Friday, March 06, 2015

Booknote: That's So Gay!

Kevin L. Nadal, That's So Gay! Microaggressions and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2013. 

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: LGBTQIA, higher education, psychology and counseling, education, civil rights, activism, manners and behavior.
Format: hardcover
Source: Provided by the college as part of the Dean's Faculty Book Reading Group. 

My review:

This is the second selection I read for the Dean's Faculty Book Reading Group here at the college. It is the second selection for me; I did not sign up for all the book discussions made available this academic year. The first group discussion took place on Monday, February 2, 2015 (I will link to my discussion notes later). The second discussion was scheduled for Monday, February 16, 2015, but that one was snowed out, and as of this writing has not been rescheduled. This post is my review of the book for the blog and for my reading notes. 

From the foreword, the book seems a bit too overenthusiastic about how the book is "riveting" and "pulls readers." It's a textbook, with the connotations and baggage that kind of book carries. As reader then, I am skeptical of such enthusiastic claims from a textbook. The book includes seven chapters, and each chapter opens with a vignette or case study of some kind. From there, the author uses the book's preface to give us a glimpse of his life story, a story that involved childhood bullying as he struggled with his orientation. Next, we get the introduction, where the author sets out his purpose:

"The purpose of this book is to highlight the microaggressions that LGBT people experience on an everyday basis and to examine the impacts that such experiences have on mental health" (7). 

Chapter One lays out a history of LGBT (these are the letters the book uses. By now, as some folks may know, we are up to LGBTQIA. At least, that is the latest iteration I have learned. For consistency, I will use here what the book uses, and I make clear I have no exclusionary intention) people and civil rights. Along with the first chapter, the initial chapters are backgrounders and literature reviews. For those who need the information, this is good. For those who have read much of this before, they can probably skim these parts. Overall, the structure of chapters is literature review and/or case studies, followed by discussion questions, and finally a glossary of key terms discussed in a chapter. Some of the discussion questions can provide good reflection material for readers as well as for discussion groups. Key terms in chapters are highlighted in bold so you know they will be included in the end of chapter glossary.

I can sense this is an important book as I start reading it, but the academic tone makes for pretty slow reading. It feels mostly like a book for academics and practitioners. The reading can be seriously dry at times. I am an academic, and I am struggling to get through it at times, so I am concerned that general readers, who probably need to read at least parts of it, may not be likely to pick it up.

Overall, the book documents the many forms of microaggressions that LGBT people are subject to and the many places those microaggressions can happen: family, work, school, and college, so on. Microaggressions can also happen within the LGBT community given its various divisions along lines of identity, race, class, so on. Additionally, the book gives some options for dealing with microaggressions. The author does acknowledge the "preaching to the choir" syndrome, which is more than I expected.

In the end, it is a book that academics, educators, librarians, and various practitioners should read. Sadly, I do not see this as a book for general readers. Much of the literature review and technical text and material are just not too accessible. The case studies, however, could be accessible. Perhaps a book of just stories with minimal academic baggage (read her not showing the constant academic need to pile citation on top of citation on top of citation) could work better for a general audience.

I  usually do not rate books like this but to help readers out, I will. I'd give it a 3 out of 5 stars.

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Reading notes:

What the book claims to do, according to the foreword:

"This book traces how new research on the manifestation, dynamics, and harmful impact of microaggressions on socially devalued groups has become highly relevant to the field of psychology, to education, and to the broader society" (ix). 

Also, we get a definition of microaggressions in the foreword:

"Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults-- whether intentional or unintentional-- that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons, based solely on their marginalized group status" (ix). 

I admit to having a bit of mixed feeling on the unintentional part (and I am sure saying this will get me in hot water with somebody). If they did it unintentionally out of true ignorant, i.e. they just do not know better nor have been educated, can one really condemn? Now, if you educate, and they remain willfully ignorant, I say condemn away. In the end, I've learned not to say too much and to be cautious so as not to offend. However, to folks like Nadal, unawareness is no excuse neither:

"Nadal's thesis is that the most detrimental forms of microaggressions are usually delivered by well-intentioned individuals who are unaware that they have engaged in harmful conduct toward a socially devalued group" (ix).

I can just see that view being contested or controversial in some circles to put it mildly.

A key point that Nadal makes is the one about microaggressions within the LGBT community. Yes, they can be at times as vicious and/or ignorant with each other as outsiders are to them. Again, this is due largely to the many divisions along class, race, identity, so on within the community. In addition, this also brings up issues of privilege. As Nadal writes,

"Moreover, when someone is oppressed in one identity but privileged in another, it may be even more difficult for that reason to recognize the power and privilege he or she has" (112).

Additional note: to learn more about intersectional and environmental microaggressions of queer and disabled people, Nadal mentions the book Queer Crips: Disabled Gay Men and Their Stories.

 On the "preaching to the choir" issue I mentioned in my review. I was concerned about this as I read the book, and it still concerns me. To be honest, the Faculty Book Reading Group is self-selected, and to a large measure they, including myself, are pretty much members of "the choir." The people who should be reading this and discussing it are missing and absent. And while I am at it, the last thing I want is to see yet another HR "diversity" training module. Nadal writes on these modules and workshops that

". . .many individuals do [the modules and workshops] grudgingly because they believe that racism and other forms of discrimination no longer exist" (183).

That's quite a generalization for a guy who should know better. I will tell you what I hate about the workshops, aside from the choir preaching to me: they are written and implemented in condescending tones that tend to talk down to people for the sake of whatever topic (diversity, sexual harassment, etc.). I, for one, don't appreciate being talked down to for the sake of diversity or any other topic, and I happen to be on your side. So I can only imagine how people who actually need to be convinced might feel. Tossing out another required Powerpoint-driven module made by some outsource consulting firm so an organization can cover their ass is probably not the best idea. It's going to take more to change cultures, at least at work.

In my humble opinion, in the end, the hard thing to do that may accomplish something is to tell our stories. Often, it's one thing to discriminate against someone generic. It's quite another thing when that someone is a friend and/or a relative. This is not a cure-all, but it could perhaps be a better start. For me, even this may not be easy--telling stories that is. Sure, I may have a story or two. However, I have learned that often I am better off letting some microaggressions pass when I suffer them. I am not overly optimistic of anything coming out of this outside the reading group. As I read this, the recent defeat of the Fairness Ordinance in the city of Berea told me that the college is indeed a very small bubble. But I am digressing, so I am stopping here now.

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This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

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