I was on my way to a court hearing today (Wednesday 17 of July) when one of my Fudgebook friends sent me a link in a message. The link pointed me to this document by Lisa Egan. I wish to comment about it some, but first, I would like anyone who is reading this document but has not read that one to go and read that one. Take your time, I do not mind waiting for your attention, because what Lisa has written at that site is one of the best things I have read in a long time.
Lisa’s explanation of how there are two ways of looking at a disability, and the difference therein, is one of the best reads I have been enlightened by in a long time. Therein, she contends that in spite of the fact that her legs do not work and she is in considerable pain (or at least, that is what I understood parts of her writings to mean), she views society as disabling her. Her explanation of this view is absolutely essential reading, and I wish I could be before her in person to bow to her for having written it.
Part of her example of society disabling her states that in spite of all the blah blah blah during the “special” Olympics in England recently, only twenty percent of public transport stations in all of England are wheelchair-accessible. I do not know about you, but I think for a society of England’s population and geographic size, that is absolutely disgraceful. As Lisa puts it so well, in order to arrive at such a situation, planners, bosses, and engineers all had to look at eighty percent of stations and decide the expense and effort of making them at least vaguely accessible to people who need wheelchairs or similar aids to get from place to place was not worth it.
Lisa’s way of looking at this, expressed in full on the linked document (here it is again in case you missed it) is exactly the problem I have with person-first language. You see, as Lisa puts it, she is disabled by people looking at her as if she is an optional component in a computer and selecting the “disable” switch.
I do take one issue with Lisa‘s statement. The offending passage is slightly more than halfway down the document. It reads as follows:
Firstly in response to that: It’s a person’s right to identify however the hell they want. If they’re more comfortable as a “person with a disability” than as a “disabled person” then that’s nothing to do with me.
Unfortunately, Lisa, this brings to mind the old statement about one’s right to swing their first stopping at the next person’s nose. It is not that I disagree with you about the main portion of your statement. But this little point stinks to this autistic adult, and probably every autistic adult whose circumstances are even vaguely similar to mine.
Lisa, please allow me to explain a few things from an autistic point of view. You see, “person with” statements allow outsiders to think of the “condition” as something separate to the person. That such a thing would occur with a university-elite-decided thing should surprise nobody. If political correctness is any guide, it is the wont of people in the ivory towers of universities to impose ways of speaking upon others without any thought whatsoever as to the consequences.
Autistic people suffer great consequences from “person first” language, as do people in wheelchairs, people who struggle with epilepsy, or people who are blind. Or a million and one other disabled folk. You see, if “person first” language and its proponents existed in a vacuum where words or the phrasings thereof were totally without consequence, then yes, I would agree, it is a person’s right to identity however they please.
Unfortunately, we do not live in a vacuum where “person with” phrasings have no consequences.
There are people in the world who try to make others thing of being autistic as something wrong, something evil, something baaaaaaad. A key part of their strategy in this is to separate the autistic neurology from the person who could not get rid of it even if they wanted to. And any time someone refers to me as a “person with autism” instead of the autistic man that I am, that means these people have succeeded to a degree.
I could sit here and bore you with all the ins and outs of why “person first” language offends me to death (hey, Donna, are you reading this?). But I will just cut to the chase.
We do not live in a vacuum where what we say or how we phrase it is entirely without consequence. If anyone out there who is reading this was wondering when I am going to get to the point, then stop reading now, because that was it. I will repeat it for good measure, with the proper emphasis. We do not live in a vacuum where what we say or how we phrase it is entirely without consequence. We live in a world of multiple identities with folk whose very thought processes are guided by the words available to them. So when I say you absolutely cannot refer to me as a “person with autism” or yourself as same around me, understand my meaning. People like the aforementioned worse-than moron Donna might not get this, but I do. In a world where choice of words has consequences, whether you call yourself a “person with pink and purple polka-dotted skin” or a very unusually-coloured individual is most emphatically NOT a personal preference.
The choice you make in this respect should be guided by the consequences, not just for you, but for your loved ones, folks with similarity to you, and even folks who have no similarities to you at all. Because as the awesome Italian woman who calls herself Cadaveria put it in one of the best songs issued by the band named after her alias, choices cannot be erased.
I am going to use a few words here that I would normally not except to set an example of the mindset of someone who might be more inclined to use them. The reason why will become clear at the end of the statement. I could argue that if people want to call themselves spics, niggers, or crackas (or rednecks, or…), then they should be able to do so freely. But I say it is all about context. Richard Pryor said he would not use the epithet for black folk anymore at one point because during a trip to Africa he realised he had not used it for days because, to paraphrase him, he had been in Africa for days and not seen one nigger.
That is important, because I firmly believe that if every autistic individual from a certain age up refused to ever separate themselves from what they are in their speech, it would change the way media discusses autism very quickly. In fact, one of my deepest desires stirred by media has been to get on whatever show Oprah Winfrey is disgracing or The Idiotic View and say to Oprah Winfrey or Whoopi Goldberg that I am an autistic man, and they are part of my equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan. This would be a “fukk you, nigger” to their faces the like of which they really need to hear, even if they do not realise what it is at the time.
(Please allow me to reiterate, I would not be saying the translation to the face of any other black individual, male or female, unless they supported Autism Speaks For Normie Assholes in their genocidal mission, either in word or deed. Because I firmly believe that if you support the extermination of a neurological minority group, then you are implicitly supporting the extermination of any minority group, your own included. If you can think of a more appropriate thing to call someone who does this than an epithet designed to devalue the racial group they are a part of, I am all ears.)
So in closing, thank you, Lisa Egan, for hitting the politically correct right where it hurts again (their ability to refer to me with what I consider an epithet and get away with it). And for those who read this journal, thank you for helping to keep me going long enough to come across her work. In spite of the impression my rambling conveys, I am glad that people of her calibre continue to exist.