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Am I being sensitive?


Research suggests that individuals within the LGBTQIA+ community are more likely to experience challenges with their mental health when compared to individuals who do not identify at LGBTQIA+. The Minority Stress Model helps to explain why these differences exist, and suggests that at least part of these differences can be accounted for by increased exposure to stressors faced by the LGBTQIA+ community. These stressors typically refer to chronic strains within the social environment, including experiences of overt discrimination, harassment, victimisation, prejudice, and bias. Exposure to these can result in individuals changing how they think and behave. For example, exposure to discrimination can contribute to feelings of shame and lead to people believing they will be rejected for their sexual orientation or gender identity making them more likely to hide it.

Despite advancements in both legal protections and societal attitudes in Australia, research indicates that queer individuals continue to contend with minority stress, especially in the form of microaggressions. These subtle, yet impactful forms of discrimination can be intentional or unintentional, intentions aside, they are harmful and often compound over time. Microaggressions often perpetuate heterosexist attitudes and gender norms and can be colloquially conceptualised as any event/comment/behaviour that chips away at a person’s wellbeing whilst simultaneously making them ask – am I being too sensitive?

Some examples of microaggressions are:

  • People inappropriately staring when they see a same-sex couple or person dressing a certain way in public
  • People being made to feel that they do not belong in certain spaces (especially prevalent for trans and non-binary people)
  • People making assumptions regarding the gender of a person’s partner (e.g., assuming that when a man refers to his ‘partner’ he is referring to a cisgender woman).
  • People intentionally using incorrect pronouns despite being aware of a persons correct pronouns
  • People asking a queer person how they have sex or implying that two people of the same gender cannot have sex

It’s not a one-size-fits-all situation though. The Minority Stress Model reminds us that LGBTQIA+ people come from diverse backgrounds with intersecting identities. Factors such as ethnicity, gender, ability, and socioeconomic status all play a role in shaping someone’s experiences. This means individuals possessing multiple stigmatised identities, such as sexual minority women, may face unique stressors at the intersection of their sexual orientation and gender identity (e.g., being fetishized). The Minority Stress Model also sheds light on the nuanced experiences of bisexual individuals, who often encounter distinct challenges and marginalisation within both LGBTQIA+ and heterosexual communities.

By acknowledging, validating, and mitigating these unique stressors faced by members of the LGBTQIA+ community, we can better foster environments that promote inclusivity for all individuals, irrespective of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Sophie Glynn
Q Psychology