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Categorism as a Phobia

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It's usually not very funny when a character reeks of prejudice, bigotry, discrimination and so on against a certain category of people. The phenomenon is called racism when it's against a race or ethnic group, homophobia when it's against homosexuals, and so on... but wait a moment! The word "homophobia" has "phobia" as part of the word! Let's just roll with that, and portray homophobia as if it was an actual clinical phobia. Hilarity Ensues as the character runs around full of irrational fear of homosexuals, Muslims, Christians, transgender people or whatever category of people.note 

When Played for Drama rather than Played for Laughs, deaths and ruined lives are more likely than hilarity to ensue, and mental problems and bigotry get mixed into something deeply disturbing.

While this trope can be used on any category of people, it's always easiest when it's a category where a pretty established word for categorism against it ends in the suffix "-phobia": Homophobia against homosexuals, Islamophobia against Muslims, and so on. Sure, these words don't indicate a real phobia any more than the word "mouse-pad" indicates a pad made of mice, by mice or for mice: it's a matter of etymology, not a matter of real meaning. Still, the words having "phobia" in them open up for some fancy wordplay and may also help preserve the Willing Suspension of Disbelief. This goes both ways: a Noble Bigot or similar who regard homosexuals as lesser people who should be second class citizens could get the defense that he couldn't possibly be homophobic - after all, he's not afraid of gay people. This frequently verges into Suspiciously Specific Denial.

See also The Mentally Disturbed and Hollywood Psych. Compare Black-and-White Insanity and Troubled Sympathetic Bigot. Compare Internalized Categorism and Sex Is Evil, and I Am Horny, where the character has an aversion against himself because of his idea about what it mean to belong to a certain category or have certain desires.


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  • As one can imagine, several stand-up comedians have done bits about homophobia addressing why it is called "homophobia" exactly. One such comedienne points out the differences between how someone with a regular phobia would act and how someone with homophobia frequently acts before concluding that someone who acts like that isn't really "homophobic" — they're just an asshole.

    Comic Books 
  • In Bitchy Bitch Midge has a crazy coworker who usually is merely bigoted. But in one episode she developed some weird panic anxiety against a temporary coworker because she believed her to be a pagan. The boss had to waste a lot of energy keeping her reasonably sane.
  • While most Chick Tracts portray negative feelings against Christians as a matter of ignorance, bigotry and believing the lies of demons, some characters are portrayed as having a phobia against Christians. When it comes to the demons in this setting, the fact that almost all of them are terrified of Christians does not count as a phobia, since this fear is completely rational.

    Comic Strips 
  • Pondus: The eponymous character excels at this. He doesn't seem to have much real bigotry or even prejudice, it's just that he has this crippling fear of homosexuals and homosexual sex acts. He has nightmares about making out with guys, he starts shivering with fear at the sight of real life gays, and so on. At one point, his friend Jokke felt like messing a bit with him. So Jokke asked him if he had ever masturbated, and of course Pondus said yes. Jokke then proceeded to inform Pondus that Pondus had actually had sex with a man: himself. In the next panel, Pondus is screaming psychotically while washing his right hand, and Jokke is laughing. This comes to a head when Pondus gets a gay married couple as neighbours. The pair are perfectly nice, if extremely flamboyant, and Pondus is perfectly capable of getting along with them (barring some slight snarking)... Unless they start alluding to actual homosexual acts, at which point Pondus shuts down mentally and runs away screaming or goes for the Brain Bleach.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Borat went into an over-the-top panic attack when the B&B he was staying at turned out to be operated by a Jewish couple.

  • Dynamisk Psykiatri ("Dynamic Psychiatry") by Professor Johan Cullberg is one of the main psychiatric textbooks in Sweden. Earlier editions contain advice on how to "cure" homosexuality, even long after international psychiatry had abandoned the idea of considering homosexuality to be a mental disturbance. The 2003 edition has abandoned the talk about curing homosexuality, instead talking about how to cure homophobia. Treating it as if that was a real psychiatric disorder. Needless to say, this textbook is subject to much critique and protest.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who. Played for Drama in "The Robots of Death". Robophobia is a clinical condition caused by the Uncanny Valley of androids. A character suffers such a breakdown when he realises the robots have been programmed to Kill All Humans.
  • In one episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the villain of the week had killed several immigrant children. The killer was overtly racist with his serial killing being an obvious hate crime. But the defense attorney somehow managed to convince the jury that the man couldn't help it — that his racism should be regarded as a mental problem. As the attorney later explains, he truly believed the defense because his own father's racism was so incongruous with the rest of his personality that it led him to believe "a good man can be swept up by evil forces". When he realizes after the defendant is acquitted that he was wrong, that his client knew exactly what he was doing and had no intention of stopping, he kills him.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • The "gay panic" defense for hate crimes, and similar "trans panic". Both hinge on the idea that a cisgender heterosexual man would be unable to control themself if their status as such was threatened (with a helping of unfortunate stereotypes that trans woman are trying to "trick" people thrown in). Having both officially banned in the US is a persistent issue for LGBTQ+ rights movements.
  • Concern about promoting this idea is also the reason that some LGBTQ+ groups have pushed back on terms like "homophobia" and "transphobia", since those seem to indicate that they're an issue of fear rather than just plain bigotry.
  • H. P. Lovecraft was infamous for his powerful fear and disgust for anything outside the limited sphere of an urban White Anglo-Saxon Protestant of his time, as he was agoraphobic and suffered from severe anxiety. He more or less grew past his prejudices (even marrying a Jewish woman) and came to believe that all races were equal, but shouldn't mix due to cultural incompatibilities (which was still somewhat progressive for his time period).

Alternative Title(s): Homophobia As A Phobia