He who tried to rape you will try to ruin you

He who tried to rape you will try to ruin you.

History tells us this again and again.

But you know what else history says?

You are more than what he tried to make you. He tried take what wasn’t his to take. He tried to make you into an object. He, the subject, tried to conquer you, the object.

Maybe he did more than try.

But you were never meant to be an object.

You are a conqueror not a conquest. You are a survivor though you were once a victim. You are a force with whom to be reckoned, not the dirt to be dug up for someone else’s confirmation hearing.

You are an embodiment of hope.


Hope. Sometimes I hate that word. Sometimes I love it. Hope and I, we have a fraught relationship.

But hope is what makes us different. Hope is why we get out of bed. Hope is why we stay in bed but don’t end it all there, because hope believes there will be another page to the story. Hope is what allows us to not crumble at the weight of the world, and hope is what meets us when we do and feel like nothing but mere crumbs.

Sometimes I hate hope.

I am more comfortable naming the pain, cursing the wicked, fighting the storm, living into whatever fierce meme some random PTSD profile has decided to post that day. Do you see this wreckage? I scream, the violence of my voice making my vocal chords hurt for days afterward. You say you’re starting to smell smoke, but we’ve been burning for ages. Now you start to shout fire, but for what?

There is nothing but ash here anymore.

I weep. I hate crying, but I weep anyway. I don’t know what to do when my activism of a life has been ignored so that by the time those in power feel tepid and then a bit toasty, dental records are all that are left to identify the lost souls.

But then there’s hope. Fucking hope. Hope shows up again, as a breathing tube reinvigorating me to speak, to fight, to care, to hope another day. That throat, sore from screaming, rubs raw as the life-sustaining tube goes in and comes out, breathes in and breathes out, bleeds in and bleeds out.

Our industrial revolutions have made homes tidy and healthcare machine-driven and help outsourced and hygiene widespread… but hope haunts those places. Hope is a comforter to those who need comforting, but she’s a damn ghost to those whose halls have too long hidden away rooms of torture. These are rooms where you can be a justice placing his hand on her mouth, a president boasting of other places his hands can go, a lawmaker whose hands can be tied and silence bought by the highest bidder, and a group of high school boys held unaccountable for decades. These rooms are places where hope is terrifying. Hope haunts those whose horcruxes are embedded in the status quo.

But you, dear one, you have nothing to fear from hope. Hope is a guide, a light, a sustenance, a bridge… for you. Hope is a golden middle finger to those for whom hope paints a future in which they, not we, are the ruined ones, but hope is the thing of miracles for us.

Hope brought us this far. May hope also show them the way out, because their time to ruin us is up.

my back is damaged, but

My back is damaged.

Sure, I’ve known that for a while, even before my first spine surgery when I was a 23-year-old newlywed. Back then, I was familiar with pain but absolutely terrified about being a wife, given the married model I grew up with was doused in alcohol and gussied up for appearance. I don’t know how to describe my parents. I just know it wasn’t real, what they projected to the world.

My back and my knees were never right. They were broken before they were whole, effed up before they were fully developed. The same could have been said of my soul, but somehow that survived intact.


My therapist says survival of me was a mix of my tenacity and the grace of God. I’m still not sure about that. I think I just did the next thing, until the things I did were my choices rather than their consequences.

I’m still learning to deserve healing, to believe I’m made for more than bruises. I’m still learning that little girls shouldn’t have to earn love from the people meant to give it no matter what. And I’m still learning to recognize the sound of my own voice, the voice they once stifled with as much violence as they quieted the rest of me.

And still they speak.

My back is damaged, yet another body scan showed last week, described objectively by a clinician writing out the words of my brokenness with sterile and impartial terms. This scan was meant to take some pictures to help my neurosurgeon properly place the spinal cord stimulating electrodes during my most recent surgery yesterday. It did that.

But it also showed the broken places from the days their consequences reigned while my choices weren’t even a thing yet. Back then, I was the object of the story - the one to be hit, to be thrown, the one to be stripped, raped, sold, lather, rinse, repeat.

I’m the subject now. I do things. I write things. I make choices.

Like the choice to have surgery, surgery, surgery, surgery, surgery, surgery, and yesterday one more surgery over a stretch of 18 months. This is my bodily trauma therapy, the taking apart and putting back together, the reconciling my then with my now, the learning I was never made for broken.

After this recent and hopefully last surgery, my back is damaged. But the neurostimulator we’ll turn on in a week will quiet the pain of it, changing my experience of that damage. It’ll be weird to have electricity coursing through my spine, but it should have been weird for bones and joints to be damaged before they were developed. That was just my normal.

I’ll take this new weird, a weird of my choosing to reject their consequences in me.

My back is damaged, but my voice is not.



We worked hard on re-wording our complaints in a formal grievance process. The principal and other supportive staff finally understood the issue at hand, and then they got creative about how to meet it. Long story short: my kiddo is starting on Thursday with the new teacher and in the classroom that we parents and our child's psychologist was requesr. WOOOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOOO!

I will also be meeting with a school board member in a few weeks to discuss how we can improve access and accommodations for kids affected by trauma throughout our district schools, and we'll see what comes from that! I'm a stubborn Mama Bear for our children but I'm also a fierce advocate for all kids. This isn't a win until it's a win.

Hi. I'm Shannon. My husband Lee and I have six kids, some by birth and some by adoption and all fiercely loved. 


Part of how we came to adopt is our belief that every child deserves an advocate. Ideally, that advocate comes from the family or community a child is born into. Given my own experiences with childhood abuse, we knew the ideal isn't always the real. 

We don't deserve any kudos for advocating for any of our children. They are all ours. They are all worthy. Growing inside me doesn't make two deserving and the other four charity. 

No, I am Mama Bear to each of our six. 


Usually, I'm successful. I have an undergrad degree in communication and a graduate one in education (specifically special education, so I know the legal pathways we can take). We've had the gift of passionate, child-focused teachers and administrators.

Until now, unfortunately.

I do think it can be different. I have hope. I think the principal we're facing wants to do the right thing for our child. The issue at hand is both simple and complicated:

We have a child with PTSD.

This WCPSS principal isn't treating PTSD as if it's real. 

She treats our kids as if their smiles mean they're not affected by the past. This principal even ends each email with "smiles," followed by her name. But we need her to look beyond the smiles and believe PTSD is real.


Our child's diagnosis is well documented. The story is not mine to share, though. I won't use our child's name or pronouns throughout this piece to protect their identity. Some adoptive parents tell their child's stories, including the deepest trauma and struggles, as if they're the center of the story. We aren't.

Hear. This. Clearly: We never were meant to be the star of our child's show.  

What can I share with you the trauma this child survived, though? Here's a story: This is a child who asked, "you no beat me?" whenever caught in trouble in the first two years in our family. Let me say that again: this is a child who asked "you no beat me?" to any adult. Again, this child didn't expect the answer to be "no, sweetheart, I won't beat you" each time because they had received the opposite in the past. 

Miraculously, this child knows safety now and trusts us. Beyond us, few are trusted. Our child has known that previous teachers weren't going to physically beat them, but that's as close to trust as they got. Because our child didn't feel safe in those previous classes, academic performance and overall motivation has always been challenging. 

Simply put, because of PTSD, this kiddo is below grade level in reading and math. 


We were all looking forward to this school year. For the first time ever, our child could have a trusted teacher and an optimal environment for learning. As a child who has shut down in every other classroom, this year would be different. They only trust five adults, including me and my husband. One teacher is on that short list, teaching in the same grade our child should have entered with fellow classmates two weeks ago. We expected our child to flourish in that classroom.

We took all the possible steps. We submitted a parent input form on May 11, 2018, asking for this child to be in the trusted teacher's class. I emailed the principal on May 18 to make sure she got it, but because she routinely doesn't reply to emails, I didn't consider it concerning when I didn't hear back. 

Then our child was assigned to a different teacher with no explanation.

Unfortunately, now the principal insists that I never turned in a form on May 11, despite two parents being in the office as I did so who remember seeing me turn it in. One parent remembers because we chatted about how this was the first time in a long time that she wouldn't submit an input form for the next year because she wouldn't have any elementary school students in the coming year. The other parent was submitting her input forms at the same time I did. 

What happened to my form? I don't know. I won't speculate. I don't know if it was lost or misplaced or discarded, so I am not accusing this principal of anything. Meanwhile, this principal says I'm lying about turning in the form.


We emailed and left phone messages through the two weeks leading up to school starting. The principal only responded once we involved her boss. By then, school was about to start. She offered to meet with us on the first day of school after school had already started; only one of us could attend that meeting because we couldn't put our child in the position of seeing friends enter classrooms while not having no place to go. I was sick, so I was the one who stayed home. I ended up meeting with the principal the next day.

Her second argument emerged in those meetings: "That class is now full. It wouldn't be fair to move a child from that teacher's class because school has already started."

Again, she chose to ignore us until we escalated our communication to her boss. This is a key point. Had she cared to respond before then, in May or even in early to mid-August, our child could have been moved easily. The barrier the principal stands by is one of her own making. She can make the change, but she doesn't. She can even request permission to add one more child to the desired teacher's classroom, as the average class size for each grade is the primary concern. I don't care how she solves the problem she created, but it's up to her to solve it.

But this is about more than a desired teacher. We aren't throwing some fit because we want or prefer something but could accept something else. At this one school, we have had 22 different teacher assignments (including one that was changed right before school started a few years ago). We have accepted 21 of those assignments with no fuss. This one is different.

Why? PTSD.

Our child's diagnosis is not being treated as if it's real. But PTSD is real, WCPSS.


Our child's psychologist is licensed and has her doctorate in psychology. She wrote a supporting letter for our request. I won't share all of it, but here are some pertinent details:

[Child] suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) related to severe trauma experienced during early childhood. [Child’s] current therapy goal is to develop basic trust through relationships with safe adults, which include [their] parents, therapist, and teacher.

In summary, the basic treatment goal is for our child to trust big people. That's why this teacher assignment isn't a mere preference. It's a need, based in a real diagnosis that impacts every facet of life, especially learning.

The letter from the psychologist continues,

In the school setting it is critical that [child] feels psychologically and emotionally safe in order for maximum learning to occur. In other words, when [child] does not feel safe, [child] shuts down and is unable to learn effectively. In school, children without PTSD due to early childhood trauma are able to establish trust bonds quickly with safe teachers and thus focus on the task of learning. [Child] is not that child. Trust takes a very long time for [child] to develop...

... [Through circumstances given in the letter], this child subsequently developed a relationship with [trusted teacher] over [period of time], Since a significant trust bond has already been established, my strong recommendation is that [child] be placed in [trusted teacher’s] class. Instead of wasting time developing trust with a new teacher, [child] can move fully into academic learning with [trusted teacher] , which is paramount. Mrs. Dingle included her parental opinion and my professional opinion on the teacher input form she submitted May 11th to the school. This request was also denied.

Note that May 11 bit? That form, that I completed with psychologist input, is the one our principal says I never submitted. We did. Accusing us of lying, this principal is bold enough to insist confidently that that I didn't submit the form.

(In her last email to us, she claims I didn't turn in the form on time, so I wonder if they found my form after all and have changed their story to say it was submitted late when it was not.)

Placing [child] in another teacher’s class, even an excellent teacher’s class, is likely to be experienced as a personal rejection which will further impair [child’s] fragile self-esteem.

If you don't understand why this principal won't provide a suitable learning environment, you're not alone. It doesn't make sense. It isn't logical.  

This principal action's and WCPSS's support of her shows us that they don't consider PTSD to be a real and serious condition. Science says they're wrong. Psychology says they're wrong. Historical reports and research says they're wrong. 

In fact, I asked our photographer not to edit out the tombstone in the background of our first family picture. Some things that have died from our pasts live on because trauma's tentacles hang on to us tightly. Trauma - mine. theirs. ours. - is like a ninth member of our family. We have hope, yes, but we also carry trauma. The trick is simply to work toward the hope being greater than the trauma. 


We have documented everything painstakingly.

But, in our state, the principal has final say on teacher assignments. So, here we are. WCPSS won't help. Everyone else in the district, other than this principal, has conceded that this is not ideal but repeated the party line that the principal is the only one who can change student placements with teachers. 

WCPSS, PTSD is real.

On today of all days - World Suicide Prevention Day - it would make good sense to recognize mental health diagnoses as necessary in educating the child. After all, adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide than nonadoptees. Why? It's a toxic combination of trauma, grief, and more. That toxic combo includes schools saying no to reasonable accommodations because they don't think PTSD is real. 

I don't want to be writing this. I don't want to be fighting this fight. I don't want to be calling out the principal and school system. 

But I'm a Mama Bear. I fiercely love and advocate for each of my children. For my children and for all the families lacking the privileges I have to persevere through this, including the privilege of time to keep our child out of school (and, if necessary, homeschool). But every family isn't able to do that. WCPSS needs to treat PTSD seriously for the sake of all students and ensure schools are trauma-informed.


It really is.

The rules of misogyny won't fix sexual abuse in the church.

I survived sex trafficking. The church didn’t help. I still grieve over that.

Recent stories about abuse and misogyny in the church have me thinking about those days when a man sold what wasn’t his to sell and his customers took what wasn’t theirs to take. The product was my body.  I don’t write about this often (or ever before now, other than Twitter), but it’s time.

Let's sit, face to face, eye to eye, and talk.

photo by Amy Paulson Photography

photo by Amy Paulson Photography

Or let's do the closest thing to that possible via a blog post.

With a flood of recent stories covering the allegations against [insert latest pastor/church], I’m hearing a broken record from many conservative Christian leaders (almost all men, from denominations that bar women from being pastors). If only he had followed the Billy Graham Rule, also called the Pence Rule for the vice president’s adherence to it, then nothing would have happened.

This rule was set as a personal one for Graham, who traveled often in his crusade work. Many male leaders have adopted it as a prescriptive law for the church. If you are blessedly unaware of this rule, then I’m a bit jealous. Here’s the gist: a man is never alone with a woman who isn’t his wife. Period.

When I was trafficked, my body wasn’t treated with respect. (Obviously.) It wasn’t even treated like it was mine. No, men owned it, took it, exploited it, and dehumanized themselves in how they used any part of me they could touch.

Meanwhile, the Billy Graham Rule, especially when dictated as a best practice, tells men that it’s okay to assume any woman might be a seductress or false accuser and/or it’s a given that men sometimes lack control of their own sexual desires but, at the same time, possess the self-control to follow this rule strictly. They don’t have to be their own keepers. If they own, take, or exploit a woman in a one-on-one setting (which is statistically far more likely than the seductress or liar trope that blames the woman), then it’s because they didn’t follow the Rule.

We’re preaching lies when we teach the Rule, whether it be from the pulpit or in a tweet or by a Hogwarts owl. When women are victimized, not adhering to the Billy Graham Rule isn’t the problem. Not adhering to the Golden Rule is.

We don’t end sex trafficking with the Graham/Pence Rule. It’s not designed for that, clearly. So why in the world would we expect to end any other kind of sexual predation that way, as some have suggested it could have in the case of crimes or harassment of women by pastors? In the Southern Baptist church where I spent my first decade of adulthood, daytime women’s Bible study leaders were required to wear skirts, no pants. That was rooted in Southern definitions of gender roles rather than anything in scripture, much like the Rule.

Men, if you want to honor the women in your life, practice dominion over year own body. Period. You don’t own anyone else’s. No other body than your own was designed for your control.

I’ve been in rooms alone with men who were sex traffickers and rapists. They trafficked and raped me. I’ve been in rooms alone with men who were colleagues, friends, or acquaintances. They did no sexual harm to me. The difference isn’t the environment. It’s the type of man.

You can keep your rules, the ones that strip men of responsibility and women of humanity, but #churchtoo will persist. The path to flourishing isn’t in these arbitrary and extrabiblical laws but rather in the practice of love, giving and receiving it.

This summer, the scandal of Patterson’s recording and recent statements reminded me of another recording. (Don't know what I'm talking about here? Check out my piece in SKEW a couple months ago for the backstory.) Before Omarosa wrote that he did this in the White House, the then-candidate Trump said, on 2005 tapes from Access Hollywood and released less than a month prior to the election,

You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the pussy. You can do anything.

Christians of all genders shouted together, “This is not okay.” But then 81% of white evangelical voters decided that the value of unborn babies mattered more than the lives of women and, given his previous comments, the lives of immigrants, black people, and those living with disabilities, to offer a few. (Nevermind that providing greater supports for women lowers the abortion rate more than any restrictions have.)

I’ve seen women speaking out against entertainment icons and being heard. I’ve seen others speaking out against political figures and sometimes being heard. But then I see who is in the White House, review the list of credible accusations against him, recall his own words about grabbing women’s genitals, and remember that my white evangelicals still support him in droves. The most recent poll shows approval ratings of Trump by white evangelicals to have held strong at 75%. This is why I’m not sure the church is ready for the reckoning we need. I pray I’m wrong, but it’s hard not to be concerned by continued support for an openly misogynistic politician.

The Patterson statements, the Access Hollywood recording, and the Graham/Pence Rule are all related, as are the ridiculous comments trying to link pedophilia and being gay in the wake of Catholic church cover-ups. The voices, input, and establishment of each were created in a bubble where only white, straight, cisgender, American-born men had input. I’m married to a white, straight, cisgender, American-born man, so I’m not hating on anyone who fits those categories. I’m simply acknowledging that women are often harmed when the only voices factoring in to a stance are from men who seem more dismayed about assaults against boys in another church than assaults against women in their own.

This isn't a new story. Women of color are harmed when those at the decision table are all white feminists. Same song, different verse.

Only a few years ago, I was a card-carrying member of the white evangelical club. We didn’t actually have cards, of course, but I have a speaker name tag for an event cosponsored by Focus on the Family and the Southern Baptists’ Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, so I figure that’s close enough. I’m speaking as an outsider of that subculture now, but I was an insider and remain dear friends with some who still are.

The day before the 2016 election, I sat across from my therapist and said, “this is it, and I really think Trump might win.” She didn’t think so, but she didn’t know white evangelical culture from the inside like I do. There’s so much beauty there, so much worth fighting for, so many rich souls who I am better for knowing. But just like the most delicious pancakes can be ruined if covered in poisoned syrup, the best theological intentions are dangerous when soaked in only one perspective, especially a toxic one. I knew that dog shit was mixed in with the batter, and I didn’t want to eat those brownies.

I didn’t make up that gross analogy but borrowed it from purity culture, which is simply rape culture wearing its Sunday best. Yes, the original metaphor is that sex before marriage was the manure ruining all the ingredients in the person. Yes, I heard this taught in church. And, yes, the poo isn’t the only reason I call the analogy gross.

I knew that a culture so entrenched in protecting white supremacy and patriarchy wouldn’t reject it on the ballot. That’s what those 81% of votes were, not cast contrary to church teachings but entirely in line with them. Trump was never the disease of the white church. We’ve always known who he was. He’s simply a symptom of a larger cancer, one that infected some of us and woke up the theological immune systems of others. Fellow white Christians, none of the racism and ableism and xenophobia and misogyny, with a side of homophobia and transphobia from one accompanying Trump on the ticket, is new.

Yet with article after article by white people who experienced an awakening about all the -isms during the campaign or after the election, we are Columbusing racism: “Look,” we shouted, “we just discovered this new thing,” while everyone not white are like, “hi, we’ve known this all along. If you’re serious, let’s talk and act.” So far, I see the editorials about white awakening coming steadily, each author covering the same old song, but not the actual dialogue or needed action.

Religious groups were instrumental both in the hope of Christ’s rising and the horror of his death. Why are we surprised when they’re instrumental in both hope for and subjugation of women or any other marginalized group? If you regard women in the church as sisters in Christ, like you claim, then it’s time to be a brother who cares when we’re bruised.  

Let’s stop overlooking the bull(dog)shit and instead break bread – or brownies – together, all of us who love our just and loving God. For those who can’t partake in that community, like domestic violence offenders, let’s go restore them lovingly to justice, which should include law enforcement officers because their assaults aren’t character flaws but actual crimes.

Finally, for the men who don’t think any man should come to the table one on one with a woman, because that might seem too improper to others or too tempting for him, let’s focus on the breaker of the bread on the Thursday before the next day’s crucifixion. Jesus met one-on-one with the Samaritan woman at the well, not only female but also known to have multiple sexual partners, without following the rule that would later be set by Graham and affirmed by Pence. He also was left alone with the woman caught in adultery, once again a setting in which the rule’s excuse of avoiding the appearance of impropriety wouldn’t hold up.

How do we change? I don’t know, but trusting women like Jesus did is the place to start. I spent a week last fall on the #RubyWooPilgrimage, riding a bus and revisiting history with 35 other Christian women leaders, speakers, and writers, many women of color. The wisdom of our small group was astounding. Men have led our country and our churches long enough and made many of those spaces sexually unsafe for the rest of us. Maybe it’s time listen well to women.

Maybe it’s time to remember that both the stories of Christmas and Easter hold women as key players worthy of great honor. Mary carried Christ. God first revealed his rising from the dead to women via an angel at the tomb, sending them out with the good news while his male followers were hiding. The risen Jesus appeared first to a woman, the same Mary Magdalene cast by male scholars as a whore with no biblical justification.  

In the kingdom of God, there is no hierarchy of those created with more or less of the image of God in them. No, “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). 

What would our churches (and our politics) look like if we all - especially those who have historically held more power than the rest of us - actually treated one another as fellow image bearers with dignity and worth bestowed by God?

I call myself a disabled woman, not a woman with disabilities. Here's why.


It’s taken a long time for me to embrace that term. My knees were damaged in middle school, but I just called that bad knees. My back was first injured at age 23, too young for that sort of thing, but I just called that a fluke and had a corrective surgery. My health nosedived after my first child was born, but I first blamed it on suspected postpartum depression that I didn’t want to verify. Once I went to the doctor, I was diagnosed with a couple life-altering autoimmune disorders, but I planned to medicate and exercise them away.

But I wasn’t disabled


Another surgery, this time my wrist. More knee braces than any person should own. A knee surgery. A hardcore insistence that I was fine, just fine, as I told our adoption social worker and got my doctor to confirm. A falling apart emotionally after three months brought the one, two, three punch of my best friend’s suicide, our failed adoption of one of our children’s siblings, and the death of a dear friend's preschool son.

Through it all, I limped on my bad knees, gave myself shots or got IV infusions for my bad joints, took pills for my bad mental health, and sold a car and bought a new one as my bad hands couldn’t turn the key in the one I bought at 21.

I was comfortable calling all my parts bad, but I wasn’t disabled.


Meanwhile, I taught special ed for two years before and in the year of my first back surgery. I worked for Teach For America, re-writing their special educator training materials as my wrist recovered from surgery. I earned my MAEd in Special Education while being diagnosed with multiple disorders and starting IVs. At the same time, I launched an inclusive special needs ministry program at a large Baptist church in our area, speaking about the lessons learned at conferences around the country.

But I wasn’t disabled.


After the master’s and in the midst of ministry’s launch, we adopted a daughter with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair full-time. Our biological son had his first seizure and was diagnosed with epilepsy and then autism, ADHD, and anxiety. In between conferences in Philadelphia and Chicago, we adopted a sibling group of three, with the educational and emotional needs that come with older child adoption. One lives with HIV, and I added trainings in bloodborne pathogens, universal precautions, and stigma to my speaking topics.

But I was just fine. I was ready to call myself a special needs mom, but I wasn’t disabled.


I wrote as often as I could, seeming transparent about the topic at hand but hiding other areas of my life away. I went to therapy when I was so overwhelmed with life that the words didn’t come. I still clung to facts, reading all of the facts and style books and research.

As I did, truth seemed to shift in disconcerting ways. One truth I taught and wrote and lectured about was the importance of person-first language. I wrote essays about why labels limit us and modeled person-first language in my trainings. As I identified more with people with disabilities, I noticed they didn’t use that language. They self-identified as disabled people. I didn’t know what to do with that.


I do now. For starters, I am disabled. I wasn’t being honest with myself or anyone else when I tried to pretend I wasn’t. I use a cane most days. I use a wheelchair sometimes. I have a collection of tools I use to accommodate the limitations of my hands. I have physical disabilities.

I am a disabled woman. I’m also a white woman, a straight woman, a married woman, and a Christian woman. I wouldn’t call myself a person with whiteness, a person with heterosexualism, a person who is married, and a person who is a Christian. No, I’m comfortable with language that centers my race, sexuality, marital status, and faith, because each is considered part of my identity. So is being disabled. The only good reason I can see for not wanting to center my ability status is if being disabled is a bad thing. I bought into that, as you can see in my language throughout this article: bad knees, bad joints, bad mental health, and bad hands. I think that’s where person-first language started, with the idea that disability was negative. But that stigma, even when I accepted it, has never been right.


Some disabilities never fit well with identity-first language, though. My daughter wouldn’t ever be called cerebral palsied girl, and you usually only hear “a Downs kid” from someone who isn’t part of the Down syndrome community. No, it’s still a girl with cerebral palsy or a boy with Down syndrome. Likewise, I prefer to say I'm living with PTSD and would side-eye anyone who called me a PTSD person (though I'm fine with survivor). Meanwhile, when it comes to self-identification, it’s almost always autistic adults rather than adults with autism. Furthermore, language is important to the Deaf community in ways I can’t do justice here.

That said, some things haven’t changed. No one argues convincingly that the word retarded is ever okay anymore, even in the case of libtard or other variants. Neither is midget, even when Sho Baraka disappointingly drops it in a line in one of his songs. (I’m also not a fan of lame, spastic, moron, and other disability-associated words being used as negative slang, but I don’t usually make an issue of those in the way that my kids know I will if the r-word comes up.)

Confused yet? I know it’s all tricky. I didn’t write this as a list of what not to do but rather an essay about my own journey with both language and disability. Love trumps language, so don’t be scared away if you don’t know all the rules. Language evolves, as does our understanding of disability, so grace abounds. Want to know what words to use? Take a look at adults living with that particular disability. How do they identify themselves? That's a good indicator for how you should identify them as well. Beyond that, simply ask. Relationships are the context in which we use words anyway, right? 

As a Christian, I consider my identity to be first and foremost in Christ. That doesn’t negate any other aspect of my earthly existence, though. I’m a disabled woman, and I’m finally okay saying that.