Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Johnny Eck "The Amazing Half-Boy" and Latent Sexuality

I've been thinking about Johnny Eck a lot lately. He's been a hero of mine ever since I saw him in Todd Browning's Freaks (1931)--a film that I absolutely love. I've always found something about him really attractive. Sounds corny, but he had such a sunny disposition and a certain charisma. I think that if he had a lower half to his body he would have gone on to be a good leading man during that time period. You can see the clip of him from Freaks below:

Anyway, I have several books about the history of circus sideshows and many of the most famous characters. As my body has become more and more disfigured over the years from various surgeries and parts being removed, I found a strange attraction to learn everything about about the lives of these performers. Frog Boy, Monkey Girl, The Living Skeleton, The Two-Faced Man, etc all had interesting ways that they responded to their special gifts and curses. Johnny Eck didn't show any regret for his lack of legs. When asked if he wished that he had been born with legs, his reply was "Why would I want those? Then I'd have pants to press."

Two things have made me think of Johnny often of late. The first is a comparison between paralysis of the lower body to just having no legs at all. (Me and my macabre questions!) Which is better?

When people say someone is paraplegic, it is generally understood to mean that person is paralyzed from the waist down. Oh how I wish that was the case with me! I'm actually paralyzed up to the armpits, which is much more troublesome because all the muscles in my core are not operating. I can't hold myself up straight for very long in a wheelchair. And all my organs don't stay in held in place exactly where they should, giving me a warped, bulging shape and pulling at my spine.

So it makes me wonder how much easier my life would be if I had no lower body at all? Dragging around all the dead weight of two useless legs keeps me utterly dependent on others. I'm being held prisoner in my own body, with useless limbs being my human ball and chain. That brings me to the next issue, which is particularly painful--I feel akin to Johnny in the sexual department.

Long before I was struck with paralysis, I viewed some of Johnny's personal art. There were a number of pornographic style drawings found after his death that fascinated me when considering his dilemma. What happens to a person is missing reproductive organs? Or if they don't work at all? Is there still a desire for sex if you have no bodily response at all? I don't mean to imply that all sex requires a penis and vagina. But the reproductive organs as a whole are a driving force for desire. (Or are they?)

I don't actually know what Johnny's situation was for sure. I just know his body ended at his ribs and he was born that way, as an incomplete twin. I imagine on psychological level at least there must have been a massive amount of repression throughout his life, and his fascination with drawing cartoon-like penises seems to show a disconnect from mature sexuality. The pictures below are described on one of his websites, The Johnny Eck Museum:

"These drawings were done by Johnny Eck during the winter months when he was at home for the off season. They date from the late 50's to the late 70's. These drawings are highly sexually charged and offer an insight into the repressed sexual feelings Johnny felt. They also offer a commentary on the negative, changing face of the neighborhood which Johnny had called home for so long."

One of the things that I am bitter about in regards to my situation, is that I feel like I have been ripped off in two ways. The first being that I am paraplegic. Ok, fine, I'm paralyzed. There are plenty of para and quadriplegics out there who deal with their accident or whatever robbed them of use of their limbs and they go on to live wonderful, full lives. The gradually make their homes more comfortable and obtain vehicles. They can exercise and build strength in a number of ways.

But I don't get that consolation prize of life. I cannot exercise because the hospice staff is afraid my bones will break (since the cancer is in my bones and seems to be making me weaker lately). The nurse told me one of her past patients with similar case tried to wave goodbye to her one day as she was leaving, and then toppled forward in agony. Simply waving goodbye caused a number of bones to spontaneously shatter in her arm. They are becoming more concerned with me that my time in the wheelchair is getting risky.

Ok, so that is the first rip off--I have to get a death sentence, in addition to paralysis. The other rip off is that many people who are told they have "X" amount of days to live, end up spending the rest of their time doing the things they always wanted to. Like the Make a Wish Foundation. They go to Disneyland, maybe Hawaii. They can go to another state to see someone's baby born. They get backstage passes and meet-and-greet with a band they loved since high school. They can take a dream cruise.  Those aren't all the things I would do necessarily, but I sure do have a list of things I WISH I could do, some very simple (and yes that does include sexual things). However, due to this stupid paralysis I can't even do the whole Hollywood ending that movies and TV have been promising for years with their tearjerker films about "The Big C." I can't even take a walk on any beach and feel the sand on my feet, never mind Hawaii or Tahiti.

I'm just sitting out here in the middle of the desert, hoping there will be enough money to get a medical transport to Denny's, followed up with an exciting trip to Walmart in the next week or two. So I call that the other major rip off.

But back to the latent sexual desire. I must admit, when facing death, there is usually a massive need to reaffirm life in some way, sex is one of the most obvious. I've felt frantic several times in past, like the night before my left breast was cut off, to just do SOMETHING with the damn thing before it was gone. This disease is so cruel. It chips away at your sexuality, and even your gender identity. In the doctor's care one becomes a hairless, boobless, sexless alien creature. Even my toenails have started falling off due to lack of circulation. I can't even be allowed to have nice feet! WTF?

So I may start drawing cartoon penises soon.
In the meantime, friends, please promise me you will put me out of my misery if I ever start acting like that cancer patient Chloe in Fight Club. I'm sure you all remember...
                           JACK (V.O.) 
Ahh, Chloe.  Chloe looked the way
                 Joni Mitchell's skeleton would look
                 if you made it smile and walk around
                 a party being extra nice to everyone.

Well, I'm still here -- but I don't
                 know for how long.  That's as much
                 certainty as anyone can give me.  but
                 I've got some good news -- I no
                 longer have any fear of death.

     APPLAUSE from around the room.

But... I am in a pretty lonely place.
                 No one will have sex with me.  I'm so
                 close to the end and all I want is to
                 get laid for the last time.  I have
                 pornographic movies in my apartment,
                 and lubricants and amyl nitrate ...

     The LEADER gingerly takes control of the microphone.

Thank you, Chloe.  Everyone, let's thank Chloe.


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