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By Erin Lewis (they/them)


Image: Netflix Thumbnail

A close friend of mine is pansexual and regularly has to explain her sexuality to people who ask about it in often relatively demeaning tones. As an autistic person, I regularly find that when I mention it to people the first response I get is “Oh, I couldn’t tell” as though I was describing a debilitating physical condition of some kind. These are not the only examples of slights, backhanded compliments or glances that have a certain undertone to them, however if I was to list all of these encounters I or people I knew personally experienced then I would likely have enough anecdotes to fill a hefty novel.

These interactions, as well as a litany of other that are experienced that marginalised people on a daily basis, are microaggressions- those subtle yet harmful slights, insults, and prejudices that queer people, people of colour, disabled people, and those from other marginalised community face in everyday life. Whilst it is a positive that people that are a part of these groups are being more integrated into environments such as the corporate workplace and different sectors of the economy there must also be greater consideration of the rise of microaggressions that these people may encounter in daily life.

This is, of course, not a strong indictment of the people who make these remarks. Oftentimes when people ask a queer couple “which one of you is the man?” or tell a black person that “you aren’t like other black people I know” they are not coming from a place of inherent malice. Maybe I’m being generous but I don’t believe that the people who say that they “couldn’t tell” that I have autism are not doing so because they hold actively negative views towards autistic people. They are operating from a place that underlines a large majority of microaggressions, that a white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied world is the norm and an encounter with anyone who operates outside of these groups is in some way different. Not enough to spark out right hatred or acts of sustained bigotry, but enough that they are almost a foreign presence within this worldview and that there is a level of uncertainty when operating around these people, however low level this uncertainty may be.

However, when discussing the impact of microaggressions it is important the majority of the focus is placed on the people who are a victim of them, rather than attempting to guess the worldview or the intentions of the perpetrator of these acts. In 2020, A National Public Opinion Study from The Center for American Progress found that more than a third of LGBTQ+ Americans faced discrimination of some kind in the past year, a number which rose to two thirds for trans and non-binary people. Whilst there may be a perception that younger queer people have a more accepting world to engage with, this is not entirely the case. In the UK, a study conducted by Stonewall found that one in eight queer people had attempted to take their own life, a number which rises to almost half for trans people. Queer people, and people of all marginalised backgrounds, can be vulnerable and it is certain that many of the microaggressions levelled against them hurt and can add up. As Dr Aaron Malark, a licensed clinical psychologist who specialises in depression, anxiety and LGBTQ issues, states: “so many microaggressions can be unconscious and come from a well-meaning place but are still harmful.”

Of course, when addressing microaggressions, in the workplace or in wider society, it is important to acknowledge that these problems will not be alleviated overnight immediately. However, the greater awareness there is of these microaggressions and the impact that they have on people, the more likely it is that we will begin to combat them in everyday life and help make society more accommodating for marginalised people. It is not the only route necessary for us to achieve a more equitable society but the recognition of the impact of microaggressions and working to erase them is an important step to take in order to aid marginalised people.

Published Online: 2/10/2023

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