Lets talk about Intersections of Privilege

As a white writer, I don’t spend a lot of time writing about race which is a major flaw. I have the privilege of living in a world where my experience are considered to be the default for whatever other identities I have so I get to choose whether or not to think about my race. But a lot of people don’t have that privilege.

So let’s take a few minutes and talk about race. I think one of the first steps is examining and acknowledging which privileges and blind spots I have. This is literally the bare minimum I can do and I want to be clear I don’t deserve accolades for basic steps that all of humanity should be doing on a daily basis.

My privileges

  • I am white and I have the option to not think about race whenever I want. I’m also not discriminated against or at risk of police violence based on my race.
  • I am a citizen and I was born in a country with global power so I rarely have to worry about a war at home.
  • I grew up solidly middle class and never lived in poverty. I never had to worry about where my basic necessities would come from or whether my housing was secure. And I had ample luxuries in life to make me comfortable.
  • I am big and tall and rarely have to worry about my physical safety or invasions of my personal space.
  • I am relatively able bodied and don’t need accessibility devices for my disabilities most of the time.
  • I live in a state where cannabis is legal and easily accessible to self medicate my disabilities without barriers.
  • I grew up without disabilities and experienced most of my early life without physical barriers.
  • I am neurotypical for the most part and even with my ADD I grew up in a schooling environment where my difference was never pathologized with ADD relatives who normalized that experience.
  • I have a job where my ADD is an asset and have never been discriminated against due to my disabilities.
  • I had a good primary education and a private college degree that prepared me well for the economy and society we live in.
  • I have a full time job and have never been under-employed or laid off. I make enough money to be able to afford to live in an expensive city where I can find community.
  • I have a supportive spouse (even if it took a divorce to achieve that) and have never had a lack of dating partners.
  • I can easily find communities of people who look like me.
  • Even though I am fat, I still have size privilege by being able to shop off the rack.
  • I come from a religion that has always been the majority in my country and culture and never experienced discrimination because of my beliefs.

My intersections of marginalization

  • I am transgender in a country that is actively hostile towards me.
  • I will never “pass” as cisgender and will always be visibly trans.
  • I have large feet and cannot find feminine shoes my size in stores.
  • I am queer and have to be wary of people who want to date me because they either view me as a feminine straight man or a gay man in a biphobic, transphobic culture.
  • I am disabled and cannot do a lot of activities that I would like due to my asthma and the condition of my back.

Notice how short that list of marginalization is compared to my privileges? I may spend a lot of time writing about those intersections but what I don’t do is acknowledge my privilege and blind spots enough. There are dozens of reasons that my life could be harder due to things completely out of my control. And my life has never been made harder because of the color of my skin.

That is why we say Black Lives Matter. That is why we need to be conscious of what areas we don’t struggle with. Because otherwise those things are blind spots to us and can lead us to subconsciously discriminate against people who do have those issues. Because in our culture we are always taught to view life as a zero sum game which requires haves and have nots to function. So if I am not fighting for people of color, disabled people, immigrants, religious minorities, and people without class privilege, my work is for naught.

What are you doing to become more aware of your privileges and unconscious biases?

The privilege of transition

Particularly as I embark on some majorly expensive transition steps, I am reflecting a lot on how much privilege I have to even be attempting this.
I have partners who fully support my transition and a spouse who has the ability to work remotely from San Francisco during my recovery. I have a job where I not only have an affirming team but I have the ability to take 6-12 weeks off and the insurance coverage to make this possible. I have a community of friends that are generously contributing to my transition costs. And I have the class, racial, and urban privilege to make this a relatively safe thing to do.
On a regular basis I see trans people living on the streets in Seattle who can barely afford to have gender affirming clothing, much less any sort of medical transition. So as you support the people around you who are taking those steps, take a moment to remember those who can’t. And please support organizations like Gender Justice League who fight to make policies that allow transition for people on state health plans and shelter beds to get trans people off the streets and out of unsafe situations.
Most trans people in the world can’t afford the costs of transition, aren’t allowed to transition, don’t have the possibility to transition, or aren’t in a safe environment to transition. They still deserve respect and dignity. (Credit to Sophie LabelleAssigned Male Comics)

On Male Privilege

Hopefully we all know by now that male privilege is a very real and dangerous thing that happens and has a lot of real world consequences. And I’m not arguing that I haven’t been granted many of the benefits of that privilege by presenting and identifying as cisgender for the first 25ish years of my life (partly for lack of knowledge and terminology), especially because of my beard and size. Take for example the time I was able to help a friend move out of her abusive and armed ex-boyfriend’s house by simply standing there looking intimidating. But the idea that male privilege is something that every person assigned male at birth is granted in its entirety is pervasive within feminism, especially the trans exclusionary kind, and something that I want to address.

Based on my experience and the discussions I have had within more nuanced feminist circles and with men looking to change toxic masculinity, I would posit that male privilege is granted on a sliding scale based on how well you conform to American, white, Christian, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, masculinity standards. The more you fit the molds, the more authority, power, and respect you are granted. There are a few molds of course – the athlete, the businessman, the lumberjack/blue collar worker, etc – but for the most part the boundaries of masculinity are so narrow that they are unachievable for anyone on the margins due to race, body type, ability level, sexuality (perceived or real), parenting style, or even religion. Feminism has made amazing progress in the last century+ in broadening the acceptable boundaries of femininity for the most part but the same work hasn’t been done in masculinity.

As a result, a gender non-conforming kid like I was never really has a change to gain all those privileges. As I’ve written about before, the idea of being socialized male as a uniform experience is incredibly flawed because it is based on what you get out of it, not what is put in. And many of us never got the full benefits of male privilege. Take Asian men for example; a lot has been written about how some of them feel excluded from American masculinity and discriminated against in dating because of flawed stereotypes and tropes.

So next time your instinct is to say “but you have/had male privilege” to a trans person (or a person of color or different ability or…), think more carefully about the intersectionality of gender and all those other identities. It’s not that they don’t necessarily have it, but that privilege is more complex than a yes or no checkbox. This quote from Julia Serano’s excellent article this week, Debunking “Trans Women are not Women” Arguments, sums it up well:

Male privilege is a very real thing. In my booking Whipping Girl, I talk at length about my own personal experiences of having it, and subsequently losing it post-transition. However, not every trans woman experiences male privilege (e.g., younger transitioners). Furthermore, the whole purpose of talking about privilege (whether it be male, white, middle/upper-class, able-bodied, or straight privilege, to name a few) is to raise awareness about the advantages that members of the dominant/majority group experience due to the fact that they do not face a particular type of sexism or marginalization. And the fact that the trans-women-aren’t-women crowd constantly harp about trans women’s real or imagined male privilege, yet refuse to acknowledge or examine their own cisgender privilege, demonstrates that their concerns about privilege are disingenuous, and that they are merely using the concept in order to delegitimize trans women’s identities and lived experiences as women.