Microaggressions

Microaggressions are a frequent part of Trans people’s lives, along with many other minority and targeted social groups. They are the everyday form of bigotry that falls under the larger banner of oppression. They are like a thousand little cuts. By themselves they are not that pernicious but taken together they can really add up and affect a person adversely. Derald Wing Sue defines the term for us. “Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership. In many cases, these hidden messages may invalidate the group identity or experiential  reality of target persons, demean them on a personal or group level, communicate they are lesser human beings, suggest they do not belong with the majority group, threaten and intimidate, or relegate them to inferior status and treatment.”

In this blog I would like to discuss several examples of anti-trans microaggressions that I have experienced:

  1. “What is your ‘real’ name?” When the person asks this they are asking for the person’s birth name AKA dead name. This is incredibly offensive to trans people since the name we use is our “real” name not our birth name. Also, what is gained when a person learns our birth name? It is just to satisfy some prurient curiosity or worse to put us back into the box associated with our birth gender.
  2. “Have you had THE operation/surgery yet?” This is a very personal and private question. Asking people to disclose personal medical information is always problematic. When it involves the genitals, it is doubly so. It also seems to me that this is another attempt to put us back into a box. Some only will acknowledge a person’s actual gender if they have had the surgery. This is the genitals=gender equation that states that a person’s junk is the most important thing in defining a person’s gender. There are so many important social, cultural and economic issues related to trangenderism that are much more important to talk about. Skip the surgery talk.
  3. “Which bathroom do you use?” This can often be a sore subject. Many trans people, myself included, have faced harassment or abuse in gender-segregated restrooms. One of the most offensive questions relating to my trans-ness I ever faced was by a social work student who asked me if I “pee sitting down or standing up.” The topic of bathroom access for trans people is indeed an important one, but someone’s personal urinary habits are less so. It is important to look at it culturally rather than individually.
  4. “I cannot accept they/them as a singular pronoun.” I use they/them and it is infuriating to me when I hear this, whether from English purists or from people who believe only in the gender binary. While the claim may be about language, I believe it is really about holding on to the gender binary system for dear life. Using they/them forces people to move beyond the he/she dichotomy and that is incredibly important. Even if you haven’t wrapped your head around non-binary people, use what people want as a basic mode or respect. And this goes for correct pronouns usage for all trans people. We are misgendered so often and it really stings, so using the correct pronoun or mode of address can really mean a lot.
  5. Assuming a hegemonic trans narrative. For instance, cis people assuming that every trans person they meet is “trapped in the wrong body.” This really needs to change as it is not how many trans people describe their identity or their experience. For instance, I believe that I am “trapped” in the wrong culture because it does not accept the notion that there are more than two genders and that one’s body can be different from one’s gender identification. I don’t feel “trapped in the wrong body.”

These are just a few but there are many more trans microaggressions, not to mention microaggressions faced by other minority group members. We also must become much more aware of our words and our body language and cognizant of how our actions can harm others, even if there was no intent of ill will.

 

Oppression

Oppression is at the top of the societal chain. It encompasses prejudice, discrimination, microaggressions, bias, hate and bigotry. It contains the word “press” which is significant because oppression is all about pressing people down. Oppression is a system, i.e. it is systemic and across the board. Oppression is an unjust exercise of authority or power in order to harm a particular social group. Oppression does not really operate on the individual level like prejudice does; it is a group benefitting from the oppression of another group. Oppression is subjugation and it is a pattern of control. Oppression is the injurious outcome experienced by targeted social group members due to the cruel and capricious exercise and abuse of power in our society.

Let’s talk more about the outcome. Oppression is unbelievably destructive. I firmly believe that the ultimate destination of oppression is death. As Audre Lorde wrote in her poem “A Litany for Survival”, we [oppressed people] were never meant to survive. In addition to death, oppression affects the living in a myriad of ways. This includes: impoverishment and economic stratification, homelessness, institutional discrimination, lack of education or miseducation, joblessness, employment discrimination, poor or nonexistent health care and minority stress. It is overwhelming when you are impacted by all of these forces of oppression. It is not just one thing coming down on you but multiple things simultaneously crashing down on you and your kin.

The topic of minority stress is incredibly important. Minority stress greatly affects a person’s health primarily due to the accumulation of excess stress. The daily nature of systemic oppression affects a person’s health physically, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually.

According to Wikipedia:

“Minority stress describes chronically high levels of stress faced by members of stigmatized minority groups. It may be caused by a number of factors, including poor social support and low socioeconomic status, but the most well understood causes of minority stress are interpersonal prejudice and discrimination. Indeed, numerous scientific studies have shown that minority individuals experience a high degree of prejudice, which causes stress responses (e.g., high blood pressure, anxiety) that accrue over time, eventually leading to poor mental and physical health. Minority stress theory summarizes these scientific studies to explain how difficult social situations lead to chronic stress and poor health among minority individuals. It is an important concept for psychologists and public health officials who seek to understand and reduce minority health disparities.” [Emphasis mine]

Oppression leads to poor health. This poor health can then lead to an early grave, which returns us back to my point about the ultimate destination of oppression being death of the person. This statement is not hyperbolic. Life expectancy is the ultimate issue for oppressed people. This is why we can never talk about oppression enough. We need to eradicate oppression but in the interim we need to lessen oppression so we can lessen minority stress and improve people’s health in the here and now to increase their life expectancy. It is not just psychologists and public health officials that should seek to reduce minority stress. We should all be attempting to do that in whatever way we can.

I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but I am very convinced I will not live an average life span. I have faced a lot of oppression, stigma and prejudice in my life and I see it shaving years off my life. I already have a constellation of physical health, mental health and economic problems that make my day to day life very stressful. I have seen how oppression has played out in my own life and either outright caused or been a serious factor in the development of mental and physical ailments and chronic health conditions. Oppression is insidious, dangerous, destructive and deadly. We all need to work together to lessen the scourge of oppression in targeted populations. It is not only our health and well-being that depend on it, but our very lives.