Sigh. Another movie to use the R word. I just don’t get it. And I was really thinking this movie might be one I’d be interested in seeing. Well, it’s not getting my money now.
But, this post isn’t about The Descendants and how they shouldn’t have used the R word in the movie. They shouldn’t have, and yes, I know it’s in the book. But come on. It’s gratuitous in both places and completely unnecessary from what I have read of the dialogue snippet. (Disclaimer – I’ve neither read the book nor seen the movie, but I’ve read the actual dialogue posted elsewhere).
That’s not the discussion I want to have.
The discussion I want to have is about the way many advocates for people with special needs automatically jump to the gay card when talking about why nobody stands up against the r word. The general argument tends to go like this (paraphrasing from many different sites – not singling any one out):
“It’s much more socially acceptable to speak up against using ‘gay’ as a slur than it is to speak up against the ‘r’ word.”
Some folks have even said that because there are gay people in positions of power in Hollywood that the “gay issue” gets more press than the ‘r’ word issue.
Here’s the thing. I agree. I agree it’s become more socially acceptable to fight the gay slur than it is to fight the r word. And these bloggers are probably right – there are gay people in power in Hollywood which is probably why the gay issue gets more airtime.
Here’s my problem. Why is it a competition between the two? Why is it that in order to fight for one you have to throw the other under the bus? As a lesbian mom completely against using the r word, every time I see one of these arguments it’s like a stab in the back. Because I stand strong against the r word, and yet there are folks out there who are saying that the fight against using “gay” as a slur is something they see as an impediment to raising awareness against the r word.
My belief is this: We’re on the same train, headed the same direction, fighting for the same thing. Instead of arguing that someone out there sees one as more important than the other, show how they are arguments cut from the same cloth. Ultimately, isn’t that the case? Both fights are about using derogatory words that reference something you can’t change about a person as hurtful slurs. Equating what someone is with being unworthy.
Now I know one of the big arguments is that the r word targets people who can’t speak for themselves, can’t fight for themselves, and therefore are somehow more deserving of us as advocates for them. I’d argue that while this is true to an extent, there are MANY folks out there with disabilities who can self-advocate, and the generalization that nobody with special needs can self advocate actually perpetuates the myths surrounding raising children with disabilities. Yes, there are kids who will not be able to self-advocate and we must do so on their behalf, but I think we need to be careful in the language we use even as we advocate so that we don’t unintentionally do damage to the very independence we try to build for the world’s population of people with disabilities.
My other issue with this idea that we have to stand up for those who can’t stand for themselves, and therefore the ‘r’ word is more deserving than ‘gay’, is that this assumption neglects the thousands and thousands of LGBT young people who can’t stand up for themselves, whether due to unaccepting family, hostile school environments, lack of resources locally, etc… Gay teens have an astronomically high suicide rate. A few years ago, a co-worker of mine had a son in one of the local high schools. His close friend came out and his father told him, “I’d rather have a dead son than a gay son.” A week later the young man hung himself. This was a CHILD. Someone who felt like he had no choice. Who didn’t believe he was worthy of living because the people in his life told him that what he was made him worthless. Tell me that a gay 14 year old can self advocate while living in self-loathing. Tell me that a gay 16 year old kid can self advocate while being sent to conversion camp to make him straight.
The use of the ‘r’ word and the use of ‘gay’ as a slur are both unacceptable. It’s easy to see how. Substitute your child’s name for ever time you go to use either one of them. Don’t say, “That’s so gay” when you think something is stupid, say “That’s so little Susie.” Don’t say “That’s retarded” when you think something isn’t worth your time, say “That’s just so Timothy.” Wait. What? How could you use a child as a synonym for something being stupid or worthless?
If you’re going to stand against hateful speech, stand against all of it. But my fight against the ‘r’ word is not mutually exclusive of my fight against the use of ‘gay’ as a slur. Because the bottom line is that we are all worth more than having who or what we are used as an insult. It’s time to realize what we have in common is greater than what we have that separates us, and only when we realize this will we have the power to truly effect change.