This is a restored post, initially posted on my now deleted WordPress sometime earlier this year. I still agree with everything I said here.
Recently I started noticing more disdainful attitudes to paraphilia as an identity, as an umbrella term for non-normative attractions. The general accusation typically is that “paraphilia” is stigmatizing and medicalizing language, that people who identify as paraphiliacs are favoring antis and conversion therapy.
Yesterday I made a post about this on one of my nnia.space accounts, that I believe can be quoted fully:
I don’t think it would be wrong to regard the old Tumblr map community as the origin of what we now call “the para community”.
I first learned the word “paraphilia” there. Several months after joining map discourse, perhaps in late 2017. The definition that was given to me described paraphilia as any abnormal attraction – except queer attractions, because those are seen as socially acceptable (the people who told me that were western).
In spring 2018 a discord server Paraphiliacs Anonymous launched, led by @ComradeDeath, and I soon became a co mod there. That was when we found the paraphilia Imgur list (now partially converted to a Map Wiki article “List of paraphilias” ) and started classifying our attractions. Several months later, after the map flag appeared, flags for some other paraphilias were made, including sadism, exhibitionism, and more. I made my first attempt to describe human sexuality and separated it into what-, how-, and who-attractions.
Then there were mass bans, we moved activism to Twitter. Twitter already had map and zoo presence, but these were rather disconnected groups of people. They found out about using paraphilia as a uniting identity from us. Some liked it, some didn’t. Some ended up with a weird impression that we’re calling ourselves paraphiliacs to medicalize ourselves and present our attractions as inherently pathological, and they rejected this label based on that.
The new “recovering paraphile” movement on Twitter certainly did not help with overcoming this impression. Bans hit again, and we weren’t able to explain what paraphilia means to us properly, so Twitter was left to “recovering paraphiles” and “zoosexuals”, and the narrative turned towards “paraphilia” being a label for radical anti contacts who think their attractions are a flaw.
I still consider paraphilia to be an extremely important identity. More important than any other identity I have. Because even though my main political focus are maps, I’m not fighting just for maps. I’m fighting for destruction of the norm and against oppression of any non normative orientation. Being a paraphiliac means acknowledging my unity with zoos, necros (even though I am not a necro myself), and many more. It means I believe in achieving success together, through common means, instead of being assimilated into the norm one by one.
And I don’t want it to be misinterpreted.
So, TL;DR: “paraphilia” is not a pathologizing label for me. It does not imply inferiority of my attractions. It does not imply I want to “recover” or be cured, fixed, or have a non-paraphiliac person give me any guidance on how to live with my paraphilias. For me, “paraphilia” is an ultimate opposition to the norm and an ultimate descriptor of an oppressed sexuality.
Why not “queer”?
Some people have suggested using “queer” as an umbrella term for any non-normative attraction. I have reasons to disagree with that. “Queer” always was, and stays, one of the most defiant labels for non normative gender preferences and gender expression. But yet, for the past few decades it has been extremely purified and commercialized. Nowadays too many people who openly identify as queer consider themselves above paraphilias and abuse paraphiliacs. Calling my paraphilias “queer” would mean assimilating into that. This may have negative consequences on a material level too, because paraphiliacs cannot be supported and accommodated by the same networks that support and accommodate non-paraphiliac queer people, since they frequently need protection from non-paraphiliacs, queer ones as well. And uniting all these identities under queerness on a theoretical level can, and will, prevent recognizing the practical danger.
But on purely semantical level, “queer” and “paraphiliac” are extremely similar to me. Both mean a freak.
One of the reasons why I don’t think “but it’s pathologizing!” is a good argument against paraphiliac language is because this word has roots in the same place as many other words, accepted as regular identities.
- Homosexual. Made up by a journalist Karl Maria Kertbeny in 1868 to replace derogatory “pederast” (it’s interesting that many maps who protest “paraphilia” nowadays do not consider “pederast” derogatory), popularized by a psychiatrist Richard Krafft-Ebing in 1886, included in listings of sexual perversions and mental disorders for many decades after. Source: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/homosexual#Etymology
- Bisexual. Originally a botanic term from 1792 for two-sexed plants, in 1886 adopted by the very same Richard Krafft-Ebing in its modern meaning. It is worth noting that the book he put it in was called “Psychopathia Sexualis”. Source: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/bisexual#English
- Transsexual. Coined by a German doctor Magnus Hirschfeld in 1923, first used in English by an American doctor David Oliver Cauldwell in 1949 in a work titled “Psychopathia Transsexualis”. The modern word “transgender” is a reworked version of “transsexual”. Sources: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/transsexual#Etymology, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Oliver_Cauldwell
- Hebephilia. Coined by researchers Hammer and Glueck in 1955 while describing pathologies of sex offenders. Source: https://map-wiki.com/index.php/Hebephilia
- Ephebophilia. Coined by a doctor Georges Saint-Paul in 1896 in a work on sexual perversions. Source: https://map-wiki.com/index.php/Ephebophilia
Paraphilia does not stand out in this row. It was made up by a researcher (although not a doctor) Friedrich Salomon Krauss in 1904 to denote any non-procreational sexual behavior, picked up and popularized by a psychoanalyst Wilhelm Stekel. Source: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/9781118896877.wbiehs329
All these words were predominately used by people who saw them as a pathology to be treated. They’re all from the same era, all tainted by the same history of bigotry and medical abuse. And many of them were once also opposed as “too medicalizing” by their communities.
It’s a curious story, but a bit over 50 years ago there existed a homophile movement. These were people who found the label “homosexuality” to be too medical and renamed themselves to homophiles. They did not have much success, and their movement died out. People that identified as homosexual and fought to redefine -sexual as a root to something positive were the ones that defined gay history of the previous century. Nowadays the root -sexual is seen as much more “valid” and “pure” than -phile, as we can see from zoophiles renaming themselves to zoosexuals in attempts to prove the worth of their sexuality. The connotations of these words may have flipped to their exact opposites, but “homophiles” and “zoosexuals” have identical goals: making themselves sound more respectable by using a more respectable word.
Why is this important?
I already answered this question in part in my nnia post that I quoted in the beginning. I want unity of all non normative orientations, on fair and equal terms, and I want liberation for all. I find the term “paraphilia” to have the same aggressive freak energy as “queer”, but without any sanitizing that’s been infecting queer communities recently. And ultimately, I want destruction of the concept of the norm, not integration into it. Too many people who oppose labeling pedophilia or zoophilia as paraphiliac secretly think they have a “normal attraction” (often with a justification of “we are attracted to thinking human beings” versus “we are attracted to adult sexually mature animals”, which clashes hilariously) and all other paraphiliacs are the freaks. This applies less to those who propose “queer” as the ultimate umbrella term, though. But it happens often enough to be worried.
To sum it up, “paraphilia” does not have worse origins and connotations than “homosexuality” or “hebephilia”, it can also be used as a reclaimed identity, I find it important for my political goals of rebellion and liberation.