Monday, April 23, 2007

Smothered by Political Correctness

Smothered by Political Correctness

In college I took many classes in human sexuality with the idea in the back of my mind that I wanted to become a sex therapist. That idea began to lose its appeal when it became clear that as a sex therapist the majority of my time would be spent less with the interesting, strange and bizarre and more with the more common problem of low sex drive. The idea of sex researcher was and still is very interesting to me however.

Anyway, I really enjoyed most of the psychology and sociology classes I took under the umbrella term of human sexuality. There was one class that I had some issue with, even though it also provided some interesting information. That class was a queer studies class offered by the women's studies department.

Even though it was offered by the Womens studies program, I still held out the stubborn hope that aside from the hours of interesting discussion I might also meet a hot guy or two while fulfilling my graduation requirements. I should add that the hope of meeting hot guys was in the back of my mind for nearly any activity I choose to do from going out with friends for a drink to the more mundane tasks of walking down the street or getting my haircut.

The slightly unrealistic dream of falling in lust with a hot co-ed and spending many educational hours out of class as "lab partners" was dashed as soon as I realized most of my classmates were either straight women or lesbians. The handful of other guys in class were the cool but off limits straight guy or a couple other gay guys I wasn't at all attracted to. Oh well, there was still the interesting discussions to keep me interested in, right? As the first day of class taught me that answer was mostly no.

The reason for that was for me the stifling attitude of political correctness that was ever present. As a Sociology major I know the power of words and language when it comes to disenfranchising and stigmatizing many groups of people. But it can also swing both ways. The first day of class was spent making rules "to better facilitate class discussions." There was a rule for everything, many of them beneficial, but many others that were not. I think it was agreed that we would be called queers other than gay and lesbian. I don't mind the word queer, but to me it is a word charged with political meanings and I don't always want to live my life as a political statement. Still I was fine with that. But as the hour went by the chalkboard was being filled to capacity with all the words I couldn't use unless I wanted to be the target of some very aggressively correct classmates. Just when I thought there couldn't be any more possibly offensive words up shot another hand to prove me wrong.

One rule that I clearly remember was offered earnestly by a cute little lesbian (sorry, queer girl...I mean woman...I mean queer..just queer) with a blue mohawk. (If I'm confusing her with another queer classmate I'm sorry, the cute girl with the blue mohawk just stands out in my mind.) The rule went something like " If someone in class uses the word handicapped to describe another person I'm going to aggressively call them out on that horrible limiting term. Just because a person is in a wheel chair does not make them handicapped. They are differently-abled." I hate to be the bigot here, but I was a nurses aid for many years, and the people I helped care for in wheelchairs were handicapped. They may have been able to do many things, and I also might have learned a lot of valuable lessons from them, but there were many things they could not do. And furthermore, if i was in a wheelchair or had some other issue that made me "differently-abled" I think I would be more offended by the term differently-abled, especially with the patronizing tone I felt it was being used. I may be ignorant to many things, so forgive me if I'm way off, but is the word handicapped now derogatory?

The point is that with all the rules upon rules that were part of that class I felt a bit apprehensive about saying anything. It didn't keep me quiet in the long run, and I think I may have even brought up my feelings about the never ending rules (I really hope I did), but the way they were presented out with all the seriousness of a double funeral with no irony whatsoever was fairly off putting. Words can and do hurt, but the cure can sometimes be just as suffocating to free speech as the problem they are meant to solve.

No comments: