until last fall, i don’t think i really devoted much mental energy to the notion of social privilege…i.e., that people in the “dominant class” have certain unearned advantages over those in the “subordinate/oppressed class”. ya know, things like “white privilege” and “male privilege” and such. these things are real, whether or not people realize they exist. and many people don’t. because, interestingly, one of the privileges that the privileged class gets is that they don’t *have* to think about the privilege they have. they might not even realize they have a privilege. which really sucks, because then it’s too easy to treat the unprivileged people like that privilege doesn’t exist. gah! and this puts the burden on the oppressed class to speak up and make clear that there is an issue at hand. to CONVINCE the dominant class that they have privileges. this is not an easy task in any sense…it is draining as shit and often it doesn’t work. privileged people often don’t want to hear about how privileged they are. uphill battles suck.
not surprisingly, since i started transgressing, i’ve certainly been thinking a lot more about social privileges. and i’ve been hanging out with other people that also think and talk about them. and definitely following the race- and gender-biased incident that happened just off cornell’s campus i’ve been thinking about privileges even more. because privileges are something to be aware of.
i grew up socialized as a white middle-class american man, which put me [for 27 years] into a very privileged class of people, along many many axes. and i know now that as i transgress, i’m moving from the dominant to the oppressed class along a bunch of axes. and it’s a really weird thing to watch as it happens. especially because i’m giving up privileges i didn’t know i had. it is certainly a mindfuck to all of a sudden not have a privilege you didn’t even know existed, yet was so fundamental to your ability to function in society.
like having other people accept/respect your personally identified gender. note that i am not talking about “passing” here. this is not about “passing”. i find that language/framing to just reinforce really bad social gender stereotypes, instead of empowering and respecting people’s ability to self-identify and self-define. no, it’s about having people BELIEVE ME when i tell them how i identify. [which i often have to do, because i don't "pass" as a high femme...which is the only way most anyone expects a trans*feminine person to express their gender]
that’s a privilege that the vast vast majority of people have, and i think many don’t realize they have it. i certainly didn’t. the few times i was misgendered when i identified as a boy/man, when i corrected the other person, they apologized and obliged and we moved on.
now that things are switched around, i don’t get that so much anymore. certainly, there are some awesome, truly amazing people that are totally accepting of my identifying as a woman [thank you!]. but many people, especially people i don’t know, they don’t believe me. nowadays when i get misgendered, i apparently cannot convince strangers that they are incorrect. which has unfortunate outcomes.
like last night, when i got harassed in the bathroom at the bar [ho-hum, another day!]. ironically, at least in-part by members of the roller derby league that just voted to adopt a trans* policy that is accepting of me. such connected highs and lows should not be allowed to exist so close together in time. there’s really nothing like, upon exiting the bathroom stall, being instantly swarmed by 4 women [at least some of whom i wouldn't be surprised if they identified as either queer or queer allies] who make it clear that they think i am not a woman, and whose ears are deaf to me telling them [in respectful, calm manners] that i am. so deaf that one of them thought it totally fine to shove me in the chest [and yes, that fucking hurt, god damnit. so not ok.].
or like this evening, when i was at the opening reception of a conference for empowering women in science and engineering, the attendants of which were [as far as i could tell] all women. i was enjoying sitting/chatting with a few women for the dinner and opening session, but as we were leaving, i got a “nice to meet you, sir”. which i responded to with “i’m not a sir, ma’am works fine for me”. which garnered laughing. seriously. like loud belly laughing. i tried to correct them again ["seriously, i'm not joking, i'm a ma'am"], which was met again with a round of laughter, albeit with a touch of awkwardness.
you want to feel like complete and utter shit? get laughed at when you try to correct someone for misidentifying you. it’s the emotional equivalent of getting shoved in the chest when you’ve got developing, relatively unprotected, breast tissue. yeah.
but i struggle with how to handle these situations. how do i get these people to believe me? to grant me the right to self-identify that they grant each other? i am generally genuinely disarmed. i mean, i’m glad to have the support of the government and a medical establishment, but having to show someone that my drivers license says “F” or a letter from my doctor that says i’m a woman in order for them to believe that i’m a woman robs me of my ability to self-identify, privileging those people who are generally perceived as the gender to which they most closely identify. i can understand the “need” to “prove” that i’m a woman for some social institutions [identification, sports, housing, etc.].
but not in personal social interactions.
“proving” their gender is not something most people have required of them. this, this is a privilege of people who are gender conforming [it's not even trans vs. cis, it's different than that].
expecting someone to “prove” to you that they’re a woman in order to use a women’s space or be treated as a woman is just plain ridiculous. which is why allies are awesome, because they convey to strangers that other people also accept your ability to identify. but i don’t have the luxury of always having an ally around [nor do i want to have to always rely on allies either...]. and so this is going to continue to happen. even in ostensibly supportive and empowering places or amongst ostensibly open-minded people, i will have to convince people that i am a woman. i will have to convince people that they have a privilege i don’t.