“Human presence is a creative and turbulent sacrament, a visible sign of invisible grace”. John O'Donohue

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Harvest - poem

seeking a new
name, crafts
an elegant game 
of shadows. Crawling
out from the 
thorns with 
hands full of 
and trinkets, 
it pits 
hearts against 
hearts, and minds
against falsities. 

A war of
pictures and
lies and which 
will capture,
light of  
eyes on 
the brink
of boredom. 

Your attention, 

A harvest of 

Saturday, 1 September 2018

The R Word

Image result for RYesterday someone - on Facebook - called me retarded. Actually, to be fair to him, he called what I said retarded. It is a lame enough response to a difference of perspective. But, as we all know, that is often how discussions of Facebook go. One person says something, another person argues with them and at some point one of them will insult the other one for their stupidity/ignorance/ lack of education or reading.

Sounds familiar, I know. You might even have been called retarded, and it may just have slid off the proverbial duck’s back, or possibly made you a little irritated at the person’s lack of erudition. Or, like me, you might have felt the need to challenge them. Before I go any further, this discussion was in a group where I would, under ordinary circumstances, have felt like I was safe and in like-minded company.

This was one of those times that, despite every cell in my body screaming a self-preserving “walk away!”, I took on the challenge of explaining to this person why “retarded” is a word that should go the same way as the other words - like spaz or mong  – that we rightly no longer use to describe people or things. I didn’t insult him and I made the challenge in a balanced way, kindly, and in the spirit of calling in (explaining the impact with compassion and patience) rather than calling out (shaming the other person)

What is wrong with the word Retarded?

Not so very long ago, this expression was one that was used to describe people like me: autistic people. And  people with intellectual, social, developmental or educational disabilities. Retarded – from the latin retardare – means slow, or backward. If you look up a modern dictionary it will also say OFFENSIVE/DATED. Describing someone as slow or backward is no longer OK. It never was, but we shall forgive the misunderstandings of the past.

However, whilst it is no longer medically used to describe disabled people, it is still used as an insult. “That’s retarded” or “You’re such a retard!” essentially means that you – or your ideas - are stupid and - by association - like a person with an educational disability! This "reinforces painful stereotypes of people with intellectual disabilities being less valued members of humanity." The R-Word

In this particular conversation, I disclosed - by way of offering context and baring my humanity - that I am autistic. This turned out to be a dangerous move and resulted in me being shamed and abused. But despite its negative impact on me, it provided the perfect and almost textbook reactions that disabled people face regularly when they (have enough strength to) challenge prejudice. Because of that, I thought that it would be a pretty useful thing to share. It will also, no doubt be familiar to people from other groups and identities who seek to challenge prejudice when they encounter it.

I will describe them as a set of manoeuvres.

Manoueuvre #1. Denial of any offense.

Message: You are over-reacting.

E.g. “There’s nothing wrong with saying the word retarded, because I wasn’t talking about you, I was talking about what you said…”

This is a common reaction. However, in common with many other words that have a loaded history, the word retarded cannot be used in isolation as if its context is irrelevant. It’s not just a word. He could have said any number of words to suggest that he thought my ideas were silly or stupid. (They weren't but he has a right to say so!)  But he chose that word, because he was culturally aware, as we all are, of its resonance. 

Manoeuvre #2: You can’t take a joke!

Message: it is your problem (i.e. lack of humour) that you are offended.

Another classic: Taking offense to something means that I don’t have a sense of humour. And not being able to laugh about something that was a “joke” turns the offense back onto the person who is offended. In fact, I have an excellent sense of humour (I am hilarious!) I just don’t like being called retarded. It isn’t funny. Stop saying unfunny things and trying to pass them off as “jokes!”

Manoeuvre #3: You don’t look/act disabled OR you can’t be disabled OR That’s not a disability! OR You are not disabled in a “bad” way! or putting "disability" in inverted commas!

Message: I don’t believe you/take you seriously as a person.

Often this manoeuvre shows up as something like “My cousin is autistic and there’s no way you are like him!”  (that's because your cousin and I are totally different people!) 

In this case there was some of that, but it became much, much worse. Another person (who I am pretty sure now was a troll) joined in and started saying some really nasty and offensive things about me and about autistic people in general. At one point she said something like “You are no more autistic than I am the Queen of England!” When it gets to this point, you know that any chance of doing some decent advocacy is lost. With a troll in the room, it's Game Over. But I guarantee that every disabled person has, at some point, and some of us regularly, had their disability minimised, denied or ridiculed in this way.  And not by a Facebook troll. 

I am ashamed to say that at this point I told her to fuck off. And therein lies a deeply engrained issue that many autistic people, and other disabled people live with. Shame. We feel ashamed for… just… being. For asking for our needs to be met. And for reacting (sometimes with anger) to others’ abuse of us.

Now, some of you may be thinking “But Jude doesn’t look or act disabled.” I will forgive you for thinking it. The whole autistic people (especially women) learning to “pass” conversation is for another blog. (Google autism + passing for some excellent articles on the subject)

The point is, if someone tells you they have a disability, it is not your job to tell them they are wrong, or why you think they are wrong. Trust that the person knows more about their disability and their own experience than you do. This is a good rule to apply to...well… everyone! At the same time it isn’t the disabled person’s job to educate you about disability. They might try, for the sake of awareness and advocacy, and on behalf of those who cannot advocate, but it would be way less exhausting if we didn’t have to!

Manoeuvre #4: Grow up!

Message: Your inability to cope with “Just a word” means that you are childish and weak.

This is nothing more than an attempt to infantilise the normal human emotions that arise when we – any of us - experience prejudice or abuse. I know that I can ignore things and walk away, or pretend that it’s a bit of fun, or a joke or that it doesn’t really matter when people say these things. But that is not the truth of how it really feels. Why should we make it OK for people to use abusive language, just so that we can avoid making a scene, and thus avoid being dismissed as childish as a result? Denying one’s upset feelings at abusive language is not “grown up”, it about sparing the feelings of the abuser, it’s repressed, and deeply unhealthy.

All of these manoeuvres are in reality Disability Shaming. A feature of Ableism (prejudice against disabled people, favouring non-disabled people)


When we minimise, deny, ridicule, infantilise, overrule, and dehumanise people with disabilities we are shaming them about and because of the fact that they are disabled. In other words, a form of Ableism. This is the power of language. We may think that words are just words, and of course they are in the very basic way of being contructed of consonants and vowels. But words are cultural constructs which carry meaning, and power. Each and every word has a history of usage, and a cultural context. For good reason, some of our historical words have been buried. We may resurrect them now and again for use as examples, or in some cases, for the marginalised to reclaim the power of words that were once used to hurt them.

The worst part of the experience I had yesterday, was that only one person, out of the dozens who were party to the conversation, said anything about the open and hostile abuse that I was receiving, or indeed anything at all to support me.  (I did receive three personal messages afterwards) The admin's advice? - "Just block them..." 

Technically, what I experienced was  a hate crime (yes even if it happened on Facebook)  Suffice to say the admins removed all evidence, and  I am no longer a member of that group. Speak up, friends, if not for yourself, then for the people who can't or can't face it. 

 And - please -  stop saying "retarded!" 

All love


Monday, 6 August 2018


Maybe I expected

different. When 
at last, I could
claim to be
middle aged.
Maybe I believed
there would be
a sudden onset of
respect. Time
A long service
Maybe I thought
that old men might
stand up when I
entered a room.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Never Share Poetry (poem)


you do


Share cats.
Llamas. Fake
news. Bad 
science. Recipes
for unimaginable
things to do 
with marshmallows.

But never

Friday, 27 July 2018

Do I Live Here? (poem)

The road is
unfamiliar, although
my slippered 
feet still seem to 
know the way.
I left That
Place a while
ago. Slipped
out when no
one was
looking: their
busy faces buried
in a tin of Quality
Street. The sliding 
door swished, and I 
was free.
I think I am
looking for a
big house. I don't 
know where it is,
but when I find it,
I will ring the bell,
and ask in my politest

voice - lest anyone might
 think I am a vagrant - 
"Do I live here?"

Saturday, 21 July 2018

This Morning in the Middle of the Road (poem)

poke and
over the mangy
of  a rabbit, caught
 - no doubt -  in
last night's headlight
glare, flying
off, with precision
timing before they 
the next 
meal. A collie
with a tongue 
so pleased
with itself,
it smiles, trots, 
quickly, full of
purpose, away from 
the scene of its 
towards some
reward. A toothy
woman in a 
Volvo, laughs
as my car, 
forced to make
a sudden 
stop, skids and 
on the
making a
noise like a