Microaggressions: What Straight People don't Understand About Being Queer
There's a (relatively dire) LGBT+ section on Netflix, Ireland has a gay prime minister (with some very questionable morals), and 9 times out of 10 you won't get punched in the face for telling someone you aren't straight. So that's it, homophobia is over, we can all live in peace and harmony can't we? Not quite.
Many of us in the queer community are lucky enough to be surrounded by people who accept us for who we are, and because of this, we can sometimes forget how much blatant and violent homophobia is still out there for many (take the Pulse nightclub shooting for example). I assumed when researching statistics of LGBTQ+ attacks that they would have decreased over the years, probably because I live in a privileged bubble of like-minded and accepting people. I was pretty shocked when my research suggested the opposite - LGBT attacks seem to have risen dramatically in the past few years.
Even for those of us who are incredibly lucky and haven’t experienced explicit homophobia, there are still many daily reminders that being queer isn't seen as 'normal' by the majority of people. Of course, the fact that we NEED a separate, smaller, section for ourselves on Netflix is a reminder of this in itself. Microaggressions are very different for all the varying identities of those in the queer community and of course for each individual too so I definitely can’t speak for other people. Microaggressions are nothing new, and this is my experience of microaggressions as a gay woman and what straight people may not realise affects us.
Microaggressions often aren’t done with any malicious intent - some of my most accepting and willing to learn straight friends can accidentally make me feel isolated at times. Some parts of being 'different' you get so used to and bury down so deep that it doesn't bother you - until you're having a bad day, or somebody makes a frustrating comment one time too many and it really wears you down.
What led me to thinking more about the microaggressions we face in the queer community was my recent experience of flat hunting with my girlfriend. Although I dislike myself for it, I'll often use the word 'partner' to describe my girlfriend to avoid potential prejudice (and perhaps even due to some internalised homophobia) - every SINGLE estate agent then assumed this meant boyfriend. Correcting people on their assumptions is so tiring, not necessarily because I'm worried I'll get abuse for it, but because I'm now so fed up of the awkward millisecond, followed by something over-enthusiastic along the lines of "oh no way that's so great!" to compensate. These assumptions have also followed me throughout internships and jobs, and when new colleagues have asked me “do you have a boyfriend?” I’ve immediately felt extremely uncomfortable and nervous (which is not naturally in my extroverted nature at all).
I've only been shouted at with my girlfriend a handful of times, and only by drunk men who yelled such poor attempts at upsetting us that we managed to laugh it off*. What I find far hard on a more regular basis is the extra second spent looking at us when holding hands, or the overwhelming instinct to drop my girlfriend's hand just in case (followed by feelings of guilt) when walking past a group of rowdy men.
Another frustrating feeling is that of being somebody's first close queer friend, as I am either the only queer person or the only lesbian in many of my friendship groups. When I am in groups with primarily straight girls and maybe a couple of gay men, I find that gay men are often the most considered out of the many LGBTQ+ identities when it comes to inclusion and language. However, this is often because they are seen as ‘one of the girls’ or a ‘gay best friend’, which are both pretty problematic viewpoints in themselves.
Being one of very few queer people in a group comes with a strong feeling of pressure to enlighten and educate people, when I often just want to relax and be myself without being the go-to queer encyclopedia. In the wise words of Anne Hathaway, “love, is a human experience, not a political statement” - I don’t want everything discussion about the way I love to be groundbreaking and dramatic, I just want to talk about my life like everybody else.
I especially feel this way when discussing sex, where the majority of straight people see sexual intercourse as the only form of 'sex'. In fact, everybody has their own definition of sex and it's really not as simple as this for the large number of people who don't partake in intercourse. Again, whenever I've had to explain this, I've had nothing but positive responses and open minds, so it's not the fear of a nasty response that gets to me. Instead, it's the exhausting feeling of hearing "oh I hadn't thought of that before" and constantly remembering that people often haven’t taken the time to understand the narrative non-straight people are living.This is not to discourage straight people from asking questions - obviously I am far, far happier when friends are curious and ask things rather than make assumptions or dismiss me when I explain that what they've said isn't true for everyone. This doesn't mean that it isn't still tiring feeling like an outsider, and feeling the constant need to be switched on and educate others.
I admit that I also often feel drained or irritated by behaviours of straight people for potentially unfair and confusing reasons. Recently, I've found myself getting wound up just by hearing big groups of straight girls discussing and enjoying Queer Eye - where's the logic in that?! Although a large part of me wants more queer representation on TV and wants straight people to get used to that, there's also a part of me that finds promoting the idea of having a 'gay best friend' to give you makeovers fetishy. Is it not a bit uncomfortable watching queer men ‘fix’ and support (primarily) straight men, with little support back? Would the show do as well if the Fab 5 included a larger variety of bi or trans identifying men? A part of me thinks people enjoy the show because it’s ‘cute’ seeing masculine, straight men get on so well with queer men. Would a TV show showing a less shiny and perfect idea of being queer, highlighting the struggles we face in queer life gain anywhere near as much popularity as Queer Eye as it is?
I’m going to leave you with a video which describes what I’m complaining about better than I could manage myself. When I was sent this video I just screamed YES because it’s such an accurate and powerful message of homophobia in the current day. And if the video doesn’t prove my point by itself - just read some of the depressing comments and reactions to it. If you want to make a change, learn and better yourself by asking your queer friends how you should discuss topics in an inclusive manner.
* I take it back - on the day I finished this article we got shouted at by two men in a van when innocently walking to the park in the middle of the day. I’d clearly forgotten how angry, violated, and unnerved it makes me feel when suggesting it was such a throwaway experience.
Article by Laura Hely Hutchinson
Social Media Marketing Executive and Freelance Writer