Roots of Sexuality-based Microaggressions

It is useful to consider the socio-cultural and historical factors which influence people’s unconscious thinking and behaviour towards queer individuals.

Many of these attitudes are rooted in unconscious misogyny and the stereotypical ideals of ‘maleness’ and ‘femaleness’.  Despite many of these being historical, some still strongly influence the views of individuals and can make them feel entitled to force their opinions on queer people. For example: 

  • Many religions have traditional views of homosexuality that give rise to the idea of it being ‘immoral’.  
  • Medical and psychological disciplines, in the past have given rise to the idea that any sexuality other than heterosexuality is ‘abnormal’, ‘aberrant’ or ‘deviant’, or even a sign they are ‘sick’.    

  • Some academic research has given rise to ideas that people might be ‘confused’,  ‘in a phase’ or mistakenly described as a ‘lifestyle choice’.  

  • Male homosexuality was a criminal offence, subject to life imprisonment in parts of the UK until 1981.  In many countries, male and female homosexuality still incurs a death penalty.  This gives rise to ideas of ‘risk’ and ‘danger'.

  • Homosexuality has been inaccurately linked to paedophilia which gives rise to the idea of being ‘predatory’.  

  • Media portrayals of queer individuals or groups have misrepresented and caricatured them.  This has given rise to stereotypical ideas about appearance, behaviour and culture.  Queer people are presented as ‘objects of pity’, ‘objects of fun’, ‘predatory’ or ‘hypersexual’ and fetishised commodities for the sexual pleasure of heterosexual people.  

  • All of this makes the lived experience of queer people complicated as  they do not know what kinds of ideas might be influencing any person they encounter.  They might therefore be cautious and reserved at first until they feel confident to express themselves freely. University might be a place where many young people can embrace their sexual identity, but equally a place that feel unsafe.  In addition to experiencing queerphobic abuse, some students may also have been disowned by their family or feel that they are at risk if their family knew they are queer.  Therefore, they may be particularly vulnerable to financial pressures and homelessness.  

Quotes from students:


When you receive a lot of weird comments about who you are and who you are is something that you can in any way shape or form hide, it sort of encourages you to hide that and go back in the closet and don't really tell people about these things at all. You start being really careful about how you refer to your partners and what you say to people, sort of self-policing.

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If you go to a [counsellor] to talk about feeling sad and say, I broke up with my partner, they very often want to focus about the same gender nature of that relationship rather than the fact that you had a very sad breakup and you're very upset. 

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The problem with microaggressions and the way queer people are talked about in society as inferior to heterosexuals, is it roots in people’s minds and can develop into bigger things like parents disowning their children because they’re gay.

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I’m a very liberal Catholic, and when [queer] people find out, they can’t imagine how the two things can co-exist, that I’m making life harder for myself, and then many Catholics are very negative towards me, so it feels like they’re each asking me to give up one part of myself and I can’t so it’s really hard to feel supported in both my communities.

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