What is discrimination and how does it work? What are consequences and why is discrimination so dangerous?

TW: The text uses examples of discrimination!

Discrimination is a complex mechanism that shapes our coexistence in a society. Explaining discrimination is not easy. There are already numerous existing books, podcasts and videos that try to explain discrimination and its impact. This is another attempt, which is based on the already existing knowledge from all kinds of sources. With great gratitude, appreciation and respect, we at PAQT recognize the incredible effort and emotional work of the people who, in dealing with and directly experiencing discrimination, do resistance work and fight against its power. It is on these struggles that we build our activism.

It should be mentioned in advance: No person is free from discrimination. All people grow up in societies and through socialization and education learn knowledge about how the world works. Each person develops their individual beliefs and ideas about what they believe. These ideas shape the perception of that person and, as a result, what that person perceives as true; i.e. their truth or reality.

For example, Jacob learns as a child that there are only two genders: male and female. This anchors itself in its truth and becomes a statement of belief. Jacob's view of the world, how he perceives the world, is now shaped by that idea. No matter what Jacob observes, it will fit into his imagination - even if the people Jacob observes may not identify as male or female. So wherever Jacob looks, he will find his idea confirmed and only see men and women. He doesn't know that Jakob can't record everyone with this. That's how Jacob learned it. Jakob does not know that this is discriminatory and leads to extreme suffering.

This example shows the incredible power of discrimination and why it often remains so invisible. People are socialized in a discriminatory manner and what a person learns is reality for them. This reality seems so natural and self-evident that it is often accepted unquestioningly.

It turns out that we think of people in categories and create groups to which we assign people based on certain characteristics. These are stereotypical ideas. Whether these groups really exist is irrelevant. For example, Jacob attributes male or female to everyone he meets. Determining features for this can be the hair length, clothes or voice of the person. This mechanism of foreign attributions to a group is a foundation of discrimination. In social interactions, we read people and use socially learned knowledge about particular groups. For example, we attribute affiliation with Islam to a person wearing hijab. Attributions work because we evaluate or interpret what we observe directly. For example, a person may have learned that gay people paint their fingernails and will think of people they read male who have painted their fingernails as gay. Discrimination works through those stereotyping ideas. Jacob's example is apt to show that this knowledge is learned socially and is constantly maintained and newly created as a result of how Jacob views the world. This happens regardless of whether the knowledge is true for everyone or not.

Although each person has their own reality, there is shared knowledge in a society, which is anchored in the minds of the people in a society. This leads to overlaps in the perceptions of reality of people in a society. When these intersections become so powerful that they are accepted as "real," they become normativity. According to this, those ideas that are rated as “normal” or “natural” in society are normative. They have developed and anchored in a society through a historical process. As in Jakob's example, this can be the idea of two genders, at the same time the idea of heterosexuality or whiteness as the norm.

The example also shows that discrimination often happens unconsciously and unintentionally. Jacob probably doesn't want to exclude any people at all, but his reality disregards people who don't identify with the gender binary. The consequence of this is a devaluation, exclusion and disadvantage of people who do not fit into the limits of normativity. There is no way to exist. The truths and perspectives of non-bisexual people are not (re)recognized. Likewise, the emotions arising as a result of the discrimination cannot exist for Jacob either. People who contradict Jacob's world view, as well as their experiences and truths, are questioned. Jacob can convey to them that they are "different" or "wrong" and therefore do not belong.


"When you're used to privilege, equality feels like oppression."

Jacob shows that discrimination individually functions. It is carried by people, their personal actions and ideas about the world. At the same time, discrimination works structurally. Discrimination is intertwined with the social system and its norms. Discrimination is further entrenched institutional. Based on the structural discrimination of groups and the knowledge established there, institutions reflect these ideas in their structure. This is evident, for example, when there are no gender-inclusive toilets or when rights are reserved for certain groups. These three levels of discrimination cannot be viewed in isolation from each other and influence each other.

It becomes clear that discrimination is functional. It benefits the one and harms the other. The benefit for the people who benefit from it is often not visible. Victims of discrimination are very aware of the discrimination and its effects, while both their own privileges and the suffering of those affected often remain invisible to the privileged. Cis-heteronormative privilege is demonstrated, for example, because one's sexuality or gender identity does not require concern about whether it is safe to show affection in public or to travel to a certain place. This shows that every form of discrimination has its counterpart in privilege. Another factor is that people affected by discrimination need to find ways to deal with their experiences of discrimination, while privileged people do not.

An important stance within activism at PAQT is the acknowledgment that there are other forms of discrimination besides queerism that affect our being. The interaction of several forms of discrimination results in new experiences of discrimination. This is called multiple discrimination intersectionality. For example, a disabled lesbian experiences a different exclusion than an able lesbian. This means that people can be both discriminated against and privileged and there is no pure black and white thinking. Activism should be against discrimination and for more acceptance of everyone people in society and therefore also cover all forms of discrimination. At PAQT, we are in a constant learning process that aims to make perspectives that are still invisible to us visible and to learn to think about them.

In order to understand the psychosomatic (both psychological and physical) effects of discrimination, it is important to know what microaggression is. We also base this on the minority stress model. Microaggressions are experiences of discrimination, which include everyday interactions between people and solidify exclusive normative ideas. Microaggressions are mostly implicit messages, they may seem small, but they constantly remind those affected to be “abnormal” or “wrong” and not to belong. For example, the answer to a coming out: "You didn't seem gay at all." shows that heterosexuality is assumed to be the norm and being gay is rated as something extraordinary. At the same time, the stereotypical notion of what counts as gay or not is revealed. Such experiences can add up and lead to hyper-vigilance; a constant fear of being confronted with social exclusion and the feeling of not belonging.

This is because people learn from discrimination that they are not safe. Our nervous system is important for this. Our nervous system functions automatically and controls our response to the environment in order to survive. It looks for clues as to whether we are safe or in danger. Through discrimination, your own nervous system stores that there is danger if you show the parts of yourself that are socially discriminated against. We at PAQT speak of a social trauma. A person's nervous system can then signal, "I'm not sure. I'm in danger.” This is a learned protective mechanism that we have built up in order to have our need to belong met. This happens, for example, when you realize as a child that you are queer, but your own parents are anti-queer. Fear of being abandoned and the insecurity that comes with it, you learn to hide and reject yourself. Especially as children we are dependent on the people who take care of us and the bonds seem essential for our own survival. The body and mind store such information. Beliefs are formed that show up, for example, when the heart of an unouted person starts racing in situations where they see the danger of being outed as queer. Even if the frame seems safe for the person at a point in time, they have saved that being queer and showing it is unsafe.

It becomes apparent that because of a fear of abandonment and because people want to fulfill their needs (eg for belonging, attachment or recognition), those affected by discrimination often internalize social rejection and discriminate (themselves) themselves. There is a belief: "I'm wrong." or "If I show myself, I'll leave." It was learned to reject oneself and to split off from one's own authentic self. Discrimination means that people do not dare to be themselves and are afraid that other people will recognize them because they have learned that they are "wrong". This situation is caused by the interaction of external and internal stressors. For example, an external stressor is encountering the idea that trans* people are wrong because they are trans* and experience rejection as a result; while the resulting internal stressor is internalized transphobia. This can have strong psychosomatic consequences and lead to (permanent) stress. Another example of this internal conflict is coming out as a lesbian. This is where learned and internalized homonegativity comes into play. Before and often long after coming out, there is a process of disguising and hiding combined with shame at being the person you are. One forbids oneself and withdraws permission to be authentic.

Discrimination has the same consequences as bullying or abuse. Normative thinking, devaluation, exclusion, non-thinking, delegitimization, ignorance, learned self-rejection, fear of mental or physical violence have an impact on our health. Those stressors are reasons for disease, reduced life expectancy, traumatization and suicide. That is why anti-discrimination is also about protecting human dignity and human life

If you are interested in getting involved and making our team more colorful, please contact us! We know that we cannot be an all-encompassing safer space. At the same time, we hope to create a space where everyone can feel comfortable by dealing with discrimination and raising awareness among our members. Let's fight the cis-tem!