should step back from this one too and come back tomorrow.

                2. Hope is hopeful*

                  Some friendly advice Amy – if the original letter provoked such a response from you and it seems that the update also has, maybe you should step back from this one too and come back tomorrow.

                3. Celaena Sardothien*

                  Amy, I think you’re way off base.

                  Drew clearly has issues. Maybe he does have some sort of mental illness, and maybe not. We can’t know. But what we can know is that he is, in some form, a broken human being who has been abandoned by everyone and lost nearly everything in his life. Did he bring some of that on himself? Maybe. But that’s no reason to withhold empathy.

                4. Linzava*

                  Hi Amy,

                  I don’t think your off base at all. I can definitely see where your coming from, I have loved ones with physical disabilities and their struggle is harder than most people realize, so someone who pretends to have a serious disability (mental illness or not), is insulting on a personal level, and to deny it would be lying to ourselves.

                  I would say, refraining from commenting at this site would probably be best though, I’ve mostly stopped myself because of the recent change in commenting behavior. For the last few months, it’s seemed that only one opinion is allowed and anyone who deviates or shares their experience is jumped on. I still read the website, love Allison’s opinions, but the comment section is just a lot of rudeness to me at this point with no room to learn from other perspectives.

                  I’m only posting this because I didn’t like the way you were being spoken to on this thread and didn’t want you to feel alone in this.

                5. Scarlet*

                  I think the “pile-on” is based on DAS’s insistence that Drew couldn’t possibly be mentally ill “because he says he isn’t”, which is a) directly contradicted by the facts as reported by OP and b) generally untrue when dealing with mental illness (a lot of mentally ill people are unaware of their own illness or in denial). DAS explained themselves further down and I can understand where they’re coming from, but one can be mad at someone’s actions without having to deny that they’re mentally ill.

                6. Linzava*

                  @ Where’s my coffee?
                  Thank you, I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who noticed.
                  Whether or not Amy felt Drew was mentally ill, some of the comments in this thread were uncalled for. She clearly stated that she was really angered by this letter, which tells me that there’s an emotionally valid reason behind that feeling. The pile on looks a lot like bullying to outsiders of the conversation like me. I only posted my comment because I didn’t like seeing someone here being treated that way by so many people.

                7. sfigato*

                  @linzava – same, although that sort of goes to commenting generally. I’ve cut way back and my life has improved for it. I think commenting tends to put people into aggressive, adversarial, self-righteous modes that aren’t very pleasant or productive. And while I don’t think it is the greatest issue our world faces at the moment, the amount of groupthink and lack of space for any diverging opinions or experience is Not Great.

                  I include myself, too.

            4. Sylvan*

              It’s against the rules for people to say they think he may have BID, but it’s not against the rules for you to say he definitely doesn’t?

        2. Observer*

          Just because he says there is nothing the matter with him, doesn’t mean that’s true. And his mental illness is causing him far more harm that it is causing to others – people who are actually paralyzed do have the option to ask him to stay away / stay out of their safe spaces, and apparently they have done so.

          1. Girl friday*

            That is the thing, he may seek to become so at any time if pretending isn’t enough for him. Or, ironically enough, his muscles could actually atrophy and his reactions will slow, making him significantly less mobile then his age group anyway. I think they should treat it as a hobby or a fetish. Have him bring in a doctor’s note, which he might be able to obtain even for a mental problem. Let him try to fight it as long as they’re sure of their facts. But be very careful, because he may have had a small stroke causing perhaps significant weakness and or the mental problem. Mental problems can be medical problems too.

          2. Not Today*

            If you are a bona-fide disabled person like me, somebody like Drew taking up a handicapped parking space would butter my biscuits. There aren’t enough of them and I have had to go back home because of a lack of close-in parking. I wish people wouldn’t minimize the harm he does to others, although he is deserving of empathy.

            Look up the story of Nakesha Williams in the NYT for an excellent depiction of a seriously mentally ill person who said that there was nothing wrong with her. A homeless, paranoid schizophrenic. Very sad story.

            1. Observer*

              I hear what you are saying. However, in this particular case, he wasn’t taking the space that someone else needed. In a case where it was someone like Drew or someone who actually needs a wheelchair? No contest whatsoever.

              1. RUKiddingMe*

                What if it’s someone like me who needs the close space but doesn’t use a wheelchair? Who gets it then? I don’t lack empathy for him, but I’m feeling like people like me who actually can’t walk/walk long distances, people who really have these physical limitations are being pushed aside in the name of feeling bad for this guy’s mental illness.

                1. Observer*

                  Not at all. Anyone who actually needs the space because they have a genuine physical limitation, *wheelchair or not*, should ABSOLUTELY and automatically be prioritized ahead of Drew.

                  My point was not that there wasn’t another person in a wheelchair, but someone who genuinely needs the spot. The key was “genuine physical need” vs psychological need to need.

        3. Becca*

          You weren’t wrong to be angry, and the disabled people he deceived absolutely weren’t. People feel how they feel, especially when something feels personal, either to one’s self or close friends or family.

          But he is very clearly not mentally healthy. He can say he is, but someone actively looking to paralyze themselves is not. We can’t say for sure what it is, but there is a ton of evidence that it’s *something*.

        4. Elizabeth West*

          That’s actually a classic marker for that particular disorder.

          I do agree with you that his behavior was not benign–I understand why you were angry about it. But I don’t get why you keep insisting that he’s not dealing with a mental issue when he clearly is.

          Having said that, I want to point out that having a mental issue doesn’t excuse what you do. Case in point: Roseanne Barr. Even if her lack of a filter to the point of losing her job and control over a property she originated is a result of her mental issues, we don’t have to excuse her egregious behavior on that basis.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            Thank you for this. I think what I’m reacting to is the implication I’m getting that because it’s clearly a mental disorder, people shouldn’t be angry. Plus I was reading “Drew said there is nothing mentally wrong with him” as “Drew does not have a diagnosis of BID”.

            1. Jessie the First (or second)*

              I’d be angry at him. I have sympathy and it really, truly seems that he has some mental illness (BID or otherwise, diagnosed at this point or not) – I don’t think it’s really possible to look at this whole picture and conclude no mental illness.

              Still would be angry. I get especially twitchy at the idea that he was a disability activist (and I read that to be for physical disability issues, not mental illness) while representing himself as physically disabled. Be all the activist you want, Drew, but don’t pretend you are of the group if you are not. That feels like talking over people, elbowing in at the expense of people who really do live that experience.

              (And he does NOT live that experience. He gets his own damn printouts when it’s convenient for him to do it himself.)

              1. Observer*

                I get especially twitchy at the idea that he was a disability activist (and I read that to be for physical disability issues, not mental illness) while representing himself as physically disabled. Be all the activist you want, Drew, but don’t pretend you are of the group if you are not. That feels like talking over people, elbowing in at the expense of people who really do live that experience.

                I totally agree with this. This comes up a lot here – you can have a genuine problem and ALSO be a jerk.

                I think that applies here.

            2. Parenthetically*

              “because it’s clearly a mental disorder, people shouldn’t be angry.”

              I totally get this, and I think so much of it is talking past each other, as happens a lot in comments sections — even the best of ’em. You’ve got people on one side saying, “Hey, this guy is clearly mentally ill, what a hard, complex situation,” and people on the other side saying, “Hey, what this guy did is seriously sh!tty,” and I just think both of those things can be true, KWIM? It’s ugly, what he did, and perpetuates the marginalization of people with disabilities, BUT ALSO, he’s clearly not well.

              Also, even if Drew does not have a BID diagnosis, that is so far from meaning he doesn’t have BID.

            3. Sylvan*

              Huh, a lot of people were definitely angry at him. So was I. Saying he doesn’t have anything mentally wrong with him doesn’t mean he’s not diagnosed with anything – and the absence of a diagnosis doesn’t mean nothing is wrong.

            4. Scarlet*

              “the implication I’m getting that because it’s clearly a mental disorder, people shouldn’t be angry”

              I haven’t read all the comments, but I’m honestly not getting that. It is possible to have empathy for someone and still recognize they’ve done something wrong. And I don’t think I’ve seen anyone argue that mental illness was an excuse for bad behaviour.

            5. Lynn*

              I truly believe it’s not mutually exclusive- you can have sympathy for him, dealing with something that must be difficult, and at the same time be angry because it doesn’t excuse the harm he’s done.

        5. R.D.*

          You can still acknowledge his pain and struggle even when you are angry at his behavior. The lack of empathy is I think what is drawing the fire on you, not the insistence that what he was doing was wrong.

          1. PennyParker*

            How about some empathy for the disabled people who he lied to and took advantage of by pretending to be like them and taking a place on their sports teams? I’m sorry, but even mentally ill people need to be responsible for how they act and he was not doing that at all. I get darn tired of people saying one has to have empathy for someone who is clearly abusing others, simply because they have a mental illness. Just No! People with mental illness are still responsible for their actions and their behavior or else they need to be removed from society. This man was harming others by behaving in this manner! The letter clearly shows that he caused harm and hurt people.

        6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Isn’t it possible to be upset with Drew for the harm he caused to people who are truly paralyzed while still holding empathy for him having what sounds like textbook BID?

            1. kitryan*

              I think that’s ok, you don’t have to be that person. Not everyone can be empathetic to everyone or everything. There are definitely situations where a person may need help or empathy or understanding but not be able to get it from just anyone- like from those they’ve hurt or who otherwise feel impacted by their behavior. Ideally, he’d work to find a therapist who could work with him on his issues or he’d channel his advocacy to address his real issue – but he shouldn’t go to the groups that kicked him out looking for sympathy and understanding, for example.

        7. OnYourSide*

          I just had to comment to say that I get what you are saying Santiago. There is this out pouring of sympathy for Drew, but very little for the people he hurt and betrayed. And some are even suggesting that a doctor should perform an operation operation to paralyze him because it would make him happy!!! He has a mental disorder and deserves help, but his actions hurt people and those people have every right to be angry.

      2. Catleesi*

        I kind of think he is hurting other people. For example, he is gaining the trust and friendship of people in his wheelchair sports team. Using the resources/time/space meant for someone who does need a wheelchair I think is causing harm to others. And the feeling of betrayal they understandably have is harmful too. People in positions of privilege shouldn’t just be able to decide to become part of, and take advantage of, a group like he did.

        Hopefully he can see how is actions hurt people, and himself, and try therapy again.

        1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

          He is hurting people in the disabled communities he wants to be apart of – but not maliciously. Unfortunately having a mental illness often results in hurting your friends and family quite badly, it is part of the insidious nature of those types of diseases and one of the reasons it makes it so much harder for many people to summon the kind of compassion we have for people with physical diseases and disabilities. Ask any child of an alcoholic, or partner of someone that is manic depressive, or relative of a schizophrenic – being supportive can mean opening yourself up to be hurt over and over again.

          1. misspiggy*

            I think that’s where the compassion fatigue comes from – so many people hurt disabled people ‘not maliciously’.

            Drew could have stopped short of hurting disabled people himself. Instead he chose to push his identity to the point of taking space and resources from people who already have to take a stupidly large amount of crap from society.

          2. c-*

            Depressed & anxious child of a schizophrenic, partner of a person with ADHD, friend of several happily-partnered manic depressive people chiming in: I don’t think that having a mental disorder necessarily implies acting like a giant jerk to people. Mental & psychiatric issues can make it harder for you to manage your feelings and actions, but they do not excuse you from your responsibility for your own behaviour. And they do not excuse you from the harm you cause others. And they do not prevent you from being aware of the problem and trying your level best to manage it without harming others, or while minimising harm to others at the very least.

            There are mentally ill people who refuse to acknowledge and work on the problem and end up hurting themselves and their loved ones quite badly (my mother, for instance). But that’s not caused by the illness, it’s caused by their refusal to deal with the illness in a constructive manner.

            There are other mentally ill people who are aware that intent is not magic and that reasons are not excuses, and who invest a lot of time, money, effort, and pain into getting resources and strategies for managing their conditions and making sure that those don’t negatively impact others. Those of us don’t end up abusing our loved ones, and, on our behalf, I’d like to say that it’s unfair to continue the “well, you must understand (and forgive): they’re sick, you see” narrative. Illnesses are not excuses. People can learn to manage their own behaviour. I find it very paternalistic to imply that mentally ill people can’t: it might be more difficult, but often it’s less than they can’t and more than they won’t.

            1. PennyParker*

              Thank you. You said that better than I did, but that attitude of entitlement to act badly due to mental illness is completely unacceptable. And, yes, dealing with much diagnosed mental health issues in my family system as well. I think it is quite condescending to excuse poor behavior due to mental health issues. I find it incredibly obnoxious when people do that.

          3. Yorick*

            But we don’t actually know that he didn’t do it maliciously. Everyone is just assuming he has BID through two descriptions of the guy. Maybe he’s malingering (he clearly is with the physical disability, maybe he also is with the mental illness).

        2. PurpleMonster*

          He’s probably also been screwing over his team if they do any formal competition – as I understand disabled sports teams have a maximum number of ‘points’ they’re allowed, based on the players’ (dis)abilities, to make it fair. So someone with paraplegia would score differently to someone with tetraplegia, and differently again to someone without a leg. But they’d all need to add up to below a certain number. In theory anyone could do wheelchair basketball, but it would use up a lot of the available points if that makes sense.

          If he was playing at one level of disability I don’t wonder at his team being pissed off at him.

          I do feel sorry for the guy – everyone should be able to live how they want if it doesn’t hurt anyone – but deception isn’t the way to go about it.

        3. Observer*

          I hear what you are saying. At least in this case, from what the OP describes, he didn’t take resources that were then unavailable to people who actually don’t have a choice. Had that been the case, that would have been a very different thing.

          But, yes, I do understand that his team mates etc. were hurt, and I do understand why they kicked him off the team.

          1. SignalLost*

            He took a parking space. There are a finite number of parking spaces. He took people’s time and effort, which also is finite. He took a spot on at least one sports team, potentially edging out someone who is really paraplegic. He became an activist for a disability he doesn’t have, removing Focus from people who do. He received those things under the guise of accommodation for a condition he knowingly claimed he had. That’s not the same as requiring OP’s company to spend many thousands on retrofitting the workplace, but it is still taking resources from people who don’t have a choice whether they are disabled or not.

            1. Becca*

              Yeah, I agree. He took resources and he betrayed trust. He could/might have undermined the activism he was doing if it came out more widely. That’s all real harm. It should be acknowledged.

              But I also feel sorry for him and hope he finds his way to help.

              1. SignalLost*

                Agreed. I do wish he gets to a place where he can receive help and be more accurately who he identifies as. I just want that to be not at the cost of screwing over/taking resources and time from people and institutions that aren’t aware he is deceiving them to all practical intents, because whatever problem he has it isn’t paraplegia.

            2. Jennifer*

              There’s nothing wrong with becoming an activist for disabled people when you aren’t disabled.

              1. SignalLost*

                This is of course why Autism Speaks is so highly regarded by much of the autistic community.

                But, in all seriousness, there absolutely IS something wrong with claiming that you are disabled and becoming a spokesperson for disability activism. Aside from, I don’t know, lying intentionally, there’s also the issue that his lie takes the spotlight off of people who actually have a disability, and now that he has revealed his lack of disability (his lie, in case we forgot) the group or groups he was an activist with may suffer from people believing everyone with that condition is a liar. Or have you not seen the incredibly cruel meme of a woman standing out of her wheelchair to reach something on a high shelf in a grocery store? That proves that everyone who uses a wheelchair is a liar, in the eyes of most versions of that meme.

                And to return to my middle point: yes, everyone CAN be an activist for anything. But if you have no lived experience as a member of a group (hi, Rachel Dolezal) you really should take a step back and give the focus to people who have legitimately faced that group’s challenges. I give money to the American Heart Association and a couple of homeless shelters, but I’m not going to elbow the quadruple-bypass recipient or the homeless veteran out of the way to yap about my experience as a member of those communities.

                1. Observer*

                  Depending on how you look at it, Autism speaks is either the best or worst example of the issues at stake.

                  I don’t think that the lack of representation from the Autism community is the fundamental problem. Rather it’s a symptom of a much deeper and more fundamental pair of problems. They clearly do not understand autism / ASD. And they also clearly have no respect at ALL for members of the community or the families that are affected by this issue, on any level. From what I can see these people don’t seem to believe that people on the spectrum deserve even the respect of basic honesty and fair dealing.

              2. boo bot*

                Sure, but you can be an activist for a group without claiming to be a member of that group, which is the part people tend to object to.

              3. Yvette*

                No, but he did it under the guise of being disabled himself. That is what most of the people here are taking issue with. I can advocate for battered women, but if I do so while posting photos of myself with fake bruises saying “look what my boyfriend did to me, people like me need help” that is wrong.

                1. JSPA*

                  Even if it it’s his brain that confines him to a wheelchair–and he stays in the chair even alone, even at home–he does, in fact, have plenty of experience with how things are well or poorly designed for the disabled. That’s valid experience, however gained.

                  If he presents as disabled in daily life, including missing the bus if the kneeling bus or chair lift isn’t working, including tipping over if he hits a really bad chunk of pavement–that is, again, useful, valid experience, if he lets the bus company know that they need to prioritize keeping functional busses on the routes, and that a bus that can’t handle a chair user is not fit to be out on the road.

                  That’s a point of view he can’t experience or give feedback on, standing up. Even if he can bring himself to life life standing, which (apparently) he can’t.

                2. Observer*


                  It’s true that he does have valid experiences that people who don’t use wheelchairs wouldn’t really understand. But there still is a FUNDAMENTAL difference between the person who HAS NO CHOICE and the person who HAS a choice – especially since he does apparently occasionally exercise that choice. It colors your experience in a profound way, and it’s legitimate for people who live with that level of helplessness to be angry at people who speak for them without ever acknowledging that difference.

                3. Scarlet*


                  The fact that he has a choice makes all the difference. If he tips over, he can get up and put his chair upright again. People who are actually disabled can’t do that.
                  And because of that, I think people who really have to deal with disability every single moment of their lives can be legitimately upset by people who “play pretend”. The fact that his pretending/lying stems from a mental illness doesn’t make it much better.

                  In a way, it reminds me of people who “live the experience of being homeless” for 24 hours and think it gives them any insight in homeless people’s situation. Just knowing that you can go home to a warm bath and a comfy bed at any moment means you cannot truly understand what it’s like for someone who has to sleep outside every night.

                4. Yorick*

                  @JSPA: But if he tips over, he can just get up.

                  Maybe I’m being a cynical jerk, but I’d bet, even though he claims to use a wheelchair when alone, he gets up when something is too hard or impossible to do while in the chair.

                5. Neptune*


                  But he has not had the experience of life as a disabled person, because at any time, the moment he wishes to do so, he can stop. That’s sort of the point. He is play-acting. Whatever reason he has to do that, the fact remains that if he is late for the bus he can stand up and run for it, if his chair tips over he can get up and fix it, if he can’t reach something on a high shelf he can stand up and grab it. He is not living the life of a person who is disabled in the way he says he is, because – as the OP specifically mentions – when he finds it convenient, he will just drop it and fetch his own photocopies.

                  I mean… have you ever heard the song Common People, by Pulp? It’s the same thing. If you have the option to just opt out of being a member of a marginalised group at any moment with no consequences, you are not living the same life or having the same experiences as they are.

              4. RUKiddingMe*

                Maybe as an ally, but representing ones self as a member of a marginalized population, thinking that it’s ok to speak for them is wrong on so many levels. He doesn’t have the lived experiences to speak for disabled people.

                This is like “Rachel Dolezal…Wheelchair Basketball Edition.”

          2. TechWorker*

            He also (unintentionally) probably didn’t help the perceptions of the people who interacted with him. Like the people who thought nothing of offering to get stuff from other floors in order to make life easier – because obviously it’s taken as given that if you’re in a wheelchair you need to be – will those people be as open to helping others in future? (Feels like it could have at least a subconscious effect…)

      3. Grouchy 2 cents*

        But he has hurt his friends. Those friends that actually CAN”T get out of their wheelchairs and run, walk, bike etc. These are people who dealt with a loss, rebuilt their lives and found groups that accepted them for them. Maybe they shared thoughts in those settings that they would never share with people who aren’t paraplegics. You don’t think those folks wouldn’t be hurt by learning that their supposed friend is lying about his entire identity?
        This is one of those situations where the obvious mental illness factor is eclipsed by the overwhelming asshole factor. I have definite pity for this guy – he needs help. But his behavior is beyond the pale.

        1. fposte*

          I totally understand the hurt of his friends, but I think it’s really hard to separate the behavior from the disorder here. It’s just that its being a disorder doesn’t automatically mean his behavior has to be okay with them.

        2. Kathlynn*

          I am not disagreeing with you but I feel the need to point out that most people who use a wheelchair are not incapable if walking short distances (including just a step or two). It is a myth that every person who is in a wheelchair is unable to walk at all.

          1. Temperance*

            Agreed, but that’s not comparable whatsoever to an able-bodied person, who has no physical need whatsoever, using a wheelchair.

            1. Kathlynn*

              I was responding specifically to the idea that all wheel chair users have to use their chair 100% of the time. Not anything else.
              But in the sense that Drew is probably not neurotipical he isn’t able bodied.
              and honestly people who say he is taking up resources by using handicapped parking is like saying people who have non-wheelchair related movement disabilities are taking resources from others by using handicap parking spots. And another (horrible comparison I’ve seen made) would be that trans people who want to surgically transition are taking resources from other people who are waiting for other surgeries.
              I don’t know enough about BID, nor do most/all off us, to say what the best treatment is for drew, and how likely it is to be able to function in what we consider a “normal” way. Can we say he should seek treatment with a mental health professional, yes. But unless he is able to function without emotional harm to himself he needs the resources to reduce/avoid that harm.

              1. SignalLost*

                Whether you like it or not, the process of getting a state-issued disabled tag, assuming that’s what he has, is not one that plans any time soon to cater to people who are physically able-bodied but have a mental disorder that makes them think they are not. He took a parking space he had no right to, and that very well could mean that someone else did not get a parking space.

              2. Not Today*

                “people who say he is taking up resources by using handicapped parking is like saying people who have non-wheelchair related movement disabilities are taking resources from others by using handicap parking spots.”

                Nope. There are a host of valid disabilities that render a person unable to walk far that don’t require a wheelchair. States require medical certification to receive a handicapped placard. Drew received his under false pretenses, if he has one.

              3. Jasper*

                He isn’t just taking up the spaces — which are limited enough as is — but he even got a car with hand controls. Those things are several tens of thousands of dollars and that will have been provided for him by the health insurance company, most likely. And like his placard, it will have been obtained fraudulently.

              4. RUKiddingMe*

                “…like saying people who have non-wheelchair related movement disabilities are taking resources from others by using handicap parking spots.”

                That’s not analogous. He is taking resources. Saying that a disabled person not in a wheelchair taking up resources would be categorically inaccurate as those resources are for disabled people, not wheelchair people.

                From the letter: “In the documentary Drew did more than take a few steps. He walked, ran, rode a bike, went up and down stairs, and kicked a ball. By his own words he is 100% physically healthy and can use his legs fine/normally.”

                Someone who is able to run, walk, kick a ball, etc. etc. etc. and even acknowledges that he is aware there is nothing physically limited, that he just wants it to be that way absolutely is taking up resources.

        3. Ann O.*

          I think a lot of intentionality and control is being attributed to Drew that we simply don’t know enough to know if that’s true. Assuming that he does fall into BID, it is a very newly identified disorder. There is not a lot of understanding about causes or solutions right now. We know he could use his legs long enough for the documentary, but not whether that represented something he is routinely able to do.

    2. a girl has no name*

      That’s the problem with this for me: it’s one thing to use a wheelchair when you don’t need to, quite another to be a disability activist when you’re not disabled (and lying about that fact).

    3. Arctic*

      He has a known disorder. Part of his disorder is that he doesn’t believe it’s a disorder but that he should genuinely be disabled.
      His entire life is in upheaval over this. What does your anger accomplish?

      1. Natto Princess*

        Arctic is absolutely right–anger is only worth expressing if it’s somehow productive. Unless they can make something out of it, nobody ever has any right to be openly angry about a situation. /s

      2. JSPA*

        Anger is a sensation / response. It doesn’t have to accomplish anything; it just exists.

        Outrage, on the other hand, is the social performance of anger (“directed anger in a context”). If you can’t justify your outrage, then it may be better to sit with your anger, let it settle into context, and give it a chance to either cool off or coalesce around a useful, essential nugget of truth.

        But that truth may turn out to be that anytime people live a lie, the people around them feeling misled are suffering because of the social pressures that led the closeted person to lie. And that shaming people for what they experience as the truth is a potent way to supercharge the urge to lie, and produce more collateral damage victims of those lies.

      3. RUKiddingMe*

        “By his own words he is 100% physically healthy and can use his legs fine/normally.”

        Whether he genuinely has or he believes he has a disorder or not is irrelevant. He wants to be/thinks he should be disabled but he knows he’s not. Taking any resources for a physically disabled person, when he says he knows he is physically healthy is unconscionable.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      As someone who’s been hurt by liars and frauds in the past, I get where you’re coming from. I’ve had to remove myself from some posts before as well.

      1. Green*

        Also: You can be both empathetic/sympathetic/compassionate and annoyed/frustrated/angry at someone with a personality or emotional disorder or mental illness. It’s not always simple, and one does not inherently preclude the other.

        1. Temperance*

          It’s also fine to not always have empathy / sympathy or approach all things from a “kindness” perspective.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            My empathy is not an infinite resource and in this particular situation, it’s with the disabled people who were harmed by Drew’s actions.

    5. Les G*

      With all due respect, if you had to stop commenting because you were so enraged, well…maybe continuing to not comment would have been a better look.

      1. OnYourSide*

        It so patronizing how you say “with all due respect” before your rude comment. Maybe Santiago was so passionate about this issue that they couldn’t stand by and remain silent?

    6. CristinaMariaCalabrese (do the mambo like-a crazy)*

      Even worse; he’s moving to where he is not known, and will start preying upon a new group of people.

    7. c-*

      You are not wrong for being angry and you are not wrong for having 0 sympathy for Drew. Those are totally valid emotional responses given the situation.
      Having issues or a mental illness or whatever’s going on did not give Drew a license to hurt others.

    8. The Rat Catcher*

      I’m sorry you are having a rough time here. I can see the point people are making that this SOUNDS like BIID, but this is still the Internet and there is still room for other explanations and there has been no allowance for that. I’ve opted out of commenting here as much lately too, because once I said my husband thought supervisors should be basically competent people and a bunch of Internet strangers decided he was insecure and incompetent.

  9. Observer*

    Thanks for the update. In some ways, so unsatisfying, but that’s how life is.

    Thanks for filling in all the blanks so graciously. I’m glad that you didn’t do anything about this person. Ultimately, he really was not doing anyone any harm, except to himself. Had there been some sort of conflict, that would have been different, but there wasn’t.

    Although he says that there is nothing wrong with him, I would beg to differ. When someone is doing things that damage them so much, that is a problem. I’m sad for him.

  10. Celeste*

    This is incredibly sad. I was reminded of the movie, “Lars and the Real Girl”, about a man trying to work through complicated interpersonal issues with a life-like doll. But his family and town were supportive of him, and helped him move forward. The OP’s staffer, though…it sounds like something that is controlling his life in a destructive way. I wonder if he will always repeat the cycle, and at what personal cost. I wish him well. This can’t be an easy thing for him. It sounds like a compulsion. One day I parked downtown and there was a man a few cars down checking that his car doors were locked, over and over. I caught his eye and he looked down and just kept doing it all over again. I hoped I hadn’t made it worse by interrupting. But truly, he seemed locked into it, like a ritual that was enacting him instead of the other way around. I wonder if the OP’s former staff member was in a similar situation. OP, you didn’t have the ability to make anything better for him, but you can rest assured that you didn’t do anything to make it worse for him.

  11. Catleesi*

    I find it really difficult to have sympathy for Drew. I try to be very generous about giving people with mental illnesses (which, I am not a doctor but clearly since it’s not a physical issue there is some kind of mental issue/disconnect happening here) the benefit of the doubt but this is just…no. My uncle is a quadriplegic, seeing the difficulty he experiences and what he has to deal with really removes my ability to feel compassion for someone that would pretend to be in the same situation. I’m not hopeful but I hope he realizes how his actions hurt the people around him, but it seems like from this update he is mostly concerned about himself.

    1. Neutral Zone*

      So you have sympathy for those with mental illness unless their illness manifests in ways you personally find distasteful?

      How generous! /s

      1. Owlette*

        I am mentally ill–I have extremely bad panic attacks. One of the symptoms of my panic attacks is that I get really unreasonably angry. I’ve called people I care about horrible names. Yes, the people I care about do have sympathy for my mental illness, but me calling them names still hurts them terribly. Having a mental illness is no excuse for harming others, for me or for Drew.

      2. Zona the Great*

        Please don’t be sarcastic to the point of being sardonic. I have boat loads of sympathy for those with mental illness including my mentally ill father but I still recoil when he does that painful thing that offends me very much and it causes me to avoid him.

        It is very possible to be altruistic, charitable, caring and still not want to interact with the groups at the “street level”, for example.

      3. Temperance*

        Or, how about it’s possible to have sympathy for people with mental health issues, but still struggle to have sympathy for people whose symptoms harm others.

        I don’t have any sympathy for people who harm others, regardless of whether they have a good enough reason.

        1. wellywell*

          I don’t either, and I sometimes feel pressure to have that sympathy anyway. But I just don’t.

      4. Delphine*

        My father has bipolar disorder. On occasion it causes him to behave terribly towards his family. Does he ever apologize? Acknowledge his behavior? No. I understand that he has a mental illness, make allowances for that, but I don’t particularly empathize with him. People don’t need to bend over backwards for you if your behavior harms people and you refuse to take responsibility for your actions.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s human to not always feel sympathy for others.

      These rare outlier issues will always have a hard time reeling in the sympathy of every day folks.

      1. fposte*

        Yes, I think this is a good point, and I don’t think black-and-white thinking about sympathy is a good read. I get why this is a tough one for people, and I don’t think it’s as simple as being a sympathetic person or not being one. I think it’s going too far to consider Drew a liar, but I also understand why people are upset at the difference between the physicality he presents with and the physicality he has.

    3. The Other Dawn*

      I feel the same way, Catleesi. My cousin recently became a double amputee after three years and a dozen surgeries, and he’s experiencing some real hardships as a result. Not only physically, but mentally, emotionally, you name it. It’s hard for me to understand why someone would willingly choose that when they’re perfectly healthy and able physically.

      1. animaniactoo*

        It’s hard to understand, because your outside view of yourself more or less matches your inside view of yourself and you can’t imagine being any other way. This is not something that has a logical “aha! It all makes sense!” explanation – this is strange and difficult and broken. I think the key term here is “willingly” choose. There’s not a lot of willingness to this – it simply IS; the inability to reconcile the outside with the inside is not an active choice. Without that ability (currently) to accept that he is mentally wrong rather than physically wrong, he has no way forward except to try to get his outsides to match his insides and live in his “truth”.

    4. Kyrielle*

      I feel sorry for Drew that he believes this.

      But I feel sorrier for the people he deceived, some of whom made efforts they might not have made knowing the actual issue (or might have), and some of whom were obviously upset (given that he got kicked out of things). I feel sorry also for anyone who did not get a chance to participate in a group he was in because it was “full”, who had the appropriate physical disability for that group.

      I feel bad for Drew, because living thinking you should be paralyzed…man, what a mess. If he were clearly a deliberate scammer I’d have no sympathy for him; the fact that he seems to genuinely believe he should be paralyzed means I do have some sympathy.

      But if I had to support only the people he hurt by his actions or him, I’d support his victims every time.

      I hope he gets the help he needs to live his life more honestly (hopefully without becoming paralyzed). I hope it in part, because it would reduce the number of people who have to deal with the fallout of behavior like he’s shown so far. :/

      1. Anonymous for this!*

        I love this response. In addition to this, I think it’s worth emphasizing that, like you said, Drew’s mental illness does not make him think he is actually paralyzed. It makes him think that he should be. Taking away resources and trying to act as a representative by presenting himself as disabled in the manner he did is something that I would have much more sympathy for if he truly believed he was paralyzed.

    5. JSPA*

      Presumably you don’t feel that way about someone with MS who’s doing OK a couple of days after their infusion, but still uses their power chair because they no longer have the muscle mass or eyesight and balance to walk well. I mean, I think we all know that the same equipment is reasonably used to handle a wide range of disabilities and diseases and syndromes that are actually not all that similar, in their granular details. We just mostly get away with not thinking about those details.

      1. Yorick*

        That is clearly different from Drew’s situation. Drew may “feel” like he “should” be disabled, but he clearly knows that he can walk, run, bike, etc. whenever he wants to. That is completely different than someone who can sometimes or even usually walk but can’t right now.

  12. Old Admin*

    Man, that is really sad.
    I’d say Drew was trying to find a balance with his mental disease / body dysmorphia, and I was pleasantly surprised he was not bugging people with his perceived disability. That was actually the reason why I think he’d found a balance.
    But yes, I see why people felt deceived and had concerns about his integrity. All that triggered by Drew being honest in a documentary!

    It’s probably a weak analogy, but I’m thinking of people feeling outraged/ deceived/ attacked by trans people passing as the other gender and then being found out, and all the danger that entails… It’s also a form of body dysmorphia etc., and triggers a lot of difficult emotions (even if trans rights and perception have improved somewhat, depending on the country). And yes, I know some trans people pretty well. :-)
    I hope Drew can find happiness somewhere else.

    1. Catleesi*

      If a comparison is needed, I would liken this more to the case of the white woman (Rachel something?) who passed herself off as a black woman – taking leadership and activist roles etc.

      1. Observer*

        Rachel Dolezal.

        Again, clearly someone with mental illness. Her case was far more problematic because she did things that hurt people that go beyond the pain of people who based their interactions with around her supposed identity. I’m not belittling that. But what she did just went a lot farther – and should have been clear to her, even with her mental illness. Like some of the things she said about her parents, claims she made up about harassment that required police investigation (If I recall correctly, that’s what lead to her being found out) and taking an actual paying job that would have been far better suited to someone who actually grew up black.

        1. Manchmal*

          What did Dolezal do that hurt people in a way that would be different from Drew? I simply thought she was a nutter when I first heard about her, but watching the documentary about her gave me a new sense of compassion. In terms of her job, she was an adjunct instructor a the community college level teaching African-American Studies type stuff (non-blacks also major and obtain phds in this subject matter). I feel bad for her in exactly the same way I feel bad for Drew. The Dolezal documentary gets into her abusive childhood and gives you a good sense of why she would reframe her identity in the way she did. I’m guessing Drew has a similar story (or a wicked brain issue) that has caused his identity issue. These are not people who fake cancer to defraud people out of money. They’re just not getting that much out of it!

          1. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant*

            Her having a terrible childhood doesn’t somehow make it not insulting to black people. She donned blackface and lied about who she was and who her family was.

            As you say, non-black people study and teach African-American Studies. So she could have done that without lying. Not only lying about her background, but — as Willow points out — fabricating hate crimes against herself and wasting the time and resources of the investigators, apparently for the purpose of gaining activist cred or something along those lines.

          2. Observer*

            So, firstly, nothing she says about her parents can be accepted without outside verification, because she definitely did lie.

            Beyond that, it’s just nonsense to say that she grew up the way blacks did – as far as dealing with the outside world, she grew up in ways that black children simply don’t have access to. Trying to “reframe” her abuse (assuming it actually happened) as the same thing as living your life in the world as a black child is …. I don’t really have the words for it. But it sounds like a symptom of a toxic mix of privilege and lack of empathy, that makes her totally unable to understand some of the profound differences between her childhood and that of a black child.

            Beyond that, she presented her perspective as though it’s the perspective of someone who grew up this way when she did NOT grow up this way – and CLEARLY doesn’t understand that perspective. Her job at the NAACP is one of the few jobs where race / ethnicity is a true BFOQ – and she took it from someone who would have been more qualified.

            And she manufactured hate crimes against herself. That’s just so beyond the pale. Forget the fact that an already overstretched police force was forced to waste resources on her. What about the risk she posed to some innocent person who might have been suspected of being the perpetrator of this fictitious “crime”? And if you think that the loss of credibility among a few individuals that Drew’s behavior caused is a problem, the loss of credibility Dolezal’s lies could have cause in the *police department* could literally mean the difference between life and death for people. Hate crimes are real.

      2. DFW*

        I think it is a little different. Having a disability means that there is a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities. Either those limitations are present or they aren’t. Race is more of an identity like gender. I think there is a little more leeway as far as race or gender identification than disability.

    2. Geoffrey B*

      It is a weak analogy, because in general people who claim to be “outraged/deceived/attacked by trans people passing as the other gender (sic)” are in fact infuriated by the very *existence* of trans people. Trans people who don’t “pass” experience huge risk of violence and discrimination; non-disclosure is generally the less dangerous of two dangerous options. The trope of trans people “tricking” others is a rationalisation for violence, not its actual cause.

    3. c-*

      “It’s probably a weak analogy, but I’m thinking of people feeling outraged/ deceived/ attacked by trans people passing as the other gender and then being found out, and all the danger that entails… ”
      I’d rather compare it to a cis person cross-dressing in order to get into a trans-people-only safe space. I’ve seen it happen and I 100% support the outrage of the actual trans people whose trust and sense of safety was violated (for the record: there’s nothing at all wrong with cross-dressing or cross-dressers. There’s an ocean of wrong with invading safe spaces as a privileged person).
      The problem here is not that Drew exercised his bodily autonomy by using a wheelchair, but that he lied about belonging to a oppressed group he’s actually not part of and doing activism on their behalf. Like some cis straight people claiming to be LGBTI in order to access safe spaces and do activism, because they don’t want to check their ego, take a step back, and not erase the voices of the people who actually suffer from that oppression (I’m queer and that behaviour seriously pisses me off).

    4. Mia*

      This is definitely a weak analogy because being trans is not a mental illness and folks who are mad about trans people “passing” are just super invested in preconceived notions about gender. I have a lot of empathy for Drew, but disabled people being upset about a physically ablebodied person coming into their spaces under the guise of disability is not the same thing as garden variety transphobia.

    5. Anonny*

      It is a stronger analogy if you think of incidents like trans women insisting they need to see gynecologists and get pap smears, or insisting they need to be sent letters reminding them of annual gyn appointments and to be allowed to make said appointments. They are taking resources from women who actually need those appointments.

      1. Starbuck*

        What about insisting they be able to participate in women’s sports? Does that apply to? Especially with women’s/girl’s teams also often having fewer resources.

          1. Starbuck*

            Well sure, that’s their gender but since they’re not female there are some important physical differences to take into account, especially during/after puberty and if they’re medically transitioning, or already have. Physical development differences in sports do matter, that’s why we separate athletes by things like age, weight class, disability, and sex.

            1. c-*

              Starbuck, maybe that’s not your intention, but you’re being really transphobic right now.
              Trans women are women and are female. There are a bunch of chromosomic and hormonal variabilities among cis people as well and we don’t exclude them from playing sports (look them up, biology is fascinating and pays no mind to humans’ preconceived notions of gender and sex).
              What you’re saying sounds like racist people trying to justify racial segregation in sports teams. Please stop, it is really very distasteful.

              1. Starbuck*

                That’s frustrating to hear as someone with a degree in biology that apparently it’s no longer acceptable to allow for any differentiation or even discussion between the physical reality of sex and the social construct of gender. I do know quite a bit about chromosomal abnormalities and the complications those can cause when people don’t fit into the neat boxes our society prefers. But I am not going to stop talking about sex differences, because they do exist and they do matter since that’s what’s been used to oppress women for millennia and it still hasn’t stopped.

    1. Cringing 24/7*

      I’ve been looking for an answer to this, and while there was debate about putting it in the DSM-5, it was not included.

    2. Tammy*

      According to Wikipedia, there was debate about including it in both the DSM-V and the ICD-10, and it was ultimately not included in either. Wikipedia says “As of 2014 it remained unclear whether BID is a form of human diversity or a mental disorder, similar to the development of the concept of gender dysphoria.” The disorder does have an ICD-11 code, however. And as Wikipedia notes, “The ethics of surgically amputating the undesired limb of a person with BID are difficult and controversial.”

    1. TGIF*

      His mental illness had him lying to his friends and coworkers about his entire life and character. It’s not a matter of ‘understanding’ but a matter of feeling betrayed and taken advantage of.

      I have several friends with physical disabilities. If I discovered that one of them was lying, I would feel immensely betrayed, and would question their character that they could lie about something so important.

      I watched a documentary of a guy who likes to wrap his limbs in hardcasts and pretend he’s broken his bones. He said he likes the attention and likes to tell fantastical stories about how he broke his bones. As someone who has broken her bones many times (I’m clumsy and have low bone density), I know the lengths my friends and family go to to help me when I’m in that state (my most recent break, my friends and I were going camping; I said I’d skip because I didn’t want to hold the group back but they encouraged me to come along and didn’t mind that I couldn’t help with setting up the tent and other physical stuff). If I faked broken bones for their attention and sympathy, of course my friends and family would be furious, even if I had a mental illness as a source of my behavior.

      1. Celaena Sardothien*

        Maybe so, but you don’t say if that man in the documentary had a mental illness or if he just did that strictly for attention. Sounds like it was more of the attention this, which is very different and not what we’re talking about.

        Mental illness makes you do awful things sometimes, but the empathy should still be there.

      2. Jaguar*

        He’s not faking an illness for attention or sympathy.

        How you react to someone’s problems is on you. It’s true that people’s illnesses are a hardship on others and it’s similarly true that people will respond to the expressions of their illness with anger. The classic example is an addict: being an addict doesn’t excuse their often infuriating-or-worse behaviour, but it does explain it. Unlike an addict, though, this guy’s problem doesn’t actually have tangible effects on others aside from causing anger. The good news is, those who feel angry or betrayed or whatever can control that. You or anyone else feeling offended or angry or whatever because of the expression of his illness isn’t automatically justified, and conflating “I feel like I should be disabled and have taken steps to make it a reality” sort of illness with “I am in a wheelchair to get attention and sympathy” indicates that you could be exactly the sort of person I was talking about with that statement.

        1. Jasper*

          “This guy’s problem doesn’t have a tangible effect on people”? That’s simply incorrect.

          Taking up a handicapped space when you’ve got your placard fraudulently? Sometimes the spaces are all taken (many by non-handicapped people, possibly, but nevertheless taken) and a non-fraudulent placard user might have had to go back home. Even when they’re not all taken, the legitimate users would have had to go a longer distance, which is not insignificant. At work, there may be an abundance of spaces, but he’s doing this everywhere.

          He’s got a car with hand controls. He almost certainly didn’t pay for that mod out of his own pocket, so again, fraudulently obtained.

          He asked his coworkers for assistance running errands, under, again, fraudulent pretenses. They not only expended this effort on him — affecting both their own productivity and energy expenditure — but are going to be less likely to do that for the next person.

          He competed with a handicap sports team. Said team is probably going to get disqualified from their league for at least the current year now this has come out, because, again, fraud.

          Etcetera, etcetera. Note his mental illness doesn’t make him think he’s disabled. It makes him think he *wants* to be disabled. He knows he’s committing the fraud.

      3. InfoSec SemiPro*

        I think this may different than faking for attention and sympathy.

        I think he really does need the wheelchair, but more in the way that people with ADHD need to fidget or doodle, or the way some people with PTSD need to sit facing the door. Less in the way that I need glasses or someone with a broken leg needs crutches. I’m not sure the distinction actually matters though – he doesn’t need it like he needs oxygen, but he needs it more than he needs his family or his job… so uh… that’s a pretty deep need.

        Mental illnesses are hard. Culturally we’ve attached a lot of weight of character to things that get affected by mental illness. We are way harsher on people who lose track of a conversation because they can’t focus than because they can’t hear, even though the outcome, the behavior, is the same. We’re way harsher on people who can’t get out of bed because they’re depressed than because they’re injured. And again, same outcome, same behavior. Different judgment. And that’s for mental illnesses that are common, somewhat understood, and result in behavior that could also be due to a physical disability.

    2. Holly*

      He seems very conscious of the fact that he is not actually disabled, but believes he should be disabled and wants to live life as someone who is in a wheelchair. He does not admit to having a mental illness. I think the problem is that he LIED about needing to be in a wheelchair, rather than being open about how he feels about his condition – no one knew he had a mental illness, they thought his faux-physical disability was legitimate. That’s wrong.

      1. Jaguar*

        You’re applying cold rationality to someone that’s gone to doctors to get his legs permanently broken.

        1. Holly*

          According to the letter, in which the documentary is described, he is conscious of the fact that he is able bodied, but feels that he should be – hence the need to go to the doctor – he is aware he is not actually disabled currently. He wasn’t honest about that. That’s what my comment states.

          1. Jaguar*

            Does it occur to you that, to him, being able to walk is the disability which he is attempting to cure? He sees himself as a disabled person that can walk. This doesn’t make sense a priori – but he has a mental disorder that is causing him to think that anyway. “Honesty” is not a valid concept here. Unless there is more information that you have about this guy, we can only assume that he believes both that he is disabled and that he can walk freely. The connecting tissue is the mental illness.

            1. Holly*

              I’m not sure why you are willfully misinterpreting my comments. There’s other comments saying what you are arguing against, but I am not… I am saying he is lying about having a physical disability/need to use a wheelchair because he is fully aware of the fact that he does not, hence needing to go to the doctor to make that happen. I am not saying he’s not disabled or that he’s fully in control of that belief. The problem is he lied to people about the nature of his wheelchair use to a disability rights group.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Narcissism and sociopaths are mentally ill as well. So many link mental illnesses to danger to the simple idea of any kind if disorder.

      Especially if it manifests in terms of “lying” and “deception”. I put them in quotes because they aren’t necessarily lying in the sense that they believe in what they’re saying or doing.

    4. clunker*

      People are not very understanding of physical illness that isn’t temporary.

      As just about anyone with a chronic illness or physical disability can say from experience.

    5. Delphine*

      People are too willing to assume that suffering from a mental illness is a free pass to do harm–particularly when the person who is mentally ill is part of a majority group and is harming minority groups.

  13. UghNo*

    “He mentioned being investigated for using a fake a disabled parking tag.”

    If he IS using a disabled parking tag, then this is horrible. He’s taking a space away for someone who actually needs it. Some parking lots don’t offer a ton of handicapped spaces to begin with.

    1. Dan*

      TBH, at least given the update letter, this is the most demonstrable harm that he may have caused other people. Everything else? The only real thing that gets my attention is whether there is an “able bodied” points system in the basketball league as Purple Monster suggests there could be. If he misrepresented his health status there, that would be an issue. (I *don’t* have a problem with able bodied people playing wheel chair basketball. It would, however, be a problem if the league considers it a problem.)

      Beyond that, we lie about lots of things on a regular basis. Is it anybody’s actual business if Drew has a medically diagnosed physical disability?

      1. Rubyrose*

        If he is taking a disabled parking space that I really need and he does not, yes, it is my business. But everywhere I’ve been, a physicians signature is needed to get a permit. I wonder how that happened?

        1. fposte*

          I think Dan is saying that’s the one area where he agrees Drew is taking up space undeservedly. The pass is an interesting question–are we talking a work or gym parking pass where you might not need a doctor’s signature, or did he actually get a state one? I’m probably overparsing, but the word “fake” suggests that, if he has a state one, he may not have a real doctor’s signature or a real tag.

          That being said, I’ll stick to what I said in the first post–if he’s using a wheelchair, I’d prefer him parked close in anyway, because there’s less risk of hitting him. But I’m also in an area where disabled access spots tend not to fill up, so he’s not likely to be squeezing anybody out.

      2. Engineer Girl*

        Actually, the athletic groups he belonged to would be impacted. If they won any trophies etc. they’d have to give them back.

        There’s also the trust issue he’s created as a spokesperson. As a spokesperson he made assertions about needs and issues. Now someone will second guess anything that group says.

        There’s been plenty of damage. You just can’t put a price tag on it.

      3. Zidy*

        In regards to the points, there is in most of the wheelchair sports leagues I’ve seen – both my brother and his wife participate and I’ve been a scorekeeper at a wheelchair basketball tournament. Usually it’s based on your mobility while sitting in a wheelchair. So somebody who can bend all the way down is worth more points than somebody who can only lean a bit down. And you can only field so many points at a time.

        And as somebody who’s seen the good these types of teams have on the disabled community, I totally have a problem if an able bodied person plays and most leagues have rules against it for reasons. They take a spot away from somebody who can use it, to get confidence in themselves and find a group that understand the struggles they face on a daily basis. Like Engineer Girl said, there’s no price for that sort of thing.

  14. Lumen*

    I think it’s important to remember that someone’s mental disturbance does not excuse abhorrent behavior, particularly when they a) deny they have any kind of mental disturbance or illness and b) are non-compliant with mental health treatment. There is a part of me that feels compassion for Drew, but it’s a lot easier for me to feel that because *I* am not personally harmed by his actions.

    But there is significant harm done by his actions, and that harm is primarily done to an already often marginalized group of people. People with disabilities (both visible and not) already have to contend constantly with garbage like “it’s all in your head” or “have you tried prayer?” and “I saw you walk to the water cooler without your cane, you’re faking!”, not to mention grousing about their parking spaces (or abled people stealing those parking spaces). So yeah: someone pretending to have a disability, refusing to acknowledge that this is a serious problem, refusing to accept treatment, and then wanting sympathy? That’s not harmless, EVEN IF Drew really is quite sick… in a different way.

    It’s possible to discuss how horrible this is without burning Drew at the stake, just as it’s possible to have compassion for him without excusing or accommodating this lousy, ableist, Rachel Dolezal-esque behavior.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Love your 2nd paragraph. Thank you for being far more level headed than I am capable of being.

    2. Justin*

      Who is Rachel Dolezal? Don’t you mean Nkechi Amare Diallo? (No, really, that’s her name now.)

      But yeah. Look. I’ve had/have MH issues and not been the greatest before I sought treatment. One could choose to have empathy for me or not. BUT, if I was offered/sought treatment and utterly refused to do the work/accept the results, and then kept harming people…. it’s sad but, well, can’t blame someone for not putting up with it.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        … I’m pretending I didn’t read your first line.

        And I agree. I have MH issues and I have caused harm to others because of them and I have taken responsibility for that. I think what is making me so angry in these comments is the implication that because he has a mental illness, he should automatically be excused for what he did when what he did caused real harm to actual paralyzed people.

        1. fposte*

          I don’t disagree; I just don’t think that’s incompatible with understanding that he’s not lying, any more than a depressed person is lying when she says, “I can’t get out of bed” or a phobic is lying when she says, “I can’t get on that plane–I’ll die.” Disordered thinking is different from lying, even if it causes harm.

          1. Holly*

            The difference here is he knows he was lying – he is aware of the fact he is not actually disabled, hence the need to go to the doctor to become disabled. He doesn’t want to admit that this is a sign of mental illness, but he is at least aware that he is not currently disabled, and he lied about that.

            1. fposte*

              The only specific thing would be his saying he’s paralyzed, when he doesn’t seem to be paralyzed (and of course I want to know more about that disabled tag issue). But I think that can also fall in line with cover stories for complicated things. The person who says she had a death in the family when somebody broke her heart by dumping her and is taking the day off is also not telling the truth, but she’s telling something that’s a reasonable work truth. I suspect to him this is where this falls.

              1. Holly*

                The difference, ethically, is that taking a personal day has limited external harm, and no one reasonably would feel betrayed if it came to light that she took off for that reason. I agree it might be a reasonable cover story for the workplace where it doesn’t seem there were any issues, but it did negatively impact members of the community.

      1. Lumen*

        There’s that. It seems like he was less interested in sympathy from abled coworkers than he was in acceptance and belonging from disabled friends and activists. Which, to me, makes this even more awful.

        Someone else here mentioned the trust and vulnerability that Drew’s disabled friends placed in him, and the harm done to them by his deception and his contribution to negative stigma around disability. He can’t be given a pass based on how he impacted ABLED people; the effect of his actions on disabled people matters more. And I just think that was deeply negative.

        I do hope one day he complies with mental health treatment. Because until he does, he’s going to keep being a source of harm to vulnerable people.

    3. she was a fast machine*

      Agreed. However, this is at least one commenter here who seems to want to burn Drew at the stake for it, and is pretty vocal about it, while most are coming across more evenly balanced. I have sympathy for Drew because of his untreated mental illness that is causing him suffering, however, I also have sympathy for his friends, family, and coworkers who have to try to figure out how to deal with him because of it.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        It’s untreated by his choice. And yes, I realize that personality disorders have the same “I’m not sick so don’t need treatment” mindset. But for all of these situations harsh consequences might be the incentive to seek treatment.
        Drew was upset and crying because he lost friends. Good. This should help him realize he needs to seek help.

        1. Adjuncts Anonymous*

          Not all personality disorders or people with personality disorders have denial of a problem as a symptom. I have avoidant personality disorder that I figured out myself from the DSM-IV, but it was confirmed by two professionals. (And no, I didn’t lie or exaggerate the symptoms.) I also have some of the symptoms of dependent personality disorder, but not enough for the formal diagnosis. I think cluster Cs like me can recognize the abnormality of our thoughts and behaviors.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            You are correct. It’s mostly cluster B disorders that can’t recog they are the problem. That’s why they are so hard to treat.

    4. char*

      Yes, I agree with all of this. It seems pretty clear to me that he probably has some sort of disorder… but it’s also clear that he has actively refused treatment for it and has knowingly deceived people in a way that hurts the very community he was pretending to be a part of. I don’t have much sympathy for that.

    5. Close Bracket*

      If you are standing on my foot because you have a mental disturbance, you still need to get off my foot.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        This is very true. And yet, if my mental disturbance makes me feel like both of my feet are firmly planted on the floor, it’s hard to accept that I need to move one of them because it’s on your foot. I mean, I accept and agree that what Drew did was wrong, and people were hurt. But the very nature of his apparent illness makes it so difficult for him to even realize he has one… it’s a sticky situation, and it’s bad for everyone.

        1. Yorick*

          But he doesn’t believe he is paralyzed. He knows he isn’t because he said so in the documentary. He knows he isn’t because he claims he asked a doctor to make him paralyzed.

      2. Dan*

        I’ve had plenty of that in my life. One’s mental illness is not an excuse to drag everybody down with them. At the end of the day, we’re all still responsible for ourselves, because certainly nobody else is.

        My ex wife is free to live the life she wants. However, she is also free to live that life without being married to me. In other comments on this thread, I’ve indicated that I don’t share the outrage with Drew’s behavior. It’s certainly unusual, and perhaps even a diagnosable psych disorder, but at the end of the day, it seems the chief complaints are that people felt mislead and perhaps manipulated, with the worst outcome being a parking pass (ok, that’s the one thing I have a problem with) and people picking things off the copy machine. I’ve seen far worse behavior associated with mental illness.

      3. Lumen*

        Bingo. When Person A is harming Person B, the first step is to get Person A to STOP HARMING Person B.

        After that? THEN we can talk about why Person A was doing the harm. We can try to explain to them that yes, they were indeed hurting others. We can do everything we can to reduce harm for Person A. But first, we have to get them off Person B’s damn foot. All other concerns have to come after that.

    6. Dan*

      It’s not clear to me that pretending to have a disability is a serious problem.

      Yeah, Drew manipulated people’s emotions, and that’s about the worst of it, other than the parking pass. I’m just not willing to get all outraged over this.

      I’ve had enough mental illness in my life, and on the spectrum of bad behavior associated with mental illness, Drew’s hardly rates, if it rates at all.

      The other thing is, who are we to tell Drew how to live his life? If that’s his jam, that’s his jam. Are we getting worked up because people got stuff off a printer for him or walked up a flight of stairs? Are we getting worked up because he lead people to believe something that isn’t true? (Trust me when I tell you the later happens all of the time.)

        1. Kathlynn*

          Because he’s not able bodied either. And a key part of the disorder he likely has requires limited access to disabled resources.

          1. Scarlet*

            How do you define “able-bodied” if someone who can run, climb stairs, etc. and has, by his own admission, 100% usage of his legs doesn’t qualify?
            Him *wanting* to be disabled doesn’t *make* him disabled.

          2. Yorick*

            He MAY have a mental illness. He is able-BODIED, in that he is physically able to do things that able bodied people can do.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Pretending to have a disability is a serious problem. We don’t need to minimize Drew’s behavior to also feel some kind of sympathy for him.

        Drew certainly caused others harm, and it sounds like he has an untreated MH disorder (which he refuses to treat unless treatment includes amputation or paralysis). I think it’s possible to feel empathy for him and to still hold him accountable for exploiting finite resources that are designed for people who have physical disabilities.

      2. Neptune*

        “Are we getting worked up because he lead people to believe something that isn’t true?”

        I guess I didn’t expect to have to spell this out, but: yes? I believe that lying to people is not usually a good thing. I lie, we all lie, but we do not all do it “all the time” about things so major, and on such a wide scale; he was deceiving his colleagues, his friends, his teammates and his fellow activists (and for the last two, the subject of his lies is absolutely key to how they know him). If someone was to catch me in a lie of this scale and say “Neptune, you’re a liar and I no longer trust you and I’m pissed that you lied about this”, I would consider that fair play.

    7. Deloris Van Cartier*

      Thank you for saying this in a much more compassionate and thoughtful way that I could come up with. I know I would feel the same way as his friends as it can be exhausting to constantly justify and explain your health and your needs to anyone from a stranger to a doctor. There is a circle of trust that comes with those groups as people feel like they can say things that they don’t have to justify so when someone who doesn’t actually have to live that way on the daily, it would feel heartbreaking and dishonest. I can get why people wouldn’t want to enable his behavior as it allows him to live in the fantasy instead of having to really address the issues behind his feelings. I know when I’ve struggled with mental health issues in the past, I’ve always appreciated the compassion but the true thing that pushed me to explore treatment was the lack of people who were willing to support my behavior as that loneliness or struggle can motive you. Hopefully, one day, Drew gets the help he needs but I also hope his former friends are able to heal from the hurt of the situation.

      1. Lumen*

        Thank you. That’s been so absent from this thread, amidst compassion for Drew or understanding for his coworkers – hope and compassion for the people who Drew has really hurt.

    8. Jaguar*

      I’m genuinely curious: how is he causing harm? What you listed is pretty vague. The most concrete is using a disabled parking spot which is pretty tenuous to call “causing harm.”

      Keep in mind that this is in the context of someone who has sought medical help to cause literal, physical, permanent harm to himself.

      1. Free Meerkats*

        By your argument, a psychopath who woos you, catches you, marries you, then after she gets what shes is after (whatever that is) , divorces you, leaving you devastated does no harm.

            1. Jaguar*

              I don’t understand your comment, then. How do you extend from me not thinking that this person is causing harm that I also don’t think that the psychopath you described causes harm? I don’t see the connection between those two things.

              1. Becky*

                The deception causes harm in and of itself both on an individual level of people’s trust being betrayed and on a group level of other’s with disabilities being doubted or disbelieved by others in society because of someone else’s actions. How is it not harm?

                1. Jaguar*

                  Because that’s not what harm means?

                  First of all, it’s not deception. By the accounts of the two letters, he’s not trying to con anyone. He believes he is disabled and is trying to become disabled. Deception means intent to misrepresent, and there isn’t the evidence that intent exists in these letters.

                  Second, vague, abstract concepts of disabilities being disbelieved isn’t injury, nor is “betrayal of trust.” These explanations don’t carry enough water to justify saying this guy, who most likely has a mental illness which negatively affects his life in three demonstrable ways (putting him in a wheelchair unnecessarily, making him seek out real and permanent harm to himself, and destroying both his social and professional reputations), is causing harm. Do you believe that people who use mobility scooters when it’s not necessary are causing harm? To me, it doesn’t rise above obnoxious, but it also happens all the time and it hasn’t destroyed the credibility of people in scooters to the point that anyone in a scooter is met with extreme skepticism. This idea that he’s eroding trust in all people who are disabled is ludicrous.

    9. Catleesi*

      Thank you, this is a lot of what I was feeling, but having trouble expressing. I feel sympathy that he has a mental illness, but don’t feel it excuses everything he has done.

    10. Green*

      Someone’s mental disturbance provides an explanation for abhorrent behavior and may (legally and ethically) excuse it. What it does not do is change the *impact* of that behavior on others, but they may certainly be less responsible for it.

      I just think this defies simplification. Someone can cause real harm, but not be morally or legally responsible, or at least should be a mitigating factor in legal or moral responsibility. It’s a line-drawing exercise that, as a society, we haven’t really gotten very good at in terms of brain damage, abuse, personality disorders, intelligence, mental illness, etc. And we probably haven’t gotten very good at it because it’s just not easy.

    11. Becky*

      I think it’s important to remember that someone’s mental disturbance does not excuse abhorrent behavior
      I’m reminded of the story that was posted here about the employee who had a bird phobia and in their panic shoved a coworker into the path of an oncoming car. Yes you can have sympathy for someone with a genuine mental disturbance but that doesn’t mean they aren’t or can’t cause harm in the manifestation of it.

  15. AngelicGamer, the Visually Impaired Peep*

    My update wish has been granted because it really felt like it was going to come out in the worst way. Thank you, LW, for giving us an update. As someone who is disabled, as I probably said in the original post, I wish there was a way that I could magically switch places with them. I hope he’s able to move on with his life, find a doctor who is willing to listen and help him like we see in a lot of TV shows / movies, and live the life he wants. I’m not surprised at this update and I can’t blame his friends, family, or his co-workers for their reactions.

  16. Anon for now*

    I have sympathy for both Drew and his colleagues. I feel bad for Drew, who is dealing with a mental health issue that he knows about and is untreated (by his own choice, it seems, because his therapists were not willing to support his delusion). I also feel bad for Drew’s colleagues and friends who have been lied to. It was wrong for Drew to lie even if the lies are something he feels like he needs to do based on his untreated mental health issues. It is a natural consequence of lying that people would freeze you out.

    I have a family member who has delusional thinking and to keep it from going out of control when communicating with him, I have to (1) SHUT IT DOWN when he starts engaging in unacceptable behaviors (including lies) stemming from the delusions, and (2) tell him that while I understand the delusions feel very real to him, that they are not actually real and I do not agree with his deluded comments. I do not know how that would be handled in the workplace. I think it’s a thorny issue. Does the employer have to accommodate an employee’s delusions? Seems questionable.

    1. Observer*

      Well, I would have to think that at minimum, his accommodations would have to be subordinate to people who actually cannot do the things that he “should not be able” to do.

      Like, he should absolutely go to the back of line for stuff like disabled parking.

    2. Anon for now*

      “Does the employer have to accommodate an employee’s delusions?”

      Also, I was thinking out loud on this topic. I understand that Drew did not ask for any accommodations. The employer reserved the close parking spot for him on its own. Which is a different issue, I suppose, about assuming accommodation is needed.

      One wonders though, what if Drew had asked for it.

      1. Yorick*

        He asked coworkers to go get/do stuff for him (LW says he would always ask but go himself if no one was around)

    3. fposte*

      There’s a fascinating post from–earlier this year? a few years ago?–about a co-worker who claimed to be married to an anime character. Like, had his picture on her desk and would talk about what they’d done the evening before. That was an interesting one for exploring the delusion question.

  17. Martha Marcy May Marlene*

    Wow. I kind of feel sorry for Drew in that his family cut him off instead of being more understanding. He obviously does need help. I’m glad the OP tried to show him compassion by noting outing him before things all fell apart.

    1. Lumen*

      I would point out that we don’t know the whole story with Drew’s family. For all we know, they’ve tried everything they can to help him, but he refuses anything but “join me in my delusion”. We already know that he quit therapy because they wouldn’t let him use a wheelchair, so… I wouldn’t be too hard on his family. We don’t know how long or how much they’ve done or endured in the face of his severely resistant break from reality.

      1. fposte*

        For that matter, they may have cut him off if he’s just an asshole. I have some sympathy for his disorder, but assholes have disorders too, and that doesn’t mean I want to deal with them.

      2. Marthooh*

        “In the documentary he mentioned being estranged from his family because they would not accommodate his wheelchair.”

        It doesn’t say his family cut him off. It’s equally likely that he cut them off.

        1. Observer*

          Yeah. Was he expecting people to redo their homes to have ramps? Redo doors and hallways to accommodate his wheelchair?

          Accommodating a wheelchair can be an expensive proposition in many cases.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Everyone has a breaking point. Most homeless people have mental illness as well and have been cut off from their families. Sometimes it’s because their families are horrible unfeeling people. Other times it’s because the person would steal, physically harm members of the family, burn their houses down, etc.

      You cannot get people hospitalized anymore. We don’t even have the institutions any longer where a lot of people were housed prior to dissolving the system due to budgets. You cannot force people to take medication or seek help.

      So if a family is exhausted, they shouldn’t be shamed for cutting ties. You just don’t know enough. Until you’re in their shoes.

      1. Lilo*

        My sister-in-law got so much crap for leaving her husband who had PTSD, because “but he’s sick”. Didn’t make the things he did to her okay.

        1. Kathlynn*

          Yeah, there is definitely a difference between leaving someone just because they have [issue] and leaving someone because of how [issue] negatively affects you.

    3. Engineer Girl*

      The family has to live with he person and their delusions 24/7. Many times they are utterly exhausted. They’ve been repeatedly hurt. And Drew has refused treatment.

      Until you’ve been in that situation you have no idea how soil destroying it is. You can’t expect others to self destruct with you.

  18. DoctorateStrange*

    My hear goes out to Drew’s friends. Can you imagine confiding so many personal matters with someone you think goes through the same things you do, can you imagine being vulnerable with a person you thought would be there for you and not for his ego? Can you imagine finding out that this person lied to you.

    Drew KNOWINGLY lied to these people. Whether or not he understands he is sick, he still had to know that he was lying about a condition to people, that he was making a facade in order to get attention. He needs help, but he also needs to not use other people—let’s not forget that he possibly took positions for disability activists that actual people with disabilities could have gotten.

  19. Knitting Cat Lady*

    I think I saw an episode of some cop show years ago where a guy with BID had a back alley amputation and died of sepsis…

    1. Liz T*

      Law & Order I think! I remember the character of a weird Dutch doctor who was like, “I wish I could’ve helped him but legally I couldn’t.”

  20. Granny K*

    Also not a doctor, but I think if he continues to not utilize his legs, won’t his muscles atrophy and he’ll really need a wheel chair? (AKA ‘use it or lose it’.)
    I share the frustration of some of the other commenters in that there are so many people who struggle with ambulatory issues who would switch places in a heartbeat–my mother included; she used to be active in community theater and now has Parkinson’s and has walking issues and a lot of leg pain. She’s not in a wheel chair yet, but Parkinson’s is a progressive disease, so at some point, this may happen. I have really taken my (mostly good) health for granted. I no longer complain about parking far away because I’m much more aware of how easy it is for me to get around.

    1. Observer*

      I totally do get the frustration. For me it sort of reinforces that this is a mental illness. He’s constructing a whole fantasy life around himself. Andhe’s doing it the face people who are rejecting him left, right and center because it’s SOOOO upsetting, frustrating and hurtful.

      Part of me wants to shake him and say “Do you not see what’s going on around you?!?!?!?” But the answer is clearly “No.” How?!

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      It sounds like he does still use his legs though based on the description of the documentary.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      The documentary showed him running. He’s only in the chair in public it sounds like.

      He’s still working out and staying fit with chair athletics. So I’m not too worried for his physical health.

  21. Seacalliope*

    This makes me think of Body Integrity Identity Disorder, where someone feels that a part of their body is in some way alien, does not wish to use it, often wishes for it to be amputated. So he may not have been faker as one would typically think of it.

  22. Kate R*

    Wow. I don’t know how to feel about this situation because on the one hand, I understand why people feel deceived by Drew, particularly his friends with disabilities who can’t chose not to have the inconvenience that comes with that. But on the other, given how much Drew has lost due to this, I have to believe this is not a choice for him either. I basically feel sad for everybody.

    About that last paragraph though, I believe another commenter mentioned a similar situation where they had a colleague who used a wheelchair but didn’t need to, and in that case, the office already had wider doors and wheelchair ramps. The manager rearranged the layout of the desks to make it easier for the colleague to get around, but the colleague still accused the manager of being ableist. They were not trying to claim that had happened with Drew.

    1. she was a fast machine*

      Your point about how much Drew has also lost is good. It’s a shame, because his refusal to acknowledge his illness is hurting him as well as others. It’s okay to feel sorry for him, in the same way it’s okay to feel sorry for people who have attempted suicide; their minds have convinced them that something that hurts them will help them, and it’s sad for them and those around them who are effected by their illness and the actions they take while suffering from it.

  23. Tammy*

    I really struggle with the judgements against Drew. On the one hand, I am definitely sympathetic to the argument that his actions cause measurable harm to people who are disabled and don’t have the choice to “opt out” when things get hard for him. On the other hand, many of the accusations being leveled against Drew – “he’s delusional”, “he’s mutilating his body”, “he’s mentally disturbed” – are also accusations that real people have leveled against me as a transgender woman.

    Being trans is much more common, and (relatively) more socially acceptable, than BID, but I’m hard-pressed to articulate a logically coherent argument for why they’re different. My internal identity is at odds with the body I was born into, this caused me intense distress, and I’ve sought out medical interventions including multiple surgical procedures to conform my body to my internal identity. In the course of so doing, I’ve surgically modified biologically healthy tissue and organs, and have in fact had to undergo multiple psychological evaluations because my simple “informed consent” for those procedures was not considered sufficient. In fact, it wasn’t even sufficient for procedures (breast augmentation) for which informed consent is sufficient for cisgender women. And there are people who argue passionately that what I’ve done is wrong, that it harms cisgender women, that I’m deceiving the world and lying about who I am, even that having sex with someone without disclosing my trans status should be viewed as rape.

    Where’s the logically coherent and principled argument that says what I’ve done is qualitatively different than what Drew is doing and would do if the medical community cooperated? I’m not sure I can articulate why it’s different.

    1. Tammy*

      Also: I don’t necessarily believe that BID and being transgender are the same thing. I’m just hard pressed to articulate a logically coherent reason why they’re not.

      1. Autumnheart*

        Here’s what I came up with, and since I’m not trans, others please feel free to correct me. But I have had cosmetic surgery. To me, the clutch point seems to be that the vast majority of people who seek out any kind of surgical solution want to fall WITHIN the common mean of physical appearance for that gender. Not outside of it. There are literally millions of women who get breast implants, and thousands of plastic surgeons who perform the surgery, but I’d be willing to bet that it would be very difficult to find a surgeon who would give someone three breasts. There’s Jocelyn Wildenstein, who had facial surgery to make her look like a cat, but I’d be willing to bet that surgeons who want to maintain their good standing on medical boards would never agree to do such a thing.

        Trans people aren’t trying to chop off body parts just for the sake of it, they’re trying to fit within the common mean of physical appearance for whichever gender they’re transitioning to. Right? I’m a cishet woman and if I woke up tomorrow with a penis, I would certainly feel weird about it. Actually, real example, because I have breast implants and they have a greater-than-zero chance of deflating (knock wood), I really could wake up one day with only one breast, and you bet I would feel very upset about it–even though they’re not actually my real body parts and I would still have my original breast intact. But my own sense of bodily integrity felt so much more fulfilled post-surgery, and I would certainly seek to re-establish that if it happened. I’m sure trans people are working from a similar motivation to make their outside match their internal ideal of themselves, especially if it is achievable through legal and ethical methods.

        With cosmetic surgery in general, there’s also a factor for potential clients where they must have a generally good self-esteem and be able to articulate *finite* changes that they want to make. For instance: “I feel overall good about myself, but I’ve always felt insecure about the bump on my nose and would like it removed” vs. “I just feel ugly and worthless, and my life would be better if I were more attractive”. The first is about changing a feature, and the second is about changing who you are as a person. To me (again, not trans, please correct me), it seems like having gender reassignment surgery is about the former and not about the latter. I wasn’t a different person after having breast implants, but what I saw in the mirror was more “me” to me. I would think that most trans people approach gender reassignment surgery with a similar goal.

    2. she was a fast machine*

      As a purely internet speculator, all I can come up with is that BID usually requires a permanent loss of something that has no equivalent. You physically transitioned from your assigned gender at birth to your correct gender, and didn’t “lose” anything that you didn’t also get a “gain” from. Doctors who helped you did not “harm” you because they weren’t flat-out removing any trace of sexual organs, male or female. Whereas, for Drew, if a doctor were to render him truly paralyzed, he would “lose” his legs, and that would be “harm” from the doctor.

      That’s the only thing I can come up with to explain why we feel so strongly about BID. It’s a different animal entirely.

      1. SignalLost*

        I think you’re correct. The issue isn’t that these are fundamentally different experiences, but where bioethics draws the line. I expect it’s likely to change over time, and maybe Drew will be able to get that form of treatment, but right now, surgical correction for gender identity issues is seen as comparatively reasonable. (I still know at least one person who had a doc refuse to help him transition because “you’re such an attractive woman though.” Hence why I say comparatively reasonable.)

      2. Avyncentia*

        Cisgender female here. Thanks Tammy for this post because this question about how Drew’s situation is different from being trans is the first thing that popped into my mind. The 2 situations do feel different and I’m not sure why. After all, isn’t one of the things you do before a physical gender transition is to live as the correct gender? It sounds like Drew is trying to do something similar here.

        Maybe the difference is societal, not philosophical.

      3. Close Bracket*

        “Whereas, for Drew, if a doctor were to render him truly paralyzed, he would ‘lose’ his legs, and that would be ‘harm’ from the doctor.”

        Whether or not losing the use of one’s limbs, or developing or having anything regarded as a disability, is harmful a subject of considerable debate. It’s a question of whether the person is disabled because they cannot use their legs or is society disabling because we don’t build buildings with ramps. You can substitute in a number of disabilities there- deafness, autism, etc. These are serious questions in disability communities, and there is no uniform answer. Some deaf people reject cochlear implants on the basis that hearing is not superior to non-hearing. For me, if there were a way to become neurotypical, I’d be all over that like white on rice.

        You can even ask similar questions about being trans- do trans people need to have multiple surgical procedures to conform their body to their internal identity? Lots of trans women don’t want bottom surgery. Lots of trans women do want bottom surgery. Is the problem that they have externals that don’t match their gender or is the problem that society does not accept women who have a penis?

        With regard to Drew- is Drew disabled due to a mental health problem or does society disable him by not accepting his wheelchair use? Perhaps his pretending to paraplegic would be less harmful to people with physical disabilities if society were less disabling toward them in the first place. Would it be such a big deal that he plays in wheelchair sports leagues if society didn’t disable paraplegics by segregating them into separate sports leagues from able-bodied people? Would he be actively harming actual paraplegics if parts of society didn’t consider them to be fakers or just not trying hard enough to walk? So we are back to disabled vs. disabling.

        I don’t have good answers. We live in the world we have, which is disabling, so I’m voting for Drew to be kicked off his sports teams and rooting for a cure for my autism. But like Tammy, I’m struggling with judgements.

        1. Olive Hornby*

          > Perhaps his pretending to paraplegic would be less harmful to people with physical disabilities if society were less disabling toward them in the first place.

          This is a really smart and clarifying point.

        2. she was a fast machine*

          I totally agree with your first sentence there; I was concerned that my post didn’t really address the complicated nature of disability. It’s something that is hard to tackle in a lot of ways.

          However, I’m not sure about the debate of disabled vs. society disabling people. It feels like it dances around the subject too much, but I’m not disabled nor do I have any knowledge of their experiences so I can’t really even begin to tackle that.

        3. Starbuck*

          “Is the problem that they have externals that don’t match their gender or is the problem that society does not accept women who have a penis?”

          I think an additional problem is that our society has very little acceptance for people who chose to express their gender outside the rigid binary we’ve set up, which in particular punishes men for being feminine but also women who are “too” masculine.

      4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I think it’s because reproductive organs are already removed and seen as disposable in some sense. So it’s like getting a breast enhancement or reduction.

        Whereas limbs aren’t viewed as optional. An amputation is the absolute last resort in all amputation situations. Or just clipping someone’s spine to remove movement.

        1. she was a fast machine*

          Yes, exactly what I meant. Society places a large value on functioning appendages, including sex organs (look at men who have ED or women who can’t conceive), but it’s socially acceptable to intentionally disable your reproductive capabilities because they don’t outwardly show (usually) and it causes no issues for anyone else.

        2. Eliza*

          Well, it depends on how strictly you define “absolute last resort”. I know someone who was born with a deformed foot that caused him chronic pain and limited his mobility, and while he could have just put up with it for the rest of his life, he concluded after consultation with his doctors that his quality of life would be better if it were removed and replaced with a prosthetic foot. I think the difference, to the extent that there is one, is that we see the quality-of-life calculation being made as to whether to keep a limb or not as more “objective” and the calculation of whether to have a functional reproductive system or not as more “personal”. But that’s still partly a matter of external perception and not necessarily reassuring to the person whose limb or ability to walk feels fundamentally alien to them.

      5. SarahTheEntwife*

        Some nonbinary people would prefer to not have any external sexual characteristics, and I don’t think that would be akin to wanting to be disabled.

      6. nonegiven*

        I wonder if Drew was born feeling that way, was there a point where it started, or did it come on gradually?

        Sounds more neurological than mental to me, idk.

    3. just my opinion*

      I’m glad someone said this because I was thinking the same thing, but was afraid to say it lest everyone jump down my throat.

    4. Old Admin*

      Tammy wrote:
      “Being trans is much more common, and (relatively) more socially acceptable, than BID, but I’m hard-pressed to articulate a logically coherent argument for why they’re different.”
      “Where’s the logically coherent and principled argument that says what I’ve done is qualitatively different than what Drew is doing and would do if the medical community cooperated? I’m not sure I can articulate why it’s different.”

      That’s very thoughtful, Tammy, and I had to pause for a bit before answering (especially as I’ve previously attempted to compare BID and trans issues in these comments. Maybe that was hasty.).
      Here’s my take:
      Consider being trans, in the classic sense of striving for a full, convincing cosmetic / physical change (let’s not talk about genderqueer just now). In that sense, a person wants to change from one accepted gender to the *other* gender.
      Meaning the target “state of being” is desirable, well known, socially accepted, integrated, be it as a “man” or a “woman” (yes, there are status issues yadda yadda).

      Here’s the thing.
      Drew wants leave a desirable state of existence, and NOT exchange it for a physical state many of us would consider desirable. Instead, his “target state” is to be “less”, someone we’ve been taught to pity, perhaps a victim, definitely a state of being many of us are deeply AFRAID of.
      I think this fear and pity bubbles up in our our emotions and makes BID feel different.
      Just saying, as well as I can.

      1. Close Bracket*

        > Drew wants leave a desirable state of existence, and NOT exchange it for a physical state many of us would consider desirable.

        I suggest you check in the disability community on what’s considered less desirable before making these declarations. Also, women are a marginalized group, so trans women ARE exchanging a desirable state for a lesser state.

          1. Close Bracket*

            Then you must be familiar with people who have disabilities who would take offense at such a declarative statement regarding disability.

        1. Girl friday*

          You can’t say someone is mentally ill for wishing to be paralyzed, because being paralyzed could be seen as a neutral state. You can say someone is mentally ill for seeking to be paralyzed. Hopefully that is the tack the company will take.

        2. GotMyAnonymousGlassesOn*

          It’s an undesirable lesser state to be a woman because women are marginalized. Disabled people are also marginalized, but it’s offensive to suggest being disabled might be undesirable.


        3. Maya Elena*

          I’m not convinced being a woman is so oppressive that it is comparable to not being able to walk.

          1. Close Bracket*

            Everybody’s experience with their own body is personal, and there are disabled people, including women, who will agree with you, and there are disabled people, including women, who would reverse your statement. The point is avoiding making these declarations as though they are true for everyone.

        4. she was a fast machine*

          Okay, but the point is not that the disabled community finds it less desirable, it’s that society at large sees it as less desirable. Which might or might not be correct or accurate, but it is factual.

        5. stitchinthyme*

          I get what Old Admin is trying to say. I get that people who aren’t what most of us think as “normal” or “typical” — people who are blind, or deaf, or paralyzed, or have autism, or whatever — often are fine with their differences, and even build cultures around them that they love and have no desire to leave. Obviously there’s nothing at all wrong with that. But someone who has a perfectly healthy and functional body who wants to make that body LESS functional, by amputating a limb or cutting their spinal cord or whatever…well, that state may in fact be more desirable to them, but it makes sense that doctors who ethically bound to “do no harm” would have a problem with complying, even if it would help the person’s mental state. Transgender people don’t want to be less functional; they want to be differently functional.

          And someone who pretends to be disabled when they’re really not is always going to be doing harm to actual disabled people, either by using resources that they shouldn’t or else by damaging the credibility of the disabled community if they’re found out. A transgender person is harming no one by presenting as the gender they wish to be. (I know that “wish to be” isn’t the right wording, but I can’t think of how to put it. “The gender they really are” may be more accurate. Not sure.)

          1. Old Admin*

            @she was a fast machine, @stitchinthyme:
            Yes, that is exactly what I mean.
            The *general social construct* of the perceived target “state of being” differs – the other gender versus disabled.
            I get it that a group of disabled / autistic / etc. etc. people will form a culture of mutual support, respect, and celebration, and still society at large will see their state of being as “less desirable”. And that’s the difference to the (only partial) societal acceptance of being trans I was kinda feeling.

            I also am intrigued by fposte’s take that maybe our perception of transablism will change in a few decades. Maybe our discussion will fall by the wayside!

            I am sharing an office with a disabled colleague who is very happy to have a job and comparatively normal life with certain limitations – I find I can’t muster the courage to discuss the original post and update with him. When I imagine someone faking my own physical issue, I don’t feel well either…
            BTW, psychiatry has described disability based on mental issues for over a hundred years (see “hysterical blindness” etc.)!

      2. LurkieLoo*

        I think this hits on the exact heart of the difference. If you were born a man and passed as a woman (and/or had the surgeries), I might feel pity for you in the sense that your life and choices were not easy to make, but I am not going to see you as a woman and feel any tug of pity or compassion or sympathy BECAUSE you’re a woman or because you were previously a man.

        I feel compassion and sympathy for able-bodied Drew because he is facing similar struggles. However, I feel sympathy and compassion for disabled Drew because he’s disabled. Except he’s not, which would make me feel taken advantage of and played as a fool if I were in his acquaintance circle.

        So while his internal and mental struggle is very similar, it is hard as an outsider to equate the two. I don’t feel inherently compassionate towards any gender, but I do feel inherently compassionate towards people with obvious disabilities.

        On the other hand, I frequented a coffee shop every week for a number of years and a man was also there frequently at the same time who was in a wheelchair. If he one day just got up and started dancing around, I would be shocked, but I wouldn’t feel betrayed. I might even find him more interesting. If I were dating a man and then found out he used to be a woman, I would.

        Man, this is freaking complicated!!

        (Too bad he couldn’t donate his legs to someone.)

        1. LurkieLoo*

          That should be I would feel betrayed if I found out the man I was dating used to be a woman, not that I would find him more interesting. Although . . . if he told me up front, I might find him more interesting.

          Still complicated.

          1. char*

            Your comments – in which you imply that trans people can be objects of pity but never sympathy or compassion; that trans people are not actually the gender we say we are; and that somehow just by having a past you didn’t expect a trans person who dated you would be “betraying” you – are very rude.

            Also, the phrasing of “used to be a woman/man” is not great.

            1. LurkieLoo*

              I think you are misreading my comments and assigning them intent and meaning that just is not there.

              I did not in any way imply that trans people can be an object of pity. I should not have used pity at all because sympathy/compassion are definitely a better general description of my feelings. My apologies for that.

              However, I stand by “I am not going to see you as a woman and feel any tug of pity or compassion or sympathy BECAUSE you’re a woman. . . ” Why would I? You are just a human. I am not going to feel any of those based on only on your gender. I do not pass random strangers and feel sympathy or compassion directly for them without any interaction. Unless you are giving me an outward sign that tugs at my heartstrings. i.e. wheelchair, missing leg, crying on the subway, asking for spare change, spilling your life story, etc. Even then, your gender (my perception of or your reality of) is going to have very little to do with it.

              I do feel that THAT kind of past is something you actually tell someone at some point. If I found out via documentary, I would absolutely FEEL betrayed. There are many paths from that pivotal point of feeling to the future, though. I suppose you’ve never felt betrayed by anyone you loved?

              I would not be immediately ok with someone I loved and knew as being wheelchair bound all of a sudden showing up on a documentary saying they are not wheelchair bound, either, FWIW.

              Thank you for the education on my comments. I will definitely choose my phrasing more carefully in the future keeping in mind that a trans person has always been the gender they say they are and any alterations to look more that way (surgery, clothing, makeup, etc.) does not actually change who they actually are and have been.

      3. Courageous cat*

        Maybe it’s also because gender is a social construct/not technically real, and physical ability is? I actually don’t know, I’m just hazarding a guess at this point – they’re definitely different to me, and I can’t quite pin why either.

    5. Dan*


      Thanks for bringing this up, because I wanted to and don’t think I could have without people jumping down my throat.

      I really don’t think there’s a difference in the slightest = at least with specific reference to Drew, who is not receiving accommodation for his lifestyle choice. OTOH, if Drew were receiving disability benefits or receiving any sort of tangible accommodation, I’d start to take issue because that would likely meet the legal definition of fraud. (I do have an issue with the parking pass, but that’s about it.)

      Some people want there to be a difference, but in reality, they’re both circumstances that as you eloquently put it, leave people with an internal conflict between their psychological identity and the body with which you were born. I can’t begin to understand what that is like, nor criticize what people do in response to that.

    6. animaniactoo*

      Once you’ve gone through all the counseling and surgery and so on – at the end of the day, are you able to live a full life, physically capable of doing anything that you would like to do? What’s the level of ongoing accommodation that it takes to live that life? Financially, physically, etc.?

      I admit that I don’t know enough to really know the answers to those questions and that’s why I’m asking. My sense is that there’s a higher risk for some things. That there is some upkeep/maintenance stuff that’s necessary. But that it’s comparatively low-impact and easily doable. That the requirements for accommodation from the rest of society are primary internal view ones – not things they have to make active physical or financial accommodations for that aren’t being made for people in general as a base state of being humans with basic body functions that need to be dealt with.

      1. fposte*

        Honestly, I really wonder how something like this will be treated culturally in 20-50 years. We’re already accustomed to considerable physical/surgical intervention for purely cosmetic reasons, and I think a lot of the reasons people push back against this have to do with contemporary models of disability that are themselves problematic. But I also think that we often simplify complex issues when it comes to identity and autonomy when we’re fighting for rights (I always disliked the “born this way” justification for GLBTQ rights, for instance, as if you’d be less entitled to be gay if your identity developed later), and sometimes bits of the baby get thrown out with the bathwater there.

        For me the part that hits a sore spot, much more than the parking place, is the Rachel Dolezal part where he’s an activist speaking for other people about an experience that is more theirs than his. While Dolezal is probably the most famous recent figure, that’s pretty common with Native identity claims, and not just the 1/16th Cherokee BS–think of people like Jamake Highwater and Michael Dorris, whose public identity was predicated on a Native identity that was at best tenuous and possibly nonexistent. I don’t think you could get that far with such a claim these days–it would be much more Rachel Dolezal–but it hits that vein of fetishization of an other that ends up displacing those voices, which is unfortunately not uncommon with any kind of minority.

        1. Old Admin*

          fposte wrote:
          “For me the part that hits a sore spot, much more than the parking place, is the Rachel Dolezal part where he’s an activist speaking for other people about an experience that is more theirs than his.”

          Yes, after carefully rereading the original post and the update, that is starting to grate on me, too. My sympathy extends more to Drew not proselytizing at work, being nice etc. – but the disabled activism was wrong. It’s sort of over identifying with the cause… kind of like being Super Wheelchair Man.
          To get back to the trans comparison – I’ve actually know a transwoman get flak from cis women for trying to demonstrate for womens’ rights, citing her lack of experience. Were they right? Were they wrong?
          This world is damn confusing.

          1. LilyP*

            Since trans women are and always have been women (even before they come out or make any physical or habitual changes), they are and always have been affected personally/mentally by the misogyny in our society, so they have standing to participate in activism as a member of the oppressed group. I wonder if you can apply the same logic to Drew, in that if he truly does see himself as disabled, is he in some sense truly harmed by (at least the mental/social aspects of) ableism in our society? Obviously there’s more of a physical dimension to his case though since he doesn’t have to deal with the practical problems caused by ableism in our society or any of the pain/expense/inconvenience of an actual disability.

            1. Detective Amy Santiago*

              I don’t disagree with what you’re saying here, but I do think you’re missing the nuance that trans women may have also benefited from our patriarchal society when they were presenting as cis men. It makes their experience different from that of a cis woman, I think. And I think the same thing can be said for Drew.

          2. Starbuck*

            I think part of the issue is the constant conflation and confusion people make between gender and sex. Trans women aren’t subject to sex-based oppression (female reproductive rights issues, FGM, etc. ) so it’s true they really can’t speak to that. Part of the issue some women see is also eroding women’s sex-based protections by redefining them as gender-based protections- those should be added, not exchanged.

        2. she was a fast machine*

          I agree. That is pretty much the point where my sympathy for Drew ends, because it’s a pretty clear fertilization of “the other”, in this case being disabled.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            I just noticed that what I assume was supposed to be “fetishization” was autocorrected to “fertilization” in your comment and it’s somehow hilariously appropriate.

        3. animaniactoo*

          Yeah, I wobble on this in places. Apart from my wide reading and love of sci-fi, and the widespread idea of cyborgs and their acceptance/dismissal stories, I look at current day athletes who are willing to amputate limbs in order to be fitted with prosthetics that are more effective from a physics standpoint than their own limbs are.

          I think to some extent, we all get the idea of wanting to be “better”, to accepting changes in the name of “improvement”.

          I think the struggle becomes when are we looking at accommodating and assisting major self-harm and when are we simply accepting different as just as worthy of a goal as improvement? Because I would be outright insulted if somebody said becoming a woman was detrimental because being a woman is less desirable *in general* than being a man. But by the same token, I don’t like the idea that being a woman would be seen as an improvement *in general* than being a man. Is it different? Yes. But I can’t say better/worse.

          However, when you look at the range of body dysmorphia that starts to fall under eating disorders – anorexia and so on – you’re in the range of “assisting or accepting this is helping someone hurt themselves quite badly.”

          So – change for exchange or for improvement? May not be for me, and I may think some forms are going too far, but I can see how those are practical realistic solutions for internal identity not matching external identity. Change in a manner that creates a purposeful handicap without a benefit other than to match internal dialogue? I can’t see that as being healthy or whole. And I think that in general, we agree that not having legs is a difficulty not an exchange. But then that brings up Jen Bricker to me. (If you don’t know who that is, Google her, and find the HBO Real Sports piece “Secret Sisters” about her and her sister. If you can’t find that, look for any video of her in action. She’s amazing. Ah-Mazing.)

          1. fposte*

            I think that so much of “healthy” and “whole” is rooted in an ableist medical model, though, that it’s really hard to consider that an objective judgment. (I don’t have any alternative proposal because I don’t think there *is* an objective judgment.) To many Deaf people, cochlear implants are “change in a manner that creates a purposeful handicap,” and it doesn’t even map onto an internal model.

            I really like the British TV show The Last Leg, which started as commentary on the British Paralympics and then just kept going as a regular topical panel show (like, Amy Poehler has been on it, and Al Gore, surprisingly); their tagline is “Three guys with four legs talking about the week.” (The running joke is that they’re still trying to figure out the disability of one of the presenters.) Obviously the Paralympic coverage is cool, but even beyond that there’s a nuts-and-bolts approach to disability that makes it discussable and matter-of-fact, like the biting humor pieces they did about the recent big reconsideration of disability benefits. The main host, Adam Hills, always has a sign interpreter (one for British when he’s in Britain and one for Auslan in Australia, since the languages are different), and between that and the topicality there’s an unusually visible mix of ability identities at his shows. I would love to hear what the Last Leg guys thought of Gerald. It could go all kinds of ways.

            1. animaniactoo*

              I think that so much of “healthy” and “whole” is rooted in an ableist medical model, though, that it’s really hard to consider that an objective judgment.

              Yes, that’s what I was talking about at the end when I then have to step back and look at Jen Bricker.

              I’m not familiar with The Last Leg, I’ll have to check it out.

              Who is Gerald? Did I miss something?

              1. fposte*

                Oh, wow, that name is nothing like Drew, is it? I really should scroll up to check in future.

                (Now I’m wondering where I got “Gerald.”)

            2. stitchinthyme*

              I think there’s a difference between being deaf and not wanting to change that, and having normal hearing and wanting to be deaf, though. And that’s really the distinction here. This isn’t someone who is paralyzed and has a chance to not be paralyzed and chooses not to do it; it’s someone who is not paralyzed and wants to be.

              I’m hearing-impaired myself, but I still have enough hearing to get by with hearing aids, and am looking into a cochlear implant. But my hearing loss started when I was 30, so I was never part of the Deaf culture and wouldn’t presume to think of myself as part of it. And having had normal hearing for my first 30 years, I’d really love to have it back. I suspect (without having done any research whatsoever on the topic) that when you lose your hearing is a huge factor in terms of whether you’re fine with it vs. whether you’d like to “fix” it.

              1. Detective Amy Santiago*

                This is a great point especially since cochlear implants are very controversial in the Deaf community.

    7. Anonanon*

      I can see the similarities, and appreciate your comment, but Drew’s physical capability poses a distinct difference. I guess where I land is based on the physical capabilities of Drew vs. someone who is confined to a wheel chair. OP mentions he did not require special accommodations at work, but in all likelihood, his disabled peers do and find struggles in it. The only comparison I can come up with is public bathroom use, but even that isn’t an equal comparison. The difference I suppose is safety vs. ability. Also, someone with a disability requires a safe option for evacuation or finding shelter in an emergency.

      1. fposte*

        The thing is, most people who use wheelchairs aren’t “confined” to them. I think that’s a usage–and I don’t mean to nitpick it, as it’s pretty common–that’s reflective of a view of disability that, ironically, people who are disabled tend not to like much. And I think so much of people’s response to Drew is rooted in what we think the disabled “really” are and really “deserve” (not quoting anybody, just drawing attention to the weirdness of those concepts) that it can reveal some cultural practices around disability that aren’t great in their own right even before Drew got there.

      2. Lilo*

        I mean, to be blunt, Drew wouldn’t find himself painfully trapped on the floor after slipping and falling out of his chair, hoping someone would come by to help him. This happened to a friend of mine who lost her leg to bone cancer. Or dealt with the sores around a prosthesis that wasn’t fitting correctly. So we can hem and haw about “desireables” and all that, but people who do actually lose limbs and get paralyzed suffer a whole lot of pain and difficulty.

    8. Becca*

      As horrifying a thought as it is to me… I’ve considered that it might in fact be similar and the best treatment for him might actually be to let him transition. (Although I like she was a fast machine’s thoughts about it as well.)
      But… at the same time I understand the absolute inability of someone who’s struggling with a disability to understand why someone would deliberately choose it.
      On the other hand, if trans people have different brain scans I wonder how this sort of thing might be measured that way. Not to say it couldn’t be, but if a trans woman’s brain is closer to a woman’s brain than a man’s (I believe?) what would a… “trans disabled” person’s brain look like? And would it indicate that it can be treated with therapy or that they would need to transition to feel fully themselves?
      I think at the place society is now (if indeed it’s something that’s best treated by “transitioning” that is) his best option might be to live as disabled while being open about his struggles, but… I think that he’d be inviting rejection by doing so… and I really do get why disabled people in particular still wouldn’t be accepting.
      It’s a tough one all around…

      1. fposte*

        It may be interesting also to consider how identity can work with communities like Deaf people and little people–that within a social model of disability, people in the group don’t find it anathema to, for instance, hope that their children will be Deaf or little. That can be a really hard notion for people outside the group who view these characteristics as disabilities that make life harder and that you should wish to be spared, when within the group they can be key to an important identity.

        1. Thursday Next*

          I think these particular communities help show the social constructedness of disability more than many others. Spaces are configured for people of “average” height, for instance, which makes them inaccessible to little people; height only matters because it’s been made to matter.

          What makes Drew’s situation a particularly challenging one to think through for me is that “people who use wheelchairs” isn’t a coherent category in the same way that being Deaf is. Some people can walk short distances but need wheelchairs for longer ones, some people are affected by degenerative conditions with cognitive effects, some people have been in accidents, some people have never walked…it’s such a heterogeneous category. And it’s much harder for me to conclude that all of these disabilities are socially constructed in the same way that being a little person or Deaf is. It’s not all about wheelchair ramps and elevators; the conditions that result in many people needing to use wheelchairs are often complex and can have a whole range of other implications.

          I think there is a cultural value placed on bodily autonomy, and some people cannot achieve that, even with accommodations. A personwith a neurological condition that necessitates her using a wheelchair, causes her to be nonverbal and noncommunicative, and compels her to wear diapers isn’t experiencing disability purely as a social construct, and I think I this is where analogies to other communities break down.

          fposte, I want to thank you for your compassionate, even-handed and thoughtful comments on this update.

      2. ElspethGC*

        “what would a… “trans disabled” person’s brain look like? And would it indicate that it can be treated with therapy or that they would need to transition to feel fully themselves?”

        Preliminary research into BIID suggests that there’s a genuine disconnect between the brain and the part of the body seen as ‘wrong’. People with BIID can draw a line to within millimetres of where the brain begins to register signals from nerves differently to how it registers the rest of the body. It’s like the messages aren’t quite getting from the body part to the brain, or they’re getting scrambled on the way, and the brain registers it as a body part that doesn’t belong, that shouldn’t be there. I can’t find the paper now, but I think someone upthread has linked it.

      3. SarahTheEntwife*

        The brain scan studies are really dubious (yes, overal there are some broad differences between men’s and women’s brain scans but they vary enormously within each group) and completely leave out anyone outside the gender binary. I really don’t want to get to a place where you have to have a brain scan to decide whether you “count” as trans.

    9. Oliver*

      Another trans person here – I agree that there’s a lot in Drew’s story that seems to echo the trans experience. For me the difference is that that gender is an internal experience, separate from biological sex or sexuality, whereas physical disability stems from an external experience relating to your body. A gender transition is about actualization: trans women/men/nonbinary people were always women/men/nonbinary regardless of gender assigned at birth. They’re not a “woman becoming a man” etc. Contrastingly, I’m able bodied but if something happened to me I could become disabled. I wouldn’t have been disabled all my life.

      That said, the definition of gender I used in my argument would have been widely discredited even at the beginning of this decade. So perhaps my current understanding of what constitutes physical disability is actually limited. And the question seems to be whether Drew’s internal experience of being disabled is a mental illness (that ought to be cured) or whether it’s “legitimate”. The most solid argument for the former is that he might be doing harm to disabled people, but I want to echo what Close Bracket said “Perhaps his pretending to paraplegic would be less harmful to people with physical disabilities if society were less disabling toward them in the first place.”

    10. Tammy*

      Just chiming in here to thank everyone for a very reasoned and thoughtful conversation on this issue. I think we’ve hit some pretty key themes about transphobia, ableism, and how society looks at those issues. I think we’ve also underlined that human experience is complicated and it’s an awfully tricky thing to say that we have the right to decide whether someone else’s experience is valid or not. I still don’t have any good answers for myself to the question I posed, but I feel glad I posed it. Thank you, all!

      1. Old Admin*

        It was a pleasure to discuss things and read the responses here, especially with disabled and trans people like Tammy, Oliver et al. adding their voices.
        I actually stayed up late to read the comments. :-)

    11. neverbesatisfied*

      Long time reader, first time responder to AAM – this letter and all the comments have me so intrigued I’ve been pondering it for hours.

      Where I’ve landed is – the difference between Drew’s situation and being trans is less about the cause of the mental self-perception but rather the possible ramifications / irreversibility of the desired “fix”.

      Speaking as a cis woman – so please correct me if I’m wrong – there are differences in the brains of trans women and cis men, such that trans women have always felt themselves to be women. Whether it would be “better” for trans people to wish their bodies match their brains, or their brains match their bodies, is not anyone else’s place to judge. Similarly for Drew, he feels himself to be paralyzed, and while it’s easy for me to THINK he should prefer his brain to match his able body rather than his wish for his body to match his paralyzed brain, I’ll accept that it’s not my call to make.

      (This is also why I’m not subscribing to the argument made in other places that Drew KNOWS he isn’t paralyzed and therefore he’s choosing to be a liar. A trans woman knows she has a penis, yet she knows at her core she is a woman. Drew knows his legs work, yet he knows at his core he’s a paralyzed person.)

      But the big difference to me is the 1) reversibility and 2) extent of impact of the desired fix. Most cosmetic surgery is justified this way (reversible or low level impact). Breast implants can be taken out, dental implants can be removed, a vasectomy can be reversed, etc. Maybe to varying levels of success, but it can be tried. And even for larger scale surgeries which are irreversible – such as a woman having an elective hysterectomy and later deciding she wants to get pregnant after all – we as a society can think, “There are options such as adopting or not becoming a parent,” and even not becoming a parent, or having a botched cosmetic surgery, awful as it may be to the person who wants otherwise, you can still go about your daily life, you can still function.

      Amputation or paralysis is permanent and irreversible. There’s no going back if he changes his mind, or if his therapy and brain chemistry every change. It makes him a permanent dependent. It lessens his options. It greatly lessens his options and quality of life when he becomes elderly. It takes away so much of his autonomy.

      And I’m saying this as a person who grew up in normal health and 2 years ago (in my 30s) started to have an immediate and chronic decline in my walking and stamina, for still unknown causes. I guess I have the opposite problem as Drew in that I have these physical problems and would love nothing more than to be able to get rid of them! To walk more than a few blocks, to stand in line, to work outside my home, to talk more than a few hours a week, to do my own laundry, to shower daily. To say nothing of actual socializing, which is beyond my wildest imagining now, all my energy is used to keep the barest level of independence and function. It feels so….disabling. There is a reason the word “disabled”; I’m not able. My life is gone. I feel like I’m a person who died and now there is a 2nd person who I am now and I don’t know this person. I wouldn’t have said this the first few months after these symptoms started but after almost 2 years of it and no change other than decline…it’s how I feel. My mood, my personality, the person I used to be, the person who enjoyed living, that person has died.

      Sorry for the long personal derail! But what I mean is – the true tragedy is if Drew ever did get his desired “treatment” – and at some point his brain chemistry changed, or his emotional trauma (if there is any) was treated, and he wished he could walk again but he truly never could! Too late.

      A trans person having surgery – is exchanging a male body for a female body or vice versa, but as I understand it, it’s still a functioning body. The new body is not one that requires a lifetime of post-surgical care and equipment to simply physically live. The new body is not one that will leave this person incapacitated for life, especially into old age. The new body is not one that will leave this person dead in months without health insurance. All of which would be true of Drew.

      So where I land is, if Drew wants to live as a person in a wheelchair, bear no weight on his legs even in private, view himself as a paralyzed person, that’s his business – but doctors should not go along with it! My line is how far it is to come back from, and how far of an impact it would have on your life – your whole life.

      Maybe this is the best test – the valid point above about communities such as little people, Deaf culture, that don’t feel themselves to be “disabled” but just different in a value-neutral way, and that many want children just like them who can be part of that community, little people or Deaf.

      How many paralyzed people want paralyzed children that are “just like them”? NONE. NONE.

      1. Old Admin*

        “A trans person having surgery – is exchanging a male body for a female body or vice versa, but as I understand it, it’s still a functioning body. The new body is not one that requires a lifetime of post-surgical care and equipment to simply physically live. The new body is not one that will leave this person incapacitated for life, especially into old age. The new body is not one that will leave this person dead in months without health insurance.”

        I totally respect your personal situation of being disabled and your take on reversibility and results of trans/cosmetic surgery. I don’t quite agree, especially with the quote above.
        I’m a retired doctor, and I’ve know about post-op care of trans people, have seen some myself.
        Medically speaking, depending on the procedures, they pay a big price for their transition. Just a few examples are:
        – Most FtM people must inject testosterone for the rest of their lives, drastically increasing the risk of cardiac disease and seriously reducing life expectancy.
        – MtF people with bottom surgery have to maintain certain aspects of their lady parts (I don’t want to be graphic here, look it up) on a daily basis, which can be painful, and most certainly is a lot of work.
        – Both of the above have a risk of urological issues (from bottom surgery if done, many don’t) requiring medical care and additional surgery.
        Etc. etc. etc.

        I don’t want to start a big discussion on whether my examples above are good, common, “mean” etc. Rather I’m trying to point out that a transition does *not* achieve a happy ever after shiny new body in contrast to Drew’s desired disabled state of being.

        I don’t want to call a trans body a disabled body. Instead, it is an approximation of varying degrees of the new body, one that has new aches and troubles, one that needs extra care and simply is a little different. But close. Hopefully much closer, and less maintenance intensive, in the next decades. :-)

        Peace. :-)

        1. SarahTheEntwife*

          We also currently can’t create reproductively functional sex organs, and especially for female-assigned people there can be a *lot* of pushback about doing anything that takes away fertility (regardless of whether the person in question already has children or didn’t want children in the first place).

          1. Tammy*

            For AMAB people too, there’s so much focus on fertility! When I had my gender confirmation surgery, I filled a 1-inch ring binder with all the paperwork I had to fill out. It still shocks me how much of that paperwork was about certifying that I really truly did understand that I was giving up my ability to be fertile. Never mind the probable effects of 20 years of estrogen therapy. Never mind that even before I began that estrogen therapy I was functionally infertile. (At the risk of a bit of TMI, my endocrinologist insisted that I cryobank sperm before beginning hormone therapy; “normal” cis males have millions of viable sperm per ejaculation, but they got 75 viable sperm from 3 donations for me.) Never mind that I’m in my mid-40s, have an adopted daughter, and heaven knows I’d had plenty of opportunities to make babies if I’d wanted to. I still had to sign no less than three informed consent documents stating that I understood the procedure would make me infertile.

        2. Tammy*

          CW: possible TMI details of what post-operative trans-feminine life is like. Feel free to skip if this makes you uncomfortable.
          Agreed with this. My take: The surgeries I’ve had have conformed my body to my identity well enough that I can look in the mirror and finally feel like I belong in my own skin. I can take a shower without having to turn the lights off so I won’t see my body in the mirror. I can be in locker rooms and other places where women are casually undressed, and not feel afraid of what happens if someone sees me. I no longer have to choose all my clothing around considerations of concealing…unsightly bulges…in places where they’re not expected for women. I’m told that you could put naked me next to a cis woman who’d had a hysterectomy, and even a gynecologist who didn’t know the specific signs to look for would have a tough time telling which was which. All of these are positives, and I certainly don’t harbor any regrets about the time, money and pain I went through to get here.

          That said, my body is still not ever going to be the same as a cis woman’s body. It’s not capable of menstruating, of giving birth, of getting pregnant. While my post-op care is now down to about a half hour once or twice a week, it’s still something uncomfortable and messy that I’ll need to do for the rest of my life. (The curious can google “post-op MTF care dilation” for details.) I still have occasional nerve weirdness. I’ve been average a UTI/yeast infection about every 3-6 months since my surgery in 2015. I haven’t had penetrative sexual activity since my surgery, so I still don’t know what that’s going to be like.

          On balance, these trade-offs are worth it for me. Much more than worth it, in fact. The first time I saw myself naked, 6 days after my surgery, the sensation of “belonging in my own body” for the first time in my life was so powerful I sat down on the floor in the bathroom in my hotel and cried. But at the same time, I do have that bittersweet sensation of being 85% of the way there and knowing the other 15% is forever outside of my reach.

          I understand where you’re coming from, neverbesatisfied. I really do. But the more I think about this, the more I think that a lot of the reaction to people like Drew is grounded in ableist attitudes in our society. In a society that observably sees disabled people as less-than, less human, less alive, it’s understandable to me that we fear and pathologize and judge Drew. In a society that sees women as less-than compared to men, it doesn’t surprise me that the vast majority of violence against the trans community is committed against young trans women of color. I think it’s the same thing, even though it’s difficult and painful to acknowledge that.

          1. Anonny*

            Thank you. I’m so used to the only acceptable discourse being “trans women are female, full stop; also ‘female’ doesn’t mean anything because biological sex isn’t even real and if you say it is you’re a Nazi” that it’s refreshing to read something acknowledging reality.

            1. Tammy*

              I’d like to add an important qualifier here: I believe there is NO experience that is universal to 100% of cisgender women and 0% of transgender women, or to 100% of trans woman and 0% of cis women, or whatever. Our individual experiences – with race, class, socioeconomic status, medical status, and a hundred more variables – make that impossible. To your comment upthread, although my experience with a whole host of things (my body, misogyny, sexual assault, domestic violence, etc.) is not the same in all respects as those of a cis woman, they aren’t less real or valid. They’re just…different. But in a random sampling of my cis friends, you’ll find those differences too – we are the product of our experiences.

              Trans women are women – just with a set of experiences that differ in some ways from those of cis women. White women have different experiences than women of color. Rich women and poor women? Very different experiences. Able-bodied women and disabled women? Same thing. My comment acknowledging those differences should absolutely not be construed as me saying otherwise.

          2. Old Admin*

            That is exactly what I was gently alluding to – among other things, the dilation, sensory issues, infections. But also the loneliness, the knowledge of not 100% fulfilling some sort of societal “standard” (fertility etc.), the very real physical danger when “found out” by the wrong people.
            I’m glad to hear from an intelligent and happy person with this experience. It shows the right choice is possible, even if it is drastic.

            Interestingly, I personally don’t consider the fertility issue a big deal. I never did a pre-op consultation, so never was bound by laws and can say my opinion freely here: We have so many people able to produce children (and lots of kids in need of adoptive parents) that losing a few percent (let’s not quibble numbers, you know what I mean) of the reproductive capability of the population is not going to hurt mankind. :-)
            But then I’m not the religious type, either, which is where part of the fertility discussion comes from.

            1. Need to be anonymous*

              On purpose, I took a break from reading answers to my comments for several days, as I was sure I’d trigger, ah, interesting responses.
              I’m glad I did. :-)

  24. LadyPhoenix*

    Maybe because I JUST read the previous letter after this one…

    But I don’t feel sorry for Drew. The obvious consequences happened to him and he SHOULD feel very bad for what he did.

    Now if he had a condition (muncheson?) that kinda… made him think he was, I might feel a bit sorry… but the letter last time makes it sound like that isn’t the case?

    1. Natalie*

      The LW didn’t name any specific diagnosis, but it’s entirely likely that they wouldn’t know one way or another. I don’t read either letter as taking a definitive position.

    2. More Torn than Natalie Imbruglia*

      It is pretty clear he has body integrity identity disorder. That’s not even a question in my eyes – everything he describes is exactly what BIID is and what sufferers do: from the intense feeling that he should be disabled, to surrounding himself with people who do not know he isn’t, to trying to find doctors to make him a paraplegic. That’s probably what the topic of the documentary was – there have been a few of these docos. Allison raised this possibility of BIID in the answer to the first letter.

      I don’t see this as armchair diagnosis because it is like saying that someone who throws up after every meal has an eating disorder or someone who believes that aliens are monitoring their thoughts has psychosis or someone who fears leaving the house is agoraphobic. It is self-evident that these things are the case. BIID is when you believe you should have been born disabled, and that is what Drew says he feels.

  25. Anon for today*

    I feel like some people are taking sides about what is worse – The harm that Drew has caused to the disabled people and others in his life, or Drew’s problems. Mental disorders can be just as bad as physical ones. It’s sad for all parties involved. Drew must be suffering greatly if he’s willing to be estranged from all his family and friends, move, take a new job, etc. – basically abandon the life he’s built (false as it may be), rather than get treatment that helps him understand and deal with his dysfunction. I hope he’ll explore therapy again and can find someone who will help him reconcile these feelings that are causing him to hurt others and bring so much pain upon his own life.

  26. Jennifer*

    In summary, people do weird stuff sometimes. If no extra accommodations had to be made for him at work, then it wouldn’t matter to me. If he were a personal friend or romantic partner, that would be another thing entirely.

    If more people were hired there who were entitled to the handicapped parking spots and didn’t get to park there because of Drew, that would be a problem.

  27. Lilo*

    I lean to letting someone set their own boundaries. So if his friends who were disabled felt upset and didn’t feel comfortable with him in their spaces, that’s their right (and I can see how having someone who is able bodied on say, a disabled sports league would be problematic). So as an able-bodied person, I’m not going to judge his friends or the organizations for expelling him. It sounds like the coworkers mostly stayed out of it, which is fine, but I can also see the frustration and the fact that similar individuals have faked illnesses for advantage/money in the past, so it would be easy to assume his intentions were more nefarious.

    Ultimately, I hope Drew gets the help he needs, but I don’t think people setting boundaries in their own lives is inappropriate.

  28. Bess Marvin*

    I realize this might not be possible, but does anyone think they have seen the documentary that prompted the original question? I would be interested to watch it, if anyone knew its title.

    1. fposte*

      I found what seemed likely to be it with the first letter, but I can’t remember where (I think it was mentioned in the New York Times); at any rate, there’s at least one documentary about BIID out there that you could probably find by Googling, so if you’re just generally interested it probably wouldn’t matter if it was that one or not.

    2. Murphy*

      I think I watched another video about this topic on youtube back when the original letter was posted. (Not because I was trying to identify Drew or the OP, I was just curious about the phenomenon.)

      1. More Torn than Natalie Imbruglia*

        Jesus H. Christ, what a disgusting transphobic and misinformed article.

  29. Anonanon*

    I have to wonder what Drew hoped to achieve by participating in the documentary. That’s going to follow him and out him wherever he goes. I think the OP did the right thing in this circumstance, and unfortunately, I don’t know how this situation could have possibly ended well.

    I truly am sad for Drew, but at the same time, I am not fine with his actions. I am more sad for the community he deceived. I agree with some of the comments above that his abhorrent actions should not be excused due to his mental state. That is a very slippery slope. For the sake of Drew, his loved ones, and the community he feels connected to, I hope he gets the help he needs and self-acceptance.

    1. fposte*

      Yeah, the participation in the documentary is odd; maybe Gerald is so convinced of his compelling narrative he just sees it as an obvious part of the story rather than something that will read as disproof.

    2. Psyche*

      I was wondering the same thing. It seems so odd to go on a documentary and admit you are lying to everyone and expect them to be ok with it. I’m guessing that he didn’t really see it as lying.

      1. fposte*

        I could see that as a reason for doing the doc, but I wouldn’t be ambulatory for it with that goal. But then, his thinking might not be something we could guess.

    3. More Torn than Natalie Imbruglia*

      I wonder if a part of him might have wanted to out himself without having to do it face to face and maybe hoping that the documentary might put it in a better-explained context than he could himself.

  30. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    Hum. This update does leave me rather more divided on him than I previously was.

    I still think that if he wants to use a wheelchair and live an ordinary life electing not to use his legs, that’s his choice and he should do what is best for him. I dislike the notion that someone can be making a mockery of others in the way he chooses to live his life.

    That said, though, the activism and participation in sports teams are areas where I have much less sympathy. Those are spaces where by the act of participating as he was, he was actually taking opportunity away from others who were better served by it. But this also seems like it’s rather outside the OP’s wheelhouse as a (former) boss — not having any role themselves in these areas.

    1. fposte*

      Yeah, that’s where I leaned on the anime-character husband thing, too–in a workplace, my job would not be to change my co-worker’s take on the world, just to make clear what the workplace expectations are. Private life chips can fall where they may.

    2. Girl friday*

      He’s not electing not to use his legs. He’s electing not to use his legs in public. That’s why I think it should be treated as a hobby or a fetish in the workplace, all he has to do is decide if he’s going to treat the workplace as he treats his house.

  31. KillItWithFire*

    I really don’t get all the hate “Drew” is getting in these comments.

    The guy has major mental health issues, either accept that or don’t. There are no cookies for “sympathy for mental illness but this pisses me off”. And as far as I can tell, he harmed no one, no abusive outbursts, no taking things that someone else needed, no destruction of property. Just a messed up person going through their life at the mercy of the their messed up brain.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I’m more confused than unsympathetic, but what gets me is that Drew is using a handicapped parking space that he admittedly does not physically need. He may have a disorder that creates a situation where he lives his life as if he does need that space, but he does not technically need it, and that is a big no for me. Imagine being someone who is temporarily disabled and could really use the parking space, yet it’s taken by Drew (and, presumably, the other spaces available are needed by people who have them). That would be pretty frustrating, no? Also, he participates in wheelchair sports. There is always a possibility that there’s no more room on the team because of Drew… who doesn’t actually need his wheelchair.

      There are a lot of pieces that are very hard to understand, and made more so by the fact that yes, there are very real possibilities that his disorder is taking things away from others.

    2. Engineer Girl*

      But he has harmed others. He has taken slots on sports teams that others wanted. As a spokesperson, he has destroyed trust in his organization. People no longer know what is true and what is a lie.

    3. LadyCop*

      Your argument is based on logical fallacy. Whether or not Drew is causing harm to others, doesn’t mean it’s not a problem. Other than the fact his deception is harmful emotionally to his friends, family, coworkers, etc (as we know in the letter,) harm is not required.

      He clearly has a mental illness. It’s a slippery slope to look the other way and assume things are fine because its “only” for himself. Seriously, when the guy is saying things like he wants to be paralyzed, and just can’t find a doctor to do it…we’re talking about self mutilation on a whole new level, and it needs to be recognized as a problem, as a mental illness, not just some personality quirk or odd hobby…

      I have PTSD. I understand he has a mental illness. But you only contribute to the problem if you let him live in his fantasy world. It’s disgusting.

    4. Sylvan*

      IMO it’s completely fine to be sympathetic and pissed at the same time, but hey, nobody needs your permission or mine to feel however they want.

      1. Sylvan*

        Like, this thing’s complicated and almost designed to provoke ambivalence. I do feel bad for Drew, the social consequences he’s experienced, and how he must feel about his own body every day. It’s also easy to criticize the fact that he’s presented himself as a physically disabled person. He’s participated in advocacy while presenting himself as disabled and not as an ally. He’s taken a place in an athletic team that could have gone to a disabled person. He’s crossed a lot of lines socially.

  32. a nony mouse*

    I am a disabled vet. Not seriously disabled, but medically disabled nonetheless. I can walk, although it’s at times uncomfortable. That being said, when out about town, if there are open parking spaces within a reasonable distance of my objective, I will use them, and save the disabled parking for someone who really needs it. The fact that his guy is most likely taking parking spaces away from people who legitimately need them has me pretty annoyed.

    1. Kathlynn*

      If you have difficulty walking, and the disability parking spot you have the right to use it. And you aren’t taking up resources others need more.
      this goes for anyone thinking they might need a parking pass/therapy/etc.

  33. More Torn than Natalie Imbruglia*

    Does anyone else get the sense that Drew might have done the documentary because a part of him was starting to feel guilty and he couldn’t figure out any way to tell everyone?

    BID is a tough kind of brain wiring to have because it would always turn a lot of people against you (understandably) – I feel bad for him, I hope he finds a way to move forward and this doesn’t lead him to try to make his disability real through self-harm.

    Is it bad that part of me supports a medical procedure that would safely give him what he wants? At the same time, if I were a doctor I definitely wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it, so I guess in the end I don’t really support it. Ug, this situation makes me so ambivalent.

    (FYI, I mean ambivalent in the sense of simultaneous contradictory opinions or feelings, rather than apathetic – https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/words-that-do-not-mean-what-you-think-they-mean – I say this because I was in my mid-twenties before I knew this was the correct way to use it and it’s such a useful word)

    1. Oranges*

      Body dismorphia is HARD. That’s why we have people who specialize in it. There is no “one size fits all” solution.

      Maybe Drew would be happy if he found a doctor to paralyze him. Maybe his dismorphia would crop up in a different way. Maybe we’ll find the reason he feels like this and be able to help his brain recognize and accept his legs (since all thought/perception is rooted in an incredibly complex organ: the brain). Maybe he wouldn’t want that.

      I have sympathy for Drew but at the same time his mental illness harmed others and that’s not okay.

      TL;DR: humans are COMPLICATED.

      1. Anon Anon Anon*

        But we don’t know that he has body dismorphia. We only know that he’s sought therapy for his overall situation.

  34. Clementine*

    I can have empathy in the abstract for someone’s mental illness. I’ll assume for the purposes of this post that “Drew” is mentally ill.

    However, Drew is perfectly capable of being honest, as he was in the documentary. So I don’t see mental illness as any sort of excuse for his dishonesty in the workplace. He’s obviously completely capable of executing a well-calculated and long-running set of deceptions, and that by itself would make me feel extremely uncomfortable having him around as a coworker, apart from all the other issues of unfairness to people who are physically disabled.

    1. Nib*

      Out of curiosity, because I’ve been trying to figure this out and I’m not sure where I land… do you think people would feel differently if the documentary had ended with Drew getting the surgery he wanted, and he now physically really needed the wheelchair?

      1. LadyPhoenix*

        Honestly? I would probably be angrier.

        Bad enough you lied, but now you purposefully disabled yourself for… what reason? Attention? “Fitting in”? “True Calling?”

        (General you, of course)

    2. learnedthehardway*

      I don’t think Drew is being dishonest. I think his capacity to realize that he is not actually physically disabled probably fluctuates – ie. sometimes, he probably is able to see the reality of his situation, and at other times he probably is profoundly convinced that he is actually paraplegic.

      This sort of fluctuation is pretty typical of mental illnesses – people with chronic depression often have periods of generally decent mental health between major depressive episodes. People who are bipolar cycle between periods of mania and depression, sometimes very rapidly. People who have major mental illnesses sometimes do well on medication and become convinced that there is nothing wrong with them, go off their medication and end up hospitalized because they become delusional.

      If anything, it makes total sense that Drew would have periods of better and worse ability to accept that he has and to deal with his BIID. When he’s in a downward cycle, it sounds like he’s truly convinced he is disabled. When his condition is relatively light, it sounds like he can recognize he has it.

    3. Anon Anon Anon*

      It’s telling that he could be honest with a film crew but lied to local sports groups for disabled people. Maybe his mental illness has ups and downs. Or maybe he’s comfortable lying to people and does whatever will get him the most attention. It’s hard to say without knowing him and having more to go by.

  35. learnedthehardway*

    I really feel for Drew – I hope that he’s able to get the help he needs, or if he can’t (because it sounds like he’s not capable of recognizing that he needs help to overcome BIID), that his friends and family realize that he’s got a disability – just not a physical, but a mental one.

    In some ways, this is reminding me of some behaviors we saw in my son when he was little. He is very high functioning, but is very definitely on the autism spectrum. Any time we had him in therapy or classes with other autistic kids, he would regress to the level of the group and become less functional. It was like he felt that this was the way he SHOULD be and he saw himself as BEING less able. He didn’t even know his diagnosis at that point. He would just come to truly believe he was not capable of things he was perfectly capable of, when in the company of children who were more profoundly disabled than he was. We quit putting him in autism groups when he started becoming selectively mute, at about age 7.5 yrs. He actually learned sign language to communicate and was well on his way to quit talking. It took a concentrated effort to stop him (basically us refusing to accommodate even his perfectly obvious needs, unless he would tell us verbally what he was trying to communicate). There are many other examples I could give of how we had to force him to recognize that he had abilities he simply didn’t believe he had (potty training, tying shoes, physical activities, the list was endless).

    Thankfully, he seems to have generally progressed and once he did learn his diagnosis and accepted it, it made things a lot easier for him to understand that yes, he is different, and to have an explanation as to HOW he is different and WHY. Apparently, this kind of searching for identity is a factor in higher functioning autism – some kids become transgender (it’s pretty well documented that the incidence of transgendered kids is much higher among people with ASD than in the overall population – there’s some speculation that social constructs of gender are less meaningful for people on the spectrum, and that kids will identify with the gender with which they get more social acceptance).

    Anyway, this is somewhat tangential, but I can see how someone could come to be convinced that they are disabled, even when all objective evidence says that they aren’t.

    Also, I totally see how someone could be completely convinced that there was nothing whatsoever wrong with them mentally, even when they very clearly have a mental illness. I run into this whenever I try to get a close relative to act upon her diagnosis to get mental health support. They do not believe they have a mental illness. Instead, they believe that doctors are out to “get” them, that crushing depression and crippling anxiety is the normal way to live, and that suicide ideation is perfectly normal. There’s no convincing this person to get help, because they cannot accept that they need help. The mind is a tricky thing.

    1. fposte*

      learned, this is a really thoughtful and fascinating contribution. Thanks. I didn’t know about the trans stats for ASD people thing, either.

  36. MattKnifeNinja*

    Well that’s completely different.

    I’ve know people who fake all sorts of illnesses to grift on GFM or scam local charities.

    I guess props to the guy that he didn’t crank it up for monetary gains.

    Don’t get it, but I don’t understand a lot of people’s choices.

  37. JB*

    I know a guy who lost his leg for real. It’s an above-the-knee amputation, which is much worse than a below-the-knee. Every day this guy straps on his prosthetic leg and kind of swing-limps his way to the gym, where he does a full-blown workout that puts me to shame. He is ripped like Arnold. Seriously.

    If that guy can pick himself up and work his *** off every day, I have no pity for someone like Drew. You want me to understand and accept and tolerate him, sitting on his fat butt while people with REAL disabilities are working ten times as hard? Nope. Not going to happen.

  38. GreenDoor*

    What I’m stuck on, from a management perspective, is the active deception of co-workers. The OP states that he’d ask them to do favors like run something up to a different floor or fetch things from the printer, when he could have done that himself. If the manager, knowing that he’s actually able to do those things, sees workers taking time away from their own tasks to do Drew’s tasks under the mis-belief that he’s unable to do them, at what point do you step in so that your employee’s time isn’t wasted? Or can you intervene at all? Must you pretend you don’t know he has this mental health issue, when in fact, you do? I have to believe a manager could intervene without revealing to the whole office his personal health matters….but how?

  39. puppies*

    There is an episode of Nip/Tuck about BIID. Season 3, episode 7. I looked it up afterward to see if it was real. It’s rare and difficult to understand, but it is real.

  40. Nonsensical*

    I am Deaf, I have a handicapped parking sticker due to 6 brain surgeries in the last year causing me to have dizzy spells and the fact we have icy ground. I still get tired easily.

    That being said, I am 26 years old and most people wouldn’t think there is anything wrong with me just by looking at me. I often don’t use my handicap sticker because I want to make sure I walk. But I live in Minnesota, where there is ice and snow and I can’t trust my two feet.

    Do I have anything against this guy? No. I don’t believe I have a disability, I use my sticker when needed and to this guy, his disability is very so much real. Do not undermine or underestimate psychological issues. I also have PTSD and this can very real impact on people’s lives and emotions and their ability to cope. People should not play the compare game. One person’s struggles is not enough.

    Instead of being in an uproar over self righteous please practice compassion for those with mental illness because it is hard enough to out yourself when you legitimately have one. My mother has BPD and always goes off meds, thinking she will be fine but in the end she is not.

  41. Maolin*

    I was so intrigued by this condition (BIID) and fell into a Google hole, learning more about it. I read one article which suggests that rather than mental illness, some scientists have proposed it may actually be neurological in nature – some sort of defect with the brain’s “mapping” of the body, leading to the sensations these people experience that make them feel as though they should be paralysed or otherwise disabled. I read accounts of some in the BIID community having coined the term “transabled,” comparing it to transgender, because they feel they are meant to be disabled yet they are trapped in a healthy body. We no longer consider transgender to be a mental illness, so it isn’t unfathomable to see that transabled aren’t necessarily mentally ill, either. Lots of interesting material and research on this rare and little understood condition.

    My point is that we aren’t well positioned to determine whether Drew is attention seeking, a hypochondriac, mentally ill, or suffering from a neurologic condition such as the brain-body mapping mismatch theory that is proposed in one article. Whatever the etiology of BIID, the use of the wheelchair seems to be genuinely necessary for the ongoing management of Drew’s condition, by relieving the anxiety and physical discomfort stemming from that sensation of being in the wrong body. It sounds like his use of the wheelchair isn’t meant to defraud his company or deceive his colleagues any more than a trans man that hasn’t yet physically transitioned who wears a suit and tie to work in order to deceive their company so that they are more likely to be paid more if they present as male than as female. Both are outwardly expressing the person they feel they are despite having bodies that belie who they really are. It is difficult to wrap one’s head around this concept, but with the transgender analogy, I think I am able to understand Drew’s perspective a little better.

    On the other hand, I can also understand how this situation could be unfair or even harmful to others, while transgender people generally are not going to affect others. For example, it may mean that Drew’s company had to deny another disabled employee the accessible parking space Drew was given, whereas the trans man wearing a suit is unlikely going to be denying another employee benefits they might otherwise have had available to them.

    BIID certainly has had a real impact on Drew’s quality of life and his relationships with others. I’m inclined to feel empathy for him. It’s hard to imagine how hard life must be for him, both feeling like he is in the wrong body, and the “choice” (if it can be considered a choice) of living – unnecessarily – as disabled, with all of the challenges that accompany that: the countless physical limitations of the wheelchair-bound, the physical and mental energy required to navigate life as disabled and to maintain their able-body secrecy, the awkwardness of social interactions with the insensitive, the clueless, and the cruel, and all of the ramifications if and when they are outed as able-bodied. I mean, he’s had to relocate because his friends and colleagues have now shunned him! To me this hardly seems like the sort of attention one wishes to elicit by faking paralysis. This condition seems to be rather distressing on many levels. I hope that Drew can resettle in his new area and have a fresh start, and that he finds a way to be content with himself, in whatever way it may mean for him.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      This is an interesting and well thought out response.

      However, in a discussion about this issue on another site, I realized that the reason the comparison to being transgender doesn’t work for me because there is an inherent imbalance. An AFAB person can transition to male and an AMAB person can transition to female (and there is an entire spectrum of non-binary & genderqueer options available between the two).

      A disabled person cannot decide they were born in the wrong body and are actually able-bodied. Someone who is paralyzed is paralyzed. They cannot transition to a state of not being paralyzed. Someone who is blind is blind and cannot have their sight restored. The way our society is designed, being paralyzed or blind makes basic day to day living more difficult for those people and they have no opt-out. Someone like Drew, on the other hand, can opt-out. If there is a fire and he’s on the top floor of a high rise, he can choose to leave his wheelchair and escape using the stairs.

  42. Anon Anon Anon*

    I got a ticket once because a police officer ignored my disabled parking permit. I went to contest it and the person didn’t believe that I was disabled because I didn’t “look disabled enough,” and I had to pay the fine, even though I had been parked legally and hadn’t broken any laws. Why? Because people commonly abuse the system. So, while this may be a mental illness that he’s struggling with, there is an impact on other people.

    There is also an impact on his own health. When you stop walking and start using a mobility device, there can be health consequences, moreso if it’s not medically supervised. Generally, it affects your overall muscle tone, which leads to other issues. That’s why doctors recommend it only when there aren’t other options, and may combine it with physical therapy.

    So this is kind of a, “danger to oneself or others,” type of situation. In this case the others being not just society in general but the sports groups and co-workers who he lied to.

    I think that trying to diagnose him is going too far. Who knows what the cause is. But I hope he’ll reflect on things and try to change or at least be more honest with people.

  43. Rumbakalao*

    This is just the weirdest thing. And to boot, this guy continued using the wheelchair he didn’t need during his last week even after people knew he was faking.

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