Is Transabled real? The disorder still confounds experts

Chloe Jennings-White

As bizarre and unusual as it sounds, some non-disabled people desire to live with some form of disability. Some go as far as performing amputations on their bodies to calm or relieve this overwhelming urge to become disabled. People with this condition are referred to as transabled. 

Transabled people have a condition known as Body Integrity Identity Disorder, coined by Dr. Micheal First, a researcher at Columbia University in New York. Dr. First told ABC News that he believes thousands of people in the United States suffer from Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID). 

Key Takeaways

  • Transability is a disorder likely caused by a mapping issue in the brain that compels people to desire having a disability. 
  • Transabled people live happier lives after getting the disability that their brain craves. 
  • Some transabled people have gone to great lengths to get amputated, including using cutting tools to get rid of their limbs. 
  • The disabled and transgender communities distance themselves from transability, dismissing transabled people as dishonest and insensitive. 

Doctors are yet to classify transability as a mental, behavioral, or neurodevelopmental disorder

The dearth of research about transability means the disorder remains unclassified and misunderstood. 

According to the ICD-11, the eleventh revision of the International Classification of Diseases, transability is ‘characterized by an intense and persistent desire to become physically disabled in a significant way.’

The desire often appears during early adolescence and is ‘accompanied by persistent discomfort, or intense feelings of inappropriateness concerning current non-disabled body configuration.’

Transability affects multiple facets of the patient’s life: it hampers productivity, leisure activities, and social life – they experience difficulties pretending to be disabled around people or explaining their feelings to them. 

“We define transability as the desire or the need for a person identified as able-bodied by other people to transform his or her body to obtain a physical impairment,” Alexandre Baril, an academic, told National Post

“The person could want to become deaf, blind, amputee, paraplegic. It’s a really, really strong desire.”

Clive Baldwin, a Canadian researcher, told the outlet that he’d interviewed people worldwide who identified as transabled, most of whom were European men. Most interviewees craved amputation or paralysis; one wanted to be blind; another wanted his penis removed. 

Baldwin found that transabled people are very secretive – one 78-year-old man lived with the condition for 60 years and never told his wife. Transability is different from transsexuality, but some researchers observe similarities between the pair. 

Clive said most researchers view transability as a ‘neurological problem with the body’s mapping, rather than a mental illness.’ “It’s a problem for individuals because it’s distressing,” Baldwin said. “But lots of things are.”

A 2005 study, cited by ABC News, of two men who wanted leg amputations showed ‘abnormal brain scans’ when researchers stimulated the skin below the lines of the desired amputations. 

Researchers concluded that the issue might lie in the right parietal lobe, which controls body mapping. 

Experts argued that transabled people should be allowed to pick surgeries that leave them disabled

In the 1990s, Robert Smith, a Scottish surgeon, heeded the call from two transabled people who wanted above-the-knee amputations. Smith performed the surgeries, but the hospital barred him from performing such procedures. 

Scholar Jenny L. Davis divided transabled people into three groups, depending on their impairment needs:

  • Wannabe: Those who want/need to have a physical impairment.
  • Pretenders: Those who act out impairments by, for example, using wheelchairs or wearing opaque contacts.
  • Devotees: Those who feel fetishistic attractions towards physically impaired people. 

Davis studied bloggers on the now-defunct and found that transabled people felt that the need for impairment came naturally – it wasn’t a choice. 

Most bloggers, Davis found, denied their urges for a while before succumbing to them. This initial rejection of the disorder affirmed in Davis’ mind that transability came naturally to patients. 

Philosophers Tim Bayne and Neil Levy argued that transabled people should be allowed to have surgeries that leave them disabled. They wrote:

“Given that many patients will go ahead with amputations in any case and risk extensive injury or death in doing so, it might be argued that surgeons should accede to their requests, at least of those patients who they (or a competent authority) judge are likely to take matters into their own hands.”

Bayne and Levy opine that as people turn down life-saving treatment, laws should allow doctors to disable transabled people. They compared disabling procedures to cosmetic surgeries as they have similar goals – to make the patient more comfortable with their outside appearance. 

The philosophers cited a study by Columbia University in which several transabled participants retained their desire to acquire a disability even after psychotherapy. The pair wrote:

“Of the 52 individuals he [Dr. Michael First] interviewed, 18 had told their psychotherapist about their desire for amputation, and none reported a reduction in the intensity of the desire following psychotherapy.”

Transabled people who get disabled or pretend to be disabled feel free from their mental afflictions

“On the other hand, on the scant evidence available, wannabes who succeed in procuring an amputation seem to experience a significant and lasting increase in well-being,” Bayne and Levy continued.

Transabled people hide because their condition is considered taboo. “For the longest time, I thought I was crazy,” Mark Comer told ABC News. “Maybe I am. In all other aspects of my life, I’m completely lucid – except this one abnormal slice of my life.”

Comer told the outlet that he ‘rejected’ his left leg above the knee since he was a child but kept his thoughts hidden as he knew people wouldn’t understand why he wanted to be rid of a healthy leg. 

“For some reason it feels like there’s a mistake in how my brain interprets my body,” Mark said. “Anxiety. That sort of fits the description best. Frustration to a great degree. There was nothing in my mind other than getting rid of this effing leg.”

In 1996, on his 38th birthday, Comer dropped a concrete barrier on his left leg, hoping to perform irreparable damage. He said that he didn’t feel any pain when the barrier hit his leg:

“Imagine the sensation you have when your foot goes to sleep. It was tingling. A very large tingling. I wouldn’t call it pain.”

Comer severely damaged his knee ligaments, but without bone damage, doctors saved the leg. However, the ligament damage coupled with a back injury forced him to use a wheelchair. 

Transabled sufferers told ABC News that they felt relief finding other people with the disorder and felt cured after acquiring a disability or pretending to have one. 

Chloe Jennings-White, a famous transabled person, told ABC News that she tried hurting herself to deal with her BIID. She then decided to use a wheelchair but wasn’t sure whether the idea would work. 

Jennings-White told ABC News that sitting in the wheelchair felt magical. She lives most of her life in a wheelchair and uses her legs to hike, drive and ski, hoping that one of those activities will paralyze her. 

Transabled people famously performed DIY amputations or paid considerable sums to procure amputations

Transabled people have gone to extreme lengths to procure amputations. This section details some famous transabled stories.

In 2013, Matter Magazine released an interview with a man named David who’d tried to ignore one of his legs by standing on the other one. “It got to the point where I’d come into my house and just cry,” he said. “I’d be looking at other people and seeing that they already have their lives going good for them. And I’m stuck here, all miserable.”

Following multiple unsafe amputation attempts, David, assisted by other transabled people, safely got his leg removed via surgery.

One Hand Jason
One Hand Jason

‘One Hand Jason’ is arguably the most famous transabled person. He used a ‘very sharp power tool’ to remove his right arm and convinced people it was an accident. 

Jason spent months experimenting with different cutting and crushing techniques. He practiced cutting and first aid on animal parts to prepare himself for the DIY amputation. 

“My goal was to get the job done with no hope of reconstruction or re-attachment, and I wanted some method that I could actually bring myself to do,” Jason told ModBlog

Jewel Shuping’s desire to become blind started in childhood where she would pretend by wearing dark glasses

Jewel Shuping, a North Carolina woman, enlisted her psychologist to blind her using drain cleaner. She told The Daily Mail:

“I really feel this is the way I was supposed to be born, that I should have been blind from birth. When there’s nobody around you who feels the same way, you start to think that you’re crazy. But I don’t think I’m crazy, I just have a disorder.”

John, a transabled man interviewed by Vice, amputated his leg by shooting lead pellets into his foot. He told the outlet that initially, he was nervous, but a sense of relief engulfed him after completing the task. John said:

“I was so nervous I almost threw up, but I knew it would give me the best chance to relieve my discomfort, so I counted to three. Later, when it was done, I was awash with relief. It was over and I was free.”

Transabled people face backlash from the transsexual and disabled communities

Transabled people faced stiff resistance from the transexual and disabled communities. Alexandre Baril told The National Post:

“They tend to see transabled people as dishonest people, people who try to steal resources from the community, people who would be disrespectful by denying or fetishizing or romanticizing disability reality. Each try to distance themselves.”

Daniel Patrone, a philosopher at the State University of New York Oneonta, argued against the acceptance of transability, stating that a person’s choice to be disabled affects other people who’ll likely bear the financial costs of maintaining the disabled person. 

“Those who have a disorder that causes them to desire to maim and disable their bodies cannot meet this standard of voluntarily accepting the burden of choice that makes the practice of respecting autonomy acceptable,” Patrone noted.

According to ABC News, a spinal cord injury forum shut down a conversation about Chloe Jennings-White after it got too hostile. Some members argued that Chloe should experience loss of bladder control to see how real paraplegic people feel. 

Anderson Cooper interrupted his interview with Jennings-White, saying paraplegics would feel her desire to be paralyzed as ‘completely inappropriate,’ drawing applause from the audience. 

Chloe Jennings-White
Chloe Jennings-White uses a wheelchair, even though her legs are fine | Laurentiu Garofeanu / Barcroft USA

Jennings-White braves the hostility for people who share her disorder. Sean O’Connor, the founder of, appreciated Chloe for raising awareness about a potentially dangerous condition. O’Connor told ABC News:

“In the end, it is a real condition that causes terrible pain for people. I know a few people who have died from it, either through self-injury attempts or suicide.”