Editor’s Note: DJ Jaffe, 65, died on August 23 from leukemia. He was one of the nation’s most prominent advocates for forced treatment, a founder of the Treatment Advocacy Center, and one of the leading proponents of Kendra’s Law, which allows the justice system to require “outpatients” to comply with treatment orders. The following is a reflection related to the legacy of that forced-treatment effort.
I remember the first time DJ Jaffe saw me. Not the first time we had interacted—we had been corresponding for years, exclusively within his sporadic and enraged reactions to my daily blog posts and my occasional brief, polite, unengaging responses—but the first time he sat across from me at a wide conference room table and, never having seen my face before, had to listen to me introduce myself.
As I stated my name and affiliation—at the time I worked as Policy Director for an advocacy association run by and for people with lived experience of serious mental health challenges, which he much loathed—I watched the recognition wash over his face and culminate with a pained wince. He wouldn’t look me in the eye, but I fixed my gaze on him until he managed to regain composure from the momentary poison.
I hate that I can’t get that face out of my mind today. When I heard this morning that DJ Jaffe was dead my face went through its own mutation; a moment of surprise and wonderment followed by swift elation, and then, very quickly and now for so many hours afterward, an enraged, frustrated, quick-breathed grimace.
I don’t know what to do with my colonizer’s death.
I’m left hating so many things today: first and foremost, that Jaffe still, even after death, has any power at all to make me feel hatred. And I hate my own colonized mind as an academic and researcher and policy wonk and white woman as it insists that I need to spend the body of this article proving to you, readers, that Jaffe was a colonizer. Okay, I’ll do it. No, I won’t.
(I did. 1500 words of it, that I then cut and pasted into another document. Proof of the foundational connections between the Treatment Advocacy Center and Jaffe’s furious, career-spanning obsession with compulsory treatment and the carceral state. About the lineage of deranged European men and their ability to fear-monger devastated families, merge a pitiful sympathy with villainization and then weaponize it against Black and brown people, people with disabilities, the neurodivergent, immigrants, people who are cash-poor, people whose ancestral lands have been stolen, women, queer and trans people, fat people, people with structural barriers to education and healthcare and housing and other trappings of power because of the physical, psychological, and institutional violence of people with that power over centuries. About the generations of work ahead of us unraveling the harm of Kendra’s Law in New York, Jaffe’s influence on which he was immensely proud, which effectively tracks and restricts the movement and autonomy of thousands of New Yorkers, the plurality of whom are young Black men. About psychiatric institutions being a necessary political home for abolition, about its function in the carceral state to confine and restrict and delegitimize thought patterns that threaten normative capitalistic ideals of validity. I won’t write this all. I did, but I won’t. If I have to prove it to you it’s not worth my time. I’m so tired today.)
But maybe I‘ll spend just a moment on his most barbaric and pure example of colonizer madness, Jaffe’s utter obsession with anosognosia: the theory that people who experience psychosis are so unable to know their own minds as to make them unreliable narrators of their own existence to the point where they deny their “illness” and therefore must be treated as hostile, unaware, and volatile in that defensive unawareness.
Anosognosia is the theoretical foundation of Jaffe’s life’s work, and it was spurred most viciously in praxis as retaliation against the peer services movement. Jaffe continuously, erroneously, devastatingly insisted that there was no scientific basis for the idea that a person in recovery can be helpful to a person actively struggling with mental health challenges. The cavernous depths of dehumanization and paternalism embedded in the anosognosia argument are darkly, inexhaustibly interwoven with our experiences as a colonized people.
And yes, the heart of the colonizer is also colonized, unto itself and perpetrated forever outward. How utterly traumatizing Jaffe must have known this idea was to individuals and groups of people who have, for centuries, systematically had their rights and personhood stripped from them.
Can you imagine, reader, a man in 2020 being so effective at gaslighting tens of millions of people into questioning the soundness of their own lived experiences? Their own ability to conceptualize reality? Can you imagine that man quietly laughing off the suggestion that his implication is retraumatizing to people who experience marginalization over and over again? Can you imagine people that you once thought you could trust—policymakers, professionals, family members, acquaintances—starting sentences with “well, but what I think he’s trying to say is…”1
Oh, you can imagine? Our deep reckoning in the US, this season and for the past four years, with the depravity of a mindset illuminated as pervasive in our culture, is far from over (for those of you that needed a light shone on it which, I know, many of us did not).
And while we continue to fight against fascism and white supremacy, while newly activated people daily join us, with a revolutionary spirit, in an effort to firmly shake off the yoke of colonialism from our individual and communal lives and disentangle it from the structures that uphold our livelihoods and institutions, I am so often left with the question I am asking myself today: What do I do with all of this hatred for my colonizer?
That in his death Jaffe’s impact ignites my indignation, compels me to assert my humanity, forces pen to paper to claim my existence, burns at my throat; he isn’t worth this emotion. He deserves none of it. None of these colonizers do, dead or living. And yet…oh, but it is so vastly complicated, isn’t it? Here then: I will list my current hatreds specifically.
Jaffe, I hate everything you’ve made me fight for in my career: proving that we can recover, proving that we can know our own minds, that we can be valuable in society, that we are worthy of our successes, that we are capable of coming into community, of knowing love and family and sexuality and pleasure. How dare you make me prove myself to a world unworthy of me; make me prove myself in systems so toxic and putrid and yet necessary for my own survival.
I am so sick of proving, of watching the people that I love have to prove that they embody a multitude of identities and experiences that are worthy; that you are a proof point—a theory of mind and society that I must continuously degrade myself to counter—is evidence enough that we live in an entirely colonized, white supremacist dystopian reality. I am done showing up for your discussion. I am finished with your colonizer’s table.
Oh, but then also, I am just so sad for you, and I can’t describe how much I hate that I’m sad for you; that I feel sorrow for the colonizer’s heart. I hate that I am so sorry for you that you could never learn in this lifetime the beauty and sensuality of the full human experience. That you could never appreciate the richness of the human mind that includes wild, extravagant, other-worldly, terrifying, mysterious experiences.
I hate that I feel regret for you that, despite a 15 year battle with leukemia, you still somehow lacked the empathy and curiosity of mind to expand your experiences of illness into an appreciation for the experience of those of us whose power, autonomy, physicality, family, career, conception of self, and life trajectory is altered through diagnosis at no fault of our own.
I hate that I feel sorry for you that you needed so desperately to dedicate your life to paternalism, to the denial of the right of every person to experience themselves wholly and be loved and accepted and prioritized because of their madness, not in despite of it, and not only after the madness has been scrubbed and codified and ordered and restrained.
I hate that I am so thoroughly bound up with the work and legacy of my colonizer that, even as I articulate my hatred, I’m worried that I don’t deserve to write this, to have these experiences, that they don’t matter. I am filled with the pervasive, never-ending self-doubt and internalized misogyny that is rammed down the throats of every pathologized person, most often by hand-wringing smug white men. I hate that I have been made to feel this way over and over and that a life of resistance, a life of advocacy, a life of a person who knows discrimination is a life vastly interconnected with the lives of their oppressors. Oh, this hatred, it is so utterly complicated. I hate that you exhaust me.
Goodbye, colonizer Jaffe. If they make a statue of you, I will pull it to the ground, and I will weep for us both.
Editor’s note: Please keep any comments limited to the subject of DJ Jaffe’s efforts to legislate for compulsory treatment and his work at The Treatment Advocacy Center.
- If you have it in your heart right now to comment on this article or to reach out to tell me a story about “so-and-so family member or friend,” or your “experience as a professional in xyz healthcare setting” with a pathologized person, kindly explaining to me that “people who experience psychosis often don’t know their own minds, that the throes of psychosis are so sad, so violent, so devastating that you/we absolutely must protect a person, absolutely must protect everyone else, that if I only knew…” I invite you, now and forever, to never speak to me. Then spend the next decade in serious, critical meditation on the effects of colonization on your own heart and the way you perpetuate harm in your community. And then after that decade of reflection you can then ask yourself if you truly believe that I do not know what you know, and if I really need to be convinced with your anecdote. If the answer is still “yes,” please start again at the beginning of this footnote. ↩
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.