Tag Archives: ableism

The only meaningful difference between the cruelty and violence associated with mental illness and the cruelty and violence *expected* of sanity is the degree to which that violence is socially acceptable

Alternative title: “why most rapists aren’t any kind of ‘mentally deficient‘ and you’re a fucking asshole”

[Trigger warning: rape, victim-blaming, slurs for people with mental illness]

It’s especially ironic that the same act can be construed as a manifestation of mental illness or just a perfectly normal reaction, depending on who the perpetrator is.

Like how Charlotte King, on the TV show Private Practice, gets raped by someone whose defining characteristic is “a mentally unstable man,” and the audience is supposed to accept this as a contextless outcome of “mental instability [whatever that is even supposed to mean].” But when real, live, actual people are raped by real, live, actual rapists–most of whom would not be characterized as “mentally unstable?” Well holy shit our culture tries so hard to pathologize the victim and offer bullshit excuses for the rapist–if the victim is believed at all, in any way.

And I think what is comes down to is that “sanity” is a social construct used to (among other things) determine whether or not we’re allowed to stop an act of violence. Violence that falls outside the dominant narrative is said to be a product of insanity. Shooting Gabrielle Giffords was “insane.” Columbine was “insane.” But you’d have to be crazy to oppose the war in Afghanistan, AMIRITE? Systematically killing POC is totally fucking sane. And insanity is generally the explanation for violence if the pre-packaged excuses used to protect kyriarchal violence somehow don’t apply.

So when the creators of Private Practice wanted to discuss ~rape~, without the obligatory discussion of racism and capitalism and the prison-industrial complex and ableism and nativism and misogyny and trans*-hate and queer-hate and ageism (AND MORE), they decided that their perpetrator should be “insane,” because that is how we signal that something is insupportable. But of course, rape is supported by the dominant culture, due to all of the factors above. And our culture’s insistence upon classifying rape-as-an-contextless-abstraction is a way to obfuscate the actual cause and effect. It’s rape culture’s way of denying culpability, which makes it impossible for us to actually eradicate rape because we don’t know why it fucking happens.

And then conversely, my theory goes, this is also why certain mental illnesses (BPD comes to mind, but also schizophrenia, bipolar, and others) are met with such fear and righteous hostility. It’s this sort of symbiotic relationship between ableism and rape culture that leads us to think of rape (and abuse and even murder) as a marginal activity conducted by people who are by definition not part of society. And then when we find instances of rape or abuse or murder encouraged by or even central to society? Well obviously that’s impossible.

(cross-posted on my tumblr)



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On Being “Batshit Insane” and the Anatomy of a Slur

[If you are easily triggered by racist, ableist, or homophobic slurs you may want to skip this one.]

I was recently trying to write something on tumblr about this one radfem I know and love. It started out as an explanation of how oppression creates a false scarcity, pitting oppressed people against each other instead of the system by which they are marginalized. But it did, at some point, become necessary to mention that the radfem in question believed all sex between men and women to be rape. That is, I joked, absolutely batshit insane.

And then I stopped. As a person with PTSD, as a person with an anxiety disorder, with depression, as a person who used to be legitimately agoraphobic, I am arguably the most insane person I’ve met. So why is it that I attached a word commonly used to describe my own condition to someone’s fucking ridiculous theory? I am certainly not making any un-nuanced generalizations about male-female intercourse. In fact, I’m being a lot more cogent on this subject than she was, so why is it that I insult her by comparing her own theory to myself?

That’s just how slurs work. They can be applied to almost anyone, but they always reference a specific group of marginalized people.

This presents a weird sort of disconnect by which people (read: bigots) sometimes try to justify their usage of words like fag or n—. “But he wasn’t gay!” they protest, “and White people can be n–s too!” That right there is some steaming bullshit. Because the truth is that if slurs were really as disconnected from their original meanings as the people who use them would have you believe, they would look very different.

Non-oppressive insults that have etymological origins in a slur are not immediately recognizable as such. If I told you that you were “bad,” you would most likely have to reach for a dictionary before making any connection between the word “bad” and being intersex. So while “bad” did evolve from the Old English word for “hermaphrodite,” bæddel, it certainly doesn’t have that association now. The ordinary English speaker would not make any connection between the word “bad” itself and people with ambiguous genitals. Tell me that Black people are separated from the n-word to a similar extent. Just fucking try.

The other way you can tell that a slur is still a slur, and not a generally acceptable insult, is that the slur will denote specific stereotypes associated with the people it’s based off of. You can call a straight girl a dyke, sure, but the function of that isn’t to shame her for an inherent quality, it’s to compare her to a queer woman (and thereby make her ashamed). This is because “dyke” invokes all sorts of qualities our culture associates with female queerness: gender-nonconformity, “non-normal” sexuality, aggression, lack of “befitting” sexual interest in men, etc. For a straight woman, being called a dyke is offensive because she *is* attracted to men, and because of systematic homophobia she knows that our culture values her heterosexuality. So she feels devalued when someone calls her a dyke after she’s turned him down sexually, for example. This doesn’t do her nearly the same amount of damage that it does an actual queer woman, who is devalued do to an unchangeable facet of her personhood whenever she is called a dyke.

And that, I think, is why it’s so important to reserve the reclamation of a slur for the group of people that specific slur (in and of itself) refers to, regardless of who has been called what. Because it’s actually a shorter order. Instead of applying the word randomly, we can just focus on robbing it of its negative connotation, while keeping the functional definition (“dyke = queer woman,” for example) intact.


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