So, yesterday was the annual "Spread the Word to End the Word" day of awareness. Many in the intellectual disabilities community celebrated by wearing different colored socks, event t-shirts and other things and some of us, many of us, got our thoughts down in a blog post. This is the part where I need to apologize because, apparently, I cannot figure out how to take part correctly in a "blog hop" where all the same subject are linked together. I tried, believe me, I did."
I spent a lot of time thinking about the word, yesterday. I got really angry a number of times, exasperated that people JUST! DON'T! GET! IT!!! Even people who claim to be champions of people like my Charles were getting on my nerves. It's enough to make you want to throw in the towel and say "Enough! I just don't care anymore! Say whatever you want, assholes!"
So, I stepped away from the keyboard. I did a tough workout (my arms are killing me). I walked on the treadmill. I had a surprise visit from some friends and their baby and I forgot my anger for awhile. Later on, after Charles' last Special Olympics basketball game of the season, I started thinking about what I would write today and I thought of this...
About 12 years ago, I had some friends who were a gay couple. Their daughter was a few months older than my youngest, Evan and a few months younger than my middle, Charles. We bonded over being pregnant and all that and they were just cool to be around, so we had a few play dates when the kids were really little.
One afternoon, I was standing in their living room and I referred to something as being "so gay". Mind you, I had my little toddler, Charles, with Down syndrome climbing all over me at the moment and still, this was the word I chose. I was kind of wrapped up in whatever the kids were doing, so I did not see my one friend's face when I said the word. I imagine, she showed some kind of disapproval, though.
She didn't say anything this time, but let me continue saying whatever I was saying, probably feeling troubled and hurt, the way I do when I hear someone say "that's so retarded".
The day went on and I used the term again. This time, she stopped me, looking very hurt. I said all the things that people say "I didn't mean it that way!", "you know what I mean!", etc., etc... I defended my word choice (sound familiar?). I accused her of being overly sensitive (do you hate me, yet?). I left that day a little troubled by her hurt and anger, but really not hearing what it was she was trying to tell me.
A few days later, or maybe a week, or maybe a month, I overheard someone say "that's so retarded". They weren't talking to me or about my Charles, but my guts twisted. I got that sick feeling that I get when I am upset about something. I looked at Charles and I got it. I just "got" it in that moment. My next move was to call my friends. I was glad when my friend, the one who had been hurt, picked up the phone. I told her what had happened; that I now "got" what she was trying to tell me; that I knew I had been wrong and I was really, really sorry for hurting her. We cried a little. Maybe, a lot. It was good. It was cleansing. I felt like a weight had been lifted.
As I think back on this, I tell myself that not everyone is going to get it. No matter how much I beg, reason, cajole, cry and scream (mostly scream), there are going to be people that just don't get it. I don't have to accept that, but if I don't, how crazy am I going to make myself? It doesn't mean that I will stop trying to make people understand. I will always do that. But, it might mean giving people that truly matter time to process. Anyone whose kid has an IEP can relate to that term. If I didn't get it, if I was so hard headed and ignorant and callous, why should I expect other people to read a blog and go "OH!!! HOW WRONG I HAVE BEEN" and start begging me for forgiveness? I shouldn't. If some do, great. Maybe, though, we all just need a little time for processing.
Something else I was thinking about in reference to the r-word and all that it means, was movies and t.v. and it's use in those mediums.
It is used, a lot, still. I have never seen Tropic Thunder and I won't. I normally wouldn't speak to something I hadn't actually seen for myself, but, I have heard enough about it from people that I trust to know that it is one of the worst offenders. I loved the movie "The Descendants", but that scene in the car hurt. It really did.
It would probably in my top 20 favorite movies if that hadn't happened.
I loved the show The Office when Steve Carell was still on it. I can still remember a scene in which the words retard and retarded are used and I have thought about them many times, since.
I love the movie "The Ringer". I love it. My whole family loves it. It is crude and vulgar and yes, the r-word is in it, but here is the catch, I think it shows people with intellectual disabilities in a great light. Tim Shriver, one of the biggest champions of the developmentally disabled was consulted heavily and is listed as the Executive Producer on the film. He saw the good a movie like that could do for this community. He saw what I see when I watch it, that you can laugh at it without laughing at the disabilities. You see the Special Olympics athletes as human, as having feelings, as being funny and talented. You don't laugh at them (maybe some do), you laugh with them. It makes all the difference.
The difference with the r-word being used in "The Descendants" and in "The Ringer" is huge. In the first, "The Descendants", it's the protagonist using it, you like him, he's the good guy and the victim. He's still an asshole for using that word so casually. It makes me like him much less than I would have otherwise.
In the second, "The Ringer" and in that episode of "The Office", the word is only used by the very, very clueless: the jerkface uncle, the mob boss, and it's inferred by Lynn's icky boyfriend. The unlikely hero in the movie, Steve (Jeffy), played wonderfully by Johnny Knoxville, tells his uncle off for using terms like "feeb".
He befriends his teammates. He becomes one of us. It's beautiful, really.
In "The Office", we all know that Michael Scott is clueless. Does anyone really want to be a Michael Scott?
Of course not. It still bugs me to hear the words in this scene, but if I think about it, it's a good thing. It really is. The genius of it, intentional or not (I'm thinking not, since Ricky Gervais has never exactly been a friend to our community), it makes you think "Wow. That guy is really clueless". At least, that's how I see it. And if I see it that way, don't some others? I can't worry about those who will never, ever get it and don't want to anymore than I can convince some truly heartless people that my son deserved a chance to be a part of our family. There will always be the holdouts. It's the same as with anything else. There will always be cruel people with bad intentions, not just for my kid, but for animals, for women, for other races and ethnicity's. Though I can't completely ignore these people, I can't focus on them, either. It would make me crazy(er). It would be a waste of time.
All I can do is spread awareness, spread love and give wait time for processing.