The language of oppression- schizophrenia should not be used as an adjective for “split or conflicting”

As part of my masters I am trying to write about the language of oppression. I’m exploring the use of “Gay” as a synonym for rubbish being perceived as “not homophobic” by many because “language evolves”, ignoring the effect the use of such language may have on people who are LGBT.

During my masters research I found that De Palma & Atkinson (2010) p1670 chose to use the phrase “conceptual schizophrenia” to describe situations where there are inconsistencies in the legislation so that on the one hand they support people who are LGBT on the other hand they support homophobia. My wider reading also found Renold & Ringrose (2011) using the phrase “Schizoid subjectivities” to describe how girls negotiate discourses of knowingness and innocence. I’m sure there are plenty of other examples in academic and other literature, I don’t mean to single these two out other than they are two recent academic examples I have come across, I also have seen it lately used in a few blogposts or newspaper articles too.

Using schizophrenia as an adjective for something that is split or “or characterized by the coexistence of disparate or antagonistic elements.” (as one of the dictionary definitions is) only serves to oppress another group of people, those with schizophrenia. It serves to reinforce notions of split or antagonistic elements or the idea that schizophrenics have split personalities etc. It is harmful, unthinking and upsetting particularly when such things are written by people actively engaged in challenging other forms of oppression. Yes there maybe another dictionary definition that isn’t about “people” just like there is for “Gay” but that doesn’t make it okay to use it as an adjective to describe anything other than the person with that identity (and that you mean it as a descriptor not pejoratively!)

I’m mindful that this is written due to my own lived experience as a sibling of someone who is and always will be schizophrenic, and the stigma/misunderstandings that they/we have faced as a result of that. However I would argue that it is not so hard to try and think about the language you use and how it might affect groups of people you may only have very limited experience of. There are loads of other combinations of clever sounding academic words that could be used instead, juxtaposition, dicotomy, discord, conflicting,  non-concordance etc. which could be used to make your point equally well and make you sound just as clever.  All it takes is a little thought and care about the language you use and a willingness to think and change if you get it wrong (like I did when I initially spoke about “tolerance” of people who are LGBT).

Just some food for thought.

Happy Educating.


So are you gay then?

Talking about my masters in challenging homophobia in schools in the pub the other night I was confronted with the question:

“So are you gay then?”

This person assumed I must be as she could not comprehend why someone who is straight would be bothered about discrimination of a group that they did not belong to.

With students I usually reply to that question (with a gentle reminder about ground rules and no personal questions!)with:

“would it matter if I were?”

and we start to unpick why this stuff should be important to us all, and how ones sexual orientation does not affect their ability to be a good teacher, a good friend etc.

In the classroom it is an interesting one- if you are a Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual teacher, do you really want to come out to the students in your school? You could be an amazing role model but likewise in a non-supportive school you could be opening up a can of prejudicial worms. Likewise a straight teacher doing this work maybe worried people will assume they are Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual and treat them differently as a result, and this may serve as a barrier to this work. Also they may feel they don’t know enough about the issues to address it properly (to that I must point out white male teachers can teach about racism or sexism just fine- this is no different). (Oh and N.B Straight Teachers answering that question with an emphatic “No!” as if its a bad thing, only serves to reinforce the pervading culture of heteronormativity. Sigh.)

To the woman in the pub I didn’t ask her “would it matter if I were?” but said loftily

To me this is an equalities issue and it’s something we should all be bothered about whatever our sexual orientation or gender identity.

(and then carried on ranting about my research to the poor woman- sorry!)

Whilst doing this work I have always been aware of having heterosexual privilege. Being a married (to a man) mother of two working in this field, means that it brings this issue into the mainstream. I’m not someone from a so-called “sexual minority” (I hate that term- very “othering”) on a soapbox but someone who never experiences homophobia but is actively engaged in challenging prejudice and discrimination particularly related to sexual orientation and gender identity. In my experience this has possibly added a level of engagement to the work from straight colleagues, that might not be present if I was a gay, lesbian or bisexual teacher?

I’m not saying all teachers need to be as engaged on these issues as rantypants me, but I am saying all teachers can and should challenge LGBT prejudice as much as possible regardless of their own identity. It’s a human rights issue, it’s an equalities issue and even just taking the time to consider how you might answer the question from a student

So are you gay then?

in a way that addresses sexualities equality in some way is a step in the right direction.

Anyhow Macklemore, Ryan Lewis &Mary Lewis say it better than me afterall its “Same Love.”