Friday, March 30, 2007

In Which I May Offend Many of You

Hey, remember Karen from The Naked Ovary? I’d link, but she closed up shop a while back. To refresh your memory, Karen had one of the really popular infertility blogs that turned into an adoption blog and one of the things she used to write about A LOT was the language of adoption.

When I read those posts, I remember thinking, Dude, this girl needs some Xanax. Karen’s lovely, she really is. I wish her only good things and happiness, but it made me a little crazy that she was offended by things like “Adopt a highway.” NO ONE, really NO ONE is saying that “adopting” a highway is the same as adopting a child, but what should we call it? Sponsor a highway? Mightn’t that offend or belittle all the 12-steppers? I don’t know.

Anyway. I have thought about Karen a lot lately as I navigate the language of disability. And I read this bit of glurge that is currently making the rounds of the Interweb, and I still think that sometimes we just need to get over ourselves.

Case in point: The School says that their curriculum is for students with average to above average learning potential with communication and language “differences.” Dude. Communication differences? What, like they sign or write or burp their words? Language differences? What, like French? Hebrew? Italian? They don’t mean differences. They mean DELAYS. Or DISABILITIES. CALL A SPADE A SPADE.

Remember in the fifth grade when you would say to your friends, “Oh my GOD is she wearing jeans WITHOUT doing the little cuffy thing? That is SO GAY.” I miss those days. Not the cuffy thing, because frankly, that was a little gay. In the fifth grade sense of the word. And that’s what I miss. The way we could say things and not overthink them.

In February, I was at the library. (That sounds bad. I am at the library every week.) But when I was at the library in February, I saw a board promoting Black History Month. Except that it was titled African American Heritage Month. DUDE. WhatEVER.

I am not offended by recognizing that D. is delayed. I am not offended by the term “special needs.” In fact, I think it’s pretty accurate.

I get irritated when people say things like, “We’re the ones with the disability. If everyone in the world could sign, then deaf people wouldn’t have any problem. If we all made the effort to be more helpful and understanding, children with Down’s syndrome could be productive members of society.” Yes, and if ice cream grew on trees, I wouldn’t have to schlep across town for a decent cone of 31 flavors.

I think what irritates me the most is that I think that on some level, parents who are that hung up on language are doing their children a disservice. By not recognizing a delay or disability, by not acknowledging it, they are perhaps not doing everything possible to help their children. If I treated D. the same as my other kids, for example, he would NOT thrive. He would NOT be able to get things in his own time. He NEEDS more help. He NEEDS intense language therapy.

My aunt and uncle have a son, my cousin. He has fetal alcohol effect. My aunt has, many times in conversation with strangers mentioned that fact. She says, “My son has fetal alcohol effect.” My father is constantly horrified by the way she says it. “How about saying ‘My adopted son,’” he says again and again. “So that people don’t think she drank her way through the pregnancy.”

I get it, though. It doesn’t occur to her to say it that way because she doesn’t think about it in those terms. Because the fact that he is adopted ceased to be a big deal from the moment he came home. They have plenty of other big deal issues, but adoption? Such a non-starter.

Anyway. Words. Yeah, I’m a writer and all, and I get that words have power, but I don’t think that I need to give them power over me. I think it’s a lot more important to forget about the damn words and just work on getting my kid to talk.


Dramalish said...

I thought I was the only human being in the world who thought that about Karen's posts. Don't get me wrong: she is one brave, hilarious, and witty gal.
Perhaps a little tightly wound. I remember a post where a drama teacher had performed a very farcical skit about a crazy-baby-stealing infertile woman taken from The Kids in the Hall. She was terribly offended and hurt. I was in the throws of a tx cycle at the time and thought- huh. I thought it was a really funny skit.
We all have our sore points, I guess. I can't STAND using "gay" to mean "wrong," "bad," "lame." I KNOW that teenagers aren't overtly asserting that being homosexual is bad, but it is implied. And I cringe when I think of which 10% of my classroom is being told that who they are is "bad."
Shrug, shrug.

Anonymous said...

I work in the world of international adoption and it is so refreshing to read this post and know that I am not the only one out there that thinks some people go a little overboard with the whole "THAT's OFFENSIVE" spiel. I monitor message boards for adoptive parents and it is amazing to me how they can find offensive material in the littlest thing - even a Winnie the Pooh movie.

I read through some of the thousands of messages from people complaining how offensive the world is to them and adopted children and I think "you have so much time to devote to complaining and posting, what time do you devote to your child?" *sigh*

Anonymous said...

For the most part, I'm with you.

But I think the world would be a better place if elementary school kids didn't think that "gay" meant disgusting and stupid. It makes it that much harder on the middle school kids who are wondering if they might be homosexual.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with everything you said here... AMEN!

You took the words right out of my mouth, haha! Our society needs to get over the words and get to the realness of dealing with the issues.

Anonymous said...

I both agree and disagree. Words do have power and, in my experience, being on one side of the word makes a big difference in future perception of the word. My brother is gay and came out when he was 16, the use of the term "gay" to mean stupid and wrong in middle school and high school did have a negative impact on him and his experience. Although I never used it myself, I took it a whole other way when someone would refer to another person as "retarded" or "retard" after a doctor mistakenly diagnosed my then one year old as mentally retarded.

But yes, I think that there is a lot of hypersensitivity in this world but yet, I feel unqualified to judge because I am not experiencing what those other people are. Like in grad school, during the whole social correctiveness issue, I had one professor, who was Black, insist that he be referred to as "Negro" as he did not like the term "African American" and, more so, he suggested we always ask a black person what they prefer to be referenced as they might prefer "African American."

I always just prefer to reference him as "my professor who was kicking my ass" because his class was so hard.

So yes, I think there is some validity to being sensitive to language and how it is used but I also think that it can be taken too far.

The Queen Mama said...

I hear you loud and clear. All the stuff we're going through with my oldest...does he have ADHD? Does he not have it?

At this point, I don't care! I just want to drop the alphabet-soup mumbo-jumbo and focus on finding ways to help him fit in to the classroom environment better. News flash: Kids are not all the same! To expect them all to act the same is misguided at best and lazy at worst.

WriterGrrl said...

Dramalish -- so glad to know I'm not alone!
Nikki -- yeah, the time thing always astounds me, too.
Anon I -- you're right. You're right.
Anon II -- thanks!
Mer -- yes, it changes all perspective.
TQM -- yep, on to the practical.

Thanks for the comments on this one, guys!

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