“That’s so gay!” What does it feel like when you hear someone say that? Maybe even a friend. Maybe you’ve even said it yourself (and secretly felt weird about it). Everyone says it, right? It’s just something people say when they’re goofing around.
Your friends may insist that the expression isn’t really an insult against gays and lesbians, but they’re kidding themselves. It’s an insult. No one ever says, “that’s so gay” when someone shoots a three-pointer in basketball or aces a test or reaches some other admirable goal. They say it when someone’s acting stupid or uncool, or when a guy does something his friends think is “girly” or feminine.
Here’s another popular expression: “What a retard!” How does that one make you feel? Not as bad? Maybe you’ve used this one yourself – and didn’t feel weird about it at all. Everyone uses the word retard, right? As long as you don’t use it to refer to someone who’s actually mentally challenged, it’s no big deal.
Guess what? The word retard is a derogatory slur – just like all those other racial, ethnic, religious and homophobic slurs you probably wouldn’t dream of using. Just because “everyone says it” doesn’t mean it’s cool. It’s not very kind either.
Just like “that’s so gay,” the message behind calling someone a retard is that the person’s being stupid or uncool. But on a deeper level, what both insults are saying is that being gay or mentally challenged – a fag, a retard – makes someone less of a person, less worthy of taking up space on the planet.
I personally am not lesbian or mentally challenged, so why do I care? First of all, I’m a human being. Secondly, I have a physical disability, so I have some experience with being a derided minority. I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis when I was 13. I walked slowly and with a limp, and a lot of kids at my school teased me for being weird and different. When I transferred to a new school for 9th grade, my arthritis was less severe because of the medication I was taking. I could hide it, and I was determined to keep my “terrible secret” from my new classmates. I was so ashamed of being sick, of being different, because the kids at my former school had let me know how completely uncool it was.
Now that I’m older and hopefully a little wiser, I’m at peace with all the different things that make me who I am – including my disability. And when I hear my friends casually using the word retard, not realizing it doesn’t sit well with me, it really bothers me. I’m intelligent and well educated, so I guess they don’t realize I identify with people who have intellectual disabilities – but I do. They’re “my people,” and I look out for them, especially since they may not be able to look out for themselves.
My friends are generally kind, compassionate people. They obviously aren’t prejudiced against people with disabilities (I mean, they’re friends with me after all). I began to wonder if people maybe just don’t realize that the “R word” is, in fact, a slur. So I started the Facebook group – Guess What? “Retard” is a derogatory term, cut it out! – to educate people and spread the message that using the word retard just isn’t cool.
A new school year starts soon for most of you. If you find yourself about to call your buddy a retard, why not make the choice to be bigger than that? Help spread the good word that retard is NOT a good word! Click on this link, join the Facebook group, and invite your friends to join. Standing up for kindness and compassion is one of the coolest things you can do for the world.