Even when these words are not directed to offend, I believe they can further promote and perpetuate the system of oppression and social control. Though there are numerous meaningful movements to take back and maintain control over certain words… I feel that it makes sense to avoid using words casually or as slang, instead using words that provide insight and understanding that pertain to the message at hand.
Again, the purpose of this blog is to incite thought and invite change, for what words I think do more harm in our society than do good when used casually as slang, and here’s why:
- Gay (Homo, Fag)
Example: “That’s so gay.”
Usage: In regards to an undesireable person, place, object or situation.
Why shouldn’t we use it as slang? Using the word gay to implicate negativity implies that being gay (homosexual) is somehow a negative lifestyle, which perpetuates a sense of an othered and unacceptable sexual orientation.
Why do I bring this up? Though I openly identify as queer now, I haven’t always. In middle school, I remember thinking that something was wrong with me for being attracted to girls as well as boys, because gay meant someone bad (*note, I use the binaried versions of gender here because it was what I knew at the time). Navigating junior high and high school only furthered this feeling–these environments saturated in the “fag discourse” -gay, homo, or fag being used loosely with a negative or undesirable connotation- only exacerbated the feeling that I was feeling something wrong. So I took considerable pains to hide my attraction towards girls, feeling guilty and ashamed. It wasn’t until years after that I felt I could fully embrace my queerness. Though the words don’t necessarily hurt me now, I can’t help but think of all the damage it is doing in our society and culture for those individuals who haven’t yet found an outlet, are unsure of what they are feeling and if it’s natural, or have questions but are afraid to ask.
Example: “I hope the Bears rape the Packers” or “I raped that exam.”
Why shouldn’t we use it as slang? This undermines and devalues the experience of individuals have been victims and survivors of completed and attempted sexual assaults.
Why do I bring this up? 1 out of every 6 women in America has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (statistics from RAINN). Think about how many womyn you know? I, personally, am a survivor of rape as well as a rather traumatic attempted rape. Though I am open about my experiences, I am very uneasy about the word usage of rape very casually, because there is so little justice for those who have experienced rape, from what I have seen. Considering the individuals I know who have been sexually assaulted predominantly feel uncomfortable about coming forward about their experience because of the social stigma and prevalent rape myths that make it difficult to avoid being blamed, instead of the rapist or attacker.
Example: “I stalked your facebook page.”
Why shouldn’t we use it as slang? This also devalues the experience and very scary reality of many individuals. By normalizing the idea of stalking, laughing it off, assists actual stalking to permeate and pass in our everday society. Apparently, it’s hard to know actual statistics of stalking, because many individuals hide the fear of stalking because it’s deemed -wrongly- a personal problem and worry about looking at fault.
Why do I bring this up? Three times in my life I’ve had a stalker. First, in High School then my second year of college, then more recently in 2010. An ex-boyfriend harassed me with daily emails, texts, phone calls and voicemails… I mean, 25 texts in a day and voicemails that he would get cut off during and call again to continue his message. This all after I explicitly asked and told him not to contact me via any medium. After his insistent texts of “I must see you” and having a friend walk me home repeatedly, I finally filed a police harassment report. These very scary experiences still make me anxious. When I visited the police station the first time, the officer dismissed me, saying, “well, you better get off that facebook, that myspace, don’t be bringing people in your home, or showing him where you work…” Victim-blaming, really? Let’s not contribute to this same thought process by using the word stalk loosely so that it becomes commonplace and dismissable.
What do I use instead? “I creeped your facebook page.”
Example: “What a lame party/outfit.”
Why shouldn’t we use it as slang? This is offensive to those who have a physical disability and doesn’t provide perspective, sympathy or support for their very real, everyday experience.
- Crazy (insane, nuts)
Examples: “That’s crazy!” “Things are crazy right now.” “What a crazy day!” “I’m crazy about you.”
Why shouldn’t we use it as slang? This is offensive because of the stigmatization it provides for those who suffer from mental or emotional disabilities. So prevalent in our society, why put further social pressure on individuals already struggling with this hardship by using the word as something so negative, something “other” instead of being natural and human.
Why do I bring this up? I was recently having a conversation with a community organizer about the situation of the social control aspect of institutionalizing people on the basis of a medicalized and socialized mental illness. We were brainstorming ways in which to involve the community on such an important topic: health and wellness of our friends, relatives, and neighbors. First, we considered that we must dismantle the social stigma of having a mental or emotional disorder. How can we introduce the idea of relating to individuals who are insitutionalized or medically diagnosed, outside of what is considered acceptable or normal? Much like “coming out” as queer, persons with an illness are asked to “come out” to the general public… whether or not that be in a safe, affirming, and supportive place. Similarly, people who would like to help in these fields are often labeled and stigmatized. When working on gay rights, I’m automatically assumed to be gay; when working for sex-worker’s rights, I’m automatically assumed to have done some work in a related field; when I admit that I was diagnosed with depression, I’m automatically assumed to be suicidal or somehow contagious; the list goes on. Language won’t change these social assumptions overnight, but will contribute to ideologies that provide respect for individuals who identify with a mental illness or personality disorder, who suffer from commonplace conditions or disturbances like depression and anxiety, and for those individuals who act as lovers, relatives, and support.
- Trendy phrases and terms to avoid as slang, because it negates the experience of those actually suffering, working through, or surviving such situations:
I’m starving (Instead, try “I’m extremely hungry.”)
I’m dying (Instead, try “I feel awful.”)
I hate my life (Instead, try “I am having bad luck today;” “I dislike what is happening in this moment.”)
- Violent language, like:
“I could/would kill for…”
“It’s killing me…”
“Take a stab at it.”
“I wish s/he were dead.”