Like so many other transgender individuals, Shane Henise is no stranger to microaggressions. But rather than continue to passively receive hurtful, ignorant statements daily, Henise decided to take a stand. The GLAAD Trans Media intern recently published a photo series featuring the microaggressions more than a dozen transgender individuals face every day on GLAAD's website — and, in doing so, hopes to raise awareness about just how damaging these phrases are.
Henise, a graduate student at Teachers College of Columbia University, was inspired to create this project based not only on his own academic study of transgender microaggressions, but also his personal experiences with them. Despite the increased media representation of the trans experience in recent years, "many people still lack a complete picture of what it's actually like to be trans," he told Mic. "Often when I am giving presentations or even having discussions with people about being trans, people make comments they believe are in support of my experience, but actually leave me feeling invalidated."
Henise hardly the only one. When discussing what phrases the subjects of this project wanted to feature, he "was very disheartened by what I heard, but not at all surprised" that so many people frequently faced this experience. He hopes this project, therefore, will help people understand the "underlying meanings in some of the phrases that transgender people hear daily" and ultimately address a broader lack of exposure to "a complete picture of what it's actually like to be trans."
This "complete picture," Henise said, includes a number of different microaggressions, though many can be reduced to common themes. For example, trans individuals are often denied "personal body privacy" and "the legitimacy of [their] gender" is frequently questioned.
"Transgender people's genders are generally viewed as less valid than cisgender people's gender," Henise explained. He found this interesting because trans individuals "fight tirelessly" for their gender. "My manhood was a result of hard work, determination, perseverance, and resilience. If anything, that makes it even more legitimate in my eyes," he added.
What's more, research confirms that facing these microaggressions isn't just annoying or insulting, but can have detrimental effects on recipients' mental health and perpetuate broader forms of inequality, according to Derald Wing Sue, author of Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation.
"The burden of constant vigilance drains and saps psychological and spiritual energies of targets and contributes to chronic fatigue and a feeling of racial frustration and anger," Sue wrote in Psychology Today.
Henise believes education is the key to ending this harmful occurrence, a belief that motivated him to specifically create a photo series.
"I wanted this information to be accessible to anyone who wanted to learn," Henise said. Traditional forms of learning — like reading academic articles or attending lectures — require "a certain amount of privilege and access to knowledge," he noted. "It was my hope that in taking a dense and complex concept and turning it into pictures, it would be understandable for anyone looking to expand their knowledge."
Spreading this education will undeniably take time, but Henise has faith in the transgender community's ability to persevere until then. Conducting this project showed him "the full depth of resilience and honesty in my community," he said. "Despite experiencing daily invalidations, transgender people still rise. We are still kind, generous, honest and authentic in the face of adversity."