Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Twisty Thread and the Response

The comments section of one of Twisty's posts festered into a pile of vile crap. Several bloggers have been discussing this. Many people have rightly condemned the hateful things said in that thread.

This is not a post about radical feminists versus transpeople. I can't go there yet. My purpose here is to beg all of you to walk your talk. It is not possible to advocate for the humanity of one group of people by denying the humanity of another group. In fact, that exact sentiment was expressed repeatedly by people who were objecting to Twisty's commenters. In one of the attacks on Twisty's blog, someone equated a transperson with a "nutjob". Yet the same types of slurs showed up on the blogs of people condemning Twisty and her commenters. Here's an example:

“I wish you weren’t a crazy-ass, so I could listen to you.”

The slurs against those with mental illness weren't that frequent, given the number of comments. But they were there, and what broke my heart is that I never saw a single comment objecting to them. You know, when you throw around words about mental illness, like crazy, psycho or psychotic, frootbat, and nutjob, you're mocking disability. You're spitting in the face of everyone who suffers from a mental illness. You're equating horrible behavior with mental illness. Stop it.

Do people care about doing more than paying lip service to respecting the rights of disabled people? I really don't know. I was feeling isolated enough before reading those blogs.

Comments: Please remember, this is about disablism, not about the original conflict.


Lucy said...


I wanna answer right now, even before I track down what you are writing about re the original post. I care about people denigrating others with mental illness, and as you know I have several mental health concerns myself. I find it apalling that people can be so ignorant of disorders/diseases/medical conditions that are truly well-understood in many circles.

Kids say "you're crazy" whenever someone has a wild idea, does something unusual, or does something they don't like. It's like a universal put-down. But before I get into a redundant monologue (you are so articulate on this topic), I will simply say that you are right on, and that I am going to read more.

It is wrong to berate, belittle or otherwise insult a person for having a mental illness. You never know when the most competent and articulate person in the room is managing a hidden illness. After all, it could be me.

little light said...

I'm sorry. I saw it, too, and it bothered me, and I think I just assumed that the inappropriateness of it just went without saying. That wasn't right.
I know that people using terms like 'crazy-ass' or 'frootbat' aren't trying to directly insinuate mental illness, per se--at least not in that discussion--but it's still not a great place to go, especially when fishing for insults.

I'm sorry I didn't step in about it. I've fought mental illness my whole life, and so have a number of my loved ones, and it still didn't occur to me to loudly object.

spotted elephant said...

lucy-I know you care. :) Amy at feminist reprise did a post urging people to stop using crazy, and even recommended alternate words. You're right, "crazy" is a universal put-down.

little light-You know, *I* didn't say anything in any of those posts either. And you're right, people use words like "crazy-ass" without the intention to take a swing at mentally ill people. But it seems that using those words carelessly is related to using "crazy" as an explanation for when someone does something horrific-explaining why someone would label and throw away a group of people, or why someone would attack and kill another person.

Something awful happens, people try to explain it, and someone grabs the "crazy" explanation. Sigh. I'm going to try to confront this when I see it (though some days that's all I'd do!), and I'm going to try to be civil about it too.

thordora said...

Does it really bother you that much? I embrace the "crazy" label myself, because working myself into a lather about it doesn't serve anyone-and somedays I do act like a fruitbat, and I fully admit it. Is it worth getting upset about? I've never looked at any of this type of thing as being meant to belittle those of us blessed with mental illness. They're just words.

I'm more successful educating the people around me about what mental illness TRULY looks like than arguing sematics. But that's just me. I dunno-I've just only got so much time in my messy brain, and stuff like this rarely hits my radar.
I see your point, I just wonder if it's worth your energy.

AradhanaD said...

I have to admit, until I read Amy's post at feminist reprise - I HAD NEVER EVEN thought about the way I use words like crazy.

Her post (as usual) really opened my eyes and it's definitely going to take some getting used to.

I am sorry and I am guilty of such behaviour.

I need to point out onething though, I used "Leftist looney" as the name of my blog spot - because I have too often been referred to as one. And as much as I hate reclaimation, I think I did it in an attempt to do so.

Thanks for pointing this out again spotted ele, I will be more careful.

Thordora - it's not just the word crazy - it's coupled with all the other words that are used to refer to mental illness when people really mean to say "That's different in a bad way".

Same as anything 'girly' is a bad way.


spotted elephant said...

thordora-I used to take that attitude, that crazy was "just a word" and didn't mean anything. But I saw that anytime someone was taken hostage, or murdered, or someone walked into a business and shot and killed several people, the conclusion was always "He must be crazy". That's not a casual use of the word. There is real and significant stigma attached to being mentally ill. AD says it perfectly:

it's not just the word crazy - it's coupled with all the other words that are used to refer to mental illness when people really mean to say "That's different in a bad way".

AD-I'm not trying to be holier-than-thou. I used to throw words like crazy around, sometimes I slip and still do. What matters most to me cutting the association between horrible harmful behavior and people with mental illness. Like Amy pointed out, like you just pointed out, the words matter, because progress is slow.

I didn't take the name of your blog to be offensive (it's early, and my sentences are hardly making sense). It came across as reclamation, or as a gesture at right wing people who dismiss us. :)

little light said...

It's funny, too, because they don't seem to realize that calling people who do ridiculous things "crazy" diminishes their moral culpability. Call them out on the actual things they do and are, you know? Why miss the mark by throwing their crimes at mental illness, instead of moral illness?

sly civilian said...

yeah. i'm posting on both that, and the whole mess later, if i don't think better of it and just let the damn thing die. i've been reading at bfp, and elsewhere for the secondary discussion, but that was just a mess.

for me, "crazy" comes down to context. an isolate usage, without other cue words, and i read it as simple descriptive. but when i start seeing other references, then my ire raises. that thread was thick with "my opponent is a lunatic therefore I win." it really encouraged that queasy and angry feeling i got from the rest of the material.

spotted elephant said...

little light-You're right-it goes both ways. It stigmatizes people who are mentally ill, but then hey, we're not responsible for anything! Woo-hoo!

I really like that phrasing-moral illness-hope you don't mind if I use it.

Why miss the mark by throwing their crimes at mental illness, instead of moral illness? really needs to be on posters. :)

Sly-Sure, saying a statement is crazy doesn't get me worked up. But when it seems to become a theme, or when-like the example in my post-it's dismissive, I just can't let it go.

If you decide to let the whole thing die, would you please teach me how to do that? I haven't a clue. :)

taught_to_despise said...

I'm sorry to say that if anybody says something about these horrid remarks, they're likely to be shot down in flames.

Take care S.E.


sparkleMatrix said...

It has always been fair game to take the piss out of mental health issues.
What’s that about?
Oh so smug bastards.

belledame222 said...

guilty as charged with the "frootbat," i guess. and you're right. lately i have been shifting to "assberet" and the like, probably with lapses, for which i apologize. technically i expect i'm crazy, if that includes mood disorders * being medicated thereof. hey, it was good enough to be rejected by the insurance company...

i like "moral illness." now i just need to think of a good way to use it as a flame.

well, there's always "evil."

Cheryl said...

Spotted Elephant, such needed consciousness raising. Thank you.


spotted elephant said...

Thanks, Z.

Sparkle-Isn't it strange how we're viewed? Odd combinations of disgust, fear, and ???

BD-Like I said, I've done it, and still do it, but I'm trying to stop. And sure mood disorders count. They're common, but can be completely disabling.

I can't even begin to think about an insurance company turning you down because of a mood disorder. I can only do so many rants at a time. :) The fuckers.

If you figure out how to use moral illness in a flame, please share!

Heart-Thank you-that's much appreciated.

flawedplan said...

HI Spotted Elephant, I'm glad to see us talking about this, my own thoughts are jumbled but it's a good discussion to have. I don't take too much umbrage myself, but I am interested in why "you're crazy" is such a powerful put-down and that's what I think about.

It's a funny identity politics, madness. If you're black or a woman, you're gonna stay that way, but anyone can go insane, anyone. And people who have been certifiably insane can recover and be considered reasonable people. So it's not a fixed element. I believe we all know we are eligible to lose our minds, and the people who rely on the rhetoric of madness as a put-down are probably most afraid of this happening to them.

Personally I think everyone is crazy, and I think that's okay.

Great topic, hope to see more of this in the blogosphere.

BloggingMone said...

I have not read the original post you are referring to. But I do fully agree with you that all kind of we use to describe people should be chosen with care. It is intolerable to use words such as psycho, frootbat, retarded and worse.
But: There are people who are just doing something/acting up like/saying something ...erm...what??? I am really trying hard, but even in German (not talking about English!) I can hardly find other words than those, one shouldn't be using.
Maybe society should learn to call mental illnesses by their proper names, just like they have learned to do with other disabilities. Then we could use words like crazy, looney, idiot, etc. for those people who do not have a mental illness, but are just downright stupid.

flawedplan said...

It's much worse than I realized, and have to edit my glib remark above. There is a comment in that thread describing schizophrenics (sic) in the worst light, so this isn't some "aw, shut up ya lunatic" sort of riposte you're talking about, it's blatant dehumanization, so I apologize for seeming to take this too lightly, I wasn't aware of the depth of hostility toward transgendered and mentally ill folks. Something is very wrong, but it's best that it comes out, and people really are talking. I'm shocked and sad to know that's how people with schizophrenia are seen by self-proclaimed social justice activists, I don't have anything, but this is surreal.

beansa said...


Thank you for taking the time to point out something that should be obvious, but obviously isn't. I have been guilty of using words like crazy and whacked in a pejorative way, against both myself and others. I have also been known to frequently ask people if they have been smoking crack when they say something completely nonsensical. My mother, especially, appreciates this.

I will join you in calling out people who use crazy or any of it's synonyms as a way to slander or discredit another person or group of people. I am also going to watch my own mouth. Words are incredibly powerful.

I have some ambivilance about the phrase "moral illness". It has a nice ring to it, but I wonder if we are talking about culturally imposed morality or personal morals/ethics. I have heard enough accusations about feminists, LGBT people, people with mental illness, or any other marginalized group, being "morally corrupt" that I don't want to adopt that rhetoric.

I guess what I'm trying to get at is that it's not something being mental vs. moral that excuses culpability for certain behaviors. It's the illness aspect that does. So saying that someone is morally ill is letting them off the hook for hypocracy and hatefulness. They aren't "sick", they have no medical condition that causes them to behave the way they do. They may have no morals or ethics, or just have very different ones than I do, but they still bear personal responsibility for whatever framework of right & wrong they are operating from.

Regarding people characterizing people who commit horrible, violent crimes as "crazy," I wonder if that has to do with the incomprehensibility of the person's actions? It seem like people need to be able to categorize what they cannot comprehend because they just can't deal with the cognitave dissonance that arises when someone does something that is so out of step with their world-view. They don't want to contemplate the fact that some people really do make a conscious choice to do horribly fucked up things, so they have to "other" those people by labeling them "crazy." And crazy is such an effective label, and an effective insult, because (as amananta has pointed out on her blog) once you are labeled "crazy," nothing you say matters anymore, you have been invalidated.

nectarine said...

The thing that always gets me is the word mental cos its used in such a flippant way and its really difficult to explain to people why it make me flinch

spotted elephant said...

Bmone- That's an interesting idea. If we got to where we respected the various disorders and called them by name, those other words wouldn't be relevant.

flawedplan-No worries. The sad thing is it wasn't just Twisty's thread, it was several other blogs who objected to her thread, so the dehumanization was literally going on all over the place.

I have heard enough accusations about feminists, LGBT people, people with mental illness, or any other marginalized group, being "morally corrupt" that I don't want to adopt that rhetoric.

Oh, that's a powerful point. I hadn't considered that. Yeah, I think I'll be staying away from it after all. And the same point holds for letting people off the hook-moral "illness" does imply lack of culpability, which is the last thing we want.

Horrible violent crimes-yeah, he must have been crazy to do something like that. It is cognitive dissonance-no "normal" person could be capable of doing something horrible. I often wonder if we took off our blinders, all at the same time, if our society would just collapse under the truth of how things really are.

nectarine-I bet we all have particular words that get to us. I have a huge issue with "psychotic" as in, "I was so hungry that I went psychotic!" Don't know why it gets me so badly, but it does. Maybe some words are clearer in being disrespectful to us than others?

beansa said...

Horrible violent crimes-yeah, he must have been crazy to do something like that. It is cognitive dissonance-no "normal" person could be capable of doing something horrible.

Or someone will say, when speaking about someone who just murdered his entire family, "he seemed like such a normal guy, I guess he just went crazy." I have however, noticed that this standard works in the opposite way for women, like when a woman who is actually mentally ill, suffering from post-partum psychosis for instance, kills her children she will be held up for everyone to villify as a Horrible Person.

People will never remove their blinders all at once. I think it's a protective mechanism or something, the refusal to see things as they really are.

belledame222 said...

Pinko Punko has been using "emu" for "person who is acting in a disagreeable and apparently impervious to reason, compassion, or common sense, and/or is generally acting like a hostile visitor from Bizarro World." (how he arrived at that one, i don't know, but) i kind of like it.

spotted elephant said...

beansa-So dead on with respect to how women are judged. She wasn't sick, she's just evil!!! I know people will never remove their blinders all at once. But maybe they'll eventually start to let them slip a little?

belledame-From what I know of emus, I think that's an appropriate use, and I like it. I'd prefer turkey, as that's the one animal I despise, but once I used turkey as a slur in class (not about my students), and they all wanted to know why I hated people from Turkey. *head*chalkboard*

beansa said...

Yeah, people do let their blinders slip a little bit, it happens all the time. It happened to me when I read this bloggy post of yours, and you revealed to me the hurtfulness of speaking without consciousness. Not that I didn't already know that, but don't we all need reminding of the most basic truth at times? It happens when people blunder onto feminist blogs looking for pron and stay around and get a little education. I've even seen it happen in NSCC gender studies classes.

That's why I hope that you, and all of the other powerful women writers who publish blogs and comment on them never stop speaking truth to power. Maybe it seems like a drop in the ocean sometimes, but don't underestimate the ripple effect. And never, ever, underestimate the power of stringing multiple cliches together into an increibly hackneyed sentence (!). Sorry.

Anyhoo...((((love))) and (((hugs)) to you and yours, and thank you for doing what you do. Happy New Year.

imfunnytoo said...

I really got rocked back when I read the original thread, and hit again when you made such a clear point about mental health concerns.

I love this blog...

spotted elephant said...

Beansa-Love and hugs right back at you! I can't tell you how exciting it is to hear people having their eyes opened at NSCC.

imfunnytoo-Welcome-I'm so glad to see you here. Thanks for your kind words!

lost clown said...

Thank you for reminding me. My friends circle uses 'nuts' as a positive term, but it's still a term I of all people should be aware of using.

Thirza said...

Thanks for such a good post. So much evil was going on in that thread it's hard to manage it all, especially as a genderqueer "crazy" person (I have bipolar too). I also flinch when people use those words of hate about people with M.I.'s, and even when I call people on it they pull statistics out of their ass justifying their hatred and fear of the mentally ill. Oh man, I could go on and on about the prevalence of crazyphobia in the world, I mean, everyday I come across something that makes me go ouch. I'm thinking of printing up business cards with an explanation of my position on various issues. There was an artist in New York, I totally don't know his name, but he had cards he would hand out to people who made racist comments in front of him. Smart idea.

spotted elephant said...


thirza-You're right-people will justify almost anything. The business card idea is great-it might keep my blood pressure down instead of having a long conversation.

Beth said...

you know, i'm mentally ill (treated, functional) and it bothers me more that it's something i feel "closeted" about and can't talk and joke about freely than someone using the word "crazy" to describe a wild idea ever will.

spotted elephant said...

Beth-Well, have you ever thought about why you feel closeted about mental illness? The stigma is powerful, and it comes from people viewing those with mental illness as freaks. People view mental illness as a character flaw. Throwing words like "crazy" around feeds into this.

And as I've said, my biggest issue is labeling people who behave terribly as being mentally ill. As long as people keep doing that, we're going to suffer stigma.

Donna said...

I'm not sure that when people use words like crazy or similar that they mean mental illness. They mean inexplicable, illogical, not thinking clearly, which happens to all of us-in a rage, stressed out, drunk, on drugs, not enough sleep, any number of reasons. So I think that most people mean it in a generic way for not being reasonable.

I do think you are pointing out the exception, because I do think that over at Twisty's some were saying that transsexual/transgender people are mentally ill and throwing around words like crazy to mean it that way.

I guess I'd like to think that most people aren't heartless enough to throw around epithets at someone they think or know has a medical condition, even while knowing there are some like that.

spotted elephant said...

Donna-I'm not saying that everyone who throws around words like crazy is trying to say the person has a mental disorder. I am saying that there is a huge stigma to being mentally ill, and throwing around these words makes it worse. Words that people use as a slur matter. Crazy is most definitely tied to mental illness.

Also, I'm not pointing out the exception. I see this kind of garbage on a regular basis. Look at the quote in my post-it's from Feministe. Am I, as a "crazy" person supposed to read that and just laugh it off saying, well they don't mean people with mental illnesses?

spotted elephant said...

Donna-Maybe I interpreted your comment wrong? Because it seems to dismiss my concerns.

Laura Linger said...

There is a tremendous stigma attached to mental illness, and slurs against mentally ill people only serve to further that stigma.

I've recently taken back the word "crazy." I use it at my leisure, and often in reference to myself, in jest. If I myself use it liberally, it cannot sting when people who are ignorant and heartless use it as a means to bring me down and insult me.

To me, it's not an education thing...most Americans have the information that they need to differentiate between those with a mental illness and those who behave badly because they are assholes. Here is the sad truth: most people don't care, and they will attack ANYTHING if they think that it will get them an ounce of flesh. Those are the same people who are ashamed of me because I "got" a mental illness (as if there was something that I did, some sin I committed, to give me bipolar disorder).

I cut ties with my mother in the summer 2005. Many reasons factored into this decision, but one of the biggest ones was her continued insistence upon making ignorant, insulting comments about me and my bipolar disorder, all the while pretending to "want to understand." And if she didn't "understand," of course it was my fault. I finally realized that she was being disingenuous about me and my illness because that gave her carte blanche to belittle and insult me. My own mother. So I gave her her walking papers.

As with all slurs, I think that we mentally ill folks need to consider the source. I mean, who cares what some loser who has to take potshots at a mentally ill person he or she doesn't even know thinks?