Rethinking microaggressions and anti-social behaviour against LGBTIQ+ youth

James A. Roffee (Department of Criminology, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia)
Andrea Waling (School of Psychology and Public Health, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, Melbourne, Australia)

Safer Communities

ISSN: 1757-8043

Publication date: 10 October 2016

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to further the understanding of experiences of anti-social behaviour in LGBTIQ+ youth in university settings.

Design/methodology/approach

The discussion reflects on qualitative interviews with LGBTIQ+ young people studying at university (n=16) exploring their experiences of anti-social behaviour including harassment, bullying and victimisation in tertiary settings.

Findings

The findings demonstrate that attention should be paid to the complex nature of anti-social behaviour. In particular, LGBTIQ+ youth documented experiences of microaggressions perpetrated by other members of the LGBTIQ+ community. Using the taxonomy of anti-social behaviour against LGBTIQ+ people developed by Nadal et al. (2010, 2011), the authors build on literature that understands microaggressions against LGBTIQ+ people as a result of heterosexism, to address previously unexplored microaggressions perpetrated by other LGBTIQ+ people.

Research limitations/implications

Future research could seek a larger sample of participants from a range of universities, as campus climate may influence the experiences and microaggressions perpetrated.

Practical implications

Individuals within the LGBTIQ+ community also perpetrate microaggressions against LGBTIQ+ people, including individuals with the same sexual orientation and gender identity as the victim. Those seeking to respond to microaggressions need to attune their attention to this source of anti-social behaviour.

Originality/value

Previous research has focused on microaggressions and hate crimes perpetrated by non-LGBTIQ+ individuals. This research indicates the existence of microaggressions perpetrated by LGBTIQ+ community members against other LGBTIQ+ persons. The theoretical taxonomy of sexual orientation and transgender microaggressions is expanded to address LGBTIQ+ perpetrated anti-social behaviour.

Keywords

Citation

Roffee, J. and Waling, A. (2016), "Rethinking microaggressions and anti-social behaviour against LGBTIQ+ youth", Safer Communities, Vol. 15 No. 4, pp. 190-201. https://doi.org/10.1108/SC-02-2016-0004

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Publisher

:

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


Introduction

The existence of homophobic violence, and hate crime perpetrated against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ+)[1] people worldwide, by heterosexual people, is well documented. It includes gay bashing (Lunny, 2012), homicides (Tomsen, 2002), sexual assault (Krahé et al., 2000), physical violence (Grossman et al., 2009) vandalism of property (Oggins, 2007) and verbal assault (Savin-Williams, 1994). Discrimination, state aggression towards, and ostracisation of LGBTIQ+ people, includes barred access to social and health services (Jackson et al., 2008); citizenship rights (Brandzel, 2005), and community involvement, blood donation and marriage (Berner, 2011). Acts against LGBTIQ+ people can comprise hate crimes and hate incidents, with the former being “any hate incident, which constitutes a criminal offence, perceived by the victim or any other person as being motivated by prejudice or hate”, and the latter being “any incident, which may or may not constitute a criminal offence, which is perceived by the victim or any other person as being motivated by prejudice or hate” (Home Office Police Standards Unit and Officers Association of Chief Police Officers, 2005, p. 9 cited in Dick, 2009). Similar acts can also comprise microaggressions, which are defined as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioural, and environmental indignities whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative […] slights and insults to the target person[s] or group” (Sue et al., 2007b, p. 273). These anti-social behaviours directed at LGBTIQ+ people create a climate that is both hostile and unwelcoming, contributing towards feelings of unsafety.

In the Australian context, anti-social behaviour as a phenomenon requiring specific criminal justice response, has not gained the level of traction seen in the UK. While the term is not unused, its use across jurisdictions and by federal government agencies has become associated with behaviour perpetrated by people in adolescence (McAtamney and Morgan, 2009; Smart et al., 2004; Vassallo et al., 2002). The terms bullying and anti-social behaviour are regularly used in the educational context (Department of Education and Training (DET), 2014), and in relation to the systemic need to tackle behaviours by young people that result in negative impacts on others. Although not directed at adolescents, the term is also used regularly in the context of tenancy requirements and neighbourly behaviour, and is defined as behaviour that is “aggressive, threatening, verbally abusive or hostile towards neighbours” (Department of Human Services (DHS), 2014).

Armitage (2002) recognised a number of benefits in using a localised definition of anti-social behaviour. Within Western Australia, the Police (WA Police, 2009, p. 2) define it as “behaviour that disturbs, annoys or interferes with a person’s ability to go about their business”. Despite a number of attempts to provide working definitions as cited by Millie (2009), much like the term “bullying”, it remains a slippery concept (p. 16). While during the conceptualisation stage of the project we did not opt to define anti-social behaviours, we recognised that they comprised, but were not limited to, behaviours found within the Australian Institute of Criminology summary paper on anti-social behaviour in 2009 (McAtamney and Morgan, 2009). Such anti-social acts “directed at people”, included:

  • bullying;

  • people being insulted, pestered or intimidated;

  • aggressive threatening or obscene language and behaviour;

  • aggression or hostility towards minority groups; and

  • disputes between neighbours (McAtamney and Morgan, 2009, p. 2).

It is against this background that we conducted this research concerning anti-social behaviour against LGBTIQ+ persons in Victoria.

It should be noted that we intended to explore harassment, bullying and violence experienced by LGBTIQ+ youth in university settings, paralleling studies done in the USA (see Jayakumar, 2009). We did not seek to investigate a particular group of perpetrators; instead we sought to identify behaviours directed at LGBTIQ+ people that could be categorised as harassment, bullying and violence. During the research we found that alongside reports of homophobic harassment and violence perpetrated by non-LGBTIQ+ persons, many students also reported experiences of anti-social behaviour directed at them from other LGBTIQ+ students. While experiences of anti-social behaviour and microaggressions are common for LGBTIQ+ persons when perpetrated by others outside of the community (i.e. by heterosexual and cisgendered[2] persons), there is a dearth of research exploring microaggressions committed between members of the LGBTIQ+ community. In this paper we investigate anti-social behaviour towards LGBTIQ+ youths perpetrated by other members of the LGBTIQ+ community. We build on Nadal et al.’s. (2010) taxonomy concerning microaggressions against LGBTIQ+ individuals to uncover what they look like when perpetuated by other members within the community. The behaviours we detail, although not traditionally seen from an anti-social behaviour approach, share a number of similarities to anti-social behaviours directed at people and that are interpersonal in nature (see Millie, 2009; McAtamney and Morgan, 2009). We draw from a pilot study of 16 qualitative interviews with LGBTIQ+ university students, applying and altering Nadal’s taxonomy of microaggressions to incidents perpetrated by those within the LGBTIQ+ community. Themes include assumption of knowledge and language politics, rejection of homonormative cultures and behaviours, hypersexualisation and exoticisation, assumption of universal LGBTIQ+ experience, discomfort/disapproval of personal experiences, and the denial of the reality of heterosexism in community narratives. Within this paper we seek to illustrate the plurality of sources and forms of anti-social behaviour that have, as yet, been unexplored in academic literature. We begin with a review of literature on microaggressions and LGBTIQ+ communities, followed by a discussion of our methods. Using examples from our interviews, we consider the above themes to further develop a working taxonomy of LGBTIQ+ perpetrated microaggressions.

LGBTIQ+ people and microaggressions

Research involving LGBTIQ+ youth in tertiary settings suggests that they commonly experience behaviour causing harassment, alarm and/or distress (Jayakumar, 2009; Tetreault et al., 2013; Oswalt and Wyatt, 2011). Impacts of victimisation can be significant, with research suggesting that not only do students refrain from reporting incidents (Grossman et al., 2009), they have lower self-esteem (Kosciw et al., 2013; Pearson et al., 2007), lower academic outcomes and higher levels of unexcused absence (Robinson and Espelage, 2011), engagement with substance abuse (Grossman et al., 2009) and are at risk of suicidal thoughts and attempts (Grossman and D’Augelli, 2007; Peter and Taylor, 2014; Scourfield et al., 2008). Additionally they report the active avoidance of spaces perceived to be unsafe, such as bathrooms, grounds and locker rooms (Kosciw et al., 2012; Taylor and Peter, 2011).

Originally applied to racially motivated incidents by Pierce et al. (1978) and Sue et al. (2007b), the concept of microaggressions has been used to indicate how “subtle forms of discrimination, may potentially play a huge role in the bullying that occurs” (Nadal and Griffin, 2011, p. 4) towards people with protected characteristics including race, gender, age or sexual orientation. The literature on microaggressions details three subcategories, defined as microassaults, microinsults and microinvalidations. Microassaults are an “explicit […] derogation characterised primarily by a verbal or non-verbal attack meant to hurt the intended victim through name-calling, avoidant behaviour, or purposeful discriminatory actions” (Sue et al., 2007b, p. 274). Microinsults are behavioural or verbal remarks representing “subtle snubs, frequently unknown to the perpetrator, but clearly convey[ing] a hidden insulting message to the recipient” (Sue et al., 2007b, p. 274). Microinvalidations are “characterised by communications that exclude, negate, or nullify the psychological thoughts, feelings or experiential reality of a person” (Sue et al., 2007b, p. 274). They have been applied to a wide range of conduct including racially motivated acts (Sue et al., 2007a; Wang et al., 2011) and those directed at people with disabilities (Keller and Galgay, 2010), on the basis of gender (Capodilupo et al., 2010) and towards religious minorities (Nadal et al., 2012). The literature concerning microaggressions and the LGBTIQ+ community has focused on heterosexual perpetrators (see Nadal et al., 2011; Woodford et al., 2013), and towards particular sections of the community, including bisexual (Bostwick and Hequembourg, 2014) and trans people (Newhouse, 2013). Intersectional perspectives have also been used to understand microaggressions against LGBT people of colour (Balsam et al., 2011) and the intersections of gender and race (Lewis and Neville, 2015).

In exploring LGBTIQ+ experiences more specifically, Nadal et al. (2010) proposed a typology of seven themes concerning narratives of microaggressions perpetuated by the heterosexual community. These include:

  1. use of heterosexist terminology;

  2. endorsement of heteronormative culture/behaviours;

  3. assumption of universal LGBT experience;

  4. exoticisation;

  5. discomfort/disapproval of LGBT experience;

  6. denial of the reality of heterosexism; and

  7. assumption of sexual pathology/abnormality.

These were supplemented by an eighth theme, threatening behaviours, in later work by Nadal et al. (2011). However, such taxonomy is unable to capture the complexity of the experiences of microaggressions and anti-social behaviour perpetrated by those from within, as opposed to outside, the community. Research exploring intra-community experiences of harassment and violence have focused on isolation, marginalisation (Fassinger and Arseneau, 2007), exclusion (Weiss, 2003) and invisibility (McLean, 2007). However, anti-social behaviour in the form of microaggressions and resulting impacts has largely been neglected. At present, there is no taxonomy to be utilised as an analytic tool to explore and understand how microaggressive anti-social behaviour is perpetrated between members of LGBTIQ+ community.

Methods

The data considered here are drawn from 16 interviews conducted with students who identify with the LGBTIQ+ marker (see Better and Simula, 2015; Beasley et al., 2015). After receiving ethics approval we advertised for undergraduate students that identified with the marker to participate in the research. Recruitment occurred through physical posters placed in various locations at the university’s two largest campuses, announcements made in lectures, and online through staff profile pages, the university LGBTIQ+ network, and the Student Association’s Queer Department. The latter forwarded the advertisement to their mailing list, and our e-mail signatures carried details. We secured interviews with 16 participants from a total of 26 who indicated interest in the project; the remainder either did not meet the eligibility criteria or subsequently declined to participate. Participants were asked to complete a brief demographic survey. Most students who participated identified as having female sexed bodies (63 per cent). Gender identity was defined as woman (50 per cent), man (25 per cent), non-binary trans (13 per cent), agender and bicurious (6 per cent). Participants were aged between 20 and 25 and detailed a range of gender presentations including masculine (19 per cent), feminine (38 per cent), non-binary, fluctuating, androgynous or complex. Sexual orientation was varied; students identified as gay (19 per cent), lesbian (13 per cent), bisexual (19 per cent), pansexual (13 per cent), queer (19 per cent), queer/bisexual (6 per cent), pansexual/queer (6 per cent) and bicurious (6 per cent). Participants also took part in a semi-structured interview that was recorded and covered a range of topics, including experiences of studying at university, explorations of how their gender and sexuality impacted their university life and any experiences of harassment, bullying and victimisation. In-person interviews lasted between 36 and 82 minutes, and took place either at the office of the interviewer, in a campus café, or a meeting room. All interviews were transcribed, coded and analysed using grounded theory: the process of developing categories and codes as the researchers immerse themselves in the data. This allows for the emergence of new insights and themes, rather than using a predetermined coding schedule (Strauss and Corbin, 1994). All identifying information has been anonymised.

Anti-social behaviour on campus

Anti-social behaviour and crimes detailed by the participants ranged from incidents of sexual assault and physical violence, to verbal assault and less overt forms of exclusion. While the literature on microaggressions against LGBTIQ+ people focuses on microaggressions perpetrated by heterosexual people as a result of heterosexism, the interviews in this study indicated a perpetrator profile that does not match this normative expectation. The participants identified perpetrators (fitting within the LGBTIQ+ marker) committing sexual assaults, physical violence and verbal assault. In addition, the participants reported experiencing anti-social behaviour in the form of microaggressions. It is important to note that we are not suggesting that members of the LGBTIQ+ community had the knowledge or intention to commit such acts in a way that emulated incidents from non-LGBTIQ+ perpetrators. While we do not have data on the intentions behind the acts, many of the victims detail microaggressions that appear unintentional. Rather, we seek to highlight that acts of anti-social behaviour linked to a victim’s identity not only result from acts of persons from outside of the community, expand our knowledge of types of anti-social behaviour directed at people, to include microaggressions, and use Nadal et al.’s. (2010) taxonomy to contrast and develop the types of acts identified.

Table I outlines our taxonomy building on Nadal et al.’s. (2010, 2011) work. In the following section we detail our development of the typology to include anti-social behaviour perpetrated by LGBTIQ+ people. As we detail our taxonomy, it is important to note that many experiences are not exclusive to a single category. Rather, many incidents could fall within a number of the typology themes presented below. However, we have illustrated conceptually how each theme differs, or parallels, that of Nadal et al.’s (2010) original taxonomy.

Assumption of knowledge and language politics

The first theme within in the original taxonomy is the use of heterosexist language that acts to undermine and exclude those whose gendered, sexed and sexual identities do not conform to normative expectations, such as the insistence on opposite-sex/gender romantic pairings. While the participants indicated, unlike in the original taxonomy, that the perpetrators did not use heterosexist language, the victims indicated that perpetrators expected the LGBTIQ+ victim to have particular knowledge and use particular language. Our participants indicated they were chastised for not having the knowledge to use appropriate terminology, and reported confusion, uneasiness and frustration when they used a term or phrase the perpetrator deemed inappropriate. They also suggested that microaggressors assumed that victims had access to, and knowledge of, appropriate terminology when identifying as queer and engaging with the community:

There’s so much diversity depth in [location 1], there’s more of a community of queer people in [location 1]. And I think it’s more based on education and exclusivity instead of, like, pulling up some of those problematic [use of words] and shocking [those who made mistakes], as it is in [location 2]. I think [in location 2] it’s somewhat easier for us to be trans [in location 2], and therefore they don’t learn the same [way], they think that everyone should be born with this kind of education and don’t really leave much […] for people to learn (Leslie).

The problem that I also felt […] is much more about someone being […] isolated […] for being problematic because they did not know what pronoun to use with this other [trans] person and then […] like […] they fought because of it or whatever […].

Interviewer: Even if they had made like a mistake […]?

Yeah and […] people get mad all the time, “did you know this person was like this” and like “they said this horrid thing” and “they did not even know the proper way to refer [to trans people] when telling a group of people […]”. I was like, that person has never met [an]other trans [person] before […] give them a f*****g break […] It is like being really aggressively isolating and not educating [other people when they make mistakes] (Leslie).

As Leslie highlighted, the LGBTIQ+ victim’s lack of knowledge resulted in microaggressions directed towards them including being accused of and labelled as homo/trans/bi/queer-phobic. The participants indicated that the victims might not have been equipped with same level of language or knowledge as the perpetrator and the use of language and display of lack of knowledge became a precipitator for LGBTIQ+ perpetrated anti-social behaviour.

Rejection of homonormative culture/behaviours

While Nadal et al. (2011) found an endorsement of heteronormative culture/behaviours when LGBTIQ+ people are expected to be or act like heterosexuals; participants in the current study did not detail such microaggressons. Rather, they reported microaggressions based on an expected rejection of homonormative culture/behaviours. Homonormativity is understood as the adoption into gay culture of heterosexist values and beliefs, such as the valuing of monogamy, procreation and binary gender roles (Duggan, 2003). Embedded within such beliefs is the idea of identity presentation, where LGBTIQ+ individuals engaging in homonormative (mainstream) culture are accused of attempting to “look” straight in their choice of physical presentation and dress (Duggan, 2003). The process of “queering” one’s identity presentation may involve the use of avant garde, colourful and gender-bending clothing, accessories and grooming (Duggan, 2003), alongside a rejection of anything presumed to be too aligned with mainstream homonormative culture. Participants detailed being victims of microaggressions concerning the perception of mainstream presentation and identity, and described perpetrators’ expectations on them to engage in a rejection of homonormative culture/behaviours that resulted in feelings of isolation, distress and alienation:

I present quite-feminine and I don’t get read as LGBTIQ+. I actually experience the opposite where I feel invisible and somewhat unwelcome within the queer community due to my mainstream appearance (Terry).

I think because my presentation is I mean not significantly different from the way that a lot of straight women present. I don’t think I’m registered to other people as being part of the queer community and even when I’m in a queer space I think sometimes it’s sort of like oh yeah but you’re also sort of like the lowest scale type of queer person like I feel like there are almost degrees it’s like hierarchies of queerness (Carrie).

Participants detailed feelings of needing to meet a particular set of criteria to be accepted within LGBTIQ+ spaces. While victims did not talk of an overt policing of identity, dress or space, they noted microinvalidations that made them feel that they did not match the perceived requirements, and as such felt unable to frequent the space, and thus reduced their engagement. While Nadal et al. (2010) found participants reported microinsults and it being necessary to “act straight”, the participants in the current study felt a need to act, not heteronormative, but less homonormative and more queer, in order to be accepted into LGBTIQ+ designated spaces.

Hypersexualisation and exoticisation

Nadal et al. (2010) suggested that LGBTIQ+ people experience exoticisation when they are dehumanised or treated like a sexual object. Narratives concerning the hypersexualised nature of the LGBTIQ+ and particularly gay community are common and seen within private (media and advertising (Grace, 2004)), and public spheres (judicial decision making to further equality (Danay, 2005)). Some sections of the community, for example bisexual people, report feeling hypersexualised and a commodification of their identities concerning the “exotic” nature of their sexuality (Monro, 2015; Barker et al., 2008). Accounts of LGBTIQ+ people sexually objectifying other members of the community with differing races and ethnicities have been well documented (Teunis, 2007; Han, 2007). Our participants reported experiences of hypersexualisation and exoticisation:

Mostly in the gay community, I don’t know […] broadly speaking, if you’re not deemed to be sexually attractive, they just disregard you as a person (Eric).

I sometimes feel like there’s a kind of like underlying sexual interest and sometimes I’m not really after that. I would kind of just like to connect with somebody else who’s queer without this kind of sexual aspect coming into the discussion […] it can be really isolating and alienating because I personally would like to have a bit more of a companionship with somebody. I mean I’m not looking for like a deep and meaningful soulmate, per se, but it would just be nice to have that kind of friendship with other queer people and sometimes I find it really hard to understand why it automatically has to be about sex. Why can’t it just be about friendship? I’m not attracted to every guy out there, you know? (Andrew).

The participants expressed concern around the hypersexualisation and exoticisation of their identities by other community members. Eric discusses experiences of microinvalidation on the basis of his sexual desirability and Andrew details microinvalidations when other gay men dismiss his desire for something other than a sexual relationship. Thus, similar to the impact of microaggressions perpetrated by heterosexual people, these types of microaggressions have a dehumanising and objectifying character.

Assumption of universal LGBTIQ+ experience

The assumption of a universal LGBTIQ+ experience is described by Nadal et al. (2010) as the belief that all LGBTIQ+ people have the same experiences. The use of such stereotypes acts to invalidate individual and personal experiences, and while not deliberate assaults, they occur as microinvalidations and microinsults. This theme was found in the current study, and participants detailed microinvalidations where their experiences were not valued or rendered significant. In one example, a participant recounted a gathering where members of the community shared personal experiences of coming out with other members of the group:

You sit around and you talk about your story, and my friend had a fantastic coming out experience, like, he has never experienced anything negative, besides random comments from people. But they [other members of the group] didn’t [want to listen to his good experience] and you talk about your story, and my friend had a fantastic coming out experience, like […] they spend so much time on the negative, that I just, kind of find, it’s a little bit of an environment that’s not very positive (Ryan).

As Ryan discusses, this positive experience of coming out was regarded as insignificant when compared to narratives of difficulties with disclosure. Such microinvalidations of positive experiences act to ostracise individuals with alternative or different experiences, as well as silence others. These microinvalidations act to perpetuate particular narratives as shared experiences that become both a cause and consequence for the belief in a universal LGBTIQ+ experience.

Discomfort/disapproval of personal experience

Discomfort and disapproval was identified as a theme by Nadal et al. (2010), and concerned instances where heterosexuals displayed disapproval towards different sexual orientations. Such microaggressions can be subtle or explicit, and direct or indirect. Within the current study, the participants detailed incidents of discomfort and disapproval, both towards other members as part of the LGBTIQ+ community, and towards individuals on the basis of personal experience. For example, a participant who identified as non-binary trans experienced high levels of discrimination and verbal abuse:

I’ve had a lot of problems with a couple of different people that were binary trans people and both at _____ and outside of______. One of them in particular, when I worked at the ____, they were a student, who I supported and who I tried to help and had assisted going to conferences and all this stuff, was really nasty about my identity. I don’t know, it’s like a strange common thing that’s happened to me where people don’t understand someone being a non-binary trans person and they make up to their own line about what you are. For example, this person said all these things about my identity and life that I’d never said. It’s hard to explain. Basically, they said that I did identify as a man, and then I decided I wasn’t anymore; all this stuff that I’ve never actually said or thought or identified at all […] They’d sent me a lot of abusive messages and I just ignored them (Jordan).

Jordan gestures towards discomfort and disapproval from other members of the community as a non-binary trans person and highlights harassment from other members of the LGBTIQ+ community concerning their trans identity. The explicit and overt nature of this microassault was intended to emotionally hurt the victim and invalidates Jordan’s experience.

Some bisexual participants noted microinvalidations directed towards their lived experience. Studies suggest bi-erasure occurs from self-identified heterosexual, lesbian and gay people, leading to feelings of alienation, isolation, invisibility and marginalisation within the bisexual community (Yoshino, 2000; Greenesmith, 2010; McLean, 2007). The participants detailed similar experiences and disapproval from other members of the community:

I was hanging with a girl in first or second year I met through French [class] and [we] hang out quite a bit. She was very like […] openly gay and also a lesbian woman and I sort of I was like, “Oh, I’m bisexual.” And she passed some comment […] like […] “Oh […] why can’t like […] bi-people just decide.” And I was like […] “Oh. Okay”. (Jennifer).

This engagement is both a microinsult, and a microinvalidation, of Jennifer’s experience as bisexual and the disapproval of Jennifer’s “indecision” could also be read as an assumption of a universal experience by the lesbian microaggressor.

Denial of the reality of heterosexism in community narratives

Nadal et al. (2011) analyse the theme of the denial of the reality of heterosexism, as the denial of heterosexist or homophobic experiences actually occurring and denial of their impact. It is closely linked to both the assumption of the universality of LGBTIQ+ experience and the theme concerning discomfort/disapproval. Many participants spoke about interactions with other LGBTIQ+ members where differences in queer political ideologies resulted in experiences of anti-social behaviour and harassment. These engagements indicate unwillingness by some perpetrators to accept alterative viewpoints concerning the diverse and sometimes conflicting experiences of sex, gender and sexuality. Participants detailed a continued denial of heterosexism embedded within particular queer political ideologies:

I disagree a lot with the trans movement […] What they say is, I’ve tried to get into discussions with them where I say to them “Okay, your understanding of woman is based on a bunch of stereotypes,” and they’ll say, “No, it’s not.” Then I’ll ask them what a woman is, and there are a lot of stereotypes basically. They say woman are nurturing, sweet, blah, blah, blah […] And I want to say, “No, that’s not what it is.” So that’s how a disagreement works. I haven’t disagreed with them on campus because I feel that’s a potentially unsafe area for a lot of people, but I also don’t want to claim that transphobia is not a problem or tolerate people just marking the movement with no intellectual basis from a reactionary perspective […] There’s this pro-trans website devoted to outing people who they see as political opponents. I got listed there, not because of something I said about the trans movement but because of some other issues. I think I was challenging cultural relativism. They mentioned me on their website and said, “We’re gonna try to figure out who this person is.” I guess from their perspective, they were trying to protect themselves from me. But in fact they had found out who I was, [and it] sort of lead to me being attacked or whatever (Carly).

Carly’s identification of heterosexism (the reliance on gendered stereotypes concerning what it means to be a woman) within that discussion, and the refusal to acknowledge Carly’s viewpoint, highlights how the denial of heterosexism functions within the community. The resulting consequence of being listed as an opponent on a pro-trans website led to Carly experiencing harassment and distress. While we are unable to ascertain the perpetrators’ motivations for listing Carly on the website, it resulted in verbal attacks on the victim. Although this incident includes an invalidation of perspective, the associated labelling as an “opponent” is an explicit derogation; as such the incident can be classified as a microassault.

Anti-social behaviour and LGBTIQ+ microaggressions: concluding remarks

The attention given to addressing examples of heterosexist anti-social behaviour towards the LGBTIQ+ community is to be welcomed. This contribution is cautious to avoid further pathologizing the community or fuelling arguments of those opposing LGBTIQ+ equality. Through failing to recognise and identify microaggressions perpetrated by LGBTIQ+ people against other community members, we ignore a source of anti-social behaviour. As such, we need to supplement our understandings of anti-social behaviour directed towards LGBTIQ+ members to include microaggressions perpetrated by those within the community. While this research did not set out to assess the impact of the anti-social behaviour, it was clear from the participants that it had significant effects on them in the conduct of their daily lives. The microaggressions detailed here meet definitions of anti-social behaviour, as “behaviour that disturbs, annoys or interferes with a person’s ability to go about their business” (WA Police, 2009, p. 2). However, participants also indicated that microaggressions can be both intentionally and unintentionally effectuated between community members. Those seeking to tackle anti-social behaviour against LGBTIQ+ people should be aware of the multiple forms through which such behaviour can manifest. Using the taxonomy of anti-social behaviour against LGBTIQ+ persons developed by Nadal et al. (2010, 2011), we have been able to recognise a number of differences and similarities when attuning attention to intra-community incidents. We see that LGBTIQ+ perpetrators commit different types of microaggressions when compared to those perpetrated by heterosexual people. As such, this paper has sought to expand the conversation regarding the multiple sources of anti-social behaviour towards LGBTIQ+ people through its development of a working taxonomy of LGBTIQ+ perpetuated microaggressions.

The current research did not look for the reasons behind the perpetration of the microaggressions, and the study indicates merit in further investigation of LGBTIQ+ perpetrators of microaggressions. The project when conceptualised, did not intend to focus on the identity of the perpetrator but on the types of conduct constituting and causing harassment, bullying and victimisation. Shelton and Delgado-Romero (2013) suggest that the greatest harm comes when messages are transmitted from those who hold power to those who are disempowered. While cautious to avoid fuelling stereotypes of community dysfunction, victims within the current cohort also detail examples of significant impact and harm resulting from microaggressions from other LGBTIQ+ community members. As seen within our typology, some of these microaggressions against other community members reproduce hetrosexist attitudes. While there is no space in this paper to address the participants’ responses to such microaggressions, overwhelmingly, participants felt unable to seek help to counter such anti-social behaviour. Participants detailed negative reactions to the microaggressions and indicated avoidant behaviour. Leaving such microaggressions unchallenged, risks cementing the view to perpetrators that this behaviour is acceptable and permissible. From a practical perspective, and to begin addressing such unwanted activity, informing individuals of the impacts of their actions, and in particular, the similarities in the incidents’ impacts and effects to that of homophobic violence and victimisation is a start. In addition, practitioners should recognise that anti-social behaviour directed at the LGBTIQ+ community (and other marginalised communities) is not always carried out by people from outside of the community. While we did not seek to interview perpetrators, it is highly likely that the LGBTIQ+ perpetrators of such anti-social behaviour have been victims of homophobic violence (through their membership of a marginalised community); it is also likely that they are unaware of the significance of the microinvalidations and microinsults they generate to members of their community. When responding to such anti-social behaviour, we must take into account the broader systemic inequalities as perpetrated by a heteronormative society. This is not to say that the incident is to be treated as any less serious or damaging to the victim, however, it may alter the modes and methods of responding. We must attune ourselves to the need to recognise difference and to remember that when responding to such anti-social behaviours, much like the communities to be assisted, the expectation of a one-size-fits-all approach, is unlikely to work well.

Comparison of LGBTIQ+ microaggression taxonomies

Theme
Nadal et al. (2011) heterosexist microaggressions LGBTIQ+ intra-community microaggressions
1. Use of heterosexist terminology 1. Assumption of knowledge and language politics
2. Endorsement of heteronormative culture/behaviours 2. Rejection of homonormative culture/behaviours
3. Assumption of universal LGBT experience 3. Assumption of universal LGBTIQ+ experience

4. Exoticization 4. Hypersexualisation and exoticization
5. Discomfort/disapproval of LGBT experience 5. Discomfort/disapproval of personal experience
6. Denial of the reality of heterosexism 6. Denial of the reality of heterosexism in community narratives
7. Assumption of sexual pathology/abnormality na*
8. Threatening behaviour na*

Note: *The current study did not reflect these last two themes, however, further research in this area may serve to illustrate differences or similarities

Notes

1.

For the remainder of this paper, we will use “community” in place of LGBTIQ+ where appropriate. The use of ‘+’ acts to recognise lived experiences that do not fall within the LGBTIQ acronym, including asexuality and pansexuality.

2.

Cisgendered is a term introduced by Serano (2007) used to describe persons whose sexed body is congruent with their gender identity (i.e. person with a male body and identifies as a man).

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Corresponding author

James A. Roffee can be contacted at: james.roffee@monash.edu

About the authors

James A. Roffee is a Lecturer at the Department of Criminology, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.

Andrea Waling is a Research Officer at the School of Psychology and Public Health, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, Melbourne, Australia.