Privilege and being taken seriously

30 12 2010

Tarald recently wrote an awesome post that I can really relate to. Tarald writes:

I like being the underdog and the outsider. But now it seems like I’m being forced out of this comfort zone of mine. I am not used to being a person of any significance, but now it happens that I am forced to realize that I am, in some contexts, that is.

And:

And then there is the thing about male privilege. I don’t like it. And at the same time I have acted as if I had it most of my life. Being percieved as a girl, this behavior only seemed charming, in a “feminist statement” kind of  way. It was never taken serious, and had a taste of irony attached. Now that I am recognized as male most of the time, this same behavior makes me seem like a dickhead, just like any other man using his privilege.

It has been a process for me as well to get used to being a person who was taken seriously. This process began before transition. In 2000, I started a position at a lighting company where I had to coordinate across various departments and different branches across Canada. This set me on my way to exploring my leadership potential. Around the same time, I joined a bi activist group in Montreal and started seeing that people took what I had to say seriously. It wasn’t long before I was on the board of the group. Then, of course, teaching, further involvement with community groups and co-founding and co-running a drag troupe sent me even further down that path of self-realisation. I had leadership potential. But it took me a while to get used to that! I was used to having to fight to be heard! And now, people were genuinely listening to my opinions and engaging with me.

Now, of course, in hindsight, I realise that even as a working class genetic young woman from a fucked up family who didn’t feel like she was taken seriously, my whiteness, able-bodiedness, perceived heterosexuality worked in my favour and I was probably taken more seriously than many other people. But I had not been exposed to these ideas at the time so all I could see was that I, Nancy, was a poor little misunderstood and underestimated girl in a sexist world. Nuance was not yet my forte as I was still in dualistic thinking mode.

And like Tarald, many of the aggressive behaviours I engaged in as a young woman were seem as charming in me – lots of women and men liked my “spunkiness.” Those same behaviours today would make me look like a total prick. Fortunately, I don’t actually like those behaviours anymore so it’s not much of an issue. I don’t feel the need to prove how tough I am anymore. I’ve proven to myself and to the universe that I’m fairly resilient simply by surviving some of the fucked up abusive shit that went on in my family and in my relationships. Also, at one point in my life, I realised that abrasiveness didn’t really lead to anything. I now dislike that trait in my past self (although I recognise it for the survival purpose that it served then) and in others.

As for male privilege, like Tarald I hate it. With trans guys, of course, male privileged takes place in complex ways. I can’t speak for others so I will only speak for myself. With people who knew me before, especially at work, I can’t say that they really see me as male anyway – most of them are fairly clueless and will probably always see me as a woman who is living as a man (which is one reasons why I’ve drifted away and stopped socialising with them as much as I used to.) So I doubt that they really afford me that much privilege. However, people who interact with me without knowing that I am trans (people on the bus, people in stores, etc) probably treat me differently, in a multitude of suble ways, than they would if I were still Nancy. At seminars, I am probably taken more seriously just because I’m read as male. And most of this is in people’s subconsciousness. They probably don’t look at me and go: “Oh that’s a guy, let’s listen to what he has to say.” It’s just one of those conditioned reflexes that people still have. Although I had already started having greater confidence before transition and was able to get people’s attention in unprecedented ways, I’m sure my perceived maleness has an impact.

So I try as much as possible to not take the male privilege – at least when I can spot it. Easier said than done! Living our lives, it can be hard to spot all these things. But I try to be in tune as much as possible and to work against any potential bias in my favour (as male, as white, etc.) And of course, there are always opportunities to use one’s privilege to help change mentalities. If male privilege gets me taken more seriously by guys, I will use that privilege when I can to set an example of abstaining from sexist banter, of denouncing sexism and homophobia, etc. Similarly, white privilege, or getting taken more seriously by other white folks, can be used to denounce racism, to refuse to engage in racist discourse and so forth.

Tarald mentions that:

I was present at a pre-meeting where the women had a brief seminar in taking up space, being vocal and proud, while the men sat down to discuss how we could leave some space for the women, how not to use our male privilege etc.

I have things to say in response to this as well but this post was getting long and rambly so I will save it for another post 🙂

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4 responses

31 12 2010
Taz

I think that the assumption that Abrasiveness is somehow negative, is an example of internalizing more privlege class values. I find the ice cold polite “lets just write them off,” actions of “ignore her, make her invisible,” 1000 times more hostile, aggressive, and violent in reality, that rough, abrasive, or blunt language. The poor world is a much more primal world, it’s a Survival Needs Culture, the music, the song, language is rough, blunt, direct, abrasive, because the reality is rough, blunt, direct, abrasive. Abrasiveness does not equal Aggressiveness, EXCEPT within a middle and upper class privlege culture, where survival needs are assumed, and the cultural values and definitions are based around less concrete, blunt, physical realities, because survival is assumed, heat is assumed, food is assumed, friends and family, sex, is all assumed to be a given, not a luxury the rest of us struggle to get every single day.

31 12 2010
Jacky V.

Thanks for your comment Taz. I actually disagree that disliking abrasiveness had anything to do with internalising a particular class value. There are wealthy people who are abrasive and I dislike that as well. I grew to dislike abrasiveness when it was directed at me when I was relatively voiceless. It made me feel shitty and worthless when I dared express something and someone more powerful than me felt they had to put me down with an abrasive tone. It also comes from mother issues. So I just don’t see the necessity for abrasiveness in most cases. I can understand its origin but I find it counter productive. Also, it depends on the content. When someone dares express a view, and someone responds with an abrasive disagreement, it can lead to shut down and miscommunication in my view. When one simply expresses themselves, that is another story and has nothing to do with anyone else. In any case, it’s largely my own personal baggage that makes it hard for me to deal with abrasiveness in inter-personal communication, not a class thing.

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