When my wife came out as transgender and I in turn came out with her, people didn’t yell at us on the streets or curse at our family in the stores. There were no huge moments of hate or ugliness. Instead, we were met with something new: not overtly hostile or mean but a strong, steady undercurrent that kept my nerves on edge and my stomach in knots. I was having trouble putting my finger on what I was sensing but I knew something was not right.
Then one morning driving to work with the family in tow, the local radio morning show did a spot on new words being added to dictionaries this year. This kind of filler always peaks my interest as does most useless information. The host was rattling off new popular words like airball, binge-watch, and microaggression.
“Yes,” I yelled at the radio. “This is what we have been talking about: microaggression!”
Finally, I could describe the unwelcome vibe I have been picking up on since we came out.
Mirriam-Webster defines microaggression as “a comment or action that is subtly and often unintentionally hostile or demeaning to a member of a minority or marginalized group.”
During that car ride, a flood of little memory clips overwhelmed my brain like a damn finally broke open.
- The little boy who told me in grade school that he had a crush on me until he realized that I was fat.
- The dozens of times I had been asked to order lunch in a workplace where I was outnumbered by men 10 to 1 and obviously not a secretary.
- The looks my family gets in the grocery store from the men and women giving us the triangular stare and snicker of disapproval.
- The acquaintances that used to chat with me on occasion but now refuse to acknowledge my presence when we are in the same room even after I greet them ‘good morning’.
- The few times other women have referred to my wife’s gender transition as my ‘husband’s phase’.
- The chatty kathy asking everyone but me about their weekend.
- The social shunning I have been receiving on a daily basis.
No, this is not 24/7. Most people we encounter in our lives are encouraging, supporting, and overwhelmingly helpful (especially young women majoring in 20th Century Women’s Studies, We have noticed an overwhelming number of crazy helpful people in this demographic).
Faculty at our daughter’s school are incredibly sweet and supportive. Our pharmacist is super helpful and understanding. Hell, the Starbucks Cashiers are always friendly, especially when they see we are not a ‘traditional’ family. (Is it bad that we visit Starbucks so often that they have their own category of people in my brain? Probably….but what is life without coffee?)
Why do these microaggressions get so deep under my skin and why can’t I let them go?
These attacks are so tiny in their nature that they do not give me the opportunity to defend myself. When someone doesn’t invite me to a party, I can’t call them and tell them to get the F*** over it without being perceived as a total nut. When the woman totally ignores my presence, I don’t feel like it is socially warranted for me to ask her “Why don’t you talk to me? What is your problem?”
If someone said something out loud to me that directly offended me or my family, a direct response from me would be okay. It would give me the opportunity to stand up for us but these cowards meticulously hurt me knowing there is not a damn thing I can do about it.
Michelle says that the best thing we can do is continue to be ourselves and show them that their behavior will not change who we are or the life we lead. We will have to fight for our family everyday for the rest of our lives: sometimes with big gestures but mostly with perseverance. She is correct (like she usually is) but I relish the day someone says something nasty to me. I have about 38 quick, stingy responses to choose from. #fierce
Advocate’s ’24 Microaggressions Endured by LGBT Folks’ by Neal Broverman
BuzzFeed’s ’19 LGBT Microaggressions You Hear on a Daily Basis’ by Heben Nigatu