Gaslighting and how people use it in attempt to invalidate gender identities and sexualities

[Trigger warning: This post is full of discussion of abuse and abuse tactics.]

I previously posted this on Tumblr and am posting it here because it details some common ways in which people choose to invalidate asexuality, gray asexuality, demisexuality and non-binary experiences of gender.

I use a slightly different definition of gaslighting than most people familiar with the concept are used to. Gaslighting, for those unfamiliar with it, is the act of doing things to make someone else doubt their own sense of judgment or of reality.

A short list of examples of gaslighting:

  • Practical jokes
  • Telling a crying child that they shouldn’t be upset
  • Telling a person that a very strong smell their sensing isn’t there
  • An abusive person denying that abusive events ever occurred
  • One way that my mother would gaslight me would be to tell me that my anxiety wasn’t “that bad” when I attempted to tell her about my intense experiences of the anxiety disorders I have. She also gaslit me by claiming that I was imagining things, when I told her that her cleaning products had a very strong smell that was causing me to have sensory overload.

The source of the term is a play called Gas Light, in which a husband attempts to convince his wife that she is insane by rearranging small objects in the house and dimming the gas lights and insisting that his wife is imagining things when she accurately notices the changes.

I use a slightly different definition of gaslighting than the above. Gaslighting, for me, is any attempt to convince someone that they are not having an experience that they are having. This includes but is not limited to

  • telling someone they are not experiencing their purported experience of sexual attraction (or lack thereof)
  • telling someone they are wrong about their gender identity

I don’t think my definition is broader than the above as much as more specific, and it’s specific to my experiences of invalidation as an asexual-spectrum non-binary trans person. Attempting to invalidate another person’s sexual identity or gender identity necessarily involves gaslighting, and the form of getting someone to doubt their sense of judgment it takes is to try get the person to doubt that they are having experiences they are having. Because when you can get someone to doubt that they’re having the inner experiences they’re having, it’s easy to make them not trust their own judgment of their inner experience.

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Talia C. Johnson

Sensitivity Editor, Educator, Coach, Facilitator, Spiritual Leader, and Activist

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