Saturday, July 9, 2011

How can phobia be both fear and hatred?

A wise jedi once said:
“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” (Courtesy of Thinkexist.)

A few weeks ago I was somewhere on the Sociological Images blog and saw where someone was talking about they didn't like the idea of describing a bigot in the same manner as someone who suffered from a phobia.

Let's take a look at the word transphobic. Transphobic (derived from transphobia) is often used a descriptor of a person who biased against transgender people simply because they are transgender. Mind you there are people out there much more qualified than I to speak on actual transgender issues I'm only talking about the language (because without the language to communicate how are we going to address these problems?)

Most people in the activist world use this to mean hatred of transgender people (homophobia being hated of gays, Islamophobia being hatred of Islamic people, etc...). But if we were talking about say, tight spaces we'd be calling it claustrophobia and mean it as a fear of tight spaces. Now there seems to be a bit of disconnect there right? How can one use of phobia be "fear of" but another be "hatred of"? I believe it works and I'm about to try to show you.

Going back to our wise jedi notice that fear is the beginning of the path to the dark side. Meaning that you are afraid of something (in Star Wars Episode 3 Anakin's fear was the fear of losing his wife like how he lost his mother in Episode 2). Like our pal Anakin Skywalker I would venture to say that transphobic people are afraid of transgender people. The reason for that fear may be obvious or it might be mysterious.

The next step is anger. When a person is afraid of something its very possible that they will lash out at anything that might trigger that fear. Anakin feared losing his dear Padme. Near the end of Episode 3 Anakin suspected Padme was cheating on him with Obi Wan. Despite all the years they had known each other, all the hardships they went through together, and the fact that Obi Wan considered Anakin a brother, he was nothing more than a possible threat to the happiness he wanted for himself and his wife. And thus mortal combat ensued. Likewise seeing transgender people treated as they wish to be treated sets off transphobic people (as to why I'm not sure). But I think this is where our claustrophobics (and most if not all the other phobics that are used in a "fear of..." sense) exit the cycle as they for the most part don't go from fear to anger. But our transphobic person does embrace the anger and keeps going.

On to hate. Giving in to his anger instead of reason Anakin attacked a man who regarded him as his brother. It didn't matter that there was nothing between Obi Wan and Padme. All that mattered was he thought there was something between them. From that point on Anakin didn't look back. Even at the end of the fight when Obi Wan had defeated him Anakin's final words were "I hate you!". Our transphobic person also chooses not to look back. They may even not even recall why they lashed out at transgender people or even if there was a good or rational reason to do it*.

Then comes suffering. Oh when Darth Vader donned the black armor and life support system there would be hell to pay and he took it out on anyone that didn't obey him or his emperor. Under the wrath of Vader untold thousands were slaughtered, thousands enslaved, and the jedi were hunted systematically hunted down to nearly the point of extinction. Similarly the transphobic person has no problem with attacking those they think are transgender even in broad public or opening supporting measures that would limit the rights of transgender people. But I do think are those who are of the "fear of..." sense who do make it this far. When I was a kid I was chased by a dog around my grandmother's house. Thankfully it didn't get me but since that day I've feared dogs and its really grown to a hatred. Now I won't go out and just start indiscriminately killing dogs (but I won't cry over one being dead either) I do certainly hate them.

But I don't think that quite explains everything though. I'm sure I'm missing something (namely why is that people call man/woman haters haters but transgender people haters transphobic, why no man-phobic/woman-phobic?). Would anyone care to chime in?

* - No I'm not saying that there is an actual good reason to hate transgender people. What I'm saying is that at some point there may have been a reason to be angry with a specific transgender person because they did you wrong by some means. As in "they did me wrong so I'm going to get them back" like revenge. Problem is at some point it because "they did me wrong so I'm going to do them them all wrong in return". Like if they could have resolved their anger before it got to that point they may have never become a transphobic person in the first place.


Toysoldier said...

I think the problem is a misuse of "phobic". Most people called homophobic and transphobic either do not like those groups or disagree with their positions. The latter is an idiotic use of "phobic". No one has to agree that homosexuality is natural or that people can be born the wrong sex and gender. Those are political views and people are allowed to disagree with.

The former is a basic misuse of "phobic". A phobia requires an almost debilitating fear. Simply disliking a group is not necessarily a sign of fear. There are some people who may be fearful of gays and transpeople. I think sometimes those fears are warranted based on the person's personal experiences. If they have been harmed by someone from those groups it is normal for people to fear members of that group. But I think in most instances we are either dealing with a dislike or a disagreement, not abject hatred or fear.

Danny said...

Probably so TS. Thanks for dropping in.

Jay said...

It's not an "idiotic" use or a misuse of -phobic. The -phobia suffix can refer to an intense fear, or a chemical incompatibility, or simply an aversion. See: photophobia (medicine), hydrophobia (chemistry), acidophobia (gardening).