December 8, 2013

This Is Me

I am a child of the late 60's/the entire decade of the 70's/early 80's, and as such, I don't look at language with the same hypocritical eye that anyone born while I was a senior in high school does.

To me, language is something to be cherished and explored, not be used for as a weapon for bullying. So you can well imagine why I have a low tolerance for the language police, be it domestic or international (think Quebec). I don't like being told what is acceptable or not acceptable, and I like even less when the language police takes the inanity of its bullying by retroactively applying today's cleansed word to the history of yesterday (African-American would be a prime example of this bullying).

I also don't like it when people choose to be offended on the behalf of others in the mistaken belief that they know what's good for them (see the brouhaha over the word "Redskins" as put forth by the White Father and White Mother because they know what's best for their Indian children*).

However, I will concede the point that I have made a few cosmetic changes to my public speaking voice, and to a smaller degree, my private speaking voice as well.

For instance, because I grew up in a household/time when I knew what the original meaning of a word was and whereas no one else older than 30 probably didn't, if I use a particular word that some misguided people find offensive, I usually have to preface the word by explaining what the original meaning of the word meant (see 2nd link about bullying for examples). Or, because I have a tendency to really enjoy pushing people's buttons (I'm 48 1/2, I'm allowed to do this), I will substitute a phrase or a different word for the word in question. Confused? Then I'm heading in the right direction.

Out of respect for some of the people I work with and even some of the people that read my blog, I don't use the term "mentally retarded" in their presence. Instead, I'll use the term "developmentally disabled". Or, I'll use the proper medical term, Down's Syndrome (which most people don't know).

For the word "gay", because I actually know what the original meaning of the word is, I have never been 100% comfortable in using that word to describe people who pursue that "alternative lifestyle", so I use that particular phrase instead of the seriously old fashioned catch-all "homosexual".

The problem with hypersensitivity over certain words is that we ultimately try to ban words that other countries use as common vernacular. The word "fag", if I understand it correctly, means "cigarette" in the U.K. and thus most people don't really have a second thought in using it. However, since we've made such a big deal out of the word "fag" and "faggot" being 100% offensive, we have basically bullied people into changing how they speak. Which is sad, because usually the people who scream the loudest about a "bad" word are the ones who don't know the proper history about the word to begin with.

I leave you with one more example of how this older person has attempted to integrate today's F'd up language in his day-to-day activities.

I am not a supporter of gay marriage. However, because it's increasingly becoming the norm, I've learned to accept it. Not like it, but have accepted it. Because of this personal belief that seems to be a contradiction to those with closed minds, I have chosen to use the terms "husband" and "wife" to straight people that I personally know to be married. If I don't know what their marital status is, I simply use the term "significant other".

Now some people may find it to be a little offensive to their sensibilities that I chose to differentiate between straight and non-straight people, but you know, it is my life that I'm living. I certainly don't try to tell you how to live your life, and I certainly don't want you telling me how to live mine. I stay true to me, and if staying to true to me means that I meld only new things into my personal belief system that I feel comfortable with, who are you to tell me that I'm living my life wrong. What may be good for you isn't necessarily good for me.

I leave you with this thought to ponder and discuss amongst yourselves: What business is it of mine if someone in the arts & entertainment field decides to announce that they're gay? Why should I care about a person's sexual orientation? Personally, I'm of the belief that I accept a person for who they are, not for what they are. I don't inquire about a person's sexual orientation, because quite frankly, it's none of my business.

*yes, we are being extremely sarcastic with that statement, but for those of you who don't know their American history (which is probably 2 out of every 3 who practice ignorance is bliss), that really was the prevailing sentiment amongst whites as they dealt with Native Americans in the 19th & 20th century, and yes, I use that term in my conversations because nowadays when you say Indian, people probably will conclude that you're talking about people from India.


  1. Using respectful speech about other people is common courtesy, not "being bullied." But it IS bullying to continue the use of disrespectful speech about others even when told why it's disrespectful.

  2. Actually I'm always careful not to discuss my sexual orientation. People think they know, but actually they don't. If they think I'm one way, I could be the other. Or both, or neither. It's none of anyone's business. I don't see what it has to do with me as a person, and actually I don't really understand why celebs feel they have to come out either. I know often it's to support other gays, and that's great, but not if they feel pressured into it.

    But then to be honest, people's sex lives don't interest me at all. I'm not into porn, either reading it, or watching. I feel passionate about other stuff.

  3. Debra: I agree in principle with your first point, but there is a fine line that I've seen crossed on a daily/weekly basis where it becomes bullying.

    Basically, I try to tweak my speaking to whom I'm talking to, which because of where I work (the guv'ment) is an absolute necessity.

    Joe: I would never ask someone what their orientation is because it is the absolute height of crassness. Having said that, I was goaded into it once by a co-worker many decades ago and it cost me in more ways than you can imagine.

    I think sometimes some come out just to get their name in the news. I don't have less respect for them if they come out, but honestly, why should it matter?

  4. I sometimes feel that language is a minefield. I would always prefer to use terms that the people around me will be comfortable with, rather than offended, but sometimes I can't guess which term that is. Some of my darker-skinned friends refer to themselves as black, and some as brown. African-Canadian doesn't seem to be a widely used term, despite the popularity of African-American. It can be a little awkward, but I just always hope that whoever I'm talking to gets that my heart is in the right place.

  5. S.R.: To this day, I have not used the term 'African-American' while speaking. I always use the term 'Black' when I'm talking about Black people. 'African-American' has been used since the mid 90's, when being a hyphenated American was all the rage.

    Overall though, I try to size up the situation I'm in when I speak. Less aggravation, less fuss and less stress in the long run when I apply self-censorship to my speech, which is unfortunate.

  6. How I use my words just depends on the people I'm with and their particular sensitivity. My brother-in-law is gay, and he doesn't care about PC words. Like, his drag queen friends always call themselves 'trannies' and their female friends are lovingly called 'fag hags.' But some people think those words are hurtful. Just depends on who you're talking to and how sensitive they are. I don't like to censor myself, but I don't want to come across as rude/hateful either.

  7. ABFtS: Exactly.

    Over the years, I've learned to tweak my language based on the situation that I'm in. What may sound inoffensive to you and I winds up be the complete opposite to others who may eavesdrop.

  8. The redskins and other mascots bother me, having that part of my family history. But even if I was not Native American, I think it would still bother me because, frankly, it's unacceptable to make a caricature of any other minority. Can you imagine the shitstorm if a football team used a Sambo image for instance?

    We had a whole debate about language at a panel I was on, because in the mental health community we are always fighting about whether it's mental illness, or mental health challenges, etc., and what to call people living with diagnoses. So I said, "How about just calling us people?"

    I don't like it when people are overly PC but the last thing I want to do is hurt anyone, and labels can be hurtful. But then, I don't see people as one thing or another, I generally just see them as "George" or "Jill."

  9. M: Strangely enough, the discussion I'm having with the post on FB is about my dislike of the phrase "African American" and the issue of why I use "husband" and "wife" for straight married couples and "significant others" when describing married gay couples and/or single straight and gay people.

    Having said that, I agree labels can be hurtful, but only if you let the label be hurtful. One can either rise above the label and be whatever they want to be, or one can waste energy letting people know it hurts.

    I think the most difficult thing you can do is to develop a thick skin when it comes to labels and/or PC speech.

  10. I agree with you about the attention paid to people "coming out" - it's a big deal to some people, but never to me.

  11. Lynn: I could never understand that. Back in the day, when a celeb came out, it was a very big deal. Nowadays, it's just "eh".


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