The R-Word

The r-word gets used a lot to disparage the perceived intelligence of some people. People with bodies that look different – apparently – from the bodies of the person using the r-word.

Sports Illustrated named brothers Conner and Cayden Long of Team Long Brothers Sports Illustrated’s 2012 SportsKids of the Year. At birth doctors diagnosed Cayden, now 7, with spastic cerebral palsy. He can’t speak or walk on his own. But, in the summer of 2011, Conner, now 9, decided to compete in the Nashville Kids Triathlon, pulling his younger brother behind him.

Connor Long possesses tremendous empathy at such a young age:

The one thing that makes me really made is when people walk down the road and say… the ‘r’ word, if you now what that is. I just tell them that like it doesn’t matter what it looks like on the outside, it matters what’s on the inside. He still has regular feelings like we do. And he understands what you say about him.

“He understands what you say about him.” Connor speaks the truth. While I’ve never had anyone use the r-word in reference to me, I have had people say things like “if you didn’t dress that way people wouldn’t be so uncomfortable around you.” I got comments like that a lot when I lived as a butch woman. I understand that the speaker thought themselves as helpful, like I had toilet paper stuck to my shoe. They wanted to let me know why I kept getting snickers and wayward glances from strangers.

Underneath the comments, though, I felt the speakers thought me an idiot. But, more importantly, they assumed I did not understand why people stared at me. Cayden gets stared at for reasons very different from mine. But that some people thought us idiots, I understand completely. That people using the r-word despise someone like Cayden, I understand.

Cayden, like so many of us who live lives in bodies different from normal (although I have no idea what that means, really), “still has regular feelings….” Please remember that. Remember it especially when you want to the r-word.