I want to revisit a topic I discussed here back on February the 15th. A quick message from a friend this morning reminded me that misunderstanding of the term ‘phobia’ is still a problem. Where people feel that ‘phobia’ strictly means fear, generally the fear of physical harm, they take exception to terms like ‘homophobic,’ ‘transphobic,’ and ‘biphobic.’
“You cannot call it homophobia because I’m not afraid of gay people.” I want to briefly address a common response to this from those on my side of the issues, and then we’ll talk about what ‘phobia’ means.
“You’re not homophobic, you’re just an asshole.” I know Morgan Freeman said this, and so do many of my friends, but I don’t care for this response. It’s not true, first of all. Homophobia exists, and it describes a good many people. More importantly, though, it shuts down conversation, and by extension the goal of eliminating misunderstanding. If the point is to piss them off as much they’ve done it to us, calling them “assholes” will earn you success, but if the goal is to achieve equality through understanding, it’s a bad tactic. Granted, if you want to call people names and demonstrate how the terms are accurate, I would be fine with it; but I haven’t seen anybody do that. Instead they just assert it and leave it hanging there – an accusation understood by us, but not by those we use it against. We all make accusations in this fashion, and I don’t necessarily think that’s wrong, but what I try to do is explain why the term is justified. Name-calling without explanation creates victims, and people who feel victimized are not generally in the mood to engage in productive or meaningful discussion. Calling your opponent an “asshole” shuts them down. It doesn’t make them think, but rather resent you for it. We know why you said it, but they don’t.
To repeat what I wrote back in February, “the word ‘Homophobia’ was coined in the late 60’s/early 70’s by Psychotherapist George Weinberg. What the term meant to Weinberg was a state of irrational thinking in regard to homosexuality. In other words, failing to question the claim that some human beings are intrinsically disordered, or choose to be outcasts, and feeling it proper to take pride in that ignorance, is irrational. Anti-gay bias, resulting from this irrationality, is what we call ‘homophobia.’ ‘Phobia’ is a term that covers an irrational dislike of something, and that dislike can manifest as fear, but doesn’t necessarily have to. ‘Homophobia,’ therefore, is accurate.” Now, if you want to get technical and go to the dictionary, oxforddictionaries.com backs this up. “Pho-bi-a: an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something.”
Homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia are all accurate terms, and if you don’t think so, you’re wrong. It’s not a subject for debate. If you have an aversion to a certain kind of person for reasons that are not factually or rationally justified, you have a phobia. That’s what the term means, and since it’s quite impossible to have all the facts about these things and still be against them, you can’t possibly rationalize the aversion! Phobia is phobia … that’s just what it is.
Now, despite this explanation of meaning, some people will still back-pedal and deny it. There are two reasons for this. (1) Human beings generally don’t like it when our biases are laid bare. Calling a person homophobic, even when they know it’s true (especially when they know it’s true), results in an immediate attempt at justification. We don’t like it when we are called out on our flaws, but the second reason for the denial gets at the real root of it. (2) Homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia are statements on religious beliefs. There’s not a single anti-LGBTQ+ argument that isn’t rooted in religious dogma, and those who claim otherwise don’t understand history or how doctrine works (remember, doctrine permeates culture). Not only are these terms comments on religious belief, but their very existence is necessitated by it, and people get extremely offended when their faith is undermined or not taken seriously. When challenged with the reality of their ‘phobias,’ they can’t face it. Convinced that theirs is a religion only of love and compassion, they have no choice but to deny this truth. To do otherwise would have negative implications for their worldview.
How many times have we heard “I warn people of their sin because I love them?” I’ve made this point before. We have to realize that a lot of these people genuinely think they are acting out of love, blind to their display of hatred. It helps us to understand that if we are to engage with them in trying to eliminate phobia, we have to know where it comes from and how they perceive it. In any event, ‘phobia’ is entirely correct.