Wednesday, March 6, 2013

That Word Is Not Yours to Use

TW:  Extensive use of the r-slur
I had such an able-bodied moment today.  I could not find my remote control for my TV!  And then I found it under my pillow all along!  I am so able-bodied.  Seriously, I'm such an AB.

That homework we had to do last night?  Oh my god, so able-bodied.  I mean, seriously.  Is that professor, like, able-bodied or something?  Only an AB would do something like that.

This school is able-bodied.  They cut all these programs and then decided to spend all this money building a new auditorium.  It's just able-bodied, in my opinion.

What's wrong with being able-bodied?  It has nothing to do with that.  What do you mean, it's hurtful?  It's just a word; lighten up.  I have freedom of speech, I can say it if I want.  You're too sensitive.

Starting to get the picture?

Replace all the instances of "able-bodied" with "retard(ed)" and no one would bat an eyelash.

Today is Spread the Word to End the Word Day.  Its sole purpose to eliminate use of the r-word - "retard".  Why?  Because it's derogatory to people with disabilities.  And not just people with intellectual disabilities - it's offensive to anyone whose disability makes them seem "not right", "not normal", somehow "off".  If you have trouble interacting with people, if you slur and drool and speak slowly, you are instantly marked a retard.

I've never been called a retard.  Not to my face, anyway.  I'm sure people say it and think it behind my back.  I spaz out and can't sit up straight and I talk too loud and I can't tell my left from my right.  I live with a pit of internalized ableism in my stomach; a deep-seated fear of being called retarded.  "Retarded" packs a punch that "stupid", "dumb", or "nonsensical" just doesn't do.

The thing is, unless you're someone who that label has been applied to, that word is not yours to say, not yours to use.  You are appropriating decades, quite possibly centuries of hatred and hurt and abuse hurled at the intellectually disabled and related communities, and distilling it to mean my teacher was mean to me or I forgot to do something or someone did something I don't agree with.  You are taking human suffering and turning it into a joke.  And that's not okay.

Reclamation is different.  If you take a word that has been used to dehumanize you and turn it inside out, it loses some of its potency.  But for you to reclaim it, it has to have been used against you in the first place.  And I'm not talking about your friend calling you a retard when you lose your car keys.  I'm talking about when it's loaded.  When it conveys all the disappointment that you aren't normal and all the expectations that you'll never BE normal.  When it's been used to tell you that you'll never have a family, have a job, be a true part of society.  Unless you've had that word pointed at you like a loaded gun, it will never be yours to reclaim.

So next time you feel the r-word rising to your lips, stop and think about how it makes people feel.  How you would feel if your identity was used to mean unintelligent, irrational, forgetful.  And then you damn well better pick a different word.  Because if you don't stop, you might just hear me one of these days say "That's SOOOOOOO ABLE-BODIED!!!"

Friday, March 1, 2013

Murder, Not Mercy

Originally published on April 4th, 2012, on the Disability Right Now blog.  Republishing for the National Day of Mourning hosted by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

TW:  Murder/Euthanasia 

They’re trying to kill us.

More specifically, they’re trying to kill me.

Please spare me your platitudes about how you’re not trying to kill me, of course not!  “You’re one of the lucky ones.” you tell me.  “We only want to put the severely disabled out of their misery.”  Implicit in this argument is the assumption that I couldn’t possibly be severely disabled, because I have a voice.  I’m actively arguing against you.

But you don’t know me.  You don’t know a thing about me.  I could be a full time powerchair user, I could be fed through a g-tube, I could be using a communication device.  And the truth is, I’m none of those things.  But I could be.  And even if I was?  I’d still be happy.  And I certainly wouldn’t want to be dead.

You say you want to end the lives of those who are suffering.  Well, if that’s true, then you want to kill me.  Am I suffering?  Absolutely.  Not from my CP, but from the pain that plagues me every day.  The pain could go away tomorrow and I wouldn’t miss it.  But I’d still rather be in pain than dead.  And I’d like to make that choice myself, thank you very much.

You say you’d rather die than be like us.  Like me.  And that’s sad, because you have no idea what our lives are really like.  But that’s your choice.  Those people you killed – directly or indirectly – they didn’t have that choice.  Tracy didn’t have a choice.  George didn’t have a choice.  And that’s what you really want, isn’t it?  That’s your definition of “severely disabled” – incapable of expressing their choice the usual way, the right way, the normal way, so you pretend to be a noble hero and make that choice for them.

I can speak.  I can say “Stop!” when someone is trying to hurt me.  But after I’m dead, will you pretend I couldn’t?  Will you exploit the hardships of my life in order to perpetuate the idea that bodies like ours are broken?  Will you even acknowledge that I was happy, and yes, even proud, just the way I was?

You call it mercy.  I call it murder.

On Friday night, I stood in a dimly lit park, surrounded by my friends, my brothers, my sisters in the fight against ableism.  I held a candle up to the sky in memory of all of my disabled brethren who were cruelly snatched, against their will, from this world.  Not because of the natural path of illness or injury, not even because of a tragic accident.  No, these people were not with us because someone willfully, purposely, decided that their lives were not worth living.  Someone actively decided to kill them.  All in the name of “mercy” and a twisted sense of moral obligation.  If their lives were not cut short, who knows?  They might have been at that vigil with us, joining hands and hearts, building a sense of community among disabled people of extraordinarily diverse backgrounds.   But we have no way of knowing – because someone decided they didn’t deserve to live.

As a group, we must rise up.  As a group, we must protest, in any way, shape or form that we can. 

We cannot let these murders go unnoticed.  The time has passed to be nice, and polite, and grateful for the scraps of humanity that society throws in our direction.  We must demand our personhood, and we must demand it now.  Because if we are too afraid to stand for our rights, if we turn our backs on these atrocities because we are terrified that if we speak up, they will kill us too and blame it on our pitiful suffering, this will keep happening.  It already has.

They’re trying to kill us.

They’re trying to kill me.

And I’m scared.