March 3, 2011

Retarded and Gay

by

Lettter R

Disclosure: I do not use either of these words in a derogatory, mean, rude or negative way. But now that you’re here, you may as well read what I have to say.

The R-word. Retarded. Retard. Pick a variation. Growing up it was never part of my vocabulary unless it was used within the medical context. I’m a child of the 1970s and ’80s. There was no description as special needs or mentally challenged. The ‘nice’ words were “slow” or “touched” or “special”. All often said in a whisper.

And it used to be that gay meant happy. Now it is part of the vernacular when talking about someone who is homosexual. It’s also a derogatory word. Often used interchangeably with retarded.

Thousands of times a day both of these words are bantered around as if there is nothing wrong with using them. People aren’t using them for their intended purpose. They’re slurs meant to demean and degrade. And it’s not just online, often where people can be shrouded in a sense of anonymity, where these two words (and, for that matter, many others) are used to cut someone down.

I’m always taken aback when I hear these words come out of someone’s mouth. They pierce my brain. I have to question what I heard. And look at them with bewilderment. Often the only response I can muster is ‘the look’. If I can speak, all I get out is ‘Excuse Me?’. It’s not 1980, yet it seems we’re no further ahead with regard to these words. Then again, there’s still the issue of the N-word. Obviously, we haven’t come as far as I think we should have.

I’m very sensitive to personal slurs. That comes from years of being made fun of for being the only Jew, besides my brother, at school. Now it also comes from being married to an African-American.

I’ve never used the word retard or retarded as a slur. My uncle worked with young adults with brain injuries. I have a deep appreciation for what they and their parents overcome. I also have a respect for brain injured people, especially young people, that only comes from being their friend and seeing them as themselves.

I never understood why gay was such a easy slur. The gay people I knew were just like everyone else. My first recollection of knowing someone gay was when I was about 5 or 6. My mom worked with a transgendered individual. Back then it wasn’t called that though. I knew her as Carla. She was a seamstress. And she kinda looked like a girl, but not really. But to a little kid, Carla was a girl. Then I met Carla one day, but she looked like a boy. I came to know what sex-change operation meant at a very young age.

So when I got old enough to understand that these words were being used as put-downs, I was really confused. There was nothing wrong with people who were retarded (the common word used in the 1980s) or gay. I knew both of these people. They’re just people. But these two words have taken on hurtful, rude and derogatory meanings and should be eradicated from the vocabulary when used as such.

And all this brings me to my friend Ellen, whom I mentioned in my post about the similarities between gifted kids and special needs kids. This week Ellen wrote about her efforts on Twitter to help educate others that the word ‘retard’ is derogatory to people with disabilities. It is very insightful. Some people just don’t care that words can be very hurtful. And some are just outright rude when asked to stop using the word. And, yet, there is often the ray of hope that comes with someone realizing they can do better. Really, you need to read her post.

Before you head over to Ellen’s blog, Love That Max, please take a moment to pledge your support to help end the derogatory use of the R-word as well as pledge to think before you speak with regard to the word gay. Both are free and only takes a few moments.

I have taken both pledges. Will you?

Sara

{ 1 comment }

Shifra March 4, 2011 at 6:57 am

I am always horrified by the use of these terms by people who should know better and don’t. Hopefully they are reading your blog. The “R” word is hurtful to anyone who knows someone who is special and I thought the “N” word was only used by rappers!

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