“That’s so gay”

"That's so gay." It's a phrase commonly used by teens and young adults to describe something undesirable or stupid. It may not be intended as a homophobic slur, but it is experienced by many in the LGBTQ+ community--including young people--as a microaggression.

What is a microaggression? According to Derald Wing Sue, Ph. D., microaggressions are the "constant and continuing reality of slights, insults, invalidations and indignities visited upon marginalized groups by well-intentioned, moral and decent family members, friends, neighbors, coworkers, students, teachers, clerks, waiters and waitresses, employers, health care professionals and educators" (Sue 2010).

Dr. Sue provides some common examples of microaggressions experienced by members of the LGBTQ+ community:

  • “A young person uses the term 'gay' to describe a movie that she didn't like. (Hidden message: Being gay is associated with negative and undesirable characteristics.)”
  • “A lesbian client in therapy reluctantly discloses her sexual orientation to a straight therapist by stating she is ‘into women.’ The therapist indicates he is not shocked by the disclosure because he once had a client who was ‘into dogs.’ (Hidden message: Same-sex attraction is abnormal and deviant.)”
  • “Two gay men hold hands in public and are told not to flaunt their sexuality. (Hidden message: Same-sex displays of affection are abnormal and offensive. Keep it private and to yourselves.)”

Microaggressions and other forms of harassment can have real psychological consequences. For instance, they have been linked to high rates of suicidal thoughts among gay and transgender teens.

Featured Content

In this 2018 article published in Psychology Today, Dr. Joe Kort, PhD, explores the emotional harm inflicted by the commonly-used phrase, “That’s so gay.”

“That’s So Gay” Is Just So Wrong


Kort, Joe (2018, March 5). ‘That’s so Gay’ Is Just so Wrong. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/understanding-the-erotic-code/201803/thats-so-gay-is-just-so...

Sue, Derald Wing (2010, November 17). Microaggressions: More Than Just Race. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/microaggressions-in-everyday-life/201011/microaggressions-mo...

Wadley, Jared (2012: August 28). Sticks and Stones: ‘That’s so Gay’ Negatively Affects Gay Students. University of Michigan News. https://news.umich.edu/sticks-and-stones-that-s-so-gay-negatively-affects-gay-students/

Gender Identity Gender identity icon Our core sense of who we are as a man, a woman, a mixture of both, or neither.

Gender Expression Gender expression icon How we show up in the world through choices like clothing, hair style, mannerisms or tone of voice.

Attraction attraction icon How we feel toward others sexually, romantically and/or emotionally.

Biological Sex Biological sex icon Physical attributes such as reproductive organs and genitalia, chromosomes, genes and hormone levels.

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