Hate Is NOT Fear ⋆ Reframing Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia
Credits: Anna Shvets
At KosmicKult, we define ourselves not just as a gender-inclusive and affirming label, but also a safe space for LGBTQ+ people. While keeping up with discussions online and offline about minority communities and systemic oppression, we’ve often seen terms like ‘homophobia’, ‘transphobia’ and ‘biphobia’ being used to describe the hatred and discrimination that many LGBTQ+ people face. If you have kept yourself updated on LGBTQ+ related issues, you’re familiar with these terms, and may have used them yourself.
But before we start lashing out with these words, we need to first understand: what do the terms ‘homophobia’, ‘transphobia’ and ‘biphobia’ really mean?
Breaking down the three “phobias”
Homophobia is a distaste or prejudice towards homosexuals that is culturally produced. These negative stereotypes are often derived from cultural ideologies that reflect heterosexuality to be normal while asserting that same-sex attraction is abnormal and dysfunctional. Expressions of homophobia can take the form of verbal or physical abuse, negative media representation or discrimination in societal institutions such as education and healthcare. One example of homophobia in daily life includes using terms such as ‘gay’ in a negative light, such as to mean ‘disgusting’ or ‘lame’.
Similarly, transphobia describes the fear, dislike and prejudice towards people who are transgender or those who do not conform to binary gender roles (intersex, androgynous or genderfluid people). It stems from the belief in traditional gender norms; that people are born either as a male or female and should identify with only one of those genders. With that comes the reinforcement of stereotypes of how men and women should behave, act or dress. Anyone who does not fit into these categories may be subjected to name-calling, derogatory language or violence.
Credits: Delia Giandeini
We can also observe transphobic behaviour in the TERF community. The acronym TERF (trans exclusionary radical feminists) – is used to describe liberal feminists who exclude transgender individuals in their push for gender equality. This community denies the validity of transgender identities by reinforcing prejudices against transgender men and women by excluding them from strict definitions of man and woman. Examples of transphobia include misgendering of transgender people, such as using the wrong pronouns on transgender individuals. It can also include discriminatory actions such as preventing trans-individuals from accessing facilities (such as their respective gendered bathrooms) and support systems of their expressed gender.
Finally, Biphobia refers to the prejudice, fear or hatred directed towards bisexual people. It often stems from the belief in and systemic privileging of monosexuality as superior, and the systemic oppression of non-monosexuality. There are many harmful myths about bisexuality and bisexual people, phrases like ‘you’re just greedy’, ‘you’ll cheat on whoever you’re with’, ‘bisexuality isn’t real’ are not uncommon to bisexual people.
While these terms do have their advantages in helping us label and categorize harmful behaviour taken against the LGBTQ+ community, we must also question their adequacy in reflecting the deep rooted cultural and social prejudices toward the LGBTQ+ community.
Why it really isn’t a “phobia”
The root word -phobia is Greek in origin, and is used to describe a deep and irrational fear. For example, claustrophobia is a fear of confined spaces, while hemophobia is a fear of seeing or coming into contact with blood. People who suffer from phobias have uncontrolled and elevated fear reactions when put into situations where they are confronted with these fears.
Thus we can see how conflating the terms homophobia, transphobia, biphobia with traditional phobias such as claustrophobia is problematic. Using the terms homophobia, transphobia and biphobia would then imply a similar irrational fear of the LGBTQ+ community as a claustrophobic person may feel in confined spaces. It insinuates that homosexuals, transgender people and bisexuals are justifiably terrifying, that LGBTQ+ individuals provoke similar uncontrolled, fear-based responses.
We hence deem these terms to be misnomers - they are terminologically limited in conveying the cultural and social prejudices that have led up to the hatred and dislike of homosexuals, transgender people or bisexuals.
Additionally, for individuals suffering with phobias, the attachment of the term “-phobia” to societal prejudice perpetuates ableism. It reduces their daily struggles into a distaste, dislike or hatred, rather than the overwhelming and crippling fear that they experience.
Although ‘homophobia’, ‘transphobia’ and ‘biphobia’ are not recognised as bona fide clinical conditions, these ‘phobias’ can and have been used to reduce and excuse the hate crimes that have been carried out against this community to that of an irrational fear that cannot be treated. In fact, in certain countries and states, this ‘gay/trans panic’ defense can be invoked to claim that the defendent committed assault or murder against a LGBTQ+ individual as part of an overwhelming fear response, thus diminishing their culpability.
To that, we say no more.
Credits: Mercedes Mehling
Replacing the “phobias”
What other terms can we use to replace the phobia-based ones then? We did some digging and compiled a list of suggestions for our readers:
Homomisia was coined by Robert Epstein, the former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today. Rather than using the suffix of ‘phobia’ as homophobia does, ‘misia’ describes the hatred, disgust and revulsion that is being directed towards homosexuals. Under homomisia, there is no assumption that the subject is frightening and the burden is thus replaced from the homosexuals onto the attackers and haters instead. Homomisia also takes into account the social prejudices that have resulted in negative attitudes towards lesbians and gays.
Similarly, to replace the terms transphobia and biphobia, we can use transmisia or bimisia instead to discuss systemic discrimination against transgender people and bisexuals.
Heterosexism and Gaycism are strong terms for anti-gay sentiment, characterizing the discrimination of homosexuals by heterosexuals. Heterosexism carries with it the belief of superiority in heterosexuality, an ideology whereby heterosexual practices are the sole norm. We believe that using the suffix of -ism may be more ideal since it represents a distinctive doctrine, a system of belief that can be institutionalized. Heterosexism and gaycism can reflect the deeply entrenched prejudice towards non-hetero sexualities that still exist in today’s society. Unlike the phobia-based terms, systems of oppression are taken into account here and this is necessary if we want to eventually progress into a more inclusive society.
These suggested terms are still not as widely used or adopted in LGBTQ+ related conversations as compared to the phobia-based terms. We understand that some time may be needed before society eventually creates a wholly-inclusive term or decides on one of the above to be the de-facto term. In the meantime, the team here at KosmicKult will keep educating and equipping ourselves with a more inclusive vocabulary and we hope you will join us in this journey too!