“Woah, that was crazy!”
Except it wasn’t. It was weird, wonderful, loud, amazing, ridiculous, awful, strange, marvelous, difficult, silly, tedious, impressive, absurd, etc… It was a million different things, and crazy probably wasn’t one of them. And even if it were, that’s not really for you to say, unless it was your own experience. ‘Crazy’ seems to be the most popular adjective for all things good and bad, and I don’t like it.
Welcome to a post about oppressive language! I know you’ve heard it all before. You know every damn reason and then some on why not to use certain words. You know which words have been reclaimed (queer, dyke, cunt, bitch…), and which words just need to go away forever (retarded, lame…). And you’ve heard me and others discuss the use of the word ‘crazy’. Well, here I go again.
Call me sensitive, call me the language police, call me whatever you want. I don’t like the word ‘crazy’ the way it is commonly used, and I grit my teeth and pretend to ignore it when somebody uses that word in my presence to describe, like, busy traffic, or somebody’s hair, or last night, or any number of things that could be described by dozens and dozens of more thoughtful words that actually make sense. When I tell you a story, and you respond with, “That’s crazy,” “That’s insane,” “That’s nuts!” etc., you stop the potential conversation dead in its tracks. (Same with the word ‘lame’. Stop using that word around me, and then stop using that word altogether, please and thank you.) I’m not the world’s greatest conversationalist, but I do try to choose my words wisely, and I like to believe that I am no longer in the habit of using oppressive language, or if I am, I am taking the time to examine my use of those words and eliminate them from my vocabulary.
And please don’t tell me that the meaning of the word has changed, therefore it’s okay to use it now. That excuse only works for those who have the privilege of not having been labeled crazy, not having that word used against them, and when you continue to use oppressive language after being made aware of it, you look like a jerk. I’ve never been good at calling people out for saying inappropriate things; I keep it inside and dwell on it, and sometimes I write about it. But I’d like to get better at that. Letting people know why I feel uncomfortable with something they’ve just said, and giving them another perspective.
Here’s another example of how language, and how certain words are used, really irks me: It is extremely common for folks who have bipolar to be told that they are bipolar. Whenever somebody says that to me, I correct them. Bipolar is not something I am, it’s something I potentially have. Nobody ever says, You are a cold, or You are cancer. Please think about language when discussing mental health.
This is somewhat related: If you aren’t familiar with the whole Teal Triggs Fanzines debacle, please read the On Having My Work Published Without My Permission tags on my sister’s blog, and follow the many links to other blogs provided within. My zine was also included in that book (the cover of Telegram Ma’am # 14 from Spring 2008 to be specific), and I’ll admit it, I pretty much cried when I read the description she wrote of my zine. (Don’t worry, I didn’t buy the book – all “contributers”, if we can be called that, are entitled to a free copy.)
This is what she wrote: Telegram Ma’am is a mini-perzine [sic] by Maranda, who uses writing to articulate what it is like being [sic] bipolar. Um, no. I am so sick of talking about this book, but, after my zine being used in a for-profit book without my permission, it was yet another blow to see my writing so poorly misrepresented. If she had read the zine, she would know her language was inappropriate. I’ve had this conversation too many times. After I read that, I was going to email her again to let her know how I felt about what she wrote, but I just don’t have the energy to deal with it anymore. The whole situation is just an embarrassing disappointment.
By psychiatric standards, I guess you could say I am crazy (well, I can say it; you can’t – I use ‘crazy’ as a reclaimed term to playfully/seriously refer to myself, but not others). I’ve grappled for a long time with where I believe mental health conditions come from / how they happen / how-why-if they exist, the best and worst methods of treatment, and so on. I’ve seen a lot of doctors, been hospitalized countless times, I’ve taken a lot of drugs and I’ve gone med-free and I’ve taken drugs again. I find it very strange that just about all personality quirks and preferences can be given a diagnosis (or ten, or a thousand – don’t even get me started on the DSM). A couple years ago, I was talking to my then-therapist about how I don’t like it when people touch me. I’m cool with hugging my friends and holding hands, but I get extremely distressed if somebody touches me without my permission, brushes against me or bumps into me, etc. Once, while out shopping with my mom, this dude approached me from behind and put his hand on my arm to touch my tattoo. I’ve had a lot of problems with strangers touching my tattoos as though they are not a part of my body, my flesh, and it is very upsetting; I don’t always have the guts to call them out, though I am getting better at it. Anyway, this dude had some nerve treating me like that, in front of my mom no less. She told him not to touch me, and I burst into tears. My therapist started talking about Asperger’s, like it could be a possible diagnosis, and I’m like, “Why does this have to be diagnosed? Why can’t you just say I don’t like people touching me and leave it at that?”
Crazy is real. There are varying degrees, and whether or not it is a construct of the medical community in Western society, a chemical imbalance, the effects of trauma, or simply the way some folks are perceived by others who consider themselves sane, well, I do believe that crazy exists, and I think it’s disrespectful and thoughtless to use that label out of context. Remember when you’re speaking to someone that you don’t know their history, you don’t know what might hurt them. Not that you should be walking on eggshells every time you open your mouth, I just think you ought to take a few things into consideration in conversation, and oppressive language is one of those things. Once I reconsidered my own language, I found that writings and conversations grew far more interesting, productive, and thought-provoking for me. Instead of saying, “Wow, that’s so insane!” and shutting down the conversation when a friend tells me about an encounter they had with a stranger, for example, I can instead have a more thoughtful response, like, “Wow, that sounds really wonderful. What did she say? What did you think? Don’t you love the way the universe brings neat stories into our lives when we’re least expecting them?”
For further reading on language and ableism, please visit these entries on DisabledFeminists.com. I don’t always follow this blog, or any blog, regularly, and it appears that as of today, new entries will no longer be posted, but the site will be kept as an archive and resource.
Oh, and here’s a list of at least one-hundred different adjectives. ‘Crazy’ is on those lists; just ignore it and read the others.
This whole language thing bothers me, and then it bothers me that it bothers me. But that’s how it is. I really think the misuse of the words ‘crazy’, ‘insane’, ‘nuts’, etc., is old news, but I encounter it so often that I felt the need to write this and share it.
Get creative with your language and start connecting for real.
With many alternative adjectives in hand,
P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!