Microaggressions that target LGBTQ+ individuals are commonplace. LGBTQ+ individuals are subjected to microaggressions, both intentional and unintentional, on a daily basis.
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. (A thousand little cuts hurt just as much – or more – than a single large one.)
What’s more, microaggressions contribute to stereotypes and prejudice.
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 highly recommend doing your own research. (You can start with the resource section at the end of this article.)
Note that sexual orientation and gender identity are not the same. 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 spectrum vs. a binary (two things: male and female). The concept of gender spectrum is backed by biological and neurological data, but again, I encourage you confirm with other sources of information.
12 Examples of Microaggressions that Target LGBTQ+ Individuals
1. “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”
This Christian slogan was probably intended to be catchy and humorous – while 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, a sinner in God’s eyes.
This microaggression is condescending and insulting. It doesn’t represent Christian values.
2. Assuming that a gay man has multiple sexual partners.
Gay and promiscuous – they 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. This stereotype may stem from religious teachings that lump together all sexual activity that occurs outside the a marriage of a man and a woman as immoral.
However, it’s interesting that anti-gay sentiment is strong within some circles for this very reason while premarital sex, especially when it occurs between two consenting adults, is never the subject of political protests or a disqualifier for receiving services.
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 are dismissive, invalidating the 5.6% (about 6 out of every 100) Americans who don’t identify as either male or female. The implied message is one of unimportance or unrecognition.
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.” It also hints that the person who “got over it” is superior.
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 simply indecisive or that bisexuality isn’t real… bisexuality is just something leading up to something more real. This is not only invalidating, it’s insulting.
5. “What is your sexual preference?”
The word preference indicates a choice, as though a person willfully decides who they will be attracted to. Suggestions of preference are microaggressions that target LGBTQ+ individuals in that they are dismissive. The implication is that someone can decide whether or not they’re attracted to a certain gender.
In reality, one doesn’t choose to be (or not to be) sexually attracted to someone. It just happens. (The choice lies in acknowledgement or acceptance.) Furthermore, this microaggression subtly suggests that since it’s a choice, one is thereby responsible for whatever occurs (mistreatment, discrimination, etc.)
In reality, it’s doubtful that anyone would choose to be ridiculed or discriminated against. It’s human nature to seek out connection and acceptance. We desire inclusion and belonging. (Which is why the “closet” exists in the first place. People hide from rejection, judgment, and disgust.)
Instead of “preference,” use orientation when talking about attraction.
6. Intentionally using the wrong pronouns.
This microaggression is dismissive and cruel. The implication is that someone’s gender identity is either false or unimportant. It’s forceful and self-righteous (with an undertone of I’m right and you’re wrong and I’ll make you hear it again and again), punitive even. This microaggression may push a religious or political agenda, but it’s harmful to reduce someone to an agenda or use them for your own purposes.
Furthermore, the intentional use of non-preferred pronouns is a form of intimidation or bullying. Bullying may lead to poor mental health, substance use, and suicide.
Lastly, this microaggression mocks or embarrasses the target. Directing a transwoman/transman to a bathroom that doesn’t match their gender identity and spiteful 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… by asking.
7. “Were you born boy or a girl?”
Comparable to asking one’s “preference,” this microaggression that targets LGBTQ+ individuals implies that someone who doesn’t identify with their biological sex wasn’t born that way, but made a choice at some point that caused them to reject their biological sex.
Instead of “born boy or girl,” someone’s biological sex should be referred to as their 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 it’s not possible for someone to be LGBTQ+ without something terrible happening to them. This suggests that it’s abnormal or bad. The implication is that being LGBTQ+ is essentially the same thing as being damaged.
This assumption merely tolerates the LGBTQ+ existence, excusing it while not respecting or acknowledging it. (For example, “She become a lesbian because the last three men she dated hit her.”) This microaggression discredits the complexity of sexual orientation and gender identity as well as the person who is LGBTQ+.
9. “I’ll pray for you, but I can’t condone your lifestyle because homosexuality is a sin.”
Despite intent, well-meant offerings of prayer are harmful microaggressions that target LGBTQ+ individuals. The idea that being LGBTQ+ is a “sin” implies that being gay is a willful moral act against God. It also implies that someone can choose whether or not to be LGBTQ+.
In reality, being LGBTQ+ is not a behavior. It’s a trait in the same way that being tall or being Asian is (although more complex). Like other microaggressions that target LGBTQ+ individuals, this one is dismissive and can come across as self-righteous.
10. “How do you know you don’t like [men/women] if you haven’t tried?”
This is another (mainly unintentional) microaggression that targets LGBTQ+ individuals in that it suggests they’re not capable of certainty without testing it out. Sexual orientation, however, is not like taking a car for a test drive or trying on pairs of jeans. It isn’t about “best fit.” It’s biological, the result of chemical activity in the brain. In reality, being gay is a very poor fit for someone when it results in discrimination, ridicule, or estrangement.
Sexual orientation is a matter of attraction, not something you can turn on and off. Realistically, if that were the case, break ups and divorces would be painless. People would probably stay married if they could choose to remain attracted to their partner. (Divorces are expensive and inconvenient.)
Furthermore, you wouldn’t think to question a straight man about his relationships or encourage him to have sex with at least one man before committing to marriage. So why is it acceptable when someone is gay?
11. “Who’s the man and who’s the woman in the relationship?”
This microaggression 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. When asked in the form of “pitcher vs. catcher,” this microaggression qualifies as sexual harassment.
12. “I never would have known you’re transgender! You’re totally passable as [man/woman].”
Such compliments are microaggressions that target LGBTQ+ individuals unintentionally and are rude and insensitive. You wouldn’t compliment a woman by telling her she’s “passable” as a female.
Also, you don’t know what that person went through to get to where they are today. Such comments devalue that person’s experience in addition to reducing gender to something as simple as physical appearance. Gender identity is more complex.
Furthermore, consider your own thoughts and beliefs about your body, your face, your hair, your features, etc. Have you ever struggled with body image or felt self-conscious about an imperfection? Now, imagine that in addition to those things, you’re also in the wrong body.
Instead of commenting on the legitimacy of someone’s gender expression, compliment on something specific they did well or a personality trait of theirs you admire.
In sum, microaggressions that target LGBTQ+ individuals can be intentional or unintentional (well-meaning, even). Regardless of intent, microaggressions cause harm.
When LGBTQ+ persons are subjected to microaggressions time and time again, it causes long-lasting damage. What’s more, microaggressions that target LGBTQ+ individuals contribute to stigma and bias. They also perpetuate false and hurtful 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 and educating yourself on LGBTQ+ issues. This isn’t a matter of political correctness or religious freedoms, but one of respect.
- 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