Wednesday, November 1, 2017
Catsidhe writes Words Cut at Catsidhe
Trigger warning: Ableist slurs, racial slurs, homophobic slurs
There was a time when I used those words, because I was ignorant. And because everyone around me used them, and I thought that that’s just what you did.
They were words we used at them. I mean, we didn’t know any, but we knew about them. They were the insults we threw around the schoolyard at each other. That kid who annoyed you wasn’t a retard retard. He wasn’t living at Mont Park, where all the crazy people and… well, retards lived. It’s just a word you used.
Short for mongoloid, which is what they used to call people with Down’s Syndrome. We didn’t know any of those either. But we saw pictures in encyclopedias. It was just a word, to us. A nasty word, to be sure. But, as a boy, everyone was nasty to each other most of the time, whether in earnest or in jest. I could never quite be sure which was which. But, desperate to fit in, I used the words too.
Short for “spastic”. We didn’t know anyone with Cerebral Palsy either. In our ignorance, we assumed that their minds were as disabled as their bodies.
Over time… lots of time, I learned. I learned that girls could be even nastier than boys, even if they didn’t call you a retard to you face. They’d call you a retard behind your back, to your friends. And they’d laugh. The girls, and your friends.
I learned that those words were corrosive, even if used lightly. Especially if used lightly. Not just to the person to whom you use them, but to the person who says them. Because the more you say things like that, the more normal you think it is.
I learned that there were other words, in other contexts, which were just as bad, if not worse. Wog. Chink. Boong. Bitch. Faggot. Worse than those. People told me that those words hurt, and I believed them.
After more time, some words fell out of use, and others entered the lexicon of hurt. Now there was the autist, and the Aspergers. One was an Other, a boogeyman that everyone knew, but no-one had met, like the mongs of old. The other was a joke. Sheldon Cooper, and Zack Addy. Someone who was good at technology and bad at everything else and not only safe but acceptible to laugh at.
I joined in. Self-deprecatingly, of course. At a professional day, they got us to play some pseudo-psychological game, and sorted us into groups based on “personality type”. Most of us in the IT area found ourselves in the INTJ group (or something, it didn’t really make sense), and when the people running it were describing the qualities of our group, they said “you guys are known for…”, I interrupted with “Asperger’s Syndrome.” And everyone laughed.
But the joke was increasingly less funny. And I sought, and got, a professional opinion. That opinion was that it’s not a joke when it’s true. And now I’m hearing new words.
Because it’s not nice to use Downs Syndrome any more. They’ve been let out of institutions and into mainstream schools, and it turns out that they were people all along. But autists… They’re either funny, like Sheldon, or the sort of person you’ve only heard of, who smear shit on the walls, or so you’re told. So it’s OK to use them as epithets.
And I don’t want to stop them and ask them to say that again to my face when I overhear them say it casually walking down the street, but then again, I really do want to. But I don’t. Because that’s what they think of me: a temper-tantrumming man-child with freakish IT abilities and no social skills. And in my silence, that they don’t even notice, I wonder if they’re right.
(As an aside... what does it even mean? Does it mean the person they were talking about was obsessing about something? Does it mean they were having a meltdown? Does it mean they were showing more intellectual curiosity and enthusiasm than was deemed socially acceptable?)
Besides, it’s cool to think that fidget spinners are stupid, and it’s fine to laugh at anyone who uses one. It’s not like normal people find them useful. Because language shapes reality. Autists are around, everyone knows that. (So as far as "Autistic Awareness" goes, well done: people are aware.) Autists are more common than everyone thought; this is a reason for moral posturing and panic among some. (Anti-Vaxxers, and cure-seekers, and the people who want to rewrite the DSM to redefine the problem away, and the sort of people who want to build new, special, schools to put all the ASD kids into, because institutionalisation always worked so well before.) You probably know an Autist, so you know that they’re harmless, except when they go all… autistic at you for no reason. I mean, you don’t see why they should suddenly be upset, so it must just be because there is no reason. No real reason. And if their problems aren’t really real, then their solutions mustn’t be either. Therefore fidget spinners are stupid and it’s OK to write Op-Eds and comics and memes and blog posts about “how stupid are fidget spinners, even more stupid than yo-yos and Rubik’s Cubes. They don’t even do anything. People who use them must be lazy and dumb and avoiding their real problems.” And when I call this out, and point out that some Autists find them very useful, then the reply is “Oh, but we weren’t talking about you”. Unless the reply is “why don’t you get a sense of humour?”
We weren’t talking about you, Paul, just those other retards.
We weren’t talking about you, Stavro, just those other wogs.
We weren’t talking about you, Chen, just those other chinks.
We weren’t talking about you, Sheldon, just those other spergs.