Archive for January, 2010

I’ve recently posted twice about language and social justice. So here’s the post where we really take a spin – this time it’s not about the language of the majority, it’s about the language of the minority.

Reclaimatory language is interesting in part because it is deliberately taking an offensive word and claiming it, giving it a new definition.

The first time I remember seeing this was when a friend of mine proudly proclaimed she was a bitch – a Babe In Total Control of Herself. I didn’t get it at the time, really. I think we all took it as a titilating excuse to say a naughty word and revel in the fact that we were female and believed ourselves strong because of that. I guess I should amend that – I didn’t get it on the high theoretical plane, but on the easier to understand plane of our emotions, I understood. We made it our word, a word about how we were cool, hip, smart, and daring.

You hear this sense of reclaiming language in other situations. People who are black calling each other ‘nigga’. Women re-defining bitch to suit their meaning, a la Meredith Brook’s song titled ‘Bitch’. People with disabilities calling themselves ‘crips’ and talking about ‘crip theory’.

So what is it, this reclaimation?

It’s owning the word that gets thrown at you as a slur. Taking it in and re-making it into your own self-image. Replacing the negative connotations that the original speaker may have intended with meanings that actually fit you.

It can come off as a slap in the face, offensive and harsh, but that’s part of the intent. It’s to alert the hearer that you aren’t defined by the way someone else means that word. You refuse to be defined by ‘them’. It also serves to make people re-think their internalized definitions to words. If you think a cripple is someone who is so disabled they can’t do anything, and meet someone who proudly calls herself a crip…and works a fulltime job, or takes care of her household, or so on…you have to re-think what a cripple is.

So we change the language. Yes, there will still be bigoted people who buy into the older meaning…but we can change that meaning in people whose thinking is more flexible. And we can change that meaning in ourselves.


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Almost uniformly, when you speak out publicly against someone using language that is harmful, someone will pop up and say that political correctness is a bad thing, or at best a useless thing. It’s not uncommon to find a person who rails against whoever they see as the cause of political correctness (often ‘the left’ or ‘the liberals’). Often they’ll speak in terms of cramping freedom of expression.

Here’s the thing – when you say something like that, what you’re really saying is this: my desire to use these words matters more than who I hurt with them, or societal prejudices I reinforce with them.

That’s kind of ugly, isn’t it?

What is to me perhaps saddest and most depressing is cases where someone who is affected by the language – for example, a PWD speaking about someone who is AB using the word ‘cripple’ – excuses it. I find myself wondering, don’t they know this language is harmful? Don’t they know that this language undercuts the ability of society to accept us as equals? Don’t they know that the words matter? Don’t they know that this language hurts people?

I guess the answer is that either they don’t know or they don’t care.

So the next time you’re thinking about brushing off someone’s concern over language, remember that words matter and that someone who is being affected by words may be better able to pick out hurtful language than you are.

Social justice is about changing attitudes, and that means changing language, too.

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I’m sure that my title there is kind of obvious to anyone who’s part of a social justice movement. This particular post is really aimed at people who aren’t, and who haven’t thought about it.

We all know that awful old adage, ‘bricks and bones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.’ Most of us know that it couldn’t be much farther from the truth. Words hurt. We know that instinctively as children, which is why we start figuring out which words will hurt whom at a very young age. I can’t pretend I didn’t do that, though I will say most of it was tangled up in the quarrels of siblings and not vented at vulnerable people.

Here’s the thing – some words are more loaded than others. Some words are involved in systems of oppression, both empowered by the system and fueling the system. Some words are problems because they are tied to fundamental parts of who we are – our gender, our race, our religion, our disability, our sexuality, our religious beliefs. And they are painful because those words always say something deeper than that – what they say is, ‘You are not as good as me. You are not normal.’

The truly difficult part is that some of these words have become embedded in our language deeply, so that they now have a secondary meaning – bad. People my age and older have watched it happen to the word ‘gay’. You see it with the addition of the ending ‘tard’ (as in, fucktard), which is drawn from the word ‘retard’. This is when it gets insidious.

Why? Because people don’t think about the original meaning, but the word never really loses it. My father decries things he doesn’t like as ‘lame’, but he also calls me lame when I injure myself, and we call a horse that is limping ‘lame’. It means all of these things, which means that when you use it to mean ‘bad’, you reiterate the idea that the original meaning is bad. So…my abnormal gait, the thing that makes me ‘lame,’ is coded as bad.

And don’t tell me people don’t know this. Haven’t you heard kids insulting each other with the adjective ‘retarded’ and known they meant someone with developmental disabilities? We know what these words mean and we keep using them anyhow!

I’m making a list of words we should not use, but do. Please feel free to add your own, and why they shouldn’t be used! (excluding of course use in a reclamatory sense, which I’ll talk about in Social Justice 3: Reclamation)

*Blind/nearsighted/shortsighted – all references to visual acuity often used to describe making errors in judgement
*Lame – reference to altered gait used to describe things that are bad
*Cripple – reference to physical ability, usually walking ability, used as an insult. Also used as a negative adjective and verb, as in ‘a crippled bus’, ‘the strike crippled the city’.
*Spaz – reference to spasticity, used to describe erratic motion or actions
*crazy/mad/insane – references to state of sanity, used to describe the ’cause’ of all kinds of undesirable actions, without regard for the actual sanity of the person.
*psychotic – reference to state of sanity, often used to describe someone frightening, where psychopath might be a more accurate term, as psychotic just means someone who has had a break with reality (and for what it’s worth, the only psychotic person I’ve ever seen was just disconcerting, not scary – she was trying to have conversations with inanimate objects)
*schizo/schiznophrenic – reference to a specific mental illness, often used to describe unpredictable or erratic behavior
*bipolar – reference to a specific mental illness, used to describe someone who is giving two different reactions (see for example the Katy Perry song, ‘Hot and Cold’, which describes her relationship as a ‘love bipolar’)

Right, so in addition to the disability related ones, here’s a few more I put on the list of things not to be said:
*Bitch – woman as dog? Come on!
*Slut/whore – judgement made about a person’s sexual choices? Not cool.
*Racial epithets
*Gay – reference to sexuality used to describe things that are bad
*Fatty/fat as insult – referring to a person’s state of not being thin as a reason to torment and make fun of them just sucks

I know I’m missing a lot here, words that we need to really think about why we use them. In all likelihood, the best answer is to either completely remove them from our vocabularies, with a few exceptions that can be used accurately, like ‘gay’. We’re not perfect, and we’re likely to make mistakes, but choosing to engage and try to do this right is valuable.

Now, before you talk about how Political Correctness is bad or call me the PC police, trust me that I’ll get to talking about that issue in Social Justice (2) – PC Police!

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Sorry about the disappearing act there, folks. Those migraines really knocked me flat. I’ve gotten things back in hand, just in time for the semester to start (whoo boy). Right, now, on to the real entry.

I wrote a while ago about how my service dog having a bad day could mean a bad day for me. It’s a two-way street. Me having a bad day often means a bad day for him.

The worst are probably migraine days. I end up stuck in bed, with the fan on to provide white noise to cover the screaming neighbors and the general noise of living in the city. Oh how I miss the suburban house of my childhood when I have migraines! When you do not share walls with anyone, it is much easier to get true quiet, which is one of the things a migraine makes you covet intensely.

If I’m stuck in bed, Hudson’s stuck in the bedroom. On my side of the bedroom. Which means he’s got at most a 30 square feet to move around in – a 3′ wide corridor that starts with his dog bed and runs between the dresser and the bed to the door. In all honesty, it’s probably smaller than that. He’s not supposed to wander around in the rest of the bedroom, not that it’s real easy to get around in.

Because we live in an old house, the bedrooms aren’t very big. We have a queen sized bed, mostly because I sleep with a body pillow and am very demanding of my space. The boyfriend is a very average sized guy, not the kind of rail-thin waif that could squeeze in to less the 1/3 of a full sized bed that I’d leave free for him.

So there’s poor Hudson, stuck in that little tiny space. I can’t give him a toy full of treats like I do when I’m busy downstairs working, because his method of getting the treats out of the toy involves throwing the toy at the ground repeatedly, a rather noisy operation. Exactly the kind of thing that would make me start crying during a migraine.

I also can’t get up every hour or so to work on something with him, the way I do when I’m doing schoolwork. It’s part of what keeps his brain busy – we practice service tasks. We do his daily training routine. Once again, the kind of thing I can’t do when I have a migraine. I’m usually dizzy, nauseated, and in a great deal of pain. Standing up, bending over, and the other sorts of thigns I have to do to work on his training just ain’t happening. Frankly, when I’ve got a migraine, the best thing to do is sleep through it.

So that’s what we do. We sleep. At least, I assume he does, out of boredom. The boyfriend has to take the dog out to do his business, and bring his food up for me to give the dog.

When it’s a subluxed hip, or my back all a mess, the situation is much the same, though then I do sometimes remember to give Hudson toys to play with. He tends to get bored with them rather quickly, though, and so there we lay – me reading, him sleeping.

I’ll admit, I feel quite a bit of guilt for all the things he doesn’t get to do on days when I’m laid up. I mean, a dog is not meant to live in the narrow space between dresser and bed. He’s meant to go run, to play, to just be a dog. He’s meant to spend time with me, learning and goofing off. And when I’m having one of these kinds of bad days, he doesn’t get any of that.

These are not, however, the bad days I feel the worst about. Oh no. That distinction goes to the days where I am in a great deal of pain but must go do something anyhow – whether it’s going to school or a doctor’s appointment.

Then, I’m short tempered. Short on praise. Quick to correct, and harsh with my corrections when I don’t get obedience quickly. Unable to be patient when he’s getting scared by traffic or the trolley we have to ride on, because he’s hurting me.

I imagine those are the worst days for him. Getting snapped at, rarely being told he’s doing things right, me forgetting commands and needing him to do things anyhow…

These are the days you don’t imagine would happen when you set out to get a service dog. The days where your health condition punishes your dog, for no reason other than that you have to rely on him and can’t deal with imperfect work. It’s unfair, it’s harsh, and all I can do is humbly apologize to him and promise I will try harder not to do that next time. The boyfriend may understand why he gets his head bitten off when I feel like this, but Hudson does not.

I cannot express how thankful I am that dogs are such forgiving creatures, for Hudson does not hold these days against me. I think he remembers better the days when I take him to the park and throw his toy for him again and again than he does the days when I’m not fit to work with anyone, least of all him. Or at least, I hope he does.

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Well, I hope all of you had a better new year’s eve than I did.

At about 11:30 on Dec 30, I got a migraine. A bad migraine. One of the worst migraines I’ve ever had. I took my meds – the last dose of one of them, which is scary because I can’t get more for a bit over a week and I’ve had 8 migraines in the last 3 weeks, which suggests I’ll have another one before I can get meds. Unfortunately, the med I took the last dose of is my big gun, the heavy hitter that has the greatest likelihood of actually doing something. Sadly, the meds hardly touched it. The high 8 to low 9 (on a 10 point pain scale) headache, the kind where the pain makes it hard to see and I lose track of what people are saying, retreated down to about a 7.

Anyhow, so this migraine was a bad one. The entire front of my head was searing agony. I felt like I had a wall in front of my head, and a wall a couple inches inside of my head, and something pumping more and more pressure into the gap between them, until it seemed certain that my head would explode, even though it didn’t. Add to that the other effects of a bad migraine – the shaking, the violent vomiting, the dizziness, the sensitivity to light and sound – and I was in bad, bad shape. (Thankfully, the boyfriend was okay with being woken up to keep cleaning out the bowl I was throwing up in so I didn’t have to attempt to run to the bathroom while dizzy and when motion made everything hellishly worse. He’s awesome like that.)

At 5:30, I took a dose of another migraine med (that I couldn’t take at the same time as one of the others I’d taken, so I had to wait until it had worn off) and a second dose of one I took before. Medicated, my migraines tend to last about 6 hours at most, so I’d hoped to just wait this one out. Not so. Within half an hour, it was ramping back up to where it had started, and that was when I gave up and we went in to the ER.

(where a bad handling service dog thing happened that I’ll get back to in another post when I’m feeling better)

The real problem with treating migraines is that there’s a limit to what you can do about them. Basically, you medicate and wait – that’s all there is to do. At the hospital, they can (thank god) add some pain meds. So I got another medication plus morphine.

It’s a damn sad thing when a combination of a whole pile of medications and morphine only take your pain level down to around a 3. And it wasn’t long before it started back up again. Before an hour had passed after the morphine, I was back to a 5. At least they managed to get me to stop throwing up.

Eventually, after they added yet another medication and some tylenol, I got down to a 2…if I kept my eyes covered so it was completely and utterly dark and had ear plugs in. At that point, frankly, I gave up. They had me drink some juice, because they were worried that I’d start throwing up again, and when that stayed down, they sent me home to wait out the rest of the migraine.

In all, we were at the ER until 11:30. And let me tell you, with EDS and fibro, the beds in ERs are painful. No matter how often I shift, no matter how many times the boyfriend changes the angle of the upper part of the bed, I know I’m going to come out feeling like hell.

We got home, I ate a couple of theoretically inoffensive crackers, and I threw up. I think all of the throwing up during the night may have started my throat bleeding; it certainly looked like there could have been old blood in what I threw up. Splendid. However, my stomach stopped hurting after I threw up and I was too damn exhausted to care.

I laid down and slept a few hours. I was in so much pain from the combination of throwing up (which is hard on back and abdominal muscles) and being on the ER bed that we were afraid I had the flu as well as a migraine, or something like it. For that matter, I’m still not certain that isn’t the truth – I’m stiff and sore and ye gods do I feel like hell.

But I’m doing a bit better. The headache comes and goes, but stays mild enough that the meds I do still have are enough to take care of it, if I lay down. I’m eating, though not much – maybe a third or a half of a cup at a time, plain steamed rice or chicken noodle soup.

That’s part of the trouble with multiple illnesses – they combine in very annoying ways. The laying down that my head needs is hard on my joints (EDS) and stiffens up my muscles (fibro). The stiffening and tightening of muscles in my back and neck (fibro, probably has an EDS component) is actually a trigger for migraines. The exercise my muscles need because of the fibro would probably make me throw up right now, because my head is still…not happy.

We hadn’t planned on doing much for New Year’s. I’m typically up until 12:30 or 1:00, so the boyfriend had told me I should wake him up for the ball drop, and we’d watch it on TV and have a new year’s kiss and go to bed.

In point of fact, we were both exhausted and cranky, and my migraine recurred, and the noise of our neighbors and fireworks and…everything…was painful. All I wanted was sleep, sleep where my head wouldn’t hurt, and I got kept from that for quite a while.

So I hope you had more fun than I did!

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