An in-depth interview with Dr. Kevin Nadal on LGBTQ issues



That's So Gay!

“Ryan is a 32-year-old gay, White, Jewish American man who has been working as a college administrator…he sometimes feels uncomfortable with the types of homophobic language and behaviors that he notices in the office.
Sometimes coworkers will say things like “That’s so gay” when talking about something that is embarrassing or appalling. Other times, coworkers will assume that Ryan is heterosexual and ask him whether he has a girlfriend or if they can set him up on a date with their female friend or family member.

Ryan is upset with the entire situation and decides that he wants to address this issue. He schedules an appointment with the provost of the university (a white heterosexual woman)… When talking to the provost, Ryan is told that he ‘shouldn’t let things like that bother him’ and that he ‘should try not to be so sensitive.’”

-Example of a microaggression from That’s So Gay!, by Kevin Nadal

By now, many of you might have heard the term ‘microaggression’, but you might not know exactly what is meant by it, or what the big deal is- I mean, it has the word “micro” in it, how bad can it be?

And many times, some words feel like a part of our vocabulary and their discriminatory origin is often not thought about. Growing up in Brooklyn in the 1990s, words like ‘gypped’ and ‘retarded’ (which, I accidentally said the other day when referring to my poor iPhone skills!), became a part of my vernacular, a part that I am not proud of, but try to be aware of.

And why do I do this? Why should we care? Well… who likes being negatively stereotyped?!

More importantly, while some microaggressions can seem innocent enough (and maybe some are even said without a malicious intent), research continues to show that they have a negative impact on mental health, general healthcare accessibility, and overall wellbeing.

To further examine the impact of microaggressions, was lucky enough to have a sit down with psychologist, activist, author, and microaggression researcher, Dr. Kevin Nadal. Kevin talks to us about the impact of microaggressions, his own research, and The Center for LGBTQ Studies, located right here in NYC!

Microaggressions are subtle forms of discrimination towards people of any background, but particularly towards people of historically oppressed backgrounds so: people of color, LGBTQ people, women, people of different religious minority groups, and so forth. Microaggressions are often unconscious and unintentional; meaning that people don’t even realize they’re doing them or they do realize they are doing them, but they might not understand the impact that they have on people

What are some of the common microaggressions that are experienced by the LGBT community?

Some common microaggressions regarding LGBTQ people are: language, so people saying things like “That’s so gay” or using homophobic language very casually so usually if somebody were to say “that’s so gay” or “no homo” or even “faggot”, a lot of times people will say, “No no no, I’m not saying that you’re gay, I’m saying that you’re weak” or that “you’re feminine” or something that’s supposed to connote something negative. So even though their intention wasn’t to hurt somebody or to be homophobic, the language in itself is homophobic.

The assumption of heteronormativity or the endorsement of heteronormativity; so these are instances in which people either presume that somebody is heterosexual or should be acting more heterosexual or gender conforming. For example, telling someone that they’re acting “too gay” or “too femme,” to men, or for women, telling them that “you need to wear a dress” or “you need to wear make-up” or “be less masculine and more effeminate”.

These can also manifest through behaviors:

If you are less gender conforming or if you are less heteronormative, people look at you in a certain way or exclude you or make you to feel isolated and so forth.
For LGBTQ people, there are also just assumptions of stereotypes in general. People assume that all gay men are supposed to be a certain way, that all lesbians are supposed to be a certain way; saying that somebody can’t be a lesbian because she’s too pretty or she’s too femme or saying that somebody couldn’t be a gay male because he’s too masculine.

And for transgender people, there are a lot of specific types of microaggressions, a lot of them focusing primarily on promoting gender conformity. So, for example, telling a transgender person that they’re pathological in some way, that their identity is not valid, people using words like “abnormal” when talking about transgender people. Or even people who use transphobic slurs, so saying things like “tranny” or “she-male”.
…Some of the subtle things are when transgender people get stared at; people might act differently towards them, they might avoid them, they might make fun of them, talk about them in front of them- which is a common microaggression transgender people experience.
Transgender people, often times, are just isolated altogether. People don’t hire them for jobs; people don’t serve them in stores; people stereotype them to be criminal or dangerous or sex workers.

And all these have effects on mental health as well?

Research finds that the cumulative effect of microaggressions is that they have an affect on multiple outcomes including mental health outcomes, so people who experience microaggressions also are more likely to report things like depression, low self esteem issues, and anxiety, and even symptoms of trauma. People that experience more microaggressions are also likely to experience physical health issues, so they might experience things like fatigue and pain.…Microaggressions have also been linked to things like binge-drinking, eating disorders.
We see just overall, there’s a negative impact of microaggressions on people’s lives.

Microaggressions also occur within the LGBTQ community as well:

Within the LGBTQ community, there can be lots of microaggressions as well, I think particularly because the LGBTQ community is so diverse and large and that there are so many different identities that encapsulate the LGBTQ community that there are so many opportunities for there to be microaggressions. For example, between the L, the G, the B, and the T, there could be lots of microaggressions. Bisexuals report microaggressions in which lesbians or gay men might exclude them, say that they’re not really bisexual, deny their identity, or deny their bisexuality.
Lesbians report being microaggressed by bisexuals; stereotypes about lesbians from bisexuals, that are often made, affect how bisexuals might treat lesbians.

[Also] cisgender people, so people who identify with their birth sex, often microaggress against transgender people so particularly gay men and transgender people in general; gay men tend to make a lot of jokes about transgender people. There are a lot of stereotypes about transgender people and lots of transphobic language that tends to be used.

Just general microaggressions between LGBTQ women and LGBTQ men; stereotypes between the two groups, that gay men have of lesbian, bi, and queer women and that queer women have of gay men or queer men.

And then lots of other microaggressions that are due to intersectional identities; racial microaggressions are rampant in the LGBTQ community. A lot of times LGBTQ folks believe that because they experience marginalization in one way, they’re immune from being racist or sexist or homophobic or that sort of thing, but in reality lots of LGBTQ people of color experience microaggressions from White LGBT people. Able bodied LGBT people might microaggress against people with disabilities who also identify as LGBTQ. There’s just a range of within group microaggressions that might occur.

What do you think people should do/start doing and what’s the message that they should take away from being aware of microaggressions?

I think that the idea of being aware is probably the first step in addressing the issue of microaggressions. I think that people need to be aware of their behaviors, their language, how their interactions with others might impact them, particularly if you are interacting with people who have less power and less privilege and might be more marginalized in society than you are.

I think it’s ok to, or it’s human and natural, to microaggress from time to time. I think it’s just a matter of recognizing it, addressing it, apologizing when you might commit a microaggression and validating the person’s experience, because the whole point of it isn’t to police people’s words or tell somebody that they’re wrong or they’re a bad person, but rather that understanding microaggressions helps us more to understand each other, which then can lead to more communication, more effective relationships, more intimate relationships, and just more of an understanding of people’s lived experiences. So I think that it’s important for people to talk about microaggressions, to admit when they commit microaggressions, to be non-defensive if somebody challenges you or calls you out on a microaggression.
And then really just to educate others on the whole phenomenon. For me personally, I think that with adults, it might be very difficult to change how people think and how they feel, but I do think that if we start teaching younger people, particularly children and teenagers about accepting each other, about using inclusive language and words, that we can minimize the types of microaggressions that can occur in the future.

In many ways, microaggressions are a sign of how far we haven’t come as a society, but advocates and researchers like Kevin Nadal have been working hard to change that. That’s So Gay! Microaggressions and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community by Kevin Nadal, can be purchased here.

It “covers all the different microaggressions that can occur toward and within the LGBTQ community, so microaggressions based on sexual orientation, based on gender identity, as well as some of these intersectional microaggressions that may occur as a result of more than one of a person’s identities”.

Kevin Nadal is also the Executive Director of CLAGS (Center of LGBTQ Studies) and speaks with us about this organization as well:

CLAGS is the oldest University-based LGBTQ research center in the world. CLAGS is housed at the CUNY Graduate Center and is entering it’s 24th year as an organization, we were established in 1991. CLAGS does everything to promote LGBTQ studies and educating people about the lived experiences of LGBTQ people. We do that through scholarship opportunities where we support researchers and artists who do work promoting LGBTQ experiences. We also have conferences throughout the year.

This year, we have three conferences: one is an LGBT Scholars of Color Conference in April, for people who identify as scholars, researchers, evaluators who identify as both LGBTQ and as people of color. We also have the LGBT Health Conference in May, where people will talk about the current state of LGBT health and health disparities. And then we also have the Queers and Comics Conference, which is focusing on LGBTQ presence in the comic industry.

We also have weekly programming throughout the semester covering a range of topics, bringing in speakers from all over New York and from all over the country. This semester, we’re focusing on lots of different topics including experiences of people with disabilities, experiences of aging for LGBTQ people, we have experiences of international LGBTQ people.

In June, we are bringing Janet Mock to the graduate center, so on June 1st, NY Times best selling author, Janet Mock will be speaking about some of her experiences as a transgender woman of color.

CLAGS offers many scholarships, “ranging from graduate student awards to people who do transgender specific research to people who create films and photography.”
The conferences and speaker events are all open to the public, just register in advance and this can be done via the CLAGS website.

Did you know that Kevin Nadal is also a performer?!:

Do you still do comedy shows?

Yeah, I did comedy from the late 90s up until probably 2008/9 was the last time I’ve done a formal comedy show. I think part of it was that I love being in front of people and I love being on stage. It was a way for me to express myself particularly as a younger person, and somebody who was going through graduate school. When i graduated, I started focusing more of my attention on my academic career and doing research and that sort of thing, so comedy kind of fell by the wayside.
It’s still something that I enjoy doing, it’s just not something I genuinely have time for as much, but yes, I used to do a lot of comedy. I think, in the future, I might revisit, but I think right now, I try to integrate comedy into everything that I do, so I hope that my students will tell you that my classes tend to be funny sometimes or anytime I give keynote lectures and speeches, that I can integrate comedy into that as well.

Has it ever been problematic to juggle so many hats, you know academia, being people’s former hottest bachelor…?

I think it’s as difficult as you want to make it. I think life is difficult in general, for everybody. And I think that some people have a very difficult time balancing things. I think, for me, I just have learned over time to not take life so seriously and as a result of that, I feel better able to handle things. While I do get as stressed as the next person does, I try not to let stress rule my life and so, because of that, I feel like I’m able to juggle multiple identities and wear multiple hats at any given moment.

I forgot what famous person said this, but somebody said, “Beyonce has just as many hours in a day as you do,” and I love that, because I think it’s true. I think if you are able to just balance everything, that you have good time management skills, that you’re able to commit to things that you’re most passionate about, and you’re realistic about things as well, I think you can accomplish as much as you can. Obviously Beyonce has a huge team that helps her and I don’t necessarily, but I think just the concept of managing your life and balancing your life can lead, for anybody, to be successful and productive in any field.

Dr. Kevin Leo Yabut Nadal is a psychologist, performer, activist, and author, who received his doctorate in counseling psychology from Columbia University in New York City. He is the Executive Director of The Center for LGBTQ Studies (CLAGS) at the CUNY Graduate Center, as well as an Associate Professor of psychology at both John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Graduate Center.

Dr. Nadal is currently working on several research projects examining LGBTQ identity and intersectional identities, as well as looking at LGBTQ experiences within the criminal justice system. He is also publishing the Encyclopedia of Psychology and Gender that will be coming out in 2017.

Written by Julia Shulman

Julia Shulman

Julia Shulman is a reporter for covering everything from world news to nightlife events. She also runs her own psychology and wellness blog that you can check out at

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