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Tales From The Crip: Ready, Willing, and Disabled

What's up Bitches!?

Ahem. I mean "Hello, distinguished readers of the Bitch community. Pleased to make your acquaintance. How do you do?" My name is Caitlin and this is my new blogging series, "Tales From The Crip." I hope you enjoy it and that we can be friends. Or at the very least, be frenemies who engage in some stimulating conversations.

You might be asking yourself about the meaning behind the blog's title. "Umm 'crip?' Bitch is hiring freelance gang members now?" This is where (if we were in person) I'd cradle you against my ample bosom, gently stroke your hair and whisper, "ssshhhhh... no." Or maybe you're already familiar with the term, with the disability community and movements about reclamations of oppressive language (i.e., bitch, fag, dyke, etc.). Maybe you're like me, a disabled woman who enjoys making terrible puns about even more terrible TV shows from the early '90s. To the younger readers who don't understand the reference, I'll tell you what I tell my mother: Google is your friend. Regardless of your background and experience with the disability community, I'm really excited to work on this series for Bitch, which will focus on (you guessed it!) disability, representation, and pop culture. I thought talking a bit about language and labels was a logical and important first step for the series as you're stuck with me for the next couple of months. Please like me!

So we've established that I'm not in fact, part of a gang, (there goes my street cred). For my next trick I'd like to discuss why I love the word crip and why I use it as an identifier. First things first though, a little background info. The disability community is huge. At 10% of the entire population, we are the world's largest minority group. Holla! Despite the vast numbers of people experiencing an impairment(s), there are serious social repercussions to belonging to this wonderfully diverse yet marginalized community: poverty, societal stigma, discrimination on just about every level, people not wanting to hire you because you're disabled, lack of accessible housing, higher rates of abuse and violence, etc.) Can you go to the movies and see someone on screen who looks like you? I can't. And at thirty years old, I never have. In short, gimpin' ain't easy.

Navigating an ableist world (ableism being just like any other gnarly -ism, denoting discrimination, prejudice, and negative attitudes, in this case toward people with disabilities) is a challenging, often exhausting experience if you're disabled. There's a considerable dearth of positive media representation for us crips, so nondisabled people frequently rely on antiquated stereotypes (which leads to bizarre assumptions about what life must be like for us, which leads to prejudice) to guide behaviors when interacting with a disabled person. Ableism is pervasive, infiltrating all aspects of culture, and notably: language.

The media, when writing about someone who is a wheelchair user, constantly uses the archaic expressions "wheelchair bound," or "confined to a wheelchair"—terms that disabled people consistently cite as offensive, due to the extremely negative connotations evoked. As Eugene Emmer tried to explain to journalists, "A wheelchair user is not 'bound' to their wheelchair. There are no chains or shackles binding the wheelchair user. A wheelchair gives freedom to a wheelchair user. A wheelchair gives mobility and allows many wheelchair users to live high quality lives. But most importantly, the term 'wheelchair bound' is simply paternalistic. It is a way of talking down about a wheelchair user."

In addition to the utter grossness of "wheelchair bound," and "confined to a wheelchair," there is a more loathsome descriptor that is occasionally (and recklessly) thrown out by ablebodied people. I'm talking about the "C" word. No, not C U Next Tuesday, but "crippled." Few words cause me to recoil in the same manner that this one does. I experience the same kind of visceral reaction upon hearing it that I do when someone uses a racial or gay slur. Weirdly, some ablebodied people don't seem to understand that labeling a disabled person as "crippled" might be considered full-on effrontery. And while I'm likely preaching to the progressive, feminist choir who makes thoughtful linguistic choices, it happens more often than you might think.

Enter le crip. Identity is fluid and complicated, much like disability. I proudly call myself as a crip because it makes me feel powerful. It takes a word previously hurled at me, making me feel ashamed, alienated, and unworthy and flips it on its axis. Crip gives me agency. Crip is my culture. Crip is my community filled with badass freaks and outcasts who are classified as abnormal by society and wear that designation as a badge of honor. Because we're not trying to assimilate into a culture that doesn't know what to do with us in the first place.

But crip isn't for everyone. I have friends with disabilities who would never use that appellation. And I respect whatever label they choose to self-identify with because it's up to each individual to figure out what descriptors are personally empowering and which ones are not. There will always be internal debate and disagreement on semantics, but ultimately we're still part of the same community—the largest, and most beautifully unique community in the world.

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Comments

15 comments have been made. Post a comment.

"Because we’re not trying to

"Because we’re not trying to assimilate into a culture that doesn’t know what to do with us in the first place."
I loved that (;

thank ya

thank ya

Awesome!

I do use Crip within our community (which truth be told I don't get to interact with that much) But to people who don't know me I use "have a mobility impairment" Sanitized yes. . .but it doesn't illicit an I'm sorry which generally makes me want to ram people with my scooter.
I'd love to see a television show not put an able bodied person in a chair to make it palatable for public consumption
I love Artie on Glee but surely there are enough singers who can dance in a wheelchair and actually use one!
BTW Love Gimpin' Ain't easy!

Thanks Kierie!

Thanks Kierie!

"Mobility impairment"... I

"Mobility impairment"... I like that. It gets the point across but is still open enough to apply to a whole range of things. I don't usually feel justified in using descriptors because most of the time I look just fine. I'm not considered disabled (yet... give it ten years...) but there are a lot of things that I can't always do. It can be hard to get the point across.

What are the best words to

What are the best words to use for someone who is disabled and uses a wheelchair to get places?

I say, "wheelchair user" - is that alright, or is there something "better"?

Natasha, wheelchair user is

Natasha, wheelchair user is perfect. "wheelchair-bound" and "confined to a wheelchair" = icky and ableist. great question, thanks.

So here's a question: is it

So here's a question: is it generally ok or not ok to use the word lame in conversation? I use that word a lot, like oh he never called you back SO LAME. Then someone pointed out to me that it's an able-ist word, which took me aback, but I had never made that connection. I mean I could just say 'oh that sucks,' or 'oh that blows,' but you could argue those are sexist and heteronormative and imply blowjobs are demeaning, but I also feel like THAT SUCKS is pretty disassociated from sex and sexism at this point. Is it the same for HOW LAME?

is LAME an able-ist word?

An ally's point of view...

Hi Emma,
I suspect that you may have already figured out the answer.
Is the word lame disassociated from disability or ableism?
Seems to me that it's not, so...
NO it is not ok to use the word lame in a conversation, unless you are in a position to reclaim that sort of slur.

It isn't easy changing language... as a Sagittarian, I have had a lot of opportunity to learn about language that can offend & ways to change my habits. Practice mostly. And finding a term that will roll off your lips under stress...
oh he never called you back - FOOL!

Hey Emma- I'm so glad you

Hey Emma- I'm so glad you brought this up. I personally don't use 'lame' because it immediately brings up ableist connotations for me, like hearing someone refer to someone having a 'lame leg.' While it doesn't produce the same 'I've just been punched in the guts' feeling that I get when I hear 'crippled,' I try to avoid it. I personally love the word 'wack' as a replacement but then again I was heavily influenced by early 90s rap. Interestingly, I have disabled friends who use 'lame,' so I don't speak for everyone. However, I personally find it cringe-worthy and prefer other adjectives that don't have the negative disability connotation. There is actually a reclamation of 'lame' by some disabled feminists. you can buy your 'lame is good' buttons here: http://eminism.org/store/button-crip.html

Appellation

I am new to being “dis-able-d” or better yet “hand-i-cap-ped”. I have neuropathy and my legs, from the knees down, are like pegs of wood when I walk (wondering when Docs will cut them off). I find I end up telling norm-people that I can’t walk all over the place because I can’t feel my feet. Not as obvious as being in “wheeled- chair”, maybe. But about as much fun anyway. I am beginning to appreciate my “status as an able impaired” (crip) personage...Hahaha

Dances with Wheels

I think each person is allowed to own a word as they see fit. I personally go with "gimp" as I have never been one to minse words. (even when I can't spell them". I right a blog about my adventures and dance, so check it out!! http://paidiraiompair.dreamwidth.org/

I also use to write a short lived column called "Bitch Witch" a "dear abby" for the pagan sect., if you are looking for writers.

hee hee hee

CRIP

Well written, I am a fellow CRIP, I am disabled, it does not have me, nor am I wheelchair bound. My disability is an integral part of who I am and how I am viewed by walkies or able bodied. Keep on working on the verbiage, I see our people divided by words when we need to see each other as part of a vast puzzle we need to integrate and accept. If we educate our people about our culture and its rich history and its struggles we can be proud of who we are and where we come from. We made it and we need to have "Pride of place, Pride of self!"