diane De Vries was born without arms and legs. This fast-paced, hard-hitting and beautifully honest documentary takes us through Diane’s life, through the ways the fear of her devoutly religious grandmother and the physical neglect of her mother shaped her childhood, through the ways being physically different impacts her interactions with others as an adult (she describes going to a networking luncheon where other participants asked about her wheelchair, but not about her work), her hopes and struggles, her experiences with intimate relationships and sexual expression. Some of her friends and attendants share their feelings and reactions to Diane, and their observations of how the rest of the world treats her.
What sets this story apart from other disability-related documentaries is Diane’s candid discussion of her experience in an abusive marriage.
I don’t think I ever felt like a victim, except when I was Jim’s victim.”
Jim was always my attendant as well as my husband, which I always hated. I thought that was the worst thing we could do to our relationship…
But he never wanted me to have an attendant.
He wanted the extra money.
He wanted to feel needed.
Disabled people are often at increased risk of experiencing intimate partner violence, and diane’s experience ticks a lot of the boxes for abusive situations – isolation, enforced physical dependence, and financial dependence (the couple’s economic stability rested on diane’s agreeing to let her husband work as her attendant).
Diane describes how Jim would become violent when drunk, throwing things, hitting her, and shaming her for the physical help she needed from him, such as help using the toilet.
This was in the seventies, and there wasn’t much technology to help people with limited mobility to use the phone, leave the house, or otherwise leave an abusive situation without someone’s help. Diane was eventually able to leave, after a friend dropped by to visit during one of her husband’s violent attacks.
Diane De Vries is (or was, I haven’t yet been able to learn whether she is still alive) a fascinating woman.
This documentary is one of the only sources I was able to find in which her story is told in her own words.
You can learn more about her through the cultural biography Venus on Wheels: Two Decades of Dialogue on Disability, Biography, and Being Female in America or through an essay (by the same author of the biography) published in Women with Disabilities: Essays in Psychology, Culture, and Politics (Health Society And Policy).
October is Domestic Violence awareness Month and this entry is part of a series of posts aimed at raising awareness about disabled people’s experience of domestic and intimate partner violence.