Dr. Malark: Another big one is the denial of homophobia and transphobia, with comments like, “Being gay is no big deal,” or “You can come out as trans and it’s safe.” And for a lot of people, they don’t feel safe, and they have experienced homophobia, even in New York City. These comments can feel like your experience is being negated or dismissed. So many microaggressions can be unconscious and come from a well-meaning place but are still harmful.
What about nonverbal or environmental microaggressions?
Dr. Zonana: Bathrooms are a big environmental microaggression. Being told you’re not allowed or don’t belong in a certain bathroom—that’s obviously a big one for the trans community, but it also happens to gay women frequently as well.
Some other examples are people doing double takes in public when they see a nontraditional family or someone dressed a certain way. Even things like shopping for clothes can be distressing. When everything is divided into men’s and women’s sections, it can be uncomfortable to shop.
A lack of representation is often as harmful as misrepresentation. It’s extremely helpful if you are in an environment that has people of all types: gay, straight, trans, black, white. Being able to see yourself represented is important.
Dr. Malark: The lack of representation also extends to things like ads and brochures. Is there a same-sex couple, a trans person represented? If LGBTQ+ people are represented, do they include LGBTQ+ people of color and older LGBTQ+ people?
How can people stand up to microaggressions?
Dr. Zonana: There are multiple approaches. One is from an educational standpoint. For example, when I’m with my son and I’m asked, “Who’s the father?” I’ll say something like, “Actually, my son has two moms.”
If you’re comfortable, you can be more direct. If a colleague is using the wrong pronouns about someone you work with, learn to be direct and say, “Actually, this person uses these pronouns, and it’s important for us to use them as well.”
On a systemic level, it’s important to advocate within one’s workplace on how to help educate and improve policies to create a more culturally inclusive environment. On an individual level, educate yourself about what microaggressions exist for different communities. Learn how to ask respectful questions. Try not to avoid difficult topics, but rather discover how to engage in them.
Dr. Malark: The first thing is to validate how stressful responding to microaggressions can feel and recognize that you have to make the decision that feels right for you in the moment. For those who do feel comfortable, it can be as simple as correcting the question, “Do you have a wife?” with, “I’ve been with my boyfriend for three years.” You could also have a more in-depth conversation about why that’s an offensive question and suggest how it could be asked differently, like “Do you have a partner?” So you can educate the person. For too long, we’ve relied on LGBTQ+ folks to speak up. Everyone needs to join in.