A little over a year ago, I was hanging out in my favorite chat room full of hacker women and I made a reference to something being ‘lame.’
“Lame is abelist,” one of the women responded, in her usual no-nonsense manner.
To be honest, my first reaction was, “WHAT? That’s ridiculous! What’s wrong with lame? Ugh, I can’t say anything anymore.”
What I typed into the chat reply box was, “Thanks for letting me know.”
Why the disparity? Well, whatever my personal feelings or attachment to the word lame, someone I care about had now informed me that they find it hurtful. That was enough for me to remove it from my vocabulary at that moment, because that’s what I would want someone to do for me.
Broadening my perspective
I have never even broken a bone, and as a child, I thought riding in wheelchairs was fun. I am not even remotely qualified to empathize from the perspective of someone who is actually disabled, which is why my first reaction was to keep my mouth shut about it.
Over the next few days I did a little investigative research into the problem (Read: I spent 15 minutes with Google) and the information I found was enlightening.
I recall vividly a conversation I had with someone I worked with in college about why I found “That’s so gay!” as a pejorative, offensive, and her utter confusion about why it was a big deal, and that was over 20 years ago! Translating the scenario to something that hit me much closer to home brought instant clarity to my feelings on the subject.
I can’t say it costs me nothing to stop using lame because it does cost me the second to stop and think of a new word. Likewise with ‘crazy’, ‘stupid’, ‘insane’, and a bunch of other words I try not to use. A second (or even two), to combat a lifetime of conditioning is actually not bad when you think about it. I also get to expand my every day vocabulary, which, as the daughter of a librarian, I find appealing. And I find I can still get my point across just fine.
A very clever friend of mine has created a bunch of TextExpander snippets which automatically keep her from typing ablelist words.
Letting my flag fly
Occasionally, I will attempt to pass on what I have learned to others. It rarely works out well, especially on Twitter. (Does anything ever work out well on Twitter?)
— Tiffany Jennings (@writingthesurf) December 20, 2013
— Whiskey Decider (@insinkeraaator) December 20, 2013
I find the “married to a handicapped man” argument to be highly ridiculous. It’s no more valid than, “But (this person in that group) says it’s OK!” My wife is white, but she doesn’t take being married to me as permission to say racist things (not to mention, that would swiftly lead to divorce).
I’m not trying to tell anyone what they can and can’t say. You can say whatever you want.
For me it’s not really about the word lame, as much as planting my flag and declaring my desire to use the least hurtful, most inclusive and welcoming language I can. It takes some effort and I might be a little more motivated to do it because I am so often excluded by language. Sometimes I wave my flag where others can see it, because again, that’s what I would want others to do for me.
It’s the same reason I inquired of a new restaurant we visited recently why they don’t have a single vegan thing on the menu, even as I ordered my burger. I’m not vegan, but I have lots of vegan friends and I like them to be able to eat things they find delicious. The burger was good, but I probably won’t be going back if I can’t bring my friends.
If you can’t advocate respect for people unless you’re personally victimized, then we are all doomed. That’s not the world I want to live in.
Updated August 1, 2014: I thought it would nice to add a few more articles. See 5 & 6 for some good alternatives:
- Lame is So Gay — A Rant
- 15 Crazy Examples of Insanely Ablelist Language
- The Transcontinental Disability Choir: What is Ableist Language and Why Should You Care?
- Language: why “retarded” and “lame” are not okay
- Ableist language alternatives
- Abelism/Language post from AutisticHoya (scroll to the end for alternatives).