Does It Really Matter?
I get asked this question a lot by friends and acquaintances who feel comfortable asking me to weigh in on topics that seem controversial--especially regarding Deaf/disabled/LGBT. I'm always hesitant to answer these questions because while I like to uplift the voices of the community, I am not THE voice of the community.
It's as diverse as many, and frankly, there is no one answer.
But my general response to a lot of those questions has got me thinking. Does it really matter?
Young activists get a lot of criticism for making small issues into big ones. And the older activists tend to look at them and feel a sort of bone-deep exhaustion, mostly because we've been fighting for so damn long that we choose our battles.
Is someone writing a book filled with incorrect stereotypes? There's a chance I won't say anything, because frankly my spoon reserves are depleted and I'm in severe debt. Most of the time I know I'm not going to change their minds. I've seen my disabled friends be silenced and ignored--or even banned from groups by people who belong to the majority. And I can't lie, I get frustrated. I want to rage and scream and confront them and ask why they feel they can profit off our community and so casually dismiss our voices.
But I don't.
I've been fighting fights similar to this since I can remember. Since I was a young child watching my family suffer discrimination. Since I was a teenager trying to discover their sexuality. Since I was an adult trying to navigate a workplace. Since I got sick. Since I started losing my hearing, while I dated women, while I had multiple partners.
The short answer to that simple question is this: Yes, it matters. And no, it doesn't matter if it doesn't bother me personally, because it bothers someone.
Mostly I get asked about phrases like, "deaf to___" or "tone-deaf" (no, this doesn't bother me) or "blind to ___" (not my place to decide) or the ever-present C word like "cr***ling self doubt." (yes using this word by anyone who isn't disabled is, quite frankly, wrong).
I tell my close friends, using deaf like that doesn't always bother me. And I have my reasons why it doesn't.
But you know what, it bothers SOME people and those SOME people should be enough. Especially if you're not part of the community. If you're taking up space and making your voice heard through disabled characters or LGBT or the communities of colour and they are not your people-- chances are you're going to do something wrong.
Chances are someone is going to let you know.
Chances are you're going to get defensive because someone once told you it was fine.
Never mind that those stereotypes directly perpetuate an unsafe society for those people to exist.
All your bad guys are black men? That continues to reaffirm the incorrect stereotype that black men are criminals and leads to the idea that black and brown skin are inherently a threat to white people.
Your queers and trans folx die at the end? It only lends credence to the belief that we can't be happy, and people use that as a reason to deny us rights. Homophobic/transphobic parents HOLD ON to that and make it unsafe when their kids want to come out.
Your disabled characters don't know how to love themselves, can't accomplish simple tasks, don't understand how anyone can love them until some good looking able-bodied person shows up? It not only tells the world that it's the singular disabled experience, but it perpetuates self-hate within the disabled community, especially with young disabled minds who are still learning their place in the world. Do you know what happens when young disabled folx grow up hating themselves? I think you do. And if you don't, I think you can figure it out.
So no. Some of those casual words don't necessarily matter to me. But they matter to some. And the some in those communities are just as important as the few.
So the best thing you can do is take a step back and figure out if it's your place to decide which voice you should be elevating.