“That is so gay.”
These are a couple of phrases that most progressive, socially conscious people wince at. The derogatory use of “gay” and “retarded” as a general condemnation of anything from people to actions to objects is pretty obviously prejudiced, right? These words get celebrity PSAs created about them, trying to raise awareness about their use as slurs. And note how that last one specifically demands that we don’t devolve into Oppression Olympics. A slur is a slur, and though some have uglier histories than others, why do we need to use any slurs at all? Is it really so hard to respect people, and to find more articulate ways to express your frustration or disappointment?
Those same people who argue against using “gay” or “retarded” in the pejorative often substitute the word “lame.” “Lame” gets used in queer-positive anti-bullying campaigns, in anthems for the abused underdog, like somehow the disabled don’t get bullied, like we don’t face prejudice. These people want to speak up for the innocent victims of bigotry, but they do it by just shifting oppression. Seriously, pause a moment to think of a time when somebody’s called something “lame” when they meant it was bad or disappointing. Now substitute the word with “gay” or “retarded.” The terms are used in precisely the same way, and people are using them to oppress others through precisely the same methods. The interesting thing is, they even use similar, sometimes identical justifications:
1. “Oh, no one uses it to mean disabled anymore, that’s such an antiquated definition it doesn’t even count!”
Because one generation of ignorant ableists is totally capable of irrevocably altering the meaning of a word that’s been used for millenia? That’s pretty fucking egotistical, not to mention privileged and ignorant. The oppressive majority does not get to reclaim a slur, period. You’re the ones who have been using it to oppress us, and by creating a new, negative connotation for the word, you are oppressing us further.
2. “Well that’s not the definition I was using.”
Because that’s not the same excuse people use when they call things “gay” and “retarded”? It’s not based on the same haughty self-righteousness that demands the minorities being oppressed just stop being so sensitive? The entire concept places the responsibility on the victim. Privileged people want to continue using bigoted language, and it’s the minority’s job to just shut the fuck up and accept it because intent is magic, apparently.
3. “Stop criticizing my word choice! You’re the one who’s being unreasonable by telling me to stop saying it. It’s a common word, everyone says it.”
Ah, how I love me some tone argument in the morning. Us crips are just always rolling all over the rights of the able-bodied, doncha know. We’re just big ol’ PC meanies whose ludicrous demands are infringing on other people’s rights to be bigoted jerks. And seriously, if half of your argument can be refuted with the parental “if all your friends were jumping off a bridge” analogy, you should really recognize the failure on your own.
This is not a hard concept to understand: These words, these minority slurs, they’re being used to describe something inferior, and that is based in and perpetuates the idea that the minorities they describe are themselves inferior. I fail to see how people can understand this with regards to “gay” and “retarded,” yet still can’t swallow it with “lame.” At best, we get told that “lame” is somehow less of a slur, because…well, because the people with functional legs told us so, and that’s enough goddammit!
Look, I’d probably not be so upset if people used “lame” to mean “super awesome,” because it’s not reliant upon the subconscious social indoctrination that says people like me are inferior. But instead, we’re reminded that we should see ourselves as Nature’s failures. We should live every day with the knowledge that we are simply less than the able-bodied. We should be reminded every waking moment of how the able-bodied would never want to be us, that they scorn us or at best pity us. That we’re viewed as aberrations, as a worst-case scenario for human life.
I fully admit that I used to use the word “lame” fairly often myself. I actually started to become uncomfortable with it during the year proceeding the onset of my disability, and had already nearly eradicated it from my vocabulary by the time I started having trouble walking. Good timing, I suppose. But the change can be made at any time. You can train yourself out of using a word. You can come up with wittier, more poignant, flat-out better words to use in its place. “That’s so….asinine, ridiculous, fucked up, dismal, exasperating, shitty, rotten, mediocre, bleak, dissatisfying, disheartening, crummy….”
“Lame” is the lazy person’s way out. Challenge your brain, respect your intelligence enough to believe that you can come up with something better than that. Because you really are hurting people. And we have the right to not have our very beings attacked just because you can’t be bothered to google synonyms.