This is commentary on the use of "phobia" as a slur, typically as a euphemism or excuse for bias, bigotry or hate. Just don't, because it is harmful to phobics and it's counterproductive.
Phobias are a human condition; not a slur. If someone has a phobia, one has a right to have that phobia respected and given credibility. If someone's behaviour is not really a phobia, don't dismiss it as such.
First off, "phobic" should never be a slur.
This is no different than calling someone by any other slur in disparagement. Well a little different -- it is more like using the slur as a portmanteau slur (in disparagement). Oppressive behavior is not the same as a phobia.
Don't do it.
Not to disagree with wide consensus, but to disagree with wide consensus ...
A "phobia" is an irrational fear, or at best, an irrational apprehension. From the DSM-5:
- • Unreasonable, excessive fear:
- The person exhibits excessive or unreasonable, persistent and intense fear triggered by a specific object or situation.
- • Immediate anxiety response:
- The fear reaction must be out of proportion to the actual danger and appears almost instantaneously when presented with the object or situation.
- • Avoidance or extreme distress:
- The individual goes out of their way to avoid the object or situation, or endures it with extreme distress.
- • Life-limiting:
- The phobia significantly impacts the individual's school, work, or personal life.
- • Six months duration:
- In children and adults, the duration of symptoms must last for at least six months.
- • Not caused by another disorder:
- Many anxiety disorders have similar symptoms. A doctor or therapist would first have to rule out similar conditions such as agoraphobia, obsessional-compulsive disorder (OCD), and separation anxiety disorder before diagnosing a specific phobia.(More in DSM-5 300.29, relating to Specific Phobia. The ICD-11 is similar, but with further distinctions relating to the "anxiety and fear-related disorders" grouping.)
As with many scientific, medical and psychological terms, it is possible to use the medical term as a metaphor, but that metaphor should at least be relevant. More to the point, a colloquial metaphor should not conflate the meaning of the terminology.
Taking this to the current colloquial extremes, current references of bias and bigotry as "phobias" on the basis of a remote non-professional diagnosis of a perceived phobia are inaccurate and deceptive. Such descriptions of "phobic" basis of a remote non-professional diagnosis are basically pseudoscience. "I know what phobias are and I would know if I have a phobic condition."
More to the point, irrational fear of people for gender identity and sexual orientation (and related phobias) are not likely to lead to either hate or discrimination. More likely, someone with a phobia is likely to be more aware of issues of discrimination or hate.
B.. B... But isn't "phobic" historically used to described bigotry and discrimination?
Origin of the term "homophobia"
No. The reference to "phobia" was part of one sociological metaphor in an article authored by psychologist George Weinberg in 1969. The term was first printed in Screw Magizine on 5-May-1969. Gay Times stated after his death in 2017 that he invented the term in 1965, which suggests he may have used it in lectures at that time. (Wikipedia reference to the same issue)
In the mid-1960s and early 1970s, the metaphor may have been close to accurate; i.e., people would have a visceral reaction to encounters with LGBT people (especially if a prior encounter had implications of a sexual approach).
Maybe that "phobia" metaphor was a useful description in the 1960's, when people really weren't aware of LGBTQ issues, but those days are, sociologically speaking (metaphorically) pre-history. People are aware of these issues along the lines of the majority of the population (US, Europe, elsewhere) support for non-binary marriage. There are of course people who are hostile to LGBTQ rights, but those are either people who are **less** aware of LGBTQ issues or people who base their opinions on hatred or other forms of bigotry. They are not phobics.
These anti-LGBTQ+ people are not phobics (who themselves are often subject to gratuitous discrimination).
So what's wrong with using the "phobia", as, you know, an historic term?
For one thing using "phobic" as a slur obviously stigmatises phobics. This is not analogous to Patti Smith's 1978 song using the "N-word". In contrast, Patti Smith clearly self-identifies with the pejorative term used in that song title. Instead, most references to "phobic" are clearly used disparagingly or dismissively. This of course includes current use of George Weinberg's term, "homophobia" or "homophobic".
Also, as mentioned, people who have a social phobia for LGBTQ+ issues are likely to be very much aware of these issues. Even those with hostility based on religious philosophy are likely to describe this as, "Love the sinner; hate the sin." This has nothing to do with phobia. Rather, calling oppression a "phobia" legitimates the oppression, and lends credence and justification to bias, bigotry or hate.
Persistent use of "phobia" does substantial harm
... well unless the purpose is to suppress LGBTQ+ acceptance.
Dismissing bias, bigotry or hatred as "just a phobia" encourages anti-LGBTQ activity. It tells people that their status or the status of others is a natural condition; no different from arachnophobia. You can explain to someone to not harm spiders, but arachnophobia should not be (and is not) a slur.
Back to the terminology "phobic", applying a "phobic" description to general non-coercive encounters implies that any LGBTQ+ people are asserting a right to intimate or romantic relationships on demand. In a very real sense, the term "phobic" justifies anti-LGBTQ+ positions.
Using "phobia" as a slur is ableist; it's a direct expression of ableism.
Bias, bigotry and hatred should not be justified as "phobic" unless one wants to do just that (justify bias, bigotry or hatred). Phobias are human conditions, and justifiable as such. A reaction to a phobia is a natural human condition and should be respected as such. If something is really bias, bigotry or hatred, it should be described as such and not dismissed as "just a phobia".
Don't use "phobic" if you mean, "Not really a phobia. It's something else, but let's dismiss it as a 'just a phobia' ."
Links and References
- Thoughts on disability justice, neurodiversity, intersectional activism from Lydia X.Z. Brown, 2011-2020 Ableist words and terms to avoid
- From the Autistic Hoya blog (link: https://www.autistichoya.com/p/ableist-words-and-terms-to-avoid.html)
"- Phobic (examples: homophobic, Islamophobic)
Appropriates description of a specific mental illness / psychosocial disability, frequently to describe hatred, fear, bigotry, or oppression, or else to describe something disliked or unpleasant. This is not ableist when it refers to someone who actually has a phobia such as agoraphobia, claustrophobia, emetophobia, etc.
Consider instead: anti-Muslim, queer-antagonistic, fatmisia, bigotry against, bias against, hate of, prejudice against, oppressive, etc."
- 3 Reasons to Find a Better Term Than '-Phobia' to Describe Oppression - Denarii Monroe, Everyday Feminism (9-Oct-2016)
- Anti-ableist Alternatives to "-Phobia" - Shanon Collins (9-Jul-2021)
- Is there a word that conveys an extreme distaste to the point nearing phobia? - StackExchange - Brief discussion regarding whether an (actual) adversion is classified as a "phobia" (thread started Mar-2014; no definitive answer)
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first posted 6-May-23; rev 14-May-23 This page copyright 2023, Stan Protigal