Some thoughts on language


As I said, words and names are important to a lot of people (even though for some people, like myself, they’re a secondary language…my primary language is images and energy, which deserves a post of its own at some point).

Some people call themselves “disabled”.  Others prefer the phrase “differently-abled”.  Myself, I use both…it depends on severity and impact.  In some areas, I consider myself equal to (albeit different from) people who do not share my particular kind of neurodiversity or madness.  In other ways (and at other times…it does vary), my functioning is more severely impacted.  In these instances, I call myself “disabled”, but I also do not believe that “disabled” means “inferior”.

I have a similar stance on person-first language.  If you are or have been a student of special education or helping professions, they would have you believe that it is always most respectful to use “person-first language”:  “Kit has autism” or “Kit is a person with autism” (rather than simply “Kit is autistic”).  The idea behind the belief that this is most respectful is that it describes the person as being separate from their condition; there is more to them than that.

Of course, people are unique individuals, and there is more to anyone than any diagnoses they may have.  However, to many people in the mad pride and neurodiversity movements, person-first language is considered disrespectful, because it implies that there is something wrong with that condition, so they should want to separate themselves from it.  For people who have pride in their brain wiring, they want to celebrate it, not deny it.  It’s also actually often impossible to compartmentalize people in that way.  If I weren’t autistic, for instance…I wouldn’t actually be here.  Some other person, a person who is not autistic, would be here instead.  So rather than person-first language, many in the mad pride and neurodiversity movements prefer identity-first language (“Kit is autistic” or “Kit is mad”).

This reminds me, too, of the fat acceptance movement, which says that there is nothing inherently wrong or unhealthy about being fat.  While some fat people may also have health issues, not all do, and regardless correlation does not equal causation.  As such, the very word “fat” is sought to be demystified and destigmatized, and many consider it an important self-identifier.

Again, for me…it really depends.  It depends on how much I identify with that part of myself, and how much that part of myself impacts my life (either positively or negatively).  I say “I am bipolar, differently-abled (referring to ADHD and LD), and autistic” but that “I have OCD, some physical symptoms, and (possibly) borderline”.

Also, since I have gone through so many (drastic) weight changes in my short life, I don’t particularly identify with my fatness in any meaningful way (although I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it either, either morally or health-wise…aside from, in my case, lower back pain similar to what a pregnant woman might experience).  I prefer not to call myself or be called “fat”, but I do not mind saying “I have a fat body”, because to me, my body is not a core aspect of my identity.  It is a container (and according to my spiritual beliefs, a temporary one at that) that presently holds and transports my Soul.  My Soul, on the other hand, is what I really consider “essentially me”.   It can be challenging sometimes to find my place in the fat acceptance movement, because of this perspective, but I ultimately see the real meaning of “fat acceptance” as seeing fat as inherently value-neutral, and trusting fat individuals themselves to be in charge of their own health decisions (as well as identity decisions, like the language they use to describe themselves).

This is also how I see the mad pride and neurodiversity movements.

“disorder” and “disability”:  I again may be in the minority, in the context of the mad pride and neurodiversity movements, in my preferences on these words.  If another person finds them offensive, I will of course try my best to avoid their use with that person, but I personally do not find them offensive in reference to myself.  “Disorder” = “dis” + “order” (or in other words, “lack of order”, “disorderly”, “out of order”, etc).  I don’t have a problem with being accused of any of these things, because well…what is so wrong with being “out of order” or “disorderly” or “lacking order”?  Order is overrated; I like me a little chaos now and again.  😉

“Disability”, likewise, = “lack of ability” or “reduced capability”, or something along those lines… which on the one hand could be taken to mean that a person with a disability or disabilities lacks any abilities (which is just plain wrong), but it could also be taken to mean that that  person simply lacks or has difficulty with a particular area of ability.  This says nothing about whatever other abilities they have (because well duh, everyone has strengths as well as challenges).

So I guess the bottom line here, as always, is that everyone is different…and language is important, and complicated.  Because it is so complicated, and doesn’t come to everyone with ease, I’m not the sort to jump down anyone’s throats if they make a mistake.  There is an issue of accessibility here; social justice conversations need to be accessible to everyone, including people who struggle with verbal language and/or memory (remembering what words are ok to say and not).  What I would simply advise is to avoid assumptions or generalizations as much as possible, and to instead ask people in your life their preferences on an individual basis (and if you forget, just apologize!)  This is similar to asking someone’s name, or perhaps more accurately, like asking someone’s preferred pronouns.  Some people simply do not care how you refer to them (and, to be frank, to assume that everyone will care is in itself still an assumption).  But I think you’ll find that, with those who do care, asking this question, and really listening to the answer (including, perhaps, an explanation of why they use the words that they do), can be an excellent ice-breaker and way to get to know them, in addition to demonstrating respect.


One response »

  1. Pingback: Friday links, 8/23/13 | Tutus And Tiny Hats

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