Hello. I’m sorry it’s been so long. I’ve been busy. I’ve been doing other things. I’ve been cheating on you.
But I’m back now, if only briefly. I’m here to speak of a new movement of person-first language.
Person first language made a splash in the autism advocacy scene some years back. It seems to be borne primarily out of the peculiar notion that you can change somebody’s entire worldview merely by waving a dictionary at them. But it was more than just the naïve simple-mindedness of it that irritated me. Sure, a handful of self-advocates embraced it, but at its core it was a movement conceived by other people on my behalf who did not share nor understand my experiences as an autistic. As difficult as it is to have a conversation about in the first place, now a simple noun/adjective pair–which is actually quite common, notwithstanding PFL supporters’ insistence to the contrary–was somehow more dehumanizing than the fear-mongering and stereotyping that was, and still is, being accomplished in a variety of lexicons. What’s more, to a great many of us, the fact that when you refer to an autistic, in order to remember that they are a person you have to say the word “person” is just another expression of the same dehumanizing attitudes that person-first language claims to address. For my own part, someone who insists on beating around the bush in this way is too uncomfortable with the concept of autism–or whatever else it may be–to have a really honest and productive conversation about it.
Incidentally, this is also why, despite being a flaming radical leftist, I still have not dismissed the concept of the “Social Justice Warrior.” There are indeed people out there with an obsessive need to feel as if they are doing good who nonetheless lack the skeptical imagination to consult with someone else before they start trying.
And now the movement is trying to invade another territory where I found myself against my will, but in which PFL supporters can come and go as they please: addiction. According to an article from the Drug Policy Alliance, “The use of “addict” by some people in recovery themselves doesn’t make it OK to reduce anyone else’s humanity.” [Link]
I see. So, to respect the term that I use for myself reduces my humanity. Never mind the near-miss I had with years of incarceration–one which would certainly have ended in tragedy had I not had access to a private and expensive and talented lawyer. A luxury which most addicts do not have, and therefore end up in jail for the rest of their lives, on non-violent offences. Never mind the very real struggles with mental and physical health facing most addicts. Instead, we need to have someone else think up another word for it. That will create an atmosphere of respect and humanness (supposedly). Especially with the term these people are proposing, which is “people who suffer from addiction.” “Suffers from” is a phrase that disability self-advocates (not able-bodied do-gooders, but people who are actually disabled) have been trying to get the AP to stop using for years. It is pitying and self-superior, but what’s truly offensive is the presumption of defining someone else’s struggle on their behalf. If there is anyone who ought to be in charge of language regarding disenfranchised and disrespected groups of people, it should be members of these groups. It certainly should not be bureaucrats looking for a veneer of liberality.
I have to wonder what will happen next. Perhaps religious people will begin telling each other to be more respectful of atheists. That the term “atheist” is dehumanizing and needs to be banned. The fact that many of us refer to ourselves and each other as “Atheist” does not give anyone else license to reduce our humanity. Instead we need to be called “people who suffer from a lack of divinity.” Such an absurdity would certainly complete and perfect my triple-A hatred of the person-first movement.