helen-louise (baratron) wrote,

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A pointer to the information: a new way of looking at labels.

In irc this evening, I managed to articulate something that I've been speculating on for a long time.

This is what I was upset about: I went today to a site which offers downloads for The Sims called barairo no jinsei . It's a Japanese site, which has very well-made objects which I've never seen before. Now, a lot of sites which offer downloads for The Sims link to each other as "affiliated sites" - to increase their traffic, and so on. This particular site linked to another site which was called "Crippled Sims".

I can't even begin to explain the general shock and disgust when I saw that banner. First, I thought "oh my God, someone made disabled sims". Then I thought "That might be cool, I wonder if they have hacked wheelchair objects?" (I have a friend who's a wheelchair user who would love The Sims, but I don't recommend it to him for the exact reason that everyone in it's able-bodied). Then I went to the site to look, and the first page says, in English "Can you take a joke?" if so *enter*, so by this stage I am really worried. Then... I find out it's just lingerie and furry skins, nothing to do with "cripples" at all.

Now, I'm the first person to call myself a cripple, but I'm kinda upset by someone using the word for their site clearly with no understanding of what the English word means. And the site says on the front "all in Japanese, English not supported". But plenty of English-speaking people might visit the site to download stuff - you don't have to speak Japanese to look at pictures of a skin for the game and download it. I want to write to the site's owner, and explain to him that he has somehow chosen a title for his site that is offensive in English, but I don't know how to do that when I speak no Japanese and he speaks only a small amount of English, and without knowing anything about Japanese disability culture (whether it's open or hidden, for example), and taking the risk that I will upset him terribly.

Anyway: I was talking about this with some people on the #sims irc channel, and I was explaining to them how, despite the fact I would call myself a cripple, I still found the title of the site offensive. They could understand full well that the word "cripple" was offensive, but couldn't understand why I would choose to use it for myself. I said, it's reclaiming the word from being an insult to being something to be proud of. Just as a lot of black people will use the N-word for themselves (although I, as a non-black, still have to say "the N word" rather than spelling it out), people of wider dimensions will call themselves "fat", and queer people will use "gay" or "queer". If I call myself "a fat queer", then it's less offensive if someone else calls me that, thinking in their childhood understanding that it's the worst possible insult they could ever use.

(That is the most offensive thing about "gay" as a playground insult - not that some people think it's wrong to be gay, or that it is offensive to be called something that you're not, or that it's offensive to gay people for others to use the word - but that the people who use it that way honestly believe somewhere deep down that it is the worst possible thing that someone could be. And of course, that's complete horseshit. Being gay or fat or a wearer of glasses or red-haired - they're all just ways to be people, and none of them are better or worse than any of the others. Insult me for the clothes I wear or the music I listen to, that's attacking something that I do actually have some control over, but insulting me for who I am - I could not change that even if I wanted to, just as you can't change being straight or thin or a person with good eyesight. But I've digressed horribly).

Try to insult me with words I already use, and it's no insult at all, it's just stating facts. Woah, big deal. If I describe myself as "fat" to someone, 9 times out of 10 they'll say "But you're not that fat!", and I then have to explain that no, I'm not putting myself down, I'm just calling a spade a bloody shovel - stating a fact in the baldest possible terminology. I can do that if I'm talking about myself - I don't have to use politically correct language or cater to other people's prejudices if I'm talking about myself. And that can be liberating.

So, I went on to thinking about labels that I use for myself, and someone on the channel said "I don't like labels". Richard is much the same - he doesn't like to label people because he feels that's putting people into boxes. I, on the other hand, approach things from the other side. At BiCon (which I still haven't written about, naughty me), in 36's asexuality workshop, they said something along the lines of "I like to use labels as a way of better understanding myself". And I said (out loud, because I was that excited by it) "Yes, I do that too!".

I said that I don't like to label other people in case I get it wrong - but I wasn't sure about that, because in using labels for myself I end up giving them to other people too. Then I thought of an analogy that works. In code, you can label a specific section so that you can find it again to refer to it. For example, in html you can do <a name="ug">, and then refer to it from somewhere else as "#ug" when you want to link to that part of the document. And that's exactly what labels for people are for me - markers in my memory to a specific part of the information I have about them.

There are some things, like gender, which a lot of the people I know object to as a way of labelling them. "If you label me, you put me in a box." Except that I put everyone in a box just by knowing them. "If you put me in a box, you constrain me." But I don't, because my boxes are infinitely expandable.

Whether your gender is male, female, none of the above, somewhere inbetween or androgynous left-handed butch, I still have something to talk to you about. And that's the reason that the boxes are there - as a way of understanding you. The longer I know you, the more boxes you'll have and the bigger those boxes will be, because the more information I'll have about you. Some of the boxes are standard labels that everyone gets, like gender, sexual orientation and food preference. Some of the boxes are particular to certain people and don't even appear in the database for others (such as "affinity for octopi", "likes Pop'n Music"). The boxes are just hash links in my document, and I can type whatever I want after the name. If you tell me you're a vegetarian and then I see you eating bacon, your "food preference" box will expand from "vegetarian" to "vegetarian except for bacon". If you tell me you're a lesbian, and then you date a man, your "sexual preference" box will expand from "lesbian" to "lesbian except for this one man". And I realise in writing this that it's not the label that people are objecting to, so much as the set of assumptions that come with the label. If the label is just a reference to the part of the document that contains the rest of the information, there is no default set of assumptions to apply.

It's a box in a spreadsheet, a record in my database, a hash link in my document. I can type as much as I like - unlike my computer memory, my brain doesn't get full up. It's just a reference to the place I need to go to get the rest of the information.

Can you see why I stayed up so long past my bedtime to write this?

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