A Different Kind of Privilege Conversation

Good morning, lovely readers!

Today I want to talk about something that has been on my mind following a thought-provoking interaction with a friend.

A small group (including me and this friend) were prepping for a thing—the thing is not important in the context of the story aside from the fact that we were working on it together and made our way over to a discussion of privilege in the process.

But not the kind of discussion that you might typically see, where people “confess” which privileges they have and vow to stop using their privileges as though privilege were a sin.

Instead we started imagining that privileges could be purchased through a special, imaginary catalog, exploring which ones we each might choose to have if we could buy anything out of this catalog.

Most of the responses were pretty typical; I didn’t even have to think about mine before blurting out “visibility.” When it came time for my friend to go, he hesitated and pondered for a bit before expressing that this would seem off to some of us because of his being straight, white, and a cisman, but he expressed that the privilege that he really wanted was the sense of connection and belonging to a culture or identity like he saw with some of us.

The answer took me aback, but not because I have come to expect that socially conscious men acknowledge that they have “nothing but privilege” (not necessarily something I support, but a common enough reaction to privilege questions). Rather, it took me aback because of the intense longing I actually felt when he said that.

He pointed out to me something I didn’t even realize I had…which makes sense because you are typically blind to your privilege until you’re made aware of it, right? Right. Suddenly all those times that I had scoffed at people who said “Well when’s international men’s day?” or “We need a straight pride parade”—those times began to take on a different light.

Later, as he and I talked more, I began to realize that there isn’t really a positive identity towards which someone like him could turn.

As a woman, I can turn away from sexist characterizations of myself and draw on the beautiful feminist, body-positive, sex-positive, goddess spirituality that I have come to love. As a bi person, I can connect with the Queer community or specific bi groups where I can openly celebrate my identity, taking pride in my sexual orientation. Hell, I’ve even written posts about it.

I have long thought that it is important for marginalized individuals to find ways of celebrating and loving their marginalized parts so that the whole of their interaction with those parts isn’t just fighting against prejudice or discrimination.

But I literally never thought about people like my friend and how they are expected to disown, distance, or divorce themselves from the identity of oppressor but have no alternative positive version of the identity to seek. All the “pride” groups for privileged identities are associated with vitriolic hatred and intolerance. If someone says they have white pride—the context basically means they are a white supremacist. If someone says they have straight pride—the connotation is that they’re homophobic.

But “pride” in that context is more about the way that it is used to mask intolerance, hatred, and superiority complexes. It’s so far from the definition and connotation of pride used in the context of marginalized identities that it’s barely the same word.

When I express pride in being bi, I definitely don’t mean that I think I’m superior to straight people or that I want to strip them of human rights. When I express pride in my feminine side, I’m not harboring hatred towards men.

I’m not trying to say that we need to reclaim the “pride” word. Rather, I’m thinking more about the possibility for…shall we call it healthy self-esteem and sense of belonging?

I want men to have a positive masculinity to gravitate towards. I want them to have ways of relating to their gender that isn’t rooted in shame (if they’re conscious enough to see women’s issues), neutrality (probably the most positive of what I see available currently), or hypermasculinity and arrogance.

I think it’s necessary, in fact. Because becoming interested in social justice shouldn’t carry the idea that you have to forever be ashamed of who you are and disconnected from a sense of dignity. My friend later expressed to me that he was extremely nervous, and I could see that in other contexts, he might have been raked across the coals without anyone bothering to try to understand where he was coming from.

In another context, I might have been the one laughing about fragile masculinity.

So what am I saying? I know I’ve rambled a lot in this post. I guess the thing that has been weighing on my mind is really that we need to do better at understanding that having privilege doesn’t mean that people don’t have a similar desire to belong and feel good about themselves—that that desire is not bad. It’s just a function of being human. We literally all have it. And social justice is a hobbled movement if we’re asking people to “wake up” but not offering alternatives of ways they can achieve those needs without resorting to harmful power structures.

 

 

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When People Don’t Want You to Live, Existence Becomes a Revolutionary Act

People want to kill me.

Sorry, that was too deliciously melodramatic not to open with. Now that it’s out of my system, let me back up.

I’m currently conscious that people want to kill me. It’s probably the first time that it’s been a conscious, active awareness.

I’ve known that people think I should die for being under the Queer umbrella—that they might passively pray for it, preach about it, maybe even deign to say it to my face.

But the Orlando shooting was the first time I had the icy realization that there are people who would actively take measures to end my life.

Some say it’s my generation—that we Millennials have been spared the active, moving-beyond-dislike-into-murder kind of hatred that other LGBT faced several generations ago.

To some extent that is true. It’s a testament to how far we’ve come that law enforcement will help hold space for a Pride parade instead of hauling people out of bars and beating the shit out of them for being gay.

It’s a testament to how far we’ve come that many teens and young adults can attend safe spaces on school campuses.

It’s a testament to how far we’ve come that religious institutions have begun the slow paradigm shift towards acceptance.

Yet, we haven’t come so far that Orlando is the first time that Queer people (especially Queer people of color or Queer people raised in fundamentalist homes) of my generation or younger have faced life-threatening prejudice. People are still beaten up, kicked out on the street, or murdered for their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Orlando is just the first time that many in my generation have seen that hatred directed at so many people in a single incident.

Then again, it’s the largest mass shooting for our nation in a long time, so millennials aren’t the only ones having a “first” in this sense (Contrary to popular opinion, it isn’t the largest in the history of the nation as this article points out).

Being forced to confront how deep someone’s hatred of you runs is a daunting feeling, but once the initial shock of it wore off, it reminded me of an idea that took root reading Shiri Eisner’s book Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution.

My very existence is a revolutionary act that undermines a prejudicial society.

Simply by living and refusing to be erased or cowed into submission, my life becomes a big “fuck you” to everyone who would try to control me. People can do a lot of things, but they can’t take away my self-awareness or my pride. They can try to oppress me or destroy me, but they cannot change who I am.

Ultimately, it’s the fact they can’t prevent my existence that makes them truly angry and bound for failure no matter how they might want to end my existence.

There’s something powerful and elegant in that realization.

What’s my gay—ahem—bi agenda?

To live my life like a declaration of independence, not like an apology.

To not let fear dictate who I love—or who I hate.

To live my life authentically and do all I can to support others doing the same.

P.S. As a political side-note, right now people want my “agenda” to be trying to strip people of their fifth amendment rights, but I refuse to let my radical existence be hijacked so that others can be oppressed. We’ve come a long way as a Queer community. We’ve made a lot of progress. But we’re not done. The fight for recognition of civil rights (for everyone, not just ourselves) and the protection of rights already recognized is an ever-present struggle.