Microaggressions and you…nionists

When talking about our gay and bisexual leaders, it’s not just clear-cut homophobia we need to think about. It’s the little side comments and references marking them out as ‘other’ that slowly wear away at folk.

gay-saltire-1000My fellow supporters of Scottish independence

I love you all. Well, most of you. Over half. Definitely at least some of you are mostly basically amazing.

Look what we’ve done!

We just did an awesome thing. *points* Look! We made a government! We’ve delivered an SNP minority government with a nice little gaggle of Scottish Greens making for a majority of ‘Yes’ MSPs (M-Yes-Ps?) in Holyrood. Both parties have increased their vote share and more than that, when you combine voters for the Greens and the SNP, you get over 50% of the popular vote. SNP and Green voters might not all be independence supporters (yet!), but even still, that’s pretty damn cool!

Unfortunately we also now have the Scottish Tories as our second party. They’re pretty sucky. Worse, they’re complicit in all the stuff David Cameron and his sadistic band of Etonian dickweasels are doing to systematically dismantle our whole country and turn it into a festering neoliberal dystopia where public services are run for profit and the poor and vulnerable are hounded literally to death for the unforgivable crime of being poor and vulnerable.

Pretty sure Ruth Davidson is in this tank.

Pretty sure Ruth Davidson is in this tank.

And Scottish Labour… still exists. Just. Kezia Dugdale appears to be hanging onto leadership for now, but the party is a hollowed-out husk. Which is sad in a way, but there you go – it looks like any goodwill generated by the ultimate leadership of noted geography teacher cosplayer Jeremy Corbyn may have been too little, too late for a party seen as betraying Scotland with their participation in the patronising campaign of fear and misinformation that was Better Together.

But that’s another story. Before we go charging together into the bold new future we’ve just created, I’d really like it if we could have a wee chat about a phenomenon called ‘microaggression’.

WTF are microaggressions?

Microagressions are the brief, passing remarks, references and environmental factors that contribute toward making marginalised people feel different from – and implicitly inferior to – the dominant group.

(Originally the term ‘microagression’ was coined specifically in the context of racial discrimination, but it quickly widened to encompass other marginalised groups. I mention this because lots of the terms we use in identity politics, like ‘intersectional’ for example, were originally used by people of colour to talk about race. People of colour frequently blaze the trail for other marginalised groups and often don’t get proper acknowledgement for doing so. But that too is another story.)

So get to the point then

I am here today to talk about microaggressions and the Unionist Gays.

I have no proof that it's NOT Kezia Dugdale on this jet ski. It seems entirely possible.

I have no proof that it’s NOT Kezia Dugdale on this jet ski.

You’ve probably noticed that Scottish politics is kinda super queer right now. Both Ruth Davidson and Kezia Dugdale have female partners. That means that the three biggest parties in Holyrood are two-thirds leztastic (well, to be fair Kez hasn’t actually given herself a label but I like the adjective ‘leztastic’ too much not to use it). Additionally, the Scottish Greens’ co-convenor, Patrick Harvie, is bisexual, and UKIP were considerate enough to provide us with some extra gay in the form of their ‘lead’ (read: ‘only’) representative in Scotland, David Coburn.

Scotland was recently rated the best country in the Europe for LGBTI legal equality. This is about legislation rather than culture, however, and while we have some really amazing rights and protections stitched up for LGBTI+ folk in our wee country, we are still pretty far from an LGBTopia. We still have no out trans representatives in parliament (no doubt due to the fact publicly acceptable aggression toward trans people is way beyond ‘micro’ levels), and Ruth Davidson has received some well-publicised homophobic abuse, most notably resulting in the suspension of an SNP party member. This homophobia was of course roundly damned by basically everyone – including Nicola Sturgeon herself.

But it’s not openly abusive commentary that I’m concerned about, honestly. That’s awful when it happens, but in this day and age cut’n’dried homophobic slurs will almost inevitably result in both widespread condemnation and, where appropriate, punishment or censure.

So what am I concerned about?

What I’m worried about are those ‘micro-inequities’ – the little passing jokes or remarks that, alone, really seem like nothing at all, but taken together build up a picture that marks, others and alienates – slowly, progressively, like boiling a frog.

Here’s one someone was kind enough to provide me with earlier:

ruth-hero-heteroDoesn’t seem so bad, does it? It’s just a play on words – ‘hero’ sounds a little like ‘hetero’, and Ruth Davidson is neither ‘hetro’ (sic), nor, in this lad’s opinion, a hero.

Here’s the thing, though. Why was it that when this guy read ‘hero’, the first thing he thought of was ‘hetero’? Can you imagine someone saying something similar about Nicola Sturgeon: “Hero? Hetero, maybe!” Mentioning that Nic is (we presume) straight in this way wouldn’t be amusing at all, would it – why not?

Oh yeah, because hetero is normal and therefore not worthy of comment. Not something you even think about when you think about Nicola Sturgeon. By contrast, that Ruth Davidson is not heterosexual is not only notable for this commenter, but worthy of singling out, and that’s because it’s something that sets her apart.

That might seem neutral, but ultimately no ‘marked’ characteristic is truly neutral for those who feel the need to make note of it. This commenter said nothing negative about Ruth Davidson’s homosexuality, but the very fact that he singled it out reminds us, in a tiny way, that she is different because she is gay. And difference will always be a target. When there are just one or two comments like this on every post about Ruth Davidson – or Kezia Dugdale, or yeah, David Coburn, a picture emerges: a picture of someone who is Other, who is Not Like Us in this one particular way that isn’t bad – nobody’s saying it’s wrong or unnatural… and yet somehow it’s always worthy of note?

That is what a microaggression is. And its effect is both as incremental and as destructive as water wearing channels through stone. Gay and bisexual folk read comments like that and are momentarily jarred by it – reminded in that moment that they’re not like everyone else. Does it offend? Well, how could it – it’s so benign, right? But it does leave a teeny tiny little mark, every single time, and bit by bit they feel more and more different, less and less like they belong. It all adds up. Do we not owe it to the many LGBTI+ people in our big, beautiful movement to spare them that everyday wallpaper bullshit?

Nicola in space. You KNOW this one's real.

Nicola in space. You KNOW this one’s real.

So please, when you’re having a go at our Unionist leaders over the next few years and you feel the sudden need to make an off-topic reference – even in passing, benignly or in gentle, neutral jest – to their sexual orientation… maybe just don’t?


Morag Hannah is a member of the Scottish Greens, a supporter of independence for Scotland, and a total lesbo.