There’s nothing “micro” about a microaggression. At least that’s what Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How to Be an Anti-Racist has taught me recently—one of the many things it’s taught me, that is.
This idea of racist micro aggressions as “racist abuse,” as he calls it, can be extrapolated to the LGBTQ community, too. Homophobic micro aggressions are not micro, in any nature. They are subtle forms of abuse, preserving the heteronormative narrative meanwhile isolating and excluding LGBTQ persons.
If you’ve found yourself guilty of saying, thinking, or perpetuating any of the following abusive and homophobic rhetoric, it’s okay. We’ve all been there (even LGBTQ persons), and it’s due to the fact that we are raised in a homophobic and transphobic society that has built a heteronormative and cisgendered narrative over the course of centuries. There’s great power in acknowledging your own homophobia or transphobia–because it exists in all of us–and once we recognize it, we can make the choice to change.
Have you ever caught yourself saying or thinking any of these things?
“That’s not developmentally appropriate.”
This is one of the most common forms of homophobic or transphobic abuse. By claiming that teaching about LGBTQ folx is “developmentally inappropriate,” adults give themselves an out, saying that they’re putting kids first. In reality, they’re putting themselves and their own comfort first.
The reality is that most adults are perfectly comfortable pushing a heterosexual narrative by reading romantic fairy tales to kids or talking about their opposite-gender spouses. The claim that LGBTQ inclusion is “developmentally inappropriate” is simply indicative of an over-sexualization of the LGBTQ community and a passive and palatable sexualization of the heterosexual and/or cisgender communities.
“Stop pushing your personal agendas.”
I heard this one for the first time when trying to teach about marriage equality in my first job. My straight colleague and I tried to teach about marriage equality because it has recently been legalized in late 2013. He came to me with the idea (and I am grateful for him doing so to this day) of sharing the news with the kids and having them talk about it. We put together some resources, notified some parents, and within 12 hours, received a scathing e-mail from our principal, followed up by an equally scathing in-person meeting.
“Paul, the classroom is not the place for your personal agendas,” she told me.
It was my personal agenda, because I was the gay person in the room. Months later, she sent the superintendent to me to have a conversation–a conversation I later learned was to see if I had “learned my lesson” since the incident months prior.
“It sounds like you’re taking this really personally,” said the superintendent.
“Well, you’re telling me I can’t talk about people like me in school,” I replied. “I can’t help but take that personally.”
I left that year, never looked back, and never heard an apology from them, despite a grievance and several public articles about the incident.
“It’s not my place to teach kids about that.”
This is yet another way for adults to relieve themselves of the responsibility of bringing the LGBTQ community into the classroom. As teachers, our job is advocate for our students–all of them.
No matter what age you teach, the probability of there being a child who will, one day (if not already), identify within the LGBTQ community is exceptionally high. And every subconscious and conscious choice we make to exclude them is yet another abuse against that child who will one day need to find the courage to come out.
It is our place to teach. Full stop. To teach means to immerse children in the basic literacies of the world, so that they can become functioning citizens. They cannot do so without understanding the bountiful diversity of people out there, and this includes the LGBTQ community.
When you sign up to teach, you sign up to teach it all–not just the things that make you comfortable.
“They is not grammatically correct.”
You’ll notice that a lot of these microaggressions or abuses reside in an adult’s willingness to do whatever it takes to relieve them of the responsibility of teaching about topics that make them uncomfortable. Their straightness or cisgendered-ness allows them to do that with minimal consequences. There are so many out there willing to preserve the heteronormative and cisgender narrative, that they are willing to find anything to give themselves an out.
The truth is, we didn’t need Merriam-Webster to add this to the dictionary for it to already be grammatically acceptable. There is even some microaggressive abuse in only using that as an argument–as if a transgender, non-binary, or gender fluid person’s request isn’t enough. Using a singular “they” has been a part of our spoken vernacular for a long time now–for as long as I can remember. It was only in school that I was told it was “grammatically incorrect.”
“Stop putting ideas in their heads.”
This one’s always a hard one for me to really pin down, but luckily the weird world of Twitter helped me with this recently. One tweeter said:
“As the mother of a 3.5 year old I can tell you my son has identified as boy, a girl, a dog, Batman (but pretending to be black panther). They are just learning the schema of the world – role playing and figuring it out. The world is what we tell them.”
“I don’t quite understand your line of reasoning — have you told him to identify as Batman… or a dog? It would seem that your son is thinking for himself and finding things in the world with which to identify all on his own.”
The fact is that this is yet another way for adults to sidestep the conversation about gender identity or sexual orientation at young ages. If we don’t talk about it, they won’t get any ideas–or so many think. I can tell you from experience that I received far more messages from far more adults telling me not to be gay. And, well, we all know how this story ends. It didn’t work. I’m still gay, despite the fact that the world is “telling” me to be otherwise.
It is through examples like this that we can observe the true nature of a “micro” aggression: it is a subtle message intended to keep you working within the confines of a discriminatory system. While there is nothing “micro” about it, these messages do often go undetected. Perhaps that is how they’ve earned their nomenclature. But just as we’ve all observed a ripple in a pond, we know that microaggressive abuses are far-reaching, spreading until an opposing force acts upon it.
We must all be those opposing forces. When we see LGBTQ microaggressions, we must be brave enough to call them out, to push back, and challenge our friends to look in the mirror. We must do this through empathetic accountability, by asking lots of questions, and by helping everyone understand the systems in which they’re situated and how those have contributed to their biased viewpoints.
We must do this through engaging in the conversation. And I hope next time you see it–that’s exactly what you do.