Bigotry is Not A Mental Illness

A critical examination of the language we use to discuss oppression

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Anonymous asked: Someone wrote this when I asked them to stop using the word transphobia. I suck at explanations. Can you explain why their argument doesn't work, please? "“Phobia” has taken on a lot of new meaning in recent history, and transphobia is the de facto catch-all term for all sorts of negativity towards trans people. We can’t change what has been added to the significance of “phobia” now. Language has changed, as it likes to do."

The concern I would have isn’t that the term used to mean only mental illness and now means lots of things.  Partially because that’s not even true; it’s been used for a variety of things all along.

The concern is that the same term is being used for both for both mental illness and violence, in a context of a society that often sees the two as equivalent. And moreover, much of the rhetoric referring to the violence attempts to cast eg negativity towards trans people as a mental illness.

And somewhat related, “Language change!” in the context of discussing oppressive language is more or less always inaccurate; as language takes decades or even centuries to fully change; it’s not an instantaneous process.

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hungryandlonelyifonlyifonly-dea asked: "Jingoism" can sub in for xenophobia in some contexts. (And it's a useful word generally.)

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thenameoftheworms asked: Also "misoxeny" which is basically the same word except using "hate" instead of "fear" as a root.

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Anonymous asked: Is there an alternative for the term "xenophobia"?

"Nativism" is a similar and well-established term—denoting policy and prejudice in favor of current citizens and against "foreigners." 

Anyone else?

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Maybe you shouldn’t be blaming heterosexism on closeted self-hating queers, alright?

[Submitted by Anonymous]

Earlier today someone told me they were mostly just creeped out by “erotophobia” because of how it basically inadvertantly can turn into casting hesitance or discomfort towards sex as oppressive, and how that can turn into shaming declining consent. Which it does! But all the other ——-phobia words for bigotry do things like that too.

Like, erotophobia is probably the most obviously appalling, if you don’t realize the etymology for homophobia (which… it’s blaming heterosexism on closeted gay people, that’s pretty fucking appalling).  None of the others are so blatantly Rape Culture, but… they’re still pretty appalling.

Homophobia and transphobia create pressure to be out and not hide your transness/queerness just because you have enormous amounts of anxiety about it.  They basically say “If you’re afraid of being gay you’re oppressing yourself! And probably other people too.”  It’s not like there isn’t rhetoric out there of “You’re obligated to come out, and really you’re in no danger!” which is frequently completely not true.  And yeah, casting heterosexism as a problem coming from closeted queer people is just adding to this.

And people ACTUALLY REALLY THINK that heterosexism is all caused by closeted gay people. Like I remember George Takei alluding to it on his twitter; and he’s pretty high profile.

And it’s bi-erasure; like really. It leads to assuming that nonmonosexual people only need support for their “gay side” or assuming that they stop being oppressed if they’re in straight relationships because nobody is being HOMOPHOBIC against them then, obviously. Like it’s not that polysexual issues are wildly different from monosexual issues, but they aren’t exactly the same, either.

And obviously it blatantly plays off of really oppressive tropes towards mental illness and neurodivergence.  No of course being gay can’t be like those because those are unambiguously awful and must be medicalized all the time, which is horrible and being gay isn’t like that, so being gay can’t be like that.  But being a bigoted asshole, obviously that is like mental illness.

Except that the pathologization of nonnormative brains is really fucked up in a lot of places.  Mentally ill and neurodivergent people are regularly denied their autonomy and coerced into abusive treatment.  “Homophobia” is used to say that bigots autonomy to be bigots shouldn’t be supported because it’s like mental illness, which also should be coerced into being cured.  Which. The first half is probably okay to say, though forcing bigots into corrective therapy to fix their bigotry might be going a bit too far.  The latter half of that sentence is incredibly problematic.

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So I tend to call my critiques “nitpicking” a lot


Trigger warning: unpleasant sexual experiences

But really, that’s more reclamation then any actual assertion that I’m picking at insignificant details.

‘cause, you know, actually, when you call oppressive forces “____phobia” and thus equate fear with a character flaw you’ve created an environment where someone who’s been bombarded with oppressive messages will assume that, by, say, having a fear of sex that probably came from bombardment with sex negativity, that this is being oppressive and just something they should get over.


But nope, I’ve never gotten into a situation of feeling like I was required to consent to something because my revulsion towards said sex acts was obviously just me being a bigot and not ACTUALLY OOPS MAYBE THINGS THAT GIVE YOU PANIC ATTACKS ARE A BAD IDEA TO DO.

Oh yeah and I’ve had flashbacks about this.

So actually, that’s not nitpicking.

Additional commentary from the wordpress version of this post:

[Crossposting this from my tumblr because it’s important and I’m pissy about people deciding that I obviously am just an “ally” who has no personal stake in the issue making shit up to win activist points.  If the academic analysis doesn’t appeal to you, maybe the “And here’s why I ended up having sex even though I was having panic attacks” will convince you.  And yes, really, “erotophobia” is used for both sex negativity and, you know, having panic attacks when you try to have sex. HUH DO THESE HAVE MUCH IN COMMON I WONDER.


(Source: thenameoftheworms)

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Anonymous asked: what about people who, due to paranoid delusions, fear certain types of people? is their fear legitimate due to their paranoia, or is it just plain bigotry?

I almost feel like you meant to ask this to someone else, Anon, because it contradicts a lot of what we’ve been saying. But either way.

Bigotry is not fear, and it certainly isn’t mental illness (whereas paranoid delusions are). And while bigoted behaviors can certainly be motivated partially by fear (saying “no homo” due to fear of being perceived as gay), the fear itself is a secondary function—and the belief that being gay would make one “lesser” or the acceptance that being gay would rightfully threaten one’s position in a hierarchy is the problem. 

So, no, fear doesn’t make anyone a bigot, it’s just sometimes symptomatic of bigotry.

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We now have an about page, which adds more information than our side-bar, since our semi-anonymity makes it difficult to tell who we are:

We are a group of trans*, queer, disabled SJ activists with phobias.  We are choosing to remain semi-anonymous at this point as there has been somewhat extensive backlash and we would rather not face personal attacks over this matter.

The editors of this site, of which there are more than one, are, at this point, all trans, queer and disabled.  Submissions, people we reblog from, or people we link to may be of any identity and are not necessarily editors of this site and we do not necessarily endorse their perspective on any issue which we do not explicitly post about here.

Of course, some of us are more out about being members on our personal blogs, while others don’t even want their blogs to be linked here.

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"Needing" the Term "Homophobia" and Other Ways to Equate Mental Illness with Violence

[NB: we discuss the word “homophobia” in more depth than words like “lesbophobia” or “transphobia” because all post 1955 “phobia [bigotry]” words that the mods have encountered are explicitly based off of the “homophobia” model.]

"Homophobia" is not the same thing as "heterosexism," and suggestions that we just replace former with the latter don’t completely solve the problem. Heterosexism posits that heterosexuality is the only valid sexual orientation and that all other orientations are "lesser." Homophobia is the hatred and active persecution of queer people. Of course, actions that are heterosexist can be called "homophobic" because enforcing a hierarchy that devalues queer people is an act of persecution against queer people. And similarly, anything that’s “homophobic” is technically heterosexist because persecuting an oppressed minority does indeed enforce a heterosexist hierarchy. “Heterosexism” is a good word to use when critiquing TV networks where all the lead characters are straight.

But what activists who claim that we “need the word homophobia” are really saying is that “homophobia” is a much stronger term than “heterosexism.” And it is, and we need to be able to have a word for hate crimes and Tracy Morgan’s rant and the fact that our youth are 4 times more likely to be homeless and unaccompanied that doesn’t sound clinical or overly-academic. But the reason we don’t jump straight to terms like “hetero-suprmacy” or “anti-queer” or “queer-hate” is because none of these terms are genuinely as pathologized and suggestive of violence as a mental illness is.

The fact is, people who have spent a large amount of time arguing that “homophobia” is an irreplaceable term are either willfully ignorant or simply frustrated that none of the new suggestions—even though all of them harken back to bigotry or hatred—can convey the stigma that “lol you’re crazy” can. “Phobia” language is a way of placing the blame on the bigot and not the culture or the people who are being oppressed. But it does this by playing off of our understanding of mental illnesses as things that are embarrassing to have, likely to result in violence, and a drain or deviation from healthy, “sane” society.

Filed under ableism phobias homophobia mental illness

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Today in ableist fallacies: “The bigotry directed against me is a phobia because I say so and how dare you question my understanding of my own oppression?!”

Just because you are marginalized in some way, doesn’t mean that it’s okay to base your understanding of this marginalization on an oppressive premise. Seriously.

This whole “don’t you dare tell me what to call the oppression I experience” argument is baseless. It puts me in mind of straight, poor, White people who claim to experience racism whenever class issues are de-centered. It puts me in mind of cis gay men who claim to experience sexism whenever feminism erases their community. It reminds me of middle-aged women insisting that they experience ageism when they’re considered “too old” to be attractive.

There are a lot of ways to be appropriative and oppressive, even as you try to define the prejudice that you yourself face.

And let’s get one thing straight: none of us are questioning ~anyone’s~ understanding of the mechanism by which they are oppressed. We agree: bigotry is partially rooted in fear. We don’t ever want you to forget this. But we reserve the right to question your understanding of phobias when you say that a fear based off of the learned expectation of a lowered social status is a phobia. Because, well, it’s not. Phobias are not socially communicable methods of upholding hierarchal power structures. Sorry!

It’s also important to note that not everyone who uses words like “femmephobia,” “homophobia,” et cetera believes that the association between fear and bigotry is justification for those terms. When I was first told that “whorephobia” was an inappropriate term, I argued that the suffix had no connection to the current application. The swarms of people who rushed to argue that “it genuinely is about fear, though, so ‘phobia’ is appropriate” convinced me otherwise.