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Meditations on privilege

Naming pain

The first mental health carnival is just starting. The theme is diagnosis, which is good, because it is something I have been thinking about a lot as the days get shorter and my nights get so long.

I’ve been depressed for more than a decade. Which makes my heart hurt so badly every time I think it. But then there’s a little shrug and I think, “yeah, that sounds about right.” Starting when I was about twelve, the crushing sadness set in, with OCD, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide attempts. It’s hard for me to remember a lot of the past eleven years, and chronology is especially difficult.

Lately, it has been coming back, but it feels too like there is something else in my head. The feeling of inaccessible thoughts isn’t new, nor the discomforting sensation that there is absolutely nothing in my head (I can go hours without thinking a discrete thought, doing nothing more than repeating a line or two from a song that doesn’t hold any particular significance). But these same old feelings have never felt quite like this.

Lately, my body hurts, for no good reason. A burning pain in my joints, especially my fingers, my wrists, my elbows, my ankles. I wrap them because that makes them feel better and reminds me not to lift too much, but I never know what to say when people ask what is wrong. I don’t know what is wrong. I just know it hurts.

So I spend a lot of time now Googling. Is the fogginess how my newly testosterone-wired brain is dealing with a lack of testosterone and interpreting the first huge depression I’ve had in a few years? (Is this the first huge depression I’ve had in a few years? Each time, it feels new and worse.) Do I have post-concussion syndrome from a decade of beating my head against walls and with my fists when I start to panic– injuries that make my ears ring and my vision narrow and go dark? Is the pain being sad enough that every little thing happening in my body feels magnified, so the normal aches and pains become unbareable? Is it lupus? Fibro? RA? Am I imagining it all?

The problem with the urge to name is that the diagnosis becomes the only justification. It’s not enough for me to forget what you just said because my brain is foggy. Is it enough if it is foggy because of TBI? I couldn’t stop crying yesterday. Par for the course for someone in crisis mode, but I would have felt even more selfish for doing it if I couldn’t justify it with my depression. The problem with that is that it can bring us quickly into a sort of essentialism where the problem isn’t the problem, the diagnosis is the problem. Where it’s not enough to feel or experience

Filed under: Disability and Ability

The mental illness system

This post on the Canadian mental illness and justice systems, a long with talks we have been having in one of my classes about prisons, stirred a lot up for me.

When I was in the hospital when I was eighteen, a man in this thirties or forties arrived who said that he had agreed to check-in while having a panic attack and hadn’t fully understood that he was going to be held for seventy-two hours. He’d constantly demand to talk to doctors and social workers and to be let out. When his partner visited, they’d sit in the corner with their heads together, plotting how to get him out. I was, as I said, eighteen, and full of world-weary bravado and told him that the more he ranted and raved, the longer they would try to keep him.

He did not appreciate this comment.

But this was a scene that I have often returned to. My own institutionalization was also voluntary– until I finished signing my name. Then it didn’t matter what I wanted any longer. I was checking in for PTSD, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, suicidal ideation, stress, and above all, self-harm. My social worker at my out-patient program had sat me down at the end of my first week and said that they couldn’t keep me, for what I’m sure would be the insurance complications of me killing myself in their building.

So they loaded me into an ambulance (which my insurance later tried to tell me I didn’t need, asking if I couldn’t have taken a taxi). And they strip-searched me. And they put me, an eighteen-year-old girl with trauma issues, on a ward with men taking Haldol, who threw chairs and endlessly paced the hallway in front of my room, the only stretch of open space on the ward. We got fresh air only on cigarette breaks. I smoked more so I could go outside more.

I, too, felt trapped, but I had seen enough movies to know that pleading to your captors in the loony bin only makes you look more crazy. I didn’t believe him about not needing to be there; I barely believed myself. I played by the rules. I wore my own clothes. I came out of my room. I participated in check-ins. I was thankful for things. My panic attacks decreased from five or six a day to three, then two, then I just wandered around in a numb haze called progress.

I suppose I must have met with a social worker once (to whom else could I calmly communicate my desire to leave?), but the only one I remember is the one as I signed the papers to be released again, who ran down a check-list, asking if I thought I might be hospitalized again. I told her that next time I needed a break, I’d just unplug my phone. I didn’t add that I would make sure it was some place where there was food other than peanut butter with too much jelly and where I was not afraid to sleep.

Though I have fortunately never been in the prison system, I see echoes of my own psych ward in so many of the accounts I read. No help, no rehabilitation. The threat of violence. The isolation that works its way into your bones. The isolation from the very society they are supposed to be preparing you to reenter. The shame. The knowledge that they want to keep you there because you are more profitable to them inside than out. I was fortunate that they only held me a further three days after I asked (calmly, politely, like the good little girl I was), if I could please go home, please. But I do wonder still about that man. How long did they find it convenient to keep him? Did they find it worth it to go to a judge and have him ordered to stay? What does it feel like to have that kind of power?

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , ,

On things that need to be said

If you are an ally wearing purple today in support and solidarity with those who have taken their own lives because of anti-queer bullying, good for you. What else are you doing? If you are supporting the It Gets Better project, what are you doing to make it better?

Because I have spent too much of my life repressing who I am, trying to kill myself for who I am, tenuously striking a bargain with myself to be okay with who I am, to put much faith in the idea of some undefined “tomorrow.” It is not enough for me. It should not be enough for you.

People should not have to wait until later for it to get better. People should not have to wait for “better,” period, if “better” means “well, people aren’t giving you wedgies, drowning out your words with derision and exaggerated lisping, conveniently ignoring your raised hand in class, disseminating videos of you without your consent, trying to rape you straight, jumping you in the bathroom, or whispering in your ear that you should do everyone a favor and kill yourself anymore, but you can’t get married, put your partner on your health insurance, be visited by hir in the hospital, or even have your partner join you in this country if ze was born abroad, be out at your job if you want to keep it, be treated by the government or random dudes on the street with any semblance of respect or dignity, or turn on the TV without hearing some red-faced pundit blame you for the wrongs of the modern world.”

That is not better. That is a gross violation of civil rights for which people should not be reduced to begging, or lied to about it being the carrot that keeps them moving forward. It is a vision of the world in which being queer is only okay if you can still squeeze yourself into a white heterosexual ideal.

If you have been surprised by the six suicides we’ve heard about in the past few weeks, you should be driven to tears when I tell you that 34,598 killed themselves in 2007 in this nation and more than a quarter of them were queer. Queer children kill themselves (and plot to kill themselves, and attempt to kill themselves) in droves. For queer children, self-hatred and self-harm come to feel like the necessary steps to a productive adulthood. Messages that it “gets better” are tacit approvals of how horrible it feels and is now, and vague promises of a future that feels like it will never come.

Wear purple, if you want. But do not do it an then pat yourself on the back for it, feeling that the message has been delivered. Because until you have written your congress person, refused to laugh at jokes made at the expense of trans women, had a meeting with your school principal about why the GSA can’t seem to find a meeting room, spoken at your place of worship, thanked someone for coming out to you, asked your health clinic why they don’t provide sliding-scale therapy to make mental health care more accessible, gotten up from the table when your cousin wouldn’t stop describing things as gay, pushed for immigration reform, demanded that your school district provide sensitivity training for all school personnel, stopped assuming you know someone’s gender history (or future!) just by looking at them, expressed love for your friends without quickly qualifying that you’re “not like that,” served meals at soup kitchens, held actual discussions with your child about difference, read books by people who look and love differently than you, not jerked your hand away when it is accidentally brushed by someone of the same sex on the T, and rallied your peers against the climate of death with which we surround difference in this country– until we have taken steps to make queer lives with living now– there is still an impossible amount of work to be undertaken and your self-congratulation is a disservice to the millions of queers who have killed themselves or been killed by others for who they are.

I end with an address to queer people in the words of Audre Lorde, who has said anything I might ever want to say more eloquently already:

[T]hat visibility which makes us most vulnerable is that which also is the source of our greatest strength. Because the machine will try to grind you into dust anyway, whether or not we speak. We can sit in our corners mute forever while our sisters and our selves are wasted, while our children are distorted and destroyed, while our earth is poisoned; we can sit in our safe corners mute as bottles, and we will still be no less afraid. […]

The fact that we are here and that I speak these words is an attempt to break that silence and bridge some of those differences between us, for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken.

–“The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action

You have the duty to know these things and the power to change them.

Please donate to a worthy organization, and ask them what more you can do to help them. If you know an organization that could use some help, please feel free to leave a comment with their contact info.

The Trevor Project (http://www.thetrevorproject.org/)
866-4-U-TREVOR National listening line for queer youths contemplating suicide

Fenway Community Health Peer Listening Line (http://www.fenwayhealth.com)
800-399-PEER A national, Boston-based listening line for queer people

Hopeline (http://www.hopeline.com/)
1-800-SUICIDE A national listening line.

The Boston Area Rape Crisis Counselling Center (BARCC) (http://www.barcc.org)
800.841.8371 A Boston-based rape crisis center

Boston-Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, (Bisexual, Transgender) Youth (BAGLY) (http://www.BAGLY.com)
A Boston institution nurturing the next generation of queer leaders

The Home for Little Wanderers (http://www.thehome.org/)
A Boston non-profit that helps and houses at-risk kids (including a house for queer kids who have been kicked out of home or foster placements due to their sexuality or gender)

The Audre Lorde Project (http://www.alp.org/)
Brooklyn-based organization for queer people of color concentrating on community organizing and radical nonviolent activism around progressive issues.

Camp Aranutiq (http://www.camparanutiq.org/)
A summer camp for gender-variant kids aged 8-15.

Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) (http://www.glsn.org)
A national organization supporting kids through schools. Especially notable for their work with GSAs and their school climate studies

Soulforce (http://www.soulforce.org/)

“Guided by the spirit of truth and empowered by the principles of relentless nonviolent resistance, works to end the religious and political oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning people.”

Filed under: Gender, sex, and sexuality, , , , , , , ,

What I wish I had said

I got a promotion at my work and tonight was my final night of training. My trainer, whom I really like, is a young Puerto Rican guy who closes the store five nights a week. I’ll close it a night or two a week but during that time I have no real power but am the person who will get yelled at if it burns down.

We were in the office going over the absurdly thick packets corporate wants me to master, information on each department. Two people from produce came down and we were trying to stump them on questions about the department. One of them, a young White guy, goes “I’ve got a question for you: what do you do when a tranny wants to know where to go to the bathroom?”

My first thought was “oh shit.” And then, I kind of didn’t understand the question, because I thought “point her or him to the bathroom.”

I said, “well, you start by not calling her a tranny.”

“Yeah, I know,” the guy brushed it off, “but I’m asking ’cause one came in today and his hands were as big as my head and he said [in a dramatic voice, with a dramatic, sweeping gesture] ‘where is the bathroom?'”

And then I understood what was being asked was “how do I effectively police someone? Isn’t it funny that trans people think they have the right to go out in public when I’m going to read them wrong? Isn’t it absurd that they think they get to pee like you or I do? Aren’t I funny, and also smart for seeing through that?”

I said (while my trainer and the second produce clerk, a White woman in her late thirties/early forties) guffawed, “then you tell her where the bathroom is.”

He kept going, trying to dig himself out. “I know, I mean, here, the bathrooms are together, but what if one was here [pointing to one end of the store] and the other was there [pointing to the other].”

I said, “whatever that person is dressed as, that’s the one you direct her or him to.” The woman chimed in, “yeah, but what if I’m in the bathroom? I mean, hello?”

I said something like “then you are just going to have to deal with it for two minutes.”

They kept going, so, now that I understood that they were also asking “can I call the police on that person? I know what the right thing to do is, but what’s the legal thing to do? Is there some kind of loophole so that I can still make her life harder?”

I said that the law in Massachusetts is that whatever gender someone is dressed as, that’s the bathroom they use. (To my knowledge, this isn’t true; As far as I know, neither Massachusetts nor our city hasn’t passed a gender identity-inclusive non-discrimination law.) And finally they were satisfied. Because now they knew what The Man says.

But there was so much more I wanted to say.

As soon as I understood1 the word “tranny” coming out of his mouth, I wanted to say “I’m transsexual.” I wanted to say “‘tranny’ is what people shout when they kick our heads in; you shut your mouth.” I wanted to say “I spent years afraid to piss in public because of questions like that.” I wanted to say, “I still try not to pee at work because of questions like that.”

I wanted to say “as the manager here, [trainer], would you like to fill them in on our non-discrimination policy?” I wanted to say, “how dare you, [trainer], laugh at this, or you, [produce woman], laugh when I like you both and thought I could trust you.” I wanted to say,”Thank G-d I haven’t come out to anyone at work but instead go through my shifts with a weird, vice-like silence and with a higher-than-usual wall I maintain after a year and a series of promotions?”

I wanted to say, “You’re asking questions that don’t even apply in this store, and you know it; thank G-d our bathrooms are right next to one another and neither you nor anybody else gets to tell someone what side of the store to go to.” I wanted to say, “where do you get the sense of entitlement and privilege to think you get to think these things about other people? I wanted to say, “what makes you think you can ask these questions in the manager’s office, to me, whom you don’t even know?”

I wanted to say, “it makes me angry to hear you talk like that.” I wanted to say “it makes me feel small and sad to hear you talk like that.” I wanted to say, “it makes me feel guilty to know I am passing well enough for you to think you can say this to me.” I wanted to say, “it makes me feel sick that I’m using my passing privilege not to call you out.” I wanted to say, “It makes me feel invisible to hear you say these things to me.” I wanted to say, “I wish I had an ally here, someone to tell you to shut the fuck up so that I didn’t have to.”

I wanted to say, “it takes so much fucking guts for that woman to walk through her day to day life, how dare a person so small try to insult her after she has gone.”

I wanted to say, “what you do in that situation is treat another human being with a little fucking respect.”

I wanted to say, “you’ll have forgotten this by the time you leave this room, but for me it will be a pit in my stomach, and tension, another brick in my wall of self-protection for weeks and weeks. For me, it will be more shit I have agreed to swallow, it will be more punches I have pulled. You say these things casually because you don’t understand. And you don’t understand because you don’t care to. You make me feel sick inside, and you won’t even know it because telling you that you’re wrong costs me too much– will it cost me my job? Will this promotion disappear? I can stand up for her, but I cannot stand up for myself here. I’ll be wandering around for days feeling this weird distance from myself. And why? Because you wanted to make a funny joke.”

I wanted to say so many things.

___
1. I have an auditory processing problem. It’s hard for me to decode sounds into words, so I didn’t immediately understand what he said until I heard the context of the sentence.

Filed under: Gender, sex, and sexuality, , , , ,

Update on the stabbing of two DC trans women

News 8 reports that the victim of yesterday’s stabbing was Tyli’a “Nana Boo” Mack1, aged 21. The stabbing of her and her unnamed friend may be investigated as a hate crime, DC police say.

According to Tyli’a’s friend Patria Dickerson,

Nana Boo did not take verbal abuse on the street silently. “Me and her [were] together an hour before she got murdered. She’s outspoken and she’s not going to let anybody say what they want to say to her,” she said.

Right on, Nana. It will be sad if your exercising your right to defend yourself from the bullshit trans women, especially those who are of color (as Nana was), are often asked to put up with is played as “contributing” to you murder. According to the Washingtom Blade, Nana was involved with Transgender Health Empowerment. According to a witness who spoke to the second stabbing victim, Nana was introducing her friend to the services offered by THE. If her friend is early in her transition, it likely explains why we have not yet heard her name.

There will be a vigil Friday at 6:30 at 209 Q street, the site of the stabbing.

The reward for information on Nana’s murder and her friend’s stabbing have been raised to $25,000.

Beverly Mack, Nana’s mother, puts it simply:

“[m]y child was born just like everyone else — through a mother’s womb,” she said. “And I don’t think it’s fair for other people to take other people’s lives.”

Disagreeing with how someone lives her live doesn’t give you license to kill her. My thoughts are with the Mack family. May they find peace and receive justice.

__________
1. Reports refer to the victim by several names. Most seem to generally refer to her by as Nana (well, the ones that aren’t calling her by her male name), but I wanted to provide all the names she may have been known as. It is, of course, especially common for trans people to have several names or nicknames throughout their transitions.

Filed under: Gender, sex, and sexuality, Race, ethnicity, and color, , , , , , ,

One trans woman killed, another other attacked in DC

The Sexist at Washington City Paper reports that at around 2:30 Wednesday, two trans women were stabbed on Q street in Northwest Washington DC, USA. The source above refers to the murdered person as a trans woman while this source refers to the victim as a trans man, adding insult to fucking injury. As the source above has “men” corrected to “women,” I’m forced to assume that reporters received and passed on unvetted some transmisogynist bullshit, which appears to have stemmed from the police themselves (surprise, surprise).

Reports are sketchy right now, with some sources referring to a possible fight between the victim and the other woman who was stabbed, and some pointing to a “black male.” (Eye roll)

Current stories include:
USA 9
MyFox DC
NBC Washington

Where you see ungendering or misgendering, please comment or e-mail the reporter to refer her or him to the the AP’s stylebook, quoted here. Other good resources are National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association Stylebook Supplment on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Terminology, (mentioned on the above link) National Center for Transgender Equality’s Media section

I’ll keep an eye on this– if you know anything else, please comment.

Filed under: Gender, sex, and sexuality, , , , , , ,

There are times when we are absolutely nowhere 1

I just saw this clip via The Angry Black Woman:


(embed is fickle. If it’s not showing up, click here.2)

This is just the latest of videos of truly violent3, jaw-droppingly appalling, often racially- or ethnically-charged4 conduct at town halls on health care reform. But sometimes, I see stuff like this and it is just too much.

Because are you fucking kidding me with this? To say “heil Hitler” to an Israeli Jew, as an accusation, as an insult because you disagree with him on how large the government should be, and whether it should provide health care for its citizens. There is still so much work to do and there are times when I am not up to any of it. I understand anger-baiting, but I also understand cruelty, malice, bad faith, and evil. And there is something evil in this. Rabbi Menachem Mendel said:

Intolerance lies at the core of evil. Not the intolerance that results from any threat or danger. But intolerance of another being who dares to exist. Intolerance without cause. It is so deep within us, because every human being secretly desires the entire universe to himself. Our only way out is to learn compassion without cause. To care for each other simply because that ‘other’ exists.”

Several protesters hold signs against health care reform. One man holds a sign that says 'we have not idea what they we are talking about.' On the sign, several arrows point at the people around him. In front of him, a girl holds a sign reading 'sorry, we thought reading the bill was ur job.'

This quote always brings up another for me. In “Mother Night,” a book about a playwright-turned Nazi propagandist, Kurt Vonnegut writes

There are plenty of good reasons for fighting, but no good reason ever to hate without reservation, to imagine that G-d Almighty Himself hates with you, too. Where’s evil? It’s that large part of every man that wants to hate without limit, that wants to hate with G-d on his side.

I watched the above video with a good friend of mine, who is not Jewish, but whose gay great uncle was killed in the Holocaust. He, too felt flabbergasted, but a short while later we were trying to light a fire which kept dying. He called the efforts lame and I told him that was an ableist term. He gave me such a look of annoyance, though occasionally he will apologize when I call him on “retarded,” and has learnt the term “hipster racism.” Where do you go with this? What do you do in a world that wants to hate without limit? I can understand wanting a small government. I can understand not trusting politicians. To disagree what sorts of programs a government should provide. To get upset when you see people stand in opposition to your ideals, even to lash out occationally.

But I cannot understand the baseless, monstrous comparisons to Adolf G-ddamned Hitler; strapping on guns and publicly, proudly threatening the president; I cannot understand a willful abandonment of humanity for inhumanity, the hatred of the other who dares to exist.

So. Where do you go with this?5 Where do you find that compassion without cause? How do you care for the other when the other is against (health) care? Where do you find love to combat intolerance so visceral?

________
1. “The West Wing,” “Take This Sabbath Day.” Sam Seaborn to Leo McGarry on the President’s refusal to take a stand against capital punishment.
2. For those unable to view or hear the video, the title tells you the long and short of it. An Israeli man is talking about how in Israel, they care for people, particularly soldiers, and provide everyone with health care. As he speaks, a woman off camera shouts “Heil Hitler.” He says to the reporter “did you hear that? She said to a Jew ‘Heil Hitler’.” He then confronts her: “I’m a Jew, you’re telling me ‘Heil Hitler?’ Shame of you! Shame of you!” Full transcript when I have headphones.
3. Hate crime-tracking groups report upswing in activity against President Obama, a health care protester uses Twitter to encourage people to carry and even use guns at town meetings, a Tampa town hall turns violent and is cancelled
4. Black Rep. David Scott (D-Georgia)’s offices are vandalized with a four-foot swastika following a town hall meeting, a woman has her poster of Rosa Parks ripped out of her hands. If you’re not quite sure about this racial undercurrent, I invite you to take a look at the comment section of virtually any piece about health care reform.
5. Me? I intellectualize.

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , , , ,

BREAKING NEWS: Lady Gaga’s genitals are not our business!!!

The blog Queers United reports:

Pop star sensation Lady Gaga surprised her millions of fans by parading on stage without an underwear showing that she is intersex and has male and female genitalia. This has not yet been confirmed, but the video is certainly interesting.

There’s then an unsourced quote attributed to Lady Gaga where she says that she has both female and male genitalia and IDs as female, and below that a YouTube video of the performance in question, which I will NOT be embedding. I watched the video because I thought that she took off all her clothes and said something like “I am proud to be an intersex woman.” That is not what happened. Rather, she was sitting on a motorcycle and her dress started riding up. She tried pulling it down, then climbed off it (with the motorcycle between her and the audience) and gave her dress a quick tug, all while continuing her stage patter.

Everything about the post I linked to above is hugely problematic. First, Lady Gaga was not coming out as intersex. She was going through her day-to-day life as a performer, doing her job and looking the way people expect her to look. She wasn’t “parading” around without underwear. She was wearing a very tight dress that might have shown panty lines. And if it had, that’s what people would be talking about right now because, really, how tacky, doesn’t she know better, no one wants to see that, get a clue.

What did happen is that Lady Gaga opted not to wear underwear and when getting off of a motorcycle resulted in a quick flash, it suddenly became okay for footage of her genitals to be circulated, presumably without her consent under titles like “Lady Gaga has a penis? Lady Gaga is a man?”, “Proof!! LADY GAGA is a MAN!”, or “Breaking news: Lady GaGa is actually a MAN!” and marked with pop-ups encouraging us to view “some of the funniest drunken shamings” on the internet. That’s not coming out. That’s exploitation, predicated on the belief that women’s and genitals that are “abnormal” or unexpected in any way are public property.

If she is intersex and chooses to come out as such, that would be great. If was assigned female at birth and chooses to come out as a woman with a large labia, awesome. If she was assigned male at birth and wants to share that with us, more power to her. But it was never the public’s business and it is shameful that footage of her crotch is the way she’s going to come out.

_____
Psst: if you read the LJ group Intersexed and saw a very similar comment there, that was me, I promise.
EDIT: Thanks to Lisa at Questioning Transphobia for cross-posting for me!

Filed under: Gender, sex, and sexuality, , , ,

Maeve Fox for the win

Word to prosecutor Maeve Fox for her comments on the trial of Brandon McInerney, who shot and killed fifteen-year-old Larry King last year. Defense attorneys have been claiming that King loudly courted McInerney, which humiliated McInerney and forced him to kill King. To which defense Fox responded:

“Is the defense ‘gay panic’?” she asked. “This is just a fishing expedition to paint Larry King as someone who needed killing.”

Word, Ms. Fox. Because no matter how disinterested to are in someone’s (alleged) advances, the response to unwanted courtship is “no thanks,” not two bullets to the back of the head.

Filed under: Gender, sex, and sexuality, , , , , ,

That’s stupid: Saying what we mean

On Womanist Musings, Renee has a post up apologizing for her ableist language in the form of the word “crazy”. I am a former and occasional crazy person, by which I mean that throughout high school and some of college I had an alternate education plan to help to address my emotional problems and their presentation in the classroom. Near the end of my first year of college, I also checked myself into a hospital where I spent the first three days screaming off and on and keeping a tally of my panic attacks. And this past week I had a three-day-long, slow-burn freak out because my friend touched my side. So the word “crazy” as a generic insult should, perhaps, be close to my heart. But it’s not particularly. Renee’s post got me thinking about why that might be.

When I was in high school, I started hanging out with a girl who is developmentally delayed and became involved with Best Buddies (a group which pairs DD people and non-DD people). I began to realize how much of the common insult vernacular (for want of a better term) has to do with intelligence. When I, as president of the GSA, lead trainings, I’d often ask “what do you mean when you say ‘that’s so gay?'” Usually the response was “that’s stupid,” so I’d urge them to use that term instead. “When you say ‘gay’ where you mean ‘stupid,’ you’re saying gay people are stupid. Just say what you mean.”

It took me a long time to realize that terms like “stupid,” “idiot,” and “moron” speak directly to someone’s “intelligence.” In fact, I can’t say it really hit me for years, even after one lunch time when I played Trivial Pursuit with several of the people in my friend’s class. One of her teachers told me that they had noticed a card that used offensive language and asked me to take it out if I came across it. I asked what it was, so that I could look for it, and she got uncomfortable, unsure how to phrase it, and said “it involves the sort of people we teach in this room.” The card asked about the IQ of people with the diagnosis “moron.”

That was probably five years ago, and I am still working on trying to find better insults. I’ve been disabled by my brain’s misfirings  but I still use “crazy”. Words like these are so ingrained in our shared language that they are almost invisible unless aimed at you. This is, of course, the essence of privilege: failing to (have to) realize that the potential for these words to harm is not theoretical and that their pervasiveness doesn’t dull the tips of these invisible daggers.

For my part, I am making a point of using better words that more correctly label whatever problem I have identified. This requires me to actually think about what I dislike about someone or something and to articulate that.It means that my language is more effective and less prone to distract with unintended meaning.

Instead of saying someone is “stupid”, I say they are “not thinking”, or that they “don’t make sense”. Instead of calling a situation “crazy”, I can say it is “out of control”. Rather than “that’s lame” I can say “I don’t like that.”

What words do you use as a shorthand for things that seem out of place, unwanted, or wrong? What is the implication of those terms? What better replacements have you found?

Filed under: Disability and Ability, , , , , , , ,

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