The other day a friend of mine told me she was trans. We ended up talking about transphobia, and with regard to some particularly frustrating misconception, she said, “That’s r*******!”
I didn’t call her out. It was the wrong time. But if I had, what word would I have suggested instead?
Lists go around and they’re often useful; words like “ridiculous,” “unreasonable,” “silly,” and “outrageous” can be valid alternatives. But while these words might describe a thought or behaviour accurately, they just don’t have the same power the r-word does. We don’t have a word like that.
We need a word that devastatingly dismissive and furious. We need a word that says “Your idea is so entirely without merit, your behaviour so outrageously offensive, that I will not even engage with it long enough to describe it accurately. I’m using a default word because you are not worth my energy or my time.” We need a word that visceral and explosive.
I think words like “disgusting,” “repulsive,” “revolting” might be viable alternatives here. But even they don’t pack quite the same punch. It says something about our culture that we don’t have powerfully evocative words we can use against people in power — we only have them for the oppressed. That needs to change. We need a word that hurts, and we need it to hurt the right people.