The internet is just a cesspool of people saying shit I don’t want to hear. Yeah, it happens in real life too. It happens in real life far, far more than I’d like, but on the internet I just can’t seem to escape it. Perhaps the worst though is when it comes from friends. It’s one thing when it comes from aquantainces, but when close friends start throwing around slurs, my blood pressure rises, I feel mad uncomfortable, and I keep my damn mouth shut.
Perhaps a part of it is a feeling of guilt on my part. I throw around the words “whore,” “bitch,” and “cunt” with great frequency, and I justify my language by A)not using those words to refer to females exclusively (I actually haven’t used ‘whore’ to describe an animate object in a long-ass time) B) and by using my double-X chromosomes to justify a reclamation of words generally used to slur my kind. I try really damn hard to avoid language that could hurt some kind of minority group, or slander someones abilities, or whatever even though I don’t always succeed, and know that my sailor mouth has offended many a person with a strong religious affiliation, or a small child, or just a general sense of common decency. I try to be particularly sensitive to those with disabilities, because the most beloved person in my life has a very pronounce, very life-affecting disability. While I am not really all tjat gung-ho about ‘people first language’ (perhaps another post, but ultimately by thoughts can be summed up by Schuyler’s Monster author Robert Rummel-Hudson in this blog post). I realize too that our language has been particularly problematic towards people with disabilities, in that most of our slurs for describing things negatively come from former disability terms (“dumb,” “crazy,” “bedlam,” “spastic”). Nothing is harder than trying to rid your language of disability slurs, and there’s a part of me that wonders if terms like “dumb” and “crazy” are so far removed now from their original definitions that perhaps it is OK, that their meanings have evolved. I know for sure though, that this is not the case with many, many words, and one of them, ‘retarded,’ pushes every single one of my goddamn buttons.
I hate to say that the word triggers me, because in so many ways it doesn’t fit with my idea of triggering. Rape jokes trigger my PTSD, for many people racial slurs and slurs relating to sexuality and gender identity trigger memories of their struggles for self and social acceptance. I’m sure that there are many people with disability who are triggered in such a way by the word “retarded” but I’m not one of them. And I’m not disabled, though I identify strongly with the title Rummel-Hudson uses “shepherd of the broken.” I hear the word and my hackles raise and all I want to do is jump down the users motherfucking throat. My level of indignance rises when these same people throwing around the r-word work strongly to discourage the usage of slurs like “gay” and “tranny.” By all means, call out the bastards who throw those words around to insult or mean stupid. I won’t try to stop you because I’m right there with you! But really, you are willing to fight so hard for the rights of others (and occasionally yourself) and you recognize how hurtful a word can be! And yet, you chose to throw around a word that “is so widely accepted as derogatory and which makes persons with developmental disabilities into the defenseless butt of your ugly humor” and this word? It hurts my family and insults the basic abilities of the one and only person I would ever dream of taking a bullet for (I would also take a bullet for my cat, but she is not recognized as a person.). Yet I do not feel brave enough or empowered enough or worthy enough of calling people out on this issue. I feel reluctant to call people out on some of the things that do act as personal triggers for me, for fear that my “please don’t say that” will cause me to be associated with that issue, labeling me in ways that I am not ready to be labeled. So many people already know my relationship to the disabled community, and know how important acceptance and tolerance are to me and those I love dearly. The one person I ever asked to please stop using that word stopped, and did not think any less of me for advocating for my brother. I don’t know how others would react, but I imagine those who truly care about me would take the criticism well, and understand my intentions. It doesn’t squelch the awkward feelings though when someone on Facebook comments “Oh yeah that’s so retarded” and I want to reply “yeah, that was pretty uncool, but could you please not use that word?” I don’t like public call outs, and that just feels too much like correction-through-humiliation. It always does, and that’s why I can’t do it. You may be humiliating someone I care about, and I’m too chicken-shit to risk humiliating you, even if my correction may prove educational and not offensive. I don’t even know.
Given that I spend 90% of my free time on the internet and have dedicated my life to being a snarky bitch, you’d think this wouldn’t be a problem. It is, and it would really just be easier if people put a little bit of thought into what they said, and who they said it to. It sure wouldn’t unpack a lot of the forgotten baggage our language carries with it, but it would certainly stop the current and en vogue slurs that clearly target specific groups.