I wince every time someone colloquially says "you guys" or "lame."
Today was the second day in a row I had almost nothing to do at work. (I have a Project for tomorrow, though. \o/ ) I worked on my sermon and did a lot of blog reading/skimming -- esp. lots of disability blogs.
One of the things I read was "What We Talk About When We Talk About Language" (by meloukhia on FWD/Forward). I have posted about this before, but she says some really smart things I hadn't quite thought of in that way before but which really resonate for me.
when we talk about language, we don’t talk about what it used to mean, or what it is supposed to mean, or what you think it means. We talk about how society uses language, right now. [...]It makes me cross when people make fun of the UCC's "God is still speaking (never place a period where God has placed a comma)." (And ironically, given my next point, my reaction is: "Don't you understand the kinds of Christian church they are reacting against?")
One of the most common defenses I see of ableist language is “well, it doesn’t mean that anymore.”
So, my question is, what does it mean?
One of the things I like to do when I am illustrating why language is exclusionary is I plug in a commonly-known original meaning of the word in question into a sentence. Let’s take “lame,” which is generally taken to mean “has difficulty walking” or “limps,” although the original use was actually just “broken.”
So, if someone says “this television show is lame” and you turn the sentence into “this television show has difficulty walking,” it doesn’t really make sense, right? Just like when you say “this social activity which I am being forced to do by my parent is a homosexual man,” it doesn’t really make sense. And this should tell you something. It should tell you that the word you are using has an inherently pejorative meaning.
Which means, actually, you’re totally right when you say a word “doesn’t mean that anymore.” In fact, it’s gone from being a value neutral term used to describe a state of being to being a pejorative. A pejorative so universally accepted that you can expect users to understand exactly what you mean when you say it. When you say “this television show is lame” you mean it’s bad, not worth your time, boring, etc., and here’s the trick: People understand that meaning and they derive it from the word that you have used, because that word is universally accepted as objectively bad.
Using inclusionary language is actually fun. You get to explore the roots of words you use, you get to find new and exciting words to use, and you get to learn more about the structure of a language you speak every day. It constantly amazes me to see how quickly exclusionary terms trip to my tongue when I’m in a hurry, because they are so ingrained as appropriate pejoratives. I’m actually relishing the process of eradicating them from my spoken and written language, because I love words and language play.
And I loathe essentialism. I loathe “well, it’s a value neutral term.” No, it’s not. If it was value neutral, it would not be in use as a pejorative. I loathe “no one really means that anymore.” Yes, they do, because if they didn’t, they would use a different word. Just like no one calls a “train” an “iron horse” anymore.
It REALLY bothers me when people talk about their progressive faith congregation as being a Speshul Unique Snowflake because it explicitly states that Communion is open to everyone or whatever. I know, I know, I should honor people's lived experiences and the fact that many people have been hurt by the church and so Church X is a really important healing, affirming, etc. experience for them. But srsly people, we are in the Boston area. There are progressive churches of every denomination. And there are things that some of them do better than your church. And my churches aren't perfect -- I am WELL aware of that -- and I WANT people to tell me what we're doing wrong, how we're failing to live in to the claims we make. If we are hurting people I want to KNOW so that we can stop that (or at least so we can warn people so they can try to keep themselves safe).
I have turned into that radical feminist who notices that we don't use any gendered language for the Triune God except for all the times we talk about Jesus -- which with a Reflection on the Gospel plus Communion is A Lot -- and the "Our Father," and thinks this is a Problem. I understood why that woman in the story that Marla tells found it so powerful to hear a Bible story told with no gendered pronouns, heard herself in that story for the first time.
After service was over I turned to Chris who was standing next to me and ranted to him. He knows how to receive my criticisms, which I appreciate. (I had really wanted to go up to the presider and say, "So, Communion really offended me. Would it be best for me to tell you why in person right now, in email, or not at all?" but it was probably better that I just told Chris and not him.)
I went to Transcriptions Open Mic but left after the open mic part (well, I stayed for the ~15-minute intermission chatting with people) because it takes me an hour to get home and I get up at 6am and I enjoy not operating on a sleep deficit ... and I wanted to blog.
Jeff was one of the people I talked to during the intermission, and we talked about personal growth and what's been going on in our lives and etc. and I talked about how I've been trying to critique in a more generous and kind and loving manner, and I referred to myself as a "bitch," like I do. Jeff said, "You're not a bitch; you just have a bitchy way of saying things; you actually have a big heart."
In other news, when I left work today the women's room at my end of the hall was occupied, so I decided, "Fuck this noise," and used the men's room. I mean, they're both single-stall bathrooms, so we could make the signs say "bathroom" or something and it wouldn't make a difference (and if I were more of a radical/activist I probably would).