Gluten Free is the Trendy New Insult

Celiac Disease was in the news again this week. Sort of. 
Not for a good reason, per se. No new cures or medical advancements. 

Nope, Celiac Disease made its way into the headlines because Ted Cruz said that he would
 be against gluten-free meals in the military. 

Here's the thing though - Celiac Disease disqualifies serving in the military. As mentioned in Amy Leger's article for Gluten-Free Living magazine, “A person with celiac disease and/or a gluten intolerance or sensitivity would not be eligible for entry into the military,” says Department of Defense spokeswoman Cynthia O. Smith. "While each branch of service has its own enlistment standards, they do need to follow medical policies dictated by the Department of Defense."

There are cases of Celiac soldiers in the military. Some have kept it secret, as Leger discusses in her article mentioned above. Others, like Donald Andrasik, fully disclosed their autoimmune disease and "survived" deployment. (I highly suggest reading his book about his experiences.) Still others like Sgt. Kevin Mulloy served, even after getting named Soldier of the Year, was discharged after late realization of his Celiac Disease. This isn't new. Almost 40 years ago my own father was discharged from the military after being told they could not accommodate his diet.

So if those with Celiac Disease aren't supposed to be in the military, why did Cruz bring up "gluten-free MRE's" at all? Because his comment doesn't really have to do with Celiac Disease. It has everything to do with using the word as a derogatory term- to insinuate "weak" and "pain in the rear." It has to do with thinking people who are "gluten-free" as "less than," that they are jerks and idiots.

As I sat in my house the other night, the idea of gluten-free as an insult really struck me. It made me realize that "gluten-free" has now become a jab, a put-down, similar to the use of "retard" or "gay."

I used to take care of a young man. His name is Seth. He's now in his 20's, which is honestly a miracle. Seth can't walk, talk, can't swallow, can't control his bodily functions.

I remember when I met him in college. I was in school to be an elementary school teacher, doing my observation hours in a kindergarten classroom. At the time I was terrified of the idea dealing with special needs kids. And here's Seth, with an aide, making odd noises and being fed by a tube. I'd never met a child like him before. I was definitely outside of my comfort zone. As weeks went by though, Seth grew on me. He was always happy, was adored by his classmates, and loved music. Although he couldn't walk, he could stand if you held his hands, and he would dance with you forever. I still remember the deepness of his joy, the grandness of his smile. Such a blessing.

One day his mom, Laura, stopped in to help with a tube feeding. Here I was, dancing with her kid in the middle of the room. I mentioned that if she ever needed help with babysitting, that I'd be glad to help. Me, the girl who was unsure about dealing with special needs kids. She looked at me and said "really?" From there I started visiting their house, providing respite care for Seth and his brother. I learned all about tube feedings, changed diapers, and helped his older brother with homework. I saw the struggles they went through every day, and watched as Laura was an advocate for ARC. ARC previously stood for the "Association of Retarded Children." But once people started using the word "retard" to degrade those with development issues and use it as an every day word for slander, the group distanced itself from that word all together. I made sure that I personally stopped using that word. How could I not? A young child I loved had that word used against him in a negative way.

And I slowly found myself teaching others every day why calling someone "retarded" as a means of insulting them was not socially acceptable or nice. That a group of people can't be mocked for their genetic makeup, insulted because they don't have the same brain cells as you. And I've been an advocate for deleting the word "retard" from the lexicon for the past 15 years.

I also lived with a gay roommate for a few years in college. Cory was like a protective big brother. Willing to stand up for me when I was wronged, and hug me when I needed a shoulder to cry on. When I would hear people say "that's so gay" or use the word gay in some other demeaning way, it struck a deep nerve in me. If someone used the word "fag" I would practically come unhinged.

Fast forward to now. Now I'm the one that's being mocked. My genetic medical needs require special attention, albeit ones that I can manage myself. My fellow Celiac sisters and brothers are being derided, sneered at, because we need to eat differently. We're not a group of weak "sissies," On the contrary, what some of us have had to go through to get a proper diagnosis and live safely requires more determination and strength than most people deal with every day. I think of young people like Max Domi, who overcame not only Type 1 Diabetes but also Celiac Disease, to be one of the top 5 new scorers in the National Hockey League.

We need to come with other words to describe people we think are weak. Or maybe we should just change the way we talk about others all together. Maybe we should speak less, and listen more. Maybe instead of people speaking with passion, we should be people of compassion. Maybe we need to "dance" with those who are different to understand the steps that they have to take every day?

"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."

What are your thoughts on how "gluten-free" is used in a negative way? How have you handled it?

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