Dearest fellow travelers! It’s time for a change in these here parts. Nothing too upsetting, I hope. But it’s time for a bit of rebranding, both political and aesthetic — a new name.
I chose the name for this blog on a whim, picking a phrase uttered by a funny character in a beloved book (Talking to Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede). I was certain no one else would choose “Wild Beasts and Dangerous Lunatics” as a moniker, and more importantly, it met my strict requirement of not being sentimental or cutesy. It’s served its purpose quite well for the past several months.
But then I read this post on Feministe about how damaging it is to casually use “crazy” or “insane” or the like, and I decided it was no longer a good name. (Go ahead, read it, it’s real short and real good.)
Actually, I read that article once, said, “good grief, stop being so sensitive,” and carried on with my life. I figured, what’s wrong with saying those words? Everyone says it and no one means anything by it. You say “he’s insane” when the cute bartender doesn’t want to date your friend; you don’t mean that he is literally chemically unbalanced. It’s just an expression. If you start policing all your expressions, soon enough you’ll have none left. You can’t censor yourself into a box just because someone, somewhere — not even the person you’re talking to! — might be offended by it. This is a free country, for crying out loud.
Wait. Hold up. JUMP BACK. That sounds like… dear lord, I was sounding like people who tell me to shut up already about using “fag” or “slut” or any number of epithets. When you’re making that many excuses to simply not use a word that others find horribly upsetting, it’s time to take a closer look. What was going on here?
When I talk with people about calling some inanimate object “gay,” or making cracks about women being gossips/shoehounds/overly emotional, etc., I talk about the long-lasting harm done. You’ve probably noticed that gay people can’t get married in this country, and women get paid less than men for doing the same work, to use two examples out of a lot of possible examples. That’s not unrelated to the way we talk about gay people and women; it’s actually intrinsically linked. All of these little comments are part of a larger understanding that gays and women are less than. Of course we protest that we don’t believe that, we believe in equality; and of course we do, consciously. But subconsciously we see it as a known fact that gay men are effeminate, and that’s laughable, because who wants to less like a man and more like a woman? Gay men are lacking, our collective subconscious says, so our collective subconscious finds ways to treat them as less than. (We’re not talking about bigots and outright hostility here, because that’s a whole other thing.)
So even though you’re not talking to a gay person when you call your friend a fag, you’re making it okay to say that, to use people’s identity as an insult. This contributes to a culture that sees that particular identity as an insult and treats it as such, with legal, psychic, and all too often, physical punishment. (While we’re at it, using someone’s identity as an insult is the lazy way out, and it’s much more satisfying to pick on someone’s Backstreet Boys fandom or tendency to put their foot in their mouth anyway.)
What that is all leading to is this: I don’t understand how it feels to have a mental disorder and hear people casually talk about “lunatics,” but I bet it feels shitty. What’s more, someone’s written a piece telling me just how shitty it feels. In general, I don’t want to make people shitty, so I’m going to stop doing that. It might just be a quote from a YA book, but it says specifically “dangerous lunatics.” There’s plenty of cultural understanding of mentally disordered people as dangerous, unstable, volatile, literally “out of their minds,” rather than as human beings dealing with one more layer of living than non-disordered people live with. Stereotypes of “dangerous lunatics” just make it easier to stigmatize people, dehumanize them, shut them away in institutions and forget about them. I didn’t mean anything by it, but that doesn’t matter. Once you know the damage, fix it. For any readers I’ve upset with the title of my blog, I apologize.
I’ve basically tried to make the same points here that Cara’s Feministe post made, although hers is more succinct and coherent, so I strongly recommend you read it. She says at the end that you can continue using phrases you know others find harmful, but be aware that you’re choosing to cause others harm. If that’s a choice you can live with, carry on, but if it’s not, cut it out. Also, each and every one of the links in her post is worth reading, especially this and this.
Once I knew I had to change the name, I had some trouble coming up with a non-“journey,” non-“life traveler” type name. But inspiration was right under my nose — the quote on the blog’s masthead, from the poet Roselle Mercier Montgomery. “Never a ship sails out of bay but carries my heart as a stowaway.”
Stowaway. It’s about travel, but with a sense of real adventure to it. Sneaking away from the life plan of career, domesticity, etc. Smuggling rough-edged politics into the stately ships of traditional travelogues. Finding the unknown corners of the usual modes of travel, approaching it from another angle. A stowaway is so eager to go someplace that they do whatever they can to get there. A stowaway doesn’t just yearn, she acts. I take that as inspiration and mission statement both.
So now I have a name much more in keeping with what I do here and what I hope to do all around the world. Join me!