I’m expanding my splines in relation to language use at the moment. I embrace the idea that people should get to call themselves what they want. I believe that people should refrain from using language that other groups commonly say are offensive to them. I’m a latecomer to the gender neutral pronoun but I’m already onboard. It took me about a week of typing ‘they’ in place of ‘her’ to do so without having to think about it anymore.
Ableist terms have been harder. I got really stuck on the whole ‘well, when I use that word, I don’t intend it that way’. And also, ‘yeah, but the word doesn’t mean that anymore’. And ok, a while back, in my head I thought ‘words are just words really, what’s all the fuss?’.
I’ve been ruminating on it though. I’ve been seeing how these words are flung about in the media. I’ve noticed how these words are being used negatively about autistic people – about autistic children. And I’ve been watching what happens in online spaces when someone drops one of these words, gets told please don’t do that, and defends their use. Others rally to their side and before you know it, we are back at ‘words are just words’.
And as the time goes by from my own realization that I am autistic, I’ve watched and asked and read and something has shifted.
When I hear those words they don’t sound the same to me now as they did 6 months ago. They don’t seem so harmless when I’ve read so many first person accounts of what is done to neurodivergent people, to disabled people. When I’ve seen how these words are used against my friends and I to invalidate our opinions. When I’ve seen how they’ve served as excuses for those that abuse us.
Now when I hear ableist words, there’s an aversion that I feel. It’s accompanied by a tiny shudder that originates from my solar plexus. You wouldn’t see it from the outside but it pings and it’s unpleasant and it makes images appear in my brain that are frightening and abhorrent. Images that take a while to go away.
So please, don’t use those words. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t mean them that way. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s all a bit too much and words are just words.
Just don’t use those words that hurt us.