Usually, when people talk about pathologizing, what they’re referring to is the emotional-abuse tactic of, “that’s crazy, you’re crazy,” to basically everything a person says. But the other day I had a discussion with Aslan about pathologizing as a defense tactic in social movements, however counterproductive. It began as a discussion about transsexuality in general while we were walking to the store, as Aslan is one of those lifelong genderfuckers you meet so rarely, and ended up on pathologizing as a pity-evoking attempt towards gaining rights.
That’s what I mean here: pathologizing not as something done to someone you want to dismiss, but as someone you want to support.
I got fed up with the gay rights tagline of no one would choose to be gay! when I was just a wee, barely pubescent little radical. My initial response was that it wasn’t true: I vaguely remember having a NM conversation on Neopets, back in the heyday where it wasn’t “family-friendly” and run by a bunch of people with a very poor opinion of anyone under 18, where I asserted that it was better to be gay because “you could understand each other more.” Mind, I was eight. However, I’d grown up all my life hearing about how men and women were so different that they basically came from different planets, and the only way for them to really get along was for one of them (generally the women) to start thinking and acting like the other. In other words, men and women, for all the talk about the glorious human species etc., were incompatible at their core.
I’m willing to wager that it wasn’t the message those assorted authors had intended me to take away.
The same influence also has some effect on the fat rights scene—sure, mostly by concern trolls, and not so much with the “fat rights scene” (it’s largely rejected by, well, everyone). The script goes pretty much the same way: “It’s so horrible to live a life that’s so fat and disgusting because of that fat and disgusting body. Haven’t they suffered enough? I mean, being fat is worse than anything!”
In a slightly different way, pathologizing children is used to “fight for their interests,” too. Look at how inferior they are! Look at how ignorant and illogical they must be to not know everything about civilization! Clearly, their brains just don’t work right, and that’s why they’re pure and innocent. And let’s not forget that many cultures assume that being a teenager is essentially an unfortunate temporary mental illness.
And to another point, it’s something that pisses me off a lot in the “pro-choice” community. Nobody ever wants an abortion; it is a horrible, bad, wrong thing that we’d absolutely do away with if we could figure out a way to stop women from whining about their rights. Because, really, come the fuck on—it goes beyond adoption, beyond financial and emotional means, beyond every ridiculous fucking excuse out there: sometimes, you just don’t want your genes to go on. Sure, 99.999% of everyone with a uterus would prefer “not getting pregnant in the first place” to having an abortion. But pathologizing abortion—and the choice to have one—is just more support for the concept that abortion is a horrible, shameful thing, no matter who you are.
The pity game isn’t something that pleases me. It’s obviously counterproductive—arguing that you should be treated equally because you aren’t really equal people, but it would hurt your feelings not to be isn’t the most brilliant tactic to take—but even further than that, it’s wrong.
Carolyn Gage points out the same thing I’ve been saying for a while: that, basically, so what if it is a choice? I’ve always admired radical feminist-lesbians for saying, straight out, that they do choose to be lesbians. It’s fucking awesome. Fuck you, I like liking girls. Gayness not as a horrible, dreadful affliction, but as a part of your life that brings you joy, companionship, and love. (Also orgasms. Can’t forget that.)
If something is inherently painful and distressing, it stands to reason that it should be fixed—erased out of existence, merely because it inevitably causes pain to the people bearing it. Not as a judgment, but as a mercy. Pathologizing works on the part of your enemies—as a means to seem “compassionate” for wanting you to be eaten by a pack of wild Sheens—and not ever for you.