We all know what aggression looks like. When it comes to the LGBTQ community, aggression often takes the form of hate crimes, such as the recent horror in Orlando or the almost systematic murders of trans women of color.
Microaggressions are exactly as they sound, subtle — often unconscious — comments or actions that are offensive if not outright damaging.
Since LGBTQ people are used to picking our battles, it's likely we won't mention these when they happen, and some may not even care to. I don't speak for the whole community, but here are some statements my queer friends and I have complained about on more than one occasion ... that we would really appreciate never hearing again.
(Note: I am not trans, so I enlisted the help of Sam Stephens, a dear friend of ours, to address microaggressions from the trans experience.)
1. "You look so gay/you're acting so gay." When you say this, you're saying, "Right now you're exhibiting stereotypical traits of your sexual identity, and that is worthy of ridicule." This statement makes it seem like we are an "acceptable" gay because we do not exhibit these traits very often. When we do, we are no longer acceptable, but something to be mocked. It hurts us and it hurts our community. LGBTQ people exist who do fit stereotypes, but they don't deserve your scorn any more than your gay-but-not-too-gay friend does. — AS
2. "So which one of you is the woman and which is the man?" Funny thing about same-sex relationships: They're same-sex. And yet, everyone is a little bit of both and neither. There's no such thing as gender, not really, and who "wears the pants" in the relationship can change moment-to-moment depending on your definition of what that means. Because the idea of gendered relationship roles is so pervasive, many of us spend years trying to figure out where we fall in those two categories, believing them to be valid. In the end, this question is so archaic and ignorant that it doesn't really deserve much more than "Don't say it. Thanks." — AS
3. "You must be sisters. Cousins then? Roommates?" Please, don't assume anything about a person or a couple, especially if you're just meeting them. I am very close to my wife. We tease each other, we laugh and we touch casually. But the mental gymnastics that people go through to believe that we aren't lesbians is almost comical to watch, until it happens all the time. If you see two people who appear to be the same gender and are obviously close, even if you're sure they're siblings, just keep that to yourself. Instead try saying, "You two look like you're having fun!" or literally anything else. — AS
4. "Why are there so many 'gays' and 'transgenders' on TV?" I love this one. Not because I actually love it, but because I love statistics — 11 percent of characters on TV from 1979 to 2016 have been LGBTQ, according to LGBT Viewers Deserve Better, and if you've watched any of those shows you know that many characters are stereotyped to hell. Not to mention the fact that TV writers love killing us. As of May 2016, 40 percent of LGBTQ TV characters had already been killed off. So, by all means, complain about the one gay character in your favorite show. Odds are they'll be dead by the end of the year anyway. — AS
5. "You don't look trans at all." Or "You look like a real guy/girl!" This is usually said with wide eyes and a smile. The general demeanor says that you're very proud to tell me this. It isn't a compliment. I appreciate your intentions, but it implies that I'm not beautiful or worth as much if I don't visibly conform to gender norms. It's like telling me, "You're so normal for a trans person!" Or "I love that you look a way that makes me comfortable." The second statement is much worse. While I love the implication that I'm not "real," it gets a little old after the first syllable is uttered. I am a real guy. I was especially a real guy before I had a double mastectomy, and I was still a real guy before I went on masculinizing hormones. — SS
6. "So what all have you had done?" This never stops, and also never makes sense. In what world is it OK to ask me what surgeries I've had and what my body looks like? "Have you had vaginal rejuvenation, Mrs. Robinson? Are those boobs real?" Yes, it's that bad. — SS
7. "But you were such a cute girl/boy!" Well, surprisingly, my gender has nothing to do with how attractive I am, or what another person thinks. I didn't choose my gender, and I certainly have no plans of being someone other than myself in order to be more attractive. We are beautiful after we transition. We are beautiful at all points along the process. We have chosen to undergo a very difficult process that often involves alienating many friends and family. We walk this path for ourselves. — SS
8. "You confuse me." You're confusing me right now, as I wonder why you think I care. When someone tells you who they are, what pronouns they prefer and what name they go by, it's not very confusing. That's who they are. They're not asking you to weigh in. Trans folks usually spend a very long and difficult time struggling with the confusion of who they are, and many of us don't make it out of high school. Our confusion has a very real impact. Yours is simply ignorant. — SS
9. "You can't possibly be offended by that." Actually I can. It is never your place to tell someone when it is appropriate to be offended, especially if you have never shared their experiences. If our offense annoys you, consider why. Is it because you don't want to change your behavior? Is it because your other queer friend isn't offended by it and we should all have the same standards and opinions? Either of these explanations is weak. Listen, we don't think you're a bad person for saying offensive things, because you probably didn't know, and it's all right. We just ask that you listen to us and respect us when we ask you to stop. — AS