‘Microaggression’ is a term I learned several years back when I attended a professional development seminar focused on microaggressions experienced by college-aged black men. Not outright, in-your-face discrimination, but the little things that are said or done that result in much subtler discrimination.
It got me thinking about some of the things that gay men, including me, hear from (straight) people that would be best described as microaggressions. Even from my best-intentioned friends who, perhaps, hadn’t thought about how their comment or question would come across by the recipient — sometimes they even think of it as a compliment when, in fact, it’s quite hurtful. And, so, I’ve made a list of some things, 10 of them, that you probably want to avoid saying to your gay friends, family members and/or coworkers.
Let me start by saying that the following list is based on MY personal feelings about things I have heard directed at me. It’s not a compilation from survey results or anything like that. However, I think many gay men would agree that most of these comments are offensive, but perhaps with varying levels of disgust when they hear them. And you might be surprised at how often these things are said to us. Believe me, after five or six times, it gets tiresome.
Okay! I’ll do this in reverse order, from what I would consider the least offensive, leading up to my number one most-despised comment.
#10: “Did you know Tom is gay? You guys would make a great couple.” Similarly, “You’re single? I’m going to find a man for you.”
Match-making? Really? Don’t presume to know what I’m looking for in a man. It’s not like your gay cousin would even be my type (or vice vera, for that matter), so don’t try to hook us up with each other based only on the one thing we have in common. Ew. As well-intentioned as it might be, I don’t need help in finding a boyfriend. If I do, I’ll ask for it.
#9: “Can you help me pick my outfit? I want to look great at a party I’m going to.”
There are all sorts of variations on this theme of asking for fashion advice. For instance, when I was in grad school, SDSU was conducting interviews for a new biology professor. As students, we attended the applicants’ seminars on their research. After one of them, my lab-mates and I were talking over things that we liked about the candidate. Academic stuff, typically. And then one of my peers said something about how the interviewee was dressed: “I thought he had great sense of fashion. Jason, what did you think?” Why are you singling me out?
Now, if you’ve ever seen me in person, you’ll know right off the bat that I have almost zero fashion sense. For crying out loud, I shop at thrift stores. Old Navy, when I’m feeling fancy. Trust me on this one: you don’t want advice about your clothes from me.
#8: “You don’t seem gay.” And along the same lines, “You’re too masculine to be gay.”
You mean, you buy into every stereotype about gay men? We’re not all hairdressers who like disco. (Okay, I’ll admit it: I DO like disco.) There are better ways to say this without stereotyping so blatantly. I think it would be less offensive to say that I “pass” as straight. Or that I’m “stealth”. But even that is a little risky, especially if we’ve just met.
There are effeminate gay men, yes. But, likewise, effeminate hetero men. Most gay men I know are a far cry from the stereotype of a lisping guy who’s light in the loafers.
#7: “I don’t think of you as gay.”
This was actually one that I hadn’t thought much about until it was brought up as one of the microaggressions in the seminar about black men: “I don’t think of you as my black friend.” At first, I didn’t quite understand why or how that would be rude to say. Until I thought about how it felt when people have said that same kind of thing to me.
It’s a little hard to dissect this one, but being gay is a pretty important aspect of my life. It’s not 100% who I am, but makes up or influences many parts of my life — integrated into them, you might say. Ignoring that part of me is dismissive. It’s like you don’t WANT to think about it, which is basically rooted in homophobia.
On the flip side, it’s about as offensive if you refer to me as your, “gay best friend.” That’s a bit too cute-sy — like I’m your pet or something. How about just, your “friend who is gay”? Done.
#6: “So, which one of you is the man? And which is the woman?”
The whole notion that there are man and woman roles in same-sex relationships is WAY outdated. Think prohibition-era, when there were secret gay handshakes and the like. And even back then, I really doubt there were man/woman roles within gay couples. Can’t say because I wasn’t alive then. But think about it, why would I be in a relationship with someone who thought of themself as a woman? The whole point is that I like men.
Similarly: “Are you the top or bottom?” And, yes, perfect strangers have asked me the question in that much more personal way, too. Honestly, that’s none of your freaking business. Buy me a drink and maybe you’ll find out.
#5: “When did you decide to become gay?”
Two word response is all that’s needed here: “I didn’t.”
#4: “How long have you two been roommates?” Or “Your friend seems very nice.”
You mean my boyfriend? Please don’t refer to someone I love (or loved) in this dismissive, belittling way. If I referred to your husband or wife that way, wouldn’t you correct me? God love him, my own father recently said this to me about my ex: “Weren’t you guys roommates for a while?” Uh, no, dad. He was my boyfriend for five years.
Likewise, if/when you meet a male same-sex couple that is married, it’s considerate and appropriate to call them “spouses” or “husbands”. Don’t downgrade their relationship to “boyfriends”. I’d avoid even calling them “partners”, unless they refer to each other that way first.
#3: “That is so gay.”
Oh, how I hate this one. I’ve actually had people defend themselves, when I’ve called them out for saying it, by telling me, “I don’t mean it THAT way.” How else do you mean it? Take the statement and replace the word “gay” with a similar word and what would you come up with? Lame? Stupid? Fucked up? It’s quite offensive to equate the word “gay” with something bad. If something is F’ed up, then just call it that.
This statement is similar to others that you may be familiar with about people being a tightwad. Or cheap. References to two ethnic groups that you would (or at least should) avoid saying in their presence. Or at all! Why? Because it’s SUPER offensive. The term “retarded” should be wiped from your vocabulary, as well. At least in reference to something you don’t like or find ridiculous. “That is so gay” is just like these other offensive phrases. Please. Don’t.
That said, if you come across a rainbow-colored Speedo swimsuit… that is pretty gay.
#2: “I would never wish that on someone.”
Wait. Are you referring to cancer? Or equating being gay as something just as undesirable? Being gay is not a disease that you pray you don’t get. You might not wish a painful death on someone, but hoping gayness away is hurtful.
And now, my very most, absolutely over-the-top, despicable thing that has been said right to my face (on more than one occasion):
#1: “What a waste.”
Jaw-dropping. And said as if it’s a compliment! I don’t think ANYONE would like to be referred to as a waste. Think about that for a second. If someone referred to you as a waste, how would you feel?
You might think it’s meant as a waste because I’m (I guess) depriving females of my dashing good looks? Missing the opportunity to pass my amazing genes on to deserving children? Trust me. The gentlemen who have enjoyed my company would probably disagree with you (or at least I would hope so!)