Today, a friend of mine on Facebook shared a wonderful link to another blog. It wasn't a particularly long post, but it had an impact on me.
How many of you, like me, respond to things we disagree with,don't like, think is awful or just have a negative reaction to with, "That's retarded" or, "That's gay"? I'm very guilty of using the latter phrase.
I have a coworker of mine who is an incredibly beautiful man. He's generous (almost to a fault), funny, kind, hard working, always smiling and just plain awesome. He's also gay. For whatever reason, it never occurred to me that when I say "That's gay" that it was hurtful to him. I was using the word gay as a pejorative, and therefore saying that he is someone to think less of. Of course I don't mean or even think that. But I also wasn't thinking of what I was saying.
One day, he was telling me a story about a weird call he had taken, or some not very happy situation in his life that I was commiserating with him on and said "That's gay". He just looked at me and said, "Thanks." Nothing else. He didn't go off on me, didn't tell me off, didn't call me hurtful things, didn't react negatively in any way. That's not his style. He'd sooner gut himself than willingly hurt someone, even if it was in defense of himself. All he said was, "Thanks."
There was so much hurt in that single word. So much disappointment. So much sorrow. And I had caused it. I felt about half an inch tall and immediately apologized for saying that. There was no excuse for saying it. All I could do was beg his forgiveness. Being the amazing guy he is, he accepted my apology and we moved on. I have tried to be more cognizant of my words since then, but I can't promise that I have never used that phrase or "That's retarded" since. It's become such an entrenched part of society's (the Western society at any rate) lexicon that we literally don't know what we're saying when we say it.
Many of my friends have children who have Autism or are on the spectrum or have something in their brains/bodies that keeps them from living like "normal" kids. A lot of my friends do, in fact. Never, never would it occur to me to call them retarded. They're not (not in the way that people think of the word, at any rate - because let's face it, when you hear the word retarded, you're not thinking happy thoughts, are you? It's a sad, and frankly disgusting reality). They're some of the most beautiful kids I've had the pleasure of seeing grow up through pictures, stories and videos posted on Facebook and their respective blogs. They have some of the biggest smiles I have ever seen, and I absolutely love reading stories of them coming to grips with their situation and learning how to cope with it. When their parents struggle, or when they struggle and their parents vent online, I hurt for them. When they're over the moon because their child said "I love you." to them, I rejoice with them.
I don't know how or why "That's retarded" and "That's gay" became an accepted turn of phrase but we really need to think about who we are saying that about, and stop saying it. You wouldn't say "That's so cancerous" or "That's Chinese" as a pejorative, would you? No, because people who run you out of town for saying something like that. You'd be labeled at best insensitive or callous, and at worst a bigot or a racist. Well guess what? Every time you (and I) say "That's gay" and/or "That's retarded" that's exactly what you are. An insensitive, callous, bigot.
Let's end the use of the R word, okay?