Microaggressions & What it Means to be Queer

This year, I’ve heard the term “microaggression” more than ever before. I was discussing the topic with a long-time friend of mine and kindred spirit. As a teacher and generally good conversationalist, she has a way of turning my curiosities into questions she can pose back to me. At this time, she asked me whether I have experience with microaggressions since I am bisexual. I thought for a second and responded “no, not really.”

Most of the people I surround myself with know enough about bisexuality by now to not say things like “this is just a pit-stop on the way to being gay” or “it’s not fair that you have twice as many options.”

My experience is certainly colored by the fact that I am “straight-presenting.” I have only had serious relationships with men to date. When I bring up my interest in women, it is by choice. So I often bring it up in situations in which I figure it will be well received, like when a guy friend is talking to me about a “hot babe.”

I am also lucky that certain generalizations that are often misconceptions actually fit me. Society often assumes bisexuals want to engage in group sex or other forms of non-monogamy, which I’m happy to correct. But it doesn’t get under my skin, because I am interested in these things.

Still, when my friend asked me about microaggressions in my life, I did have some come to mind…of a slightly different variety.

Although people in 2020 have seen characters on their TV screens kissing both men and women for some years now, pop culture education on ethical nonmonogamy (ENM) is much newer. (For a show that delves into both at the same time, I highly recommend The Bold Type on Freeform.)

The microaggressions I’m familiar with come from well-intentioned friends trying to understand what I’m saying when I express my desire to be open to multiple sexual partners…forever. Most commonly, I hear, “you might change your mind,” or get the question: “do you think you just feel this way because you haven’t met the one yet?”

I could change my mind. I can’t claim to know what the future will hold. And I will volunteer this. But the very suggestion undermines the validity of my identity. It subtly points out to me that the way I find it most natural to interact with the world is “other,” of which I am already acutely aware.

But how am I supposed to know what to say? This is all new to me. There are so many terms, I can’t keep up.

This sentiment is reasonable. What was once “LGBT” never seems to stop growing with new letters, like “A” for asexual and “N” for non-binary. And still, so many identities and expressions are not captured. I recently heard a joke on a podcast with a serious message to the effect of: “we have no idea what the kids are gonna be coming out as in ten years.”

It can be easy to wonder whether all of the differentiation is necessary. And I hope that one day, it will not be. In my conversation with my friend, I expressed a desire for a world in which there is no coming out, but we simply respect the consensual existences of others without judgement or a need for approval.

But we are not there yet. We are in a place where individuals like myself who are anything other than cisgender, straight, one-penis-for-the-rest-of-forever, “vanilla” sex kind of people look for terms that remind us we are not alone, that help us to find others navigating “otherness” too.

In addition, these terms allow people who don’t have a particular non-traditional experience to do a Google search to learn more about it. It is no one’s fault if something is new to them. But it is their decision if they choose not to learn more.

So when a friend is telling us something about themself that doesn’t jive with our preconceived ideas, let us approach it with a curious mindset. And let us truly listen, not to respond, but to hear what they’re making an effort to tell us. The more we do this, the quicker we’ll get to the ideal world I described.

A few days after talking to my friend, she sent me a tweet quoting bell hooks:

“Damn she so eloquently summed up what we were trying to talk towards,” my friend wrote. Yep; she hit the nail on the head. For me, it has never been as simple as being attracted to people of multiple genders. It has always been about finding my way in a world in which so much of what I am is not the norm.

Since then, I have identified as queer. The term is at the same time less precise and more accurate than any I’ve used before.

For more information on ethical nonmonogamy, check out my Resources page.

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