Have you heard of gay microaggressions or microaggressions towards gay men and the wider lgbtq + community? You may not be able to recognize that exact word or phrases, but I am willing to bet that at some point, you have been a victim of this (whether you identify as a member of the lgbtq + community or not), but especially if you are a gay person.
If you are wondering what gay microaggressions are, the best way to describe them is as follows: the thinly veiled insults that people like to throw out there intentionally to harm or even unintentionally to supposedly ‘help’. Lgbtq + microaggressions are the snubs, slight insults, and ignorant comments (whether intended or not) that can leave a gay man or lgbtq + person feeling hurt, as well as activate gay shame.
Yes, sometimes gay microaggressions can be unintentional, but unfortunately, they are also frequently intentional. You can almost, almost (but not quite in the year 2022) excuse a microaggression when it doesn’t come from a place of malice but rather from misinformation.
But the consequence, regardless of the motivation is still damaging. When a gay person is the subject of gay microaggressions repeatedly, it often causes gay trauma.
Unfortunately, it is nearly a universally shared experience to hear microaggressions towards lgbtq + people. Let’s go over the different types of gay microaggressions that gay men often face, before we can talk about dealing with this frustrating experience.
1. Assumptions About Who You Are In Relationship With
This isn’t a gay microaggression that (usually) comes from a mean-spirited place, but rather, more from assumptions that people have and project on to others. If you are a gay man, how often have you been introduced to someone or begin talking to a new person and they hit you with, “So do you have a girlfriend?” or “Where’s your wife?”
Is it coming from a bad place? Probably not. But nevertheless, it’s a damaging heterosexist assumption that people make, that someone (everyone) is straight. This is the very definition of heterosexual privilege. Unless you’re wearing a shirt that says “Hey! I’m gay!” (I say this in the most lighthearted way, fyi.)
And by the way, this is one of the very reasons that pride is still super relevant and important – to allow people to be gay in public, in a safe and communal manner.
It is common for people to make the assumption that you are straight. But it still stings. The message behind assuming that everyone is straight is one of pretending that gay people don’t exist. Imagine if someone acted as if whatever your background is, that you and the groups you identify didn’t exist. How would you feel?
2. “Being gay is a lifestyle” “It’s a choice.”
I could make a whole post on this one. There isn’t much about this that is thinly veiled. It’s rooted in decades upon decades of the idea that someone chooses to be gay. Nobody says anything like this to straight people, so why is this done to gay people?
3. “Being gay is your sexual preference”
Relatedly, there is the other all too common and related microaggression of when someone is trying (hopefully) to be respectful and says, “Being gay is your sexual preference”. There is no ‘preferred’ in being born gay. And being gay is not primary sexual either. The respectful terms are romantic identity / romantic orientation. If one must use the word sexual, then the better and less aggressive terms are sexual identity or sexual orientation.
And this is also why states / countries which are passing archaic laws to prevent gay people from sharing their lives in an open and respected manner are causing untold trauma towards lgbtq + people. It isn’t a choice. It isn’t a lifestyle. Being gay is like having brown eyes. It is simply a part of the beautiful diversity of human beings.
4. The absolutely invasive questions
Asking questions about a gay person’s sexuality is a gay microaggression. You don’t hear of straight people being asked super invasive questions about their personal or sexual lives. You’ll rarely hear them being questioned about their sexual desires in bed or intimate details into their life with a partner.
Straight people also don’t have to hear things like, “when did you first know you were straight?” or, “were you always straight”?
These questions and comments can come from straight people and lgbtq + people. But in either case, it doesn’t make it right. Nobody should feel they have the right to access and ask for this type of information. Period.
5. The Gay Stereotypes
Gay people are stereotyped like no other. Stereotyping is a form of gay microaggression that hurts people. When you are a gay man, because of the way the media portrays us, we are forced by society into this little shoebox.
A shoebox that says, “I’m gay! Obviously I loove shopping!” Or the expectations that we are this bubbly, type person who is going to be their best friend and say “Yasss girl,” with a little hand flick (not that there is anything wrong with any of this if it is natural for someone BUT assuming there is just one way of being gay is offensive).
Get real. We are human beings too. Some of us just want to chill in our sweatpants and t-shirts like anyone else, to feel safe, and respected for being human, and beautiful just as we are.
6. Thinking Our Preferences In Men Are Just A Phase Or Something That Can Be “Turned.”
This comes from all over. From family, “Oh honey you just haven’t found the right woman yet.” From those failed relationships with the opposite sex that didn’t end well, so you started obviously “playing” for the other team. As if it was a switch.
Or comments like, “but if you are gay you will never be able to have a family or raise children”. Up until very recently, (and still in many places remains true) gay people couldn’t get married and when a gay person wanted to have a wedding, they were told, “gay men can’t get married” or “God made Adam and Eve, but not Adam and Steve”.
7. Using the phrase, “That’s so gay” to mean something derogatory.
Imagine for a moment, whatever your name is, that during your school years and as an adult when walking through a park, you heard people say, Oh, That’s so ‘Enter Your Name’. How would you feel if your name were being used as an insult? Now imagine if other aspects of your identity were also being used as an insult. And imagine these words being said in a condescending manner, followed by people laughing in a group.
Would you feel safe? Would you feel valued? Would you like it? No, and gay people don’t deserve this either. This can be a double microaggression too. What I mean by this is that first the phrase is uttered and people laugh. But then after this, there is a silence where the vast majority of the time, noone says anything. It is a really cruel thing and it needs to stop.
This is unfortunately only the tip of the gay microaggression iceberg. You can see many more examples of gay and lgbtq + microaggressions by clicking the link to the advocate article on this. In a future post, we’ll look at how to overcome gay microaggressions.
I’m a therapist. But I’m also a gay man. I know firsthand how hurtful gay microaggressions can be. Therapy for gay men can help you overcome these issues. If you are looking for support from a gay therapist, who is also a gay life coach, please reach out to my Honolulu or London clinic for a test drive session to learn more how gay therapy can help you.
I am a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in the USA and an Accredited CBT Therapist in the UK with over 16 years of experience. I specialize in therapy for gay men and anxiety. I have also received advanced specialist training in using Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Compassion Focused Therapy which are highly effective therapies because they don’t take years to begin working.