LaVonne called the ticket number for the next person she would serve at the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles in Charlotte. “T14” she said, and a young man approached her counter, paperwork in hand.
“I would like to apply for a handicapped parking permit,” he said. “I think I have filled out the form correctly.”
“We’ll see about that!” LaVonne joked. “No trip to the DMV is complete without having to correct the paperwork.”
LaVonne paged through the form MVR—37A, checking to make sure it had been filled out properly. He had written his name - Frederick Smith. Check. He had a North Carolina driver’s license. Check. He had included his address. Check. But she noticed that he had left the physician’s section totally blank. Here, a medical doctor certifies what kind of disability the person has that would justify a placard allowing the person to park in handicapped spots.
“Mr. Smith, the physician’s section is not filled out,” she said. “You need a medical doctor to certify what kind of medical condition you have that would warrant a disability parking placard.”
“I do have a medical condition,” Frederick said. “Apotemnophilia.” LaVonne tried to repeat the unfamiliar word. “Apotem – what?”
“Apotemnophilia. Sometimes called Body Integrity Identity Disorder. It means I perceive myself as missing a limb, in my case, my legs below my knees,” Frederick said.
LaVonne peered over the edge of the counter to look at his legs. Frederick was wearing shorts, and his hairy legs looked strong and normal. No sign of any missing legs.
She was confused. “I realize that some disabilities do not appear readily to others. So you are not saying that you have some problem with your lung capacity or have a heart condition or arthritis in your knees. You are saying you are handicapped because you perceive yourself as missing part of your legs?”
“That’s correct. And it would help my self-identity as an amputee if I could park in the handicapped parking places, like other handicapped people can.”
“But you are not disabled ,” LaVonne said. “You have both your legs. You can walk fine. North Carolina law has special parking for the disabled to help people who can’t move easily from the far ends of the parking lot to where they are going.”
“But I am a disabled person because I see myself that way. It is my self-identity,” Frederick said. “I want to live my life as an amputee, and the way to start on that path is to get a parking permit like other amputees have. Please don’t discriminate against me because of my self-identity.”
“Whether you have a disability is an objective fact, not a matter of subjective self-perception,” LaVonne said. “That is why you need to have a physician explain on this form what disability you actually have.”
“I have tried to get doctors to amputate my legs for me, but they have all refused,” Frederick said dejectedly.
“Well it’s because your legs are perfectly healthy. Why would a doctor want to amputate someone’s legs when they are perfectly fine?” LaVonne asked.
“Because my body does not conform to my self-perception of myself,” Frederick responded. “I feel trapped in a body that does not express who I truly am. I want to live my life as an amputee, and no one will help me achieve my goal. If I can’t get my legs cut off, I was hoping that my own state of North Carolina would help my transition by accommodating and recognizing my true identity, by giving me the blue placard that allows me to park with the members of my community.”
“Sorry, Frederick,” LaVonne said. “Unless you have a doctor sign this form and say what kind of medical condition you have that qualifies you for a disabled parking placard, I cannot give one to you. The law is the law.”
After some polite good-byes, Frederick gathered up his papers. LaVonne turned, grabbed her cane, and began walking away with a slight lurch as she moved on her two titanium legs. She stopped, looked back at Frederick, and, while tapping her legs with her cane, said, “Be happy the way you are.”