Microaggressions that target LGBTQ+ individuals, both intentional and unintentional, are commonplace.
A microaggression is defined by Merriam-Webster (online dictionary) as “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group.”
The concept was originally coined by Harvard psychiatrist, Chester M. Pierce, in 1970 to describe the insults and dismissals he witnessed White Americans inflict on Black Americans. The term microaggression has since expanded to include other stigmatized and marginalized groups.
Microaggressions that target LGBTQ+ individuals are harmful and have been linked to serious mental health problems and suicide. What’s more, microaggressions contribute to stereotypes.
This article provides 12 examples of microaggressions that target LGBTQ+ persons.
To start, here are some useful glossary terms from The LGBT National Help Center.
The acronym LGBTQ+ stands for
- Trans or Transgender
- Queer or Questioning
- [+] may represent Questioning or Agender, Bigender, Genderless, Gender Nonconforming, Gender Queer, Pangender, Pansexual, etc.
- Lesbian: A woman who is attracted to other women (sexually, emotionally, and/or romantically)
- Gay: An individual or a man who is attracted to individuals of the same gender
- Bisexual: A person who is attracted to both men and women
- Transgender: A person whose gender identity differs from the one assigned at birth
- Queer: A reclaimed slur that refers to and celebrates individuals who are gay
- Questioning: A person who is uncertain about or questioning their sexuality or gender identity. (Note: This is in reference to the internal conflict one experiences.)
Agender (or Genderless): Someone who does not identify with any gender (or as having a gender)
Bigender: An individual who identifies with two or more genders
Gender Nonconforming (or Gender Variant): Individuals who do not conform with society’s expectations of their gender role
Gender Queer (or Genderqueer): A person who identifies outside the gender categories of male and female
Pangender: Individuals who identify with two or more genders or with all/any genders (or as a non-male/non-female gender)
Pansexual: Someone who is capable of being attracted to all genders
The above list is in no way comprehensive. I recommend doing your own research. (Start with the resource section at the end of this article.)
Note that sexual orientation and gender identity are not the same thing. Sexual orientation refers to sexuality or attraction while gender identity refers to how a person views and thinks about themselves in terms of gender.
Source: Wikimedia Commons contributors, ‘File:1*YwY44v93qVAkje3 wADZkw@2x.png’, Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository.
When considering gender, imagine a gender spectrum vs. a binary consisting of male and female. This concept of gender spectrum is supported by scientific data.
12 Examples of Microaggressions that Target LGBTQ+ Individuals
1. “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”
This Christian slogan was intended to be catchy and humorous – while at the same time condemning gay men as unnatural. The indication is that God didn’t intend for people to be gay. Therefore, if you’re gay, you’re an abomination in God’s eyes.
2. Assuming that a gay man has multiple sexual partners.
Gay and promiscuous are not one and the same. The idea that a gay man sleeps with multiple men (as opposed to being in a committed relationship with one person) is a stereotype.
3. Forms that include checkboxes for male/female only and documents that use he/she (vs. they).
Limited-choice binary forms are microaggressions that target LGBTQ+ individuals and invalidate the 5.6% (about 6 out of every 100) Americans who don’t identify as either male or female.
4. “I went through a bisexual phase in college, but I got over it.”
This suggests that bisexuality is temporary and/or something that one can “get over.” Similarly, when someone who is bisexual is asked, “When are you just going to pick one?” – the indication is that bisexuality is a temporary state that ends when someone chooses one or the other. It’s insinuated that someone who is bisexual is indecisive or that bisexuality isn’t real, but something leading up to something real.
5. “What is your sexual preference?”
The word preference indicates choice. In reality, one doesn’t consciously choose to be sexually attracted to someone. It just happens.
No one wants to be ridiculed or discriminated against for being gay. (Oppositely, it’s in our very nature to seek acceptance and connection. We desire inclusion and belonging.)
Instead of “preference,” use orientation when talking about attraction.
6. Intentionally using the wrong pronouns.
The implication is that someone’s gender identity is wrong. This microaggression may be used to push a religious or political agenda, but it’s harmful to reduce a person to an agenda.
Furthermore, the intentional use of non-preferred pronouns is a form of bullying. Bullying may lead to poor mental health, substance use, and suicide.
Directing a transwoman/transman to a bathroom that doesn’t match their gender identity and/or the incorrect use of “ma’am/sir” are similar forms of this microaggression.
Since you won’t always know how an individual prefers to be addressed, keep it simple… just ask.
7. “Were you born boy or a girl?”
Like asking one’s “preference,” this microaggression targets LGBTQ+ individuals by implying that someone who doesn’t identify with their biological sex made a conscious choice to reject their biological sex.
Instead of “born boy or girl,” someone’s biological sex should be referred to as assigned gender.
8. Automatically assuming that something happened to the individual (i.e., childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence, etc.) that “made” them the way they are.
This microaggression implies that a person is LGBTQ+ because something bad happened to them. The assumption tolerates a person’s LGBTQ+ identification, but only to excuse it. (For example: “She became a lesbian because she was tired of dating chauvinistic jerks.”) This discredits the complexity of sexual orientation and gender identity.
9. “I’ll pray for you, but I can’t condone your choices.”
The idea that being LGBTQ+ is a sin implies that it’s a willful act against God. In reality, being LGBTQ+ is not a choice.
10. “How do you know you don’t like [men/women] if you haven’t tried?”
Sexual orientation is not the same as taking a car for a test drive or trying on pairs of jeans. You wouldn’t question a straight man about his relationship with a woman or encourage him to have sex with at least one man before committing to marriage.
11. “Who’s the man and who’s the woman in the relationship?”
This implies that relationships are defined by stereotypical gender roles. It undermines non-traditional relationships, suggesting that for a relationship to be legitimate, there must be a male and female.
12. “I never would have known you’re transgender! You’re totally passable as a [man/woman].”
You wouldn’t compliment a lady by telling her she’s “passable” as a woman.
Also, take a moment to consider insecurities you have about your looks. Have you ever struggled with body image or felt self-conscious? Imagine being in the wrong body!
In sum, microaggressions that target LGBTQ+ individuals can be unintentional or well-meaning, but when LGBTQ+ persons are subjected to microaggressions time after time, it’s damaging. What’s more, microaggressions that target LGBTQ+ individuals contribute to stigma and perpetuate false stereotypes.
Microaggressions that target the LGBTQ+ population thrive in environments where it is acceptable to:
- Voice judgments about a person’s morality
- Discredit or devalue someone’s personal experience
- Bully or intimidate
- Make invasive comments about a person’s sexual relationships
To conclude, microaggressions that target LGBTQ+ persons are harmful. You can prevent using them by increasing your awareness.
- Asian Pride Project
- Centre for Women and Trans People (Canada)
- FEDUP | Fighting Eating Disorders in Underrepresented Populations: A Trans+ & Intersex Collective
- Gender Spectrum
- International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association
- It Gets Better Project
- Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) National Help Center
- National Center for Lesbian Rights
- National Center for Transgender Equality
- National Coalition of Antiviolence Programs (NCAVP)
- National LGBTQ Task Force
- National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA)
- No More Fear Foundation
- OutRight Action International
- Rest For Resistance
- Trans Lifeline
- Trans Student Educational Resources
- TransYouth Family Allies
- The Trevor Project