Sometimes, even our most well-intentioned sentiments can cause unintended harm to trans or gender non-conforming individuals.
One way to describe these moments is using the word "microaggression," described by queer advocacy and watchdog group GLAAD as "subtle verbal or behavioral slights that invalidate a person's identity or experience."
In an effort to educate the public about the nature of microaggressions and the effects they can have on trans and gender non-conforming people, GLAAD launched a photo campaign on Monday to coincide with Transgender Awareness Week.
Created by Shane Henise, GLAAD's Trans Media Intern and a Columbia University graduate student, the photo campaign brings together 15 individuals to share some of the unintentionally hurtful comments they've experienced in their day-to-day lives. Henise is also encouraging other trans and gender-nonconforming people to participate by tweeting a photo of themselves holding a sign displaying a microaggression they've personally experienced with the hashtags #didyoujustsaythat and #transwk.
"Microaggressions shed light on the invalidations that occur daily for transgender people," Henise told The Huffington Post. "While some of these quotes may be well-intentioned, they are not received that way. The literature actually calls microaggressions 'death by a thousand cuts' and has shown microaggressions can be as harmful, if not more harmful, than overt bias."
Check out the photo campaign and an interview with Henise, below.
What was the inspiration for this campaign? Why is it important to raise awareness about microagressions?
My inspiration for the campaign was an academic article I recently published surrounding the experience of transgender microaggressions. Because of increased media coverage about trans issues, many people have a basic understanding about which comments are overtly problematic and offensive. However, microsagressions, which are subtle verbal or behavioral slights that invalidate a person's identity or experience, remain largely unexamined. I wanted to highlight these microaggressions because, while some of these comments are meant to be complimentary or seem like harmless curiosity, they can still feel uncomfortable or alienating to transgender people who receive them.
What can we learn about the day to day lives of trans people by understanding microagressions?
Microaggressions shed light on the invalidations that occur daily for transgender people. While some of these quotes may be well-intentioned, they are not received that way. The literature actually calls microaggressions "death by a thousand cuts" and has shown microaggressions can be as harmful, if not more harmful, than overt bias. This constant "Othering" can be extremely detrimental to people's well-being.
I think also microaggressions help us examine where we may be harboring unexamined bias towards transgender people. Some of the phrases that are intended to be compliments ("You don't look trans!") feel invalidating because the underlying message is essentially that trans people are in some way supposed to look different or be different. Understanding that being trans is an experience that differs greatly from person to person can help us cut back on some of these assumptions.
What do you want people to take away from this campaign?
I am hopeful that people will begin to think about the underlying meanings of common phrases people say to transgender people. I think in finding the implied message that we are sending with certain words or phrases, we can truly understand the impact that they have on others. I hope people see that the transgender community is diverse, and that there so many different experiences among us.
Another insight I want people to take away from the project is that a lot of these statements are offensive because trans people are expected to be willing to educate anyone, anytime, anywhere. I don't think it's necessary to avoid asking questions completely because that won't lead to understanding either. However, moving forward, there needs to be a balance between asking our trans friends to tell us their stories and taking time to educate ourselves. There are many resources online and elsewhere where you can learn about trans people's experiences. Take time to educate yourself before you put the ownership of your education on a transgender person.
Want to see more from the GLAAD campaign? Head here.
Also on HuffPost: