Technically speaking, phobias are anxiety disorders, and I suffer from two quite common examples.
The first (and worst) is arachnophobia. If a spider is over a certain size I can't deal with it rationally. I do my best, but I'm left with my heart in my mouth and sweating like a carrot stick in a raw food clinic. If the thing is big enough then I can't sleep until after it is dealt with, and even then, it will take hours before I can normalise again.
A recent and infamous example was a year or so ago, when a creature henceforth known as the Cataclysm Spider descended from the chimney and brutally attacked four of us while we were watching Pulp Fiction. Everyone in the room saw it before I did, and reacted with understandable alarm; but when I caught sight of it, my body put me in the kitchen before my brain could actually inform me of what was going on. Housemates braver than I had to execute the beast, and probably levelled up a couple times in doing so. We watched the rest of Pulp Fiction to calm down after.
My arachnophobia is entirely informed by my mother. I never had an experience that made me afraid of spiders - I've been afraid of them all my life, probably due to her reactions to them when I was young. Which is a shame, because I find them absolutely fascinating and (horribly) beautiful creatures.
The second is coulrophobia - which is a phobia of clowns, and I react to them in a similar (if less neurotic) fashion to spiders: exterminate. Spiders don't get to live if they come into the house. Neither do clowns. I can't deal with them. Hate them. It's less severe - if I had to pick five minutes in a room with a tarantula or six hours with a clown I'd pick the clown - but fuck don't ever make me choose. I hate clowns. Hate them.
The hatred of clowns is one that onset later in life - probably thanks to endless horror movies, Stephen King's It (the book), and depression that makes any false happiness sinister and not to be trusted. It's a phobia I can control a lot easier, as a result. It's less firmly embedded in my psyche. Relatively superficial in comparison.
Where am I going with this? Well...
Everyone knows a homophobe. Everyone knows a transphobe. Everyone knows an islamophobe. Either they are just a bit ignorant and chat shit without thinking, or they are properly, like truly, in hate with their chosen demographic.
Morgan Freeman didn't actually say this:
...but I'm sure everyone has seen a picture of him with these words attached to it, circulated around facebook or similar.
Fear is a keyed response. It is something that can be tempered, trained and reduced, but it exists beyond the conscious mind. It is very hard to control true fear. It's te bit of us that kept us safe from predators and hazards back before we had the capacity to actually think about why they were a threat.
Our instincts, however, are not our best selves.
Irrational thoughts and attitudes inform poor decisions. Going off one's gut, without giving a moment's pause to the correctness of our action, or whether or not the deep intrinsic insecurities and anxieties that make us human have influenced our decision - well, that's how really dumb mistakes are made.
We are afraid of things we don't understand. That is human. That is part of the basic insecurity that is indelibly part of our mental heritage. That which we understand is safe. People stay in situations that are objectively toxic because - well, it's the devil we know.
Let's be real though. Even the devil we know is still the devil.
When I moved off the island for the first time, I moved to Bradford to study Law in college. I went from a place that was, let's face it, a little insular...to a place chock full of interesting new cultures, languages, races and faces. For the first week I was totally knocked off my perch. I had no idea.
You know what though? I adapted, because I refused to let my fear of that which was unknown to me inform the rest of my life. I stopped being intimidated by people talking languages I didn't understand and religious practices I didn't share, but the first few times I encountered them, that fear was real - because it was unknown to me.
I often hold that it isn't how we feel that defines us; it is what we do with that feeling, how we react to it, and how we deal with it.
Thus I contend that a homophobe is someone that feels an initial urge of anxiety when encountering homosexuality. That's sometimes hard to control. That in itself is fear. What you do with that fear... well, that is the difference between being a person and being an asshole.
This is the difference. If you run into a guy and he introduces you to his husband - you can't stop your initial response. What you CAN do is realise that your response is an anxiety trigger and you aren't obliged to act on it, and that the proper way to deal with the situation is to remember that this couple that scares you are still human beings that haven't actually done anything wrong.
When I see a clown my initial response is fight-or-flight, with an 80% fight bias. I get angry. What do I do? I don't punch the poor bastard in the facepaint, because underneath the facepaint, the poor bastard is a person just like me. Whatever my initial instictive response to that facepaint, it doesn't justify me being an asshole.
In my opinion, we use the words homophobe, transphobe, islamophobe - we use them to indicate something more than just the phobia. That person has felt an instinct and acted on it with hatred or ignorance or a mixture of both. The fear isn't a choice, but their response of abuse and vitriol is.
I think we need to stop using -phobia to describe someone who is a bigot. A phobia is a fear, an anxiety disorder. Choosing to be an asshole is choosing to be an asshole. Phobics suffer - assholes decide to make other people suffer. The language has to change. They're not victims. They are agressors.
As time goes on and the populace as a whole becomes less and less insular and more and more educated, those who practice hate will dig in. They have to, because the general human drift is to defeat hatred - mostly by the hard work of the few. Attitudes do change, over time, as new generations are raised in environments that make the old attitudes of the past unacceptable.
To the assholes in question, I say this:
I understand your fear. I understand why things scare you. I understand that these things are different to that which you know and are comfortable with. I know full well how hard it is to leave that comfort zone.
Try it though. Just for once. Stop giving into that toxic hostility you are so used to. Just for a little while. You'd be amazed how easy life can be, if you just stop being such a prick.
It's so easy to hate. I should know - I hate a lot of things. It's very very easy; but then the easy way isn't always the best way. Everything can be better for everyone, if haters cease hating. Or at least fucking hate something that NEEDS hating - like if you're gonna look down on people who claim benefits, then at least have an equivalent disdain for the six British companies that didn't pay any tax in 2014. They made £30 billion for fuck's sake.
Just think for a while. Just think. Feel - Think - Act. In that order.
You never know. You might even like it.