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Invalidations are methods for undermining or nullifying the identities or experiences of marginalized and minority social groups, including women and members of the LGTBQIA+ community. The term gained prominence in this context after trans activist and educator Julia Serano began using it in her keynote lecture “Psychology, Sexualization, and Trans-Invalidations” delivered at the 8th Annual Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference in 2009.
A variety of different behaviors can be described as invalidations because they seek to illegitimize marginalized minority groups. These include sexualizing minority groups, questioning their mental competence, and portraying them as unhealthy, immoral, unnatural, fake, or in other negative ways.
Some invalidations may be adopted in a conscious effort to invalidate minority groups. Others may be adopted subconsciously out of ignorance of minority groups, such as when people accidentally use the wrong pronouns for transgender people. They may also invalidate with a mistaken belief that they are helping when they are actually doing harm, such as when people tell homosexual people that they just haven’t found the right partner of the opposite gender. Invalidations are typically directed at others, but may also be self-directed when minorities believe what others say about them.
Invalidations can make the members of marginalized groups feel ignored, judged, or rejected. Given their social standing, these people often feel more vulnerable than others, which can make the impact of invalidations even greater. They can be a trigger for mental health issues, including anxiety and depression. Invalidations also widen the gap between majority and minority groups within society.