In my written work, I sometimes attempt to mimic in text my everyday patterns and quirks of speech. And by speech, I mean the speech to myself (thinking to myself) as well as exterior, to others. That part is because the two often converge, anyway. Such is the case when you almost never fail to mean what you are saying, even if the meaning you have in your consciousness and the meaning your audience thinks you are trying to impart are two different things.
In one episode (I forget which, probably one of the last three) of the awesome HBO television series Band Of Brothers, the men of Easy Company are in the back of a truck, trying to keep themselves occupied whilst they travel to the site of their next task. One member of the company is reading a newspaper that clearly was meant for the civilian populace gets asked by one of his more boisterous squadmates what he is reading. It transpires that one of the things the newspaper says is that the Germans are bad. Obviously, this is way oversimplifying it, but the squadmate in question does not hesitate for a second to talk to his squadmates, saying that this newspaper says that “the Germans… are baaaad”. You know, in that manner of a sewage worker saying that shit stinks or a baker saying that mould or rat droppings happen to be bad. (Whilst I am thinking of it, one time in the fair then-mini-city of Blacktown, I read about a local baker who, when fined and closed down for cleanup by a health inspector on the basis of such evidence as finding a bandage baked into a bread product, claimed that the inspector was racist. Go figure.)
This is a fair representation of how I speak when I want to emphasise a word in order to make a point. If you have read enough of this journal (and it is okay if you have not, I understand that these entries generally come thick and fast), you will have seen me write many words in which I have altered the spelling or emphasis in order to make a point. For instance, when I write the word country as country, it helps to picture me saying it that way, because that conveys exactly what I think of the rurals über alles crowd.
Which brings me to the subject in the title. So-called person first language is baaad. Not the German army that Easy Company had fired so much ammunition, endured so much hardship, and seen so many of their own sacrifice their lives to get past bad. But more in the sense of one of the films that Joseph Goebbels‘ ministry of propaganda put out kind of bad. Which is a bit of a toss-up if you ask me. At least the men who fought in the German army had the balls to confront their enemy on an open field and determine the better man by means of physical contest. (In fact, that becomes a major theme in the final episode of Band Of Brothers.) A real man engages the enemy he is in mortal dispute with and fights it out. A nonce, a pussy, he spends years, decades, even centuries, convincing his enemy that they are lesser Human beings and deserve to be subjugated solely because of what they are. Yes, I just called an entire class of folks from Europe and America (not to mention the ones in Africa who went along with the trade) a bunch of pussies. I am sure they will not mind.
Jim Sinclair has written a piece about why he “dislike[s] person first language”. Outside of this work, I do not know much about or of Mr. Sinclair. But what I do know is that in the somewhat cluttered text, I see a lot of points that I am absolutely, utterly in agreement with.
I do not know how many times I have said to people, both online and in person, that “person with autism” carries an implicit suggestion that the autism is a separate entity to the individual and thus can be removed from that person. This is wrong. If I were to write a piece in which I called Lydia Brown a woman with Chineseness (or Asianness, or…), Chiwetel Ejiofor a man with blackness (or Britishness), or Gibson Haynes a man with tallness, you would be outraged. Yet, as Lydia Brown‘s response to one person-first asshole who thinks they can tell her to adopt a disrespectful asshole’s way of talking about herself demonstrates, people seem to have a problem understanding why autistic adults who know what is what find “person first” bullshit irritating to the point of (in cases like mine) wanting to throw punches.
The analogy between autism and race is more accurate than what a lot of norms want to admit, too. Only a complete idiot, also known as a Republican or a conservative or the like, would argue that people who come into a country from outside and go through the process of learning a whole new culture have an identical experience of life in that culture to someone who was born in it and has lived in it since birth. I do not know if this is still the case, but when I was a child in school, a significant number of the children in my year would be occasionally separated from their class and herded into classes denoted by the staff as English As A Second Language, or ESL for short. These children not only had to learn all the basics such as how to read and write in a language other than that which their parents learned at a similar age, they had to learn how to adequately speak in it, too. And although most of them did very well at that, I am not going to lie to you and say that this difference in linguistic background did not make communicating with them more of a challenge for the rest of the children than was otherwise the case.
Complaining about this point is not going to change it, but it is important for the sake of both future generations and the present that you, the norms, understand this critical point: in this respect, growing up with a different racial origin and growing up autistic are virtually identical. In fact, it is a good case study in how those who think nature makes nurturing a waste of time are the biggest wankers and assholes to ever walk the Earth. You see, because the children who attended ESL classes had an important difference acknowledged, accomodated, and respected, they had a noticeably more positive experience of school in a middle class neighbourhood. The autistic children who were abused, ridiculed, and subjected to constant threats or violence, well, Blade Runner is proving somewhat prophetic with some of its characters.
And when you grow up in a middle class neighbourhood that sits more or less right in the middle of sectors used for all kinds of purposes (medical, industrial, commercial, even detainment), you end up interacting with a very wide variety of people. That is what they really meant when they coined the expression “melting pot”. Not only did I mingle with children who had Italian, Maltese, English, Scottish, German, or Lebanese parents, as childhood began to finally fade away, I even had the privelege of interacting with people from such places as Russia or Norway.
In fact, I rubbed shoulders at one point with two people from Norway. To say that there is a major culture among Norwegians of being proud not only of being Norwegian but of being from one of those nations that used to be a staging area for Vikings is an understatement. But the critical point here is that neither of them are people you would dare to call “people with Norseness”. Norwegian, Norse, Scandinavian, those are all things that you are, not things you have.
Which brings me to another point that Jim Sinclair states in his writing. If you call me a person with autism, you are not only implicitly stating that autism is something separate to me, you are implying it is something bad. Think about the following statements and how they are phrased. I have diabetes. I have cancer. I have some sort of flu infection that is making it difficult for me to breathe. I have chronic insomnia. Say these phrases out loud, please. Say them out loud and really think about how they sound to you. When you call me a “person with autism” to my face, that is how it sounds to me. It sounds like you think that the (as yet undocumented) variety of autism that is hard-wired into my brain and has coloured my existence since the day I was born is something very bad, and something I would not want. Again, would you refer to a person’s national origin or racial characteristics in this manner? Given Chiwetel Ejiofor‘s performance in Serenity, would you look him in the eye and tell him that either being black or having been born to Nigerian parents of the Igbo ethnic group are somehow less a vital part of him and his identity than having been born in Forest Gate, London?
And do not try to tell me that this is different. For the umpty-millionth time, only different in your mind. Weak and limp as that mind may be, you still would do well to learn the difference.
Which brings me to a point I have been trying to get forward since before I began this journal. Contrary to what the Newspeak, “you must talk like us because it will eventually make you think like us”, “person first” crowd would have you believe, “person first” language actually puts the person last.
Let me concrete this with an example. Let us imagine for a second that either Lydia Brown or the aforementioned Chiwetel Ejiofor were rounded up by the suede denim secret police, marched off to camps, and relentlessly told that they have to tell people they are a person with Chineseness or a person with blackness, respectively. Contrary to what the “person first” crowd wants us to believe, this would entail a good deal of psychological harm. It would also leave them with an invasive mechanism of thinking “wait, no, I am a person with”, as opposed to just communicating naturally and efficiently. I spent a significant amount of time in the purview of people who thought it professional to wind up the children or adolescents in their purview, and telling said children or adolescents to say it again the way we think you should be saying it. I am now a violence-prone, compulsive, animal of a person. These two points are inseperable, just like computer hardware and increased cost of ownership.
And really, the question is begged. I know that the frauds and cheats known as Autism Speaks like to put their hands over ears and cry “la la la not listening!” when autistic adults do their self-appointed job for them, but have you “person first” assholes been asleep for the last ten years? The window of opportunity you had in which to teach us to think of autism as a separate, baaaaad entity from us ended long ago. Assuming it was ever open.
Also worth thinking about is the failure of the belief that one size fits all. Linguistic inefficiency aside, referring to oneself as a person with blindness, a person with diabetes, a person with AIDS, a person with cancer, and so forth, might work for the people who are dealing with those difficult, trying conditions. It does not work for the autistic. Especially not autistic adults who have not been taught by an abusive, normalistic world to hate themselves. Being blind (“bringing up a son, even a blind one”), having diabetes (which I do by the way), having AIDS, or having cancer (which I do once again), have very negative impacts on the beholder’s life. But when an autistic adult like me hears an autistic ten year old say aloud “I wish I didn’t have autism” or similar, it sets off alarm bells. It tells us that that child has been abused and taught to hate himself by his abusers.
A society that allows anyone, parent or otherwise, to teach that to a child, is not one worthy of having many of its rules followed.