Disclaimer: This post includes examples of trigger words or slurs. If you have a trigger word that is detrimental to your health, please keep in mind their intended usage or if necessary, do not read the post. Health comes first and foremost.
Earlier today (or should I say yesterday? It is past midnight after all) I had a conversation with someone I consider a friend about Christmas. It lead to talking about cookies and thus the pumpkin cookies I baked. Then, the bombshell hit.
pumpkin pie was really lame
Here’s the thing. I’m physically lame. Have been for years, though it’s often hard to tell because the functionality of my legs is off and on and on most days, I can walk with reasonable assurance that people won’t pick up on the difficulties it may be causing me at the time. I only recently came to terms with the concept of the word being applied to me, though, and with it the concept of self-identity and reclamation due to the word’s frequent usage as a slur against the physically disabled.
Calling people on their usage of the term is hard for me because it shows to them that I have a connection to the word somehow. It leaves me exposed for various assumptions, including what kind of a person I am for being offended at the use of such a term. Lo and behold, that’s the assumption I got today.
I’m going to pass over the issue with the word usage, because it’s been explained far better than I could hope to. Specifically, on FWD in their Ableist Word Profile series. I’m also going to pass over the difficulty of addressing such issues to people that either justify their usage of the terms or try to claim it’s oh so hard to break such habits as justification of not really trying, because this too has been explained far better than I could hope to.
Rather, I’m going to focus on the assumptions that came with the struggles of addressing such issues.
Readers may be familiar with this one: the assumption that being offended at a term means that you’re looking at life negatively. This often comes with the assumption that one’s worldview is the “right” one that people should aspire to, and that people should cope with things the way you do. This time it stretched a bit further and also lead to the assumption that words in popular usage for other meanings such as “uncool”, “a downer”, or “party pooper” means the word isn’t a slur due to one’s lack of experience of its application as one.
I am not you.
People are highly diverse. We have various different environments, cultures, experiences, beliefs and lives that are all affected by each other. Because of this, we have various different worldviews and coping methods. When I politely ask you not to use a term in a certain fashion around me, this is because I have a coping method that doesn’t address this situation or is negatively impacted by it, such as avoidance of triggers. We see this with a lot of words: crazy, insane, psychotic, retarded, fag, gay, gyped, jewed and rape, just to name a few. These coping methods come from years of life experience and are specific to my mental and/or physical health (especially since physical health can be impacted by mental health and/or stress). Some of this life experience may include these words being used as slurs against me or another person I’m in the presence of.
Telling me that I need to look at the word usage differently, as a given culture or society’s accepted usage or slang, does not erase these experiences. They do not magically disappear. They will always be a part of the person and yes, such usage can trigger them and cause harm. It also does not magically show me your perspective or why I should understand it or change my perspective to match it.
What would be awesome as a magical ability is being able to show you:
- Why the use of such words is a problem for me.
- The experiences that I have gone through that result in this problem.
- The emotional and/or physical turmoil that result from such experiences.
- Why what you’re assuming is bullshit.
Unfortunately this won’t happen. So I’m stuck hoping that you’ll look past your privilege from the lack of exposure and experience in order to better understand what I’m trying to say. It doesn’t often happen, but I have hope anyway. I do have good experiences with people doing what they can to avoid usage of trigger words around me.
Wait, what’s that? Looking at part of the situation positively instead of negatively?
People can have positive outlooks on word usage too. Being offended at the use of a given term isn’t a tell-all sign of a person’s worldview. It can happen to someone who is otherwise very upbeat and positive about life, simply because their exposure or experience is different from yours.
If I or someone else ask(s) you to avoid using a certain term around them, stop. Don’t respond. Think about why they might be asking this of you and how they might be feeling at the moment. Because if they’re asking this of you, it’s because they have a problem with the word usage. Not you, them. And with it comes their worldview, experiences and coping methods, not yours. If your coping methods include reclamation of a given term through common usage in your culture or society, that’s fine for you. That does not mean that who you’re talking to utilizes such coping methods. Then do the polite thing, apologize and try to remove that usage of the word from your vocabulary. Don’t make assumptions based on your worldview. We’re not you.