Eater of Trees

Posts Tagged ‘phobias

Trigger warning: unpleasant sexual experiences

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There is now a “Bigotry is not a mental illness” tumblr.

Sorry that’s all I have to add here.

(Well, also, do I really need to spell this out? When I say -phobia language hurts people, I’m speaking from experience.  But nooooo, apparently gaslighting is popular now.)

(Crossposted from tumblr)

(Of psychiatric issues, that is)

It’s like…

By opposing self diagnosis you are telling people that they cannot understand themselves without outside help.  You’re opposing self-determination.  Like… How the fuck do any activist type people think that’s remotely okay?

And that’s not even getting into how fucked up psychiatric institutions can be.  I cringe every time I see people being like “YOU NEED TO SEE A PSYCHIATRIST BECAUSE YOU’RE WEIRD!”

Just because like… given my experiences that seems like it’s telling people to go subject themselves to abuse.

It also seems like it’s an attempt to stop people with brains outside the norm from forming communities.  Like: “Oh you shouldn’t associate with that community even though you have a LOT in common with them because you’re not really one of them”  Ooo ooo also: “Self diagnosis never helps anyone” because apparently being able to know that there are other people like you and that you can talk to them about how to cope with this stuff is unhelpful. YOU KNOW.

It’s creepy as fuck.  Like creepy in the same way demanding trans people have gatekeepery therapists and then insisting that they assimilate post-transition is creepy.  Because it’s pretty much exactly the same thing.  “Pass yourself off as exactly like everyone else because otherwise PRIVILEGED PEOPLE MIGHT BE UNCOMFORTABLE!  And for the love of god don’t form communities that would mean you might be able to discover that we have no fucking clue what we’re talking about and we’re systematically treating you like shit!”


And additional WordPress bonus commentary:

  • Self-diagnosis is not the same as self-medication; the latter actually is dangerous.  The former is not particularly.  Many psychiatric issues are not mental illness (say, autism) and there isn’t really any obvious way to medicate and “cure” is of questionable desirability.
  • Doctors are not infallible.  Psychiatric institutions are often seriously fucked up and coercive and dehumanizing.  Insisting that they aren’t all is derailing.  And insisting that there is danger in self misdiagnosis while ignoring the rather significant danger in professional misdiagnosis is really fucked up.
  • There is a huge difference between informed self-diagnosis and hypochondria (“Oh no I’m occasionally energetic I must have bipolar!”) or appropriation (“I put a lot of effort into sorting my music lol I’m so OCD”) and the best response to either of those is not to tell a person they can’t possibly have the condition in question, but to educate them on what the conditions actually are; as, for example, I do put a lot of  effort into organizing my music and this is a manifestation of my OCD, but it is hardly the only symptom, and the “can’t wash dishes without panic attacks” and “looking at raw meat can make me gag” symptoms are the ones that really disrupt my life.
  • In the US at least, professional diagnosis can be extremely expensive and in rural locations there may not be any nearby resources to provide it.  Going to a doctor actually requires a lot of privilege here.
  • Biases and stereotypes significantly effect who gets diagnosed with what.  Autism is significantly underdiagnosed in women, for example.  And because my depression was less dramatic than my brother’s, nobody noticed it until I was failing out of college.

Phobias are real things that impact the lives of many people.  Bigotry and oppressive forces are also a thing that impacts the lives of many people. But they’re not the same thing.  At all.

Specifically phobias are when something or other produces an extremely strong unpleasant emotional reaction, mostly fear or panic.  You see a bee, and you completely freeze up and can’t move because the bee is going to hurt you (even though, logically, you know that’s unlikely and if it did the pain would be annoying and not serious)

Phobias are not generally taken very seriously.  This is a recurring problem; wherein people will try to expose you to your phobia for a variety of reasons, possibly because they think you need exposure therapy and have decided to skip the informed consent stage.  Or possibly because they find it funny, or any variety of reasons.  All of which are extremely ableist; at best trying to “help” you in a way that denies your agency, at worst outright abuse.

And further, people will often treat people with phobias very condescendingly.  Insisting that you should just magically get over it or that your emotional reaction is a sign of weakness or any other variety of derogatory treatment for it.  People will completely disregard the needs of their readers, and, for example, illustrate their writing with pictures of blood or insects in ways that make it hard to avoid said pictures; assuming that their readers emotional safety is just a concern to be casually tossed aside.  (Further ignoring the fact, of course, that if you trigger your readers, they are unlikely to remain your readers.)

The thing is, the suffix “-phobia” is used for two completely different things.

One thing is phobias; which are a mental process that is rather disruptive and tends to preclude clear thinking.  The other is bigotry.  Bigotry is hate.  It’s treating people as less than human.  It’s systematically denying people basic rights and disrupting their lives.

But it’s not a phobia.

Calling it one gives reasonability to the panic defense; when someone claims that they just panicked because the victim of a hate crime was different and that made them commit said crime.  Because phobias do result in an inability to think clearly, although they don’t usually result in violence so much as hiding.  Further calling bigotry a phobia serves to make oppressors sympathetic.  After all, their bigotry is just an out of control emotional reaction.  It says that they are the ones who are suffering, not the people who they are oppressing.

Using “-phobia” to discuss bigotry shames phobias as well.  Telling people that their emotional reactions are as bad as forces that systematically dehumanize and kill people on a regular basis prevents people from being able to discuss their reactions without being read as terrible people.  It prevents people from being able to deal with their phobias in useful ways, whether by avoiding them or by attempting to find treatment for them.  It encourages people to hurt themselves by entering painful situations and ignoring the pain, because the pain is seen as a manifestation of their own personal failures.  Using “-phobia” for bigotry is an example of bigotry and is definitely oppressive.

This becomes especially a problem because occasionally oppression and phobias overlap.  If you spend your life shamed for expressing a personality trait or because of your mind, and are constantly harassed and demeaned because of something about you, and see people around you who exhibit said trait be harassed and treated as jokes or disguisting or terrible people, you can quickly develop a phobia of said trait.

But then, when you have that reaction, everyone around you uses the words to describe your reaction to describe the people who hate you.  Who’s oppression has caused this reaction in the first place.  You have panic attacks when you try to transition because you’ve been bombarded by messages that trans people are terrible and freaks.  Only then, you can’t talk about it.  You can’t say “Oh hey I have a phobia of being trans” because transphobia isn’t anxiety about stepping outside of prescribed gender roles, it’s oppression of people who do that.  Calling oppression of trans people transphobia is likely to be oppressive to trans people.

Fighting bigotry with bigotry isn’t just helping one group at the expense of another, it’s hurting the group you’re trying to help, and makes their oppressors sympathetic. This is, understandably, problematic.

Further, there are relatively reasonable replacements for many common “-phobia” terms, that often serve better to explain what the oppressive forces are.  For example, cissexism much more clearly encompasses all the manifestations of oppression and erasure of transness, not merely the overt violence.

Monosexism, cissexism, and heterosexism are all words that much more clearly discuss how erasure and normativizing one group at the expense of others is a problematic element of society.

(In addition, replacing “phobia” with “-hate” or “-bigotry” can serve to allow discussion of specifically more overt violence, or in cases where there isn’t such an obvious replacement term.)