Yesterday I was exchanging emails with Dawn, a new blog friend I met during NIAW a few weeks ago. In the course of our exchange, she raised this question:
Ummm...I feel like that is really small. Screenshots, you are failing me. Sorry if this causes you to squint and get new crows' feet.
Anyway. Dawn raised an interesting question: is it okay to refer to women (we'll limit this discussion to women for now) experiencing infertility as 'infertiles'? Is this a phrase that should only be used if you are infertile yourself? Is it okay, like Dawn asked, for a non-infertile person to call an infertile person 'an infertile'?? I thought this was a really good question.
My knee-jerk answer was don't worry about it. I totally did not notice that she'd used the term in her previous email, so I certainly wasn't offended. I mean, I use the word myself all the time, both to describe myself and also my group of infertile friends as a whole. But to be honest, I really have never given it a whole lot of thought one way or another. I gave it about two minutes of thought before I responded to Dawn. In that amount of time, although my overall feeling is still that it isn't a big deal and most people probably wouldn't be offended, I did start thinking about the issue in terms of people-first language.
If you're not interested in reading the Wiki, I'll summarize: people-first language is basically what it sounds like. It means intentionally using language that emphasizes a person's personhood and de-emphasizes an (often negative, or negatively stereotyped) identifying characteristic about the person. For example, saying child with autism instead of autistic child...it's a little more positive and humanizing, you see? They're a child first. Additionally, they have autism. So anyway. People-first language is often emphasized in disability etiquette. (But also, there are a lot of criticisms about it. Surprisingly, not everyone agrees about everything!)
So looking through a 'people-first language' lens makes me think that referring to a group of women as 'infertiles' is probably...not great. We are women experiencing infertility, yes. But should we reduce our entire identities to our disease? Probably not. I'd like to think that there's more to me than my inability to have children.
But even saying that...do I feel hurt or lesser-than if someone (or myself!) calls me 'an infertile'? No. I think it's kind of funny, really. Tongue in cheek. I mean, even though I use the phrase myself, I'm pretty sure I only use it to describe friends (with infertility!) that I know well. I wouldn't call a stranger in the RE office an infertile. It's a little...casual...or something...for that. And if I were addressing Congress about healthcare coverage for infertility, I would probably go with the lengthier-and-less-cute women experiencing infertility. But in casual conversation? I don't really have a problem with it.
(Maybe this is the same as calling band nerds 'band nerds'? I was one of those, too. We totally all called each other band nerds. And our close (but non-band-member) friends could also lovingly refer to us as band nerds. But if a random stranger were to mockingly call us band nerds...well, those were fighting words. Except for band nerds don't fight, but whatever. We would definitely go hide in the band room and make fun of you.)
After Dawn and I discussed it for a bit, I decided that this is really a topic for the masses. I can only speak for me. I don't really call if you call me 'an infertile.' But maybe other women experiencing infertility feel differently. I don't want to pretend to speak on behalf of everyone. So I told Dawn I'd open up the floor for discussion.
What's your opinion on this? We'd love to hear from you, particularly if you're a woman experiencing infertility. Or if you aren't experiencing infertility but you have friends that are- would you feel comfortable referring to them as an infertile? Or if you have some strong opinions (that you can express nicely!) about person-first language. Or a funny haiku. Anything goes! So. The round table is open...do share!