Hey, I have some experience being hurt by ableist language. My friend and I were talking about it, how she wants to stop using ableist language. Here are some notions.
I am diagnosed with mental illnesses and disabled by them. Many times my feelings have been hurt, when people I love say hateful stuff about crazy people such as myself. They say their boss was a nutjob, or how the president is psycho. I guess what hurts most is how crazy is a horrible thing to be, in their minds.
The boss was not really nuts–he was just doing a behavior that my loved one didn’t like. Is the president psycho? To me, psycho is psychotic, and psychotic is mostly about hallucinating.
I hear voices and have all my life, so I really am psychotic. Do I remind you of the president? Hairstyles aside, I don’t think the main problem with the president is whether or not he hears voices or sees visions. The main problem is that he’s a selfish, harmful, immature, ignorant, cruel, self-aggrandizing, entitled, evil asshole who’s strangely popular despite his total ineptitude.
If the president heard voices or saw visions, really that might help. In my experience, psychotic people are often pretty great. We have a window on a world that others don’t often see; we might have compassion for differences. Certain types of creativity can come naturally to us. Making strange connections between mostly unlike things can be fun.
When I think of the president, I don’t think of fun, creativity, or compassion. “Somebody needs to slip that person some shrooms,” a friend told me, about an uptight entitled person who needed more perspective.
I identify as crazy. It suits me. Yeah, in a world gone mad, the only appropriate response is to go madder. No problem!
“I don’t suffer from insanity–I enjoy every moment of it.” Well, not really. Being crazy can be a pain in the ass. But we play the cards we’re dealt, right? If I’m crazy, I will excel at crazy.
As for language, a lot of people just say “wild” instead of crazy. I switched to wild a long time ago. I enjoy imagining tigers and peafowl and ungulate or bovine mammals at high elevations in other lands I don’t even know about, when I say wild.
We’re talkin’ out in the forest–not tamed or in a zoo. Wild, I’m tellin’ ya.
There are clinical definitions of illness stuff, and then there’s the slang.
Delusional is a term that’s probably described me, in a chart somewhere. I can rave about capitalism, forces beyond our control, men in smoke filled rooms making decisions that can make or break us. If I have a little too much enthusiasm about resisting capitalism, I’m delusional, right? Depending on who I’m talking to.
A psychiatrist is a psychiatrist because they went to school, paid thousands of dollars, survived some interning, look the part, talk the talk. The system works for them!
But mostly they’re psychiatrists because they duped a bunch of people into thinking they can diagnose medical illnesses with no blood test or brain wave test or anything, really, but an impression based on ten minutes of conversation and a heap of prejudice. And I’m the delusional one? Hahahaha.
They’re the one with the prescription pad and who can leave the room to quietly tell someone less important to call the cops or ambulance. So I have to be careful around them.
People we don’t agree with can seem delusional, because they seem to be living in a world that’s not ours. If they believe the life of a fetus is more important that the life of an actual in the world human being, wow–that’s not a mindset that I find reasonable. But seeing the world in a way different from the way I see it doesn’t make them delusional.
Or people who believe it’s ok to separate kids from their families and put them in cages, or believe homeless people don’t deserve food or homes or health. Or that queer people are messed up and disgusting. That’s not a mentality I share, but I can see how they got that way. I’ve been related to people like that.
It doesn’t help to refer to them as having a psychiatric issue. Under-informed, lacking kindness and compassion, unable to imagine a life besides their own, terrified of losing resources by sharing, unwilling to lift a finger in service of someone besides themselves…. Shockingly out of touch, but not like a psychiatrist sees me.
paralyzed, lame, and blind
Ableist terms about physical disability hurt too. Paralyzed comes to me, as a word to use, like “paralyzed with fear.” But I can say stuck, frozen, or super-confused–something more accurate. I’ve never been paralyzed.
Blind is in tons of songs and poems just to mean ignorant. But are blind people ignorant? Seriously, try living without one of your senses. Not only do they have to be blind, but hearing about turning a blind eye to injustice and “was blind, but now I see” adds insult to injury.
Lame means when someone’s legs don’t walk well. I said “lame” a lot when I was a teenager to describe anything I didn’t like that was lowkey limiting my freedom, undesirable, or distasteful in a petty kind of way.
Then I had a good friend in grad school with cerebral palsy who walked with crutches, and I learned how lame is not an ok word to use meaning undesirable. Wow, I was such a jerk.
Someone told me jerk means someone who masturbates too much. So is it rude, to say jerk, because people with Over-Onanism Syndrome will be hurt? What about calling someone an asshole. Assholes are actually wonderful. We need them, to poop–am I being disrespectful to actual assholes?
Some people can be upset, hearing cops called pigs. Pigs are innocent, beautiful creatures, they say. Pigs do not deserve besmirchment by association with racist, murdering defenders of commerce and white supremacy.
I guess my post is breaking down, here. “That’s a good rule of thumb,” sounds like an ok phrase, but if you hear it comes from an old law of a man being allowed to beat his wife with any branch smaller than the width of his thumb, it’s less nice. Does “rule of thumb” really come from that? Probably not, according to some quick internet research.
But people really do beat their spouses, marriage really was about ownership, women really do face patriarchy daily. Ableist language hurts because it shows the culture doesn’t value disabled people. And it hurts because of harmful actions. Violence direct and systemic done to disabled people. Mostly about power.
it’s not about you
Using language kindly is not about convenience or inconvenience, virtue signaling, or “I’m just going to stop talking because nothing I say is right.” It’s possible to develop skill for considering the needs of others and behaving with love.
That’s the work of life. If you think you’re too busy or important to love people, you need to go back to emotional kindergarten and figure out what you’re on earth for.