I write everything on my to-do lists. If it’s not listed it simply won’t be done.
When I was asked to write this piece, my hand shook as I added “Write about the word ‘Retard’” to my work list. And even now, typing the R-word on my keyboard, a rush of blood surges through my body sending tingles to my fingertips, my throat tightens and eyes water.
So if it’s so hard to write, hearing it spoken feels like a punch in the gut. But I’m a decent actress and don’t react, because it’s often from the mouth of friends. People who are otherwise thoughtful, considerate and caring.
“OMG, he’s such a retard!” girlfriends declare, reciting a frustrating incident with a colleague. Or, “Don’t be a retard” they quip to one another.
“Don’t say that!” I want to shake them. But I know they’re saying it carelessly, without thought. I know, because I used to say it myself.
That was before retard became my life and my love.
I have twin boys with intellectual disabilities or ‘mental retardation’; and yes, they’re the ‘retards’ the insult intends.
Their brains don’t work normally. They can’t do a bunch of stuff. But they’re better than awesome and I love them fiercely – just like all mums raising kids with disabilities. These mums also bristle every time they hear the R-word. As do the kids and adults with special-needs who understand what it means.
Words. They’re used in violence and in peace. They create perspective and feelings which generate actions that lead to results.
The feminist movement knew this –the effort they invested into gender-based language reform was immense. ‘Sexist language reflects sexist social practices’, they successfully argued.
There are many words we no longer utter because they are too hurtful. These no-go ones are too fraught too repeat here. They’re racial, homophobic or religious slurs, you know the kind.
The R-word is derogatory and offensive to the population that most needs encouragement and support. There’s nearly 700,000 people with intellectual disabilities in Australia and that doesn’t include the families and loved ones who care for them.