Walking up to a Trans person, assuming they are either a guy in drag or what have, is Transphobic.
Amanda Stevens

I think you have a very different definition of Transphobic than I do. That’s ok, of course, and language is fluid over time as well as being somewhat subjective and imperfect. I think it’s more productive to discuss “what exactly does that word mean to you” than to argue which person is “correct” about what it means, as if there was a universally agreed-upon answer.

I know that words like agoraphobic or ailurophobic are primarily about how the individual feels about the subject inside their own head. But then I think of a word like homophobic, which I think has come to mean, to many, not “someone who is scared of homosexuals” so much as “someone who is unjustly and unreasonably negative towards homosexuals in their words and/or actions”. So it’s not really a “phobia” in the psychological sense at all, even though it shares a common suffix with words that are.

My question is, how much are words like homophobia and transphobia about what’s going on inside someone’s head, and how much are these words about what impact that person is having on others in their society through their words and actions? Some of both, perhaps? I definitely see room for confusion there, same with “racism” as in your example.

Personally I’d like to evaluate a person’s behavior on at least two axes (preferably more). Giving you people who do harm out of ignorance, people who do harm out of malice, people who are allies and both think and act positively, and people who feel negatively about an oppressed group but successfully suppress any impulse to act on those feelings. You could lump the last two together if you wish, or not, but I think the best way to deal with problem behavior often involves judging motive.

If, to you, the word “transphobic” means “their words and actions are hurtful and harmful”, whereas to this other person, “transphobic” means “this person harbors negative sentiments towards transsexuals”, them you’re talking past each other a bit, I think. The question in my mind is, when speaking or acting in response to his hurtful behavior, should he be treated as someone who hates transsexuals, or as someone who habitually harassed all women, cis and trans alike, or as someone who acted not out of malice, but out of some combination of insensitivity, ignorance, and/or stupidity?

Even if one thinks the solution in all three of those cases is “educate the misbehaving guy who caused some harm”, I think the most effective way for someone to try to shove a clue into their head varies depending on which of those states their head was in to begin with.

Of course it’s perfectly reasonable to say “I don’t want to teach him, I’m fed up enough with having been harassed in the first place”. But clarifying details like “He thought he was talking to a man with a stuffed bra” (and thanks for providing that information, which he didn’t mention in his Facebook post), is still helpful to anyone else who might try to enlighten him.

Anyway to return to your example, I think “He called you a spic, let’s argue about whether he was being racist or not” is leaning too much on single words and presuming too much agreed-upon context. Surely the real questions there are “Did he hurt feelings? Did he contribute to continued acceptance of negative attitudes in society? What should be said to him about it?” Etc.

This is why I’ve always disliked words like “good”, “evil”, “right”, and “wrong”. Sometimes they do more to obscure details and encourage people to oversimplify than they do to help communication. I suspect there’s some confederate-flag-waving people who turn their brain off when they hear the word “racist”, thinking it means “You disagree with everything about my opinion, so don’t even think about the rest of what I’m saying”.

If someone is hurting feelings out of ignorance as opposed to malice, and I say a word to them that THEY think implies malice even if I don’t mean it that way, I think the conversation that follows is less likely to produce light rather than heat. So I try to be careful with words that I think still haven’t reached a broad consensus state in current usage.

Sorry for going on for so long about this. Hope it’s not too annoying. And I’m sorry you had a crappy, upsetting experience at a magic tournament because of what he did, regardless of what words we describe it with. I hope you have a better time at your next one, and many more after that.

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