The first one I remember reading was Cosmo’s 14 things to never say to a gay man, along the way there was five things parents need to stop saying to non-parents, Huffpo’s Ten things to never say to someone in a wheelchair, and a countless multitude of similarly narrow-minded list drivel.
I call them drivel because the people they need to reach are not going to read them. These are things that are reposted by people that one or two lines resonate with them, or they think they’re doing the world a favor and spreading information on how to delicately treat someone.
You’re almost never doing a person a favor by telling other people sensitive topics to avoid. A notable exception to this rule is if you know their parents are dead and they don’t know yet and they get 20 billion dollars if they don’t know for ten more minutes.
Pre-loading a person with rules of conversation or hot button phrases makes people assume that person is a fragile flower who can’t defend themselves. You load a prejudice set: this person is in Group A, therefore they are sensitive to topic C.
What these lists do, and do well is give people a set of marching orders for the very special snowflake that can’t respond for themselves. It also makes people who read these very aware that there are people who cannot handle a conversation on their own and need someone else to stand up for them in the form of a stupid list of things to say or not say.
I don’t know about you but when I see the gay dad in the wheelchair I’m not assuming anything about him. But I now know that these lists tell me he’s going to be annoyed by this set of questions, actions, etc.
Now whenever I talk to a gay father in a wheelchair my head will be filled with those three articles of what not to say, if I pay attention to these lists I’ve now loaded a list of stereotypical trigger phrases that come on deck and prejudice my interactions with this new person.
We’re in some sort of age of enlightenment with the internet, equality, the fifth reboot of Transformers in my lifetime, etc. I understand that this might be part of the process – understanding other people’s issues, however, I don’t think there has ever been anything particularly good that has come out of telling people to put on their baby gloves when dealing with a subgroup because as individuals they probably can’t speak for or defend themselves.
While I understand there are some things in these pieces that are truths and are seen differently by different people, to place a list of what you can and cannot say and not give that gay wheelchair-bound father the courtesy of believing he’s capable of telling you you’ve offended him with a statement.
Perhaps I like to live life and interact with people without believing those people are going to quietly die inside if I ask something stupid and stereotypical. Maybe I believe if I’m talking to someone new I should give them the benefit of believing they’re a person capable of handling any stupidity I might throw their way, and vice-versa.
Maybe I’m just not stupid enough to say “you look good, for someone in a wheelchair, I wish you were straight, oh and the party is not kid friendly.” Maybe that’s what I’m missing in this – the writer’s underlying contempt for their readers perceived actions, and the assumption that they’re incapable of rational thought.
But to give a list of prohibited words, phrases, and questions that are associated with someone neither the author nor probably you have met. That’s just not workable.
One of the reasons I think we have so little understanding of some of our groups is because we’re afraid of offending them while trying to get to know them. Sometimes you just have to trust that if you do, the other person is capable of letting you know. Bulls in China shops get things done.
When someone talks to me the only thing I want them running through their brain is their own experiences with me, not whether I like mayonnaise, expensive sandwiches, or feel that I need to stand up for those I consider a minority.
I also don’t want them thinking if they “oh I know what it’s like, my baby is a terrier,” that I am going to bite their head off and stuff it down their throat like most of these lists seem to think I will.
I don’t want someone talking to my daughter in a few years with a list of 217 things to never say to a South Nashvillian steadfastly loaded into their brain.
But that’s me. If you think these lists are actually doing anyone a bit of good I’d be interested in any examples.
Even if they changed to “ten things that people say that annoy me as a wheelchair-bound gay father,” I’d respect that more than a list of rules for how to handle someone with kid gloves.