Is the term "Infertiles" offensive?I’m trying to work through this in my mind and I could really use some help, especially from the infertility patient community. Do you find it offensive for the group of those suffering from infertility to be called “ the infertile” or “infertiles”? As in, “Infertiles often feel alone when their friends are all having children” or in an example from one of the Factsheets on the Creating a Family site: Holiday Survival Guide for the Infertile.

I am not a word cop. I’m not even all that literate in grammar. I’ve got the basics (noun vs. verb vs. adjective, and can probably give adverbs a run for their money), but mainly I’m an idea kind of gal leaving the details, such as grammar, to others. So, while this title may sound like a grammar lesson, trust me when I say it is not.

What Those Who Take Offense Say

We’ve been having a lively discussion on a recent blog Should We Keep Promise Of Anonymity Made To Birth Parents (114 comments and counting), and a couple of people commented on the use of the word “infertiles” or “infertile” to describe the group of people suffering from the disease of infertility.

  • “Infertiles”. I want to let this pass, but I just can’t. I am not “an infertile”. I am a person who suffers from infertility, a chronic, emotionally painful condition that prevents me from being able to reproduce. I’m sure not feeling empowered by the use of other infertile people using that term. Just like when people knocking or demeaning infertile people use it, I feel kicked in the gut when I read it. My medical condition is not the sum total of my identity, but that term implies that everything I do and say is defined by that lens rather than just informed by it. I haven’t seen it on this blog or in the comments section here in the few years I’ve been following as often as I’ve seen it in this thread. I get that y’all are using it to make a point, but really, and please, can we just not use that term?
  • I don’t like the word “infertiles” either. It collapses a medical condition or a disability into an identity.
  • We don’t call someone who is paralyzed a “cripple.” It would be horrible to collapse deafness or blindness or any sickness into a one-word identity. Horrible. Leprosy becomes “lepers” and “leper colonies.”
  • I actually find it upsetting too, mainly because I think in fact the vast majority of posters to your blog have gone out of their way NOT to use that word and use respectful language such as IF sufferers. I would never ever use that word because I know it is so hurtful.

Not Trying to Pick a Fight

I always try to go with whatever the majority of people with a disease prefer to be called, or at least I try to. So I really don’t have a dog in this fight, but aren’t the following considered acceptable:

  • Paraplegics
  • Diabetics
  • Epileptics

I would imagine if I were writing about the group of people suffering from diabetes, I would alternate between calling them “diabetics”, “people who suffer from diabetes”, or “diabetes sufferers”. When we need to talk about a group for some reason we look for a group noun or collective noun. It is not with the intent of reducing someone to their disease, but as a way to speak of the group.

I sometimes use “infertile” when referring to the group because it is a shorter way to say “those suffering from infertility” or “people diagnosed with the disease of infertility”. I write about infertility a lot, and I’m always looking for alternative ways of saying “infertility patient” or “infertility sufferer”. And even those terms aren’t perfect because not everyone is a patient and not everyone feels like they are suffering.

No One Should Be Defined by a Disease

I don’t mean to define anyone be their disease. I’m not trying to be argumentative or defensive, and I truly appreciate people letting me know it rubs them the wrong way. I’m curious how others feel and would love suggestions of how to talk about the group of people with infertility.

Litmus Test

Someone suggested their personal test to know whether a word is appropriate: Would I say it in conversation with someone who is the descriptor? I thought the test was great, but unfortunately didn’t help me much. Since I didn’t know it was offensive, I would likely use it in conversation, and likely would have offended.

Weigh in please: does the use of the word “infertile” or “infertiles” to describe the group offend you?

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