Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

Am I A Smug, Privileged Jerk?

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | May 28, 2010 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Middle Class, passing privilege, privilege, trans community, transgender community, white privilege

Recently, someone suggested to me that I am condescending and obtuse towards low-income transgender people of color.PicardInsult.jpg

She noted that I insist on putting white wealthy trans women as the judges of what is legitimate, and worthy of further action.

It was noted that my privilege is blinding me to other people's lived experiences.

She also said I insist on denying those experiences unless they fit my existing worldview.

Really?

Well, that hurts. I have worked so hard and so long to help...blah, blah blah.

As my ex used to say, the truth hurts.

The truth is, we all have biases. That's the nature of being human. Whenever someone shouts loudly about how "objective" they are, my antennae go up. The best hope is to recognize one's biases, and to account for them and their subtle influence. So my antenna are up on this Jillian Weiss person.

That's the path towards objectivity. So am I a smug, privileged jerk? Sometimes, for sure. Am I biased? Of course, everyone is. Can I recognize my biases and account for them so that they don't go on making decisions for me? Frankly, I think it's the only way our divided, fractious queer community can hope to be just and to prosper.

Self-reflection. What a concept.

How To Be Dismissive In Three Easy Steps

There are lots of ways that our LGBTQ community leaders are smug and privileged. They affect all kinds of choices, like how our federal legislative first choice got to be DADT repeal.

But this isn't about them. This one's about me. When this woman said I was condescending and dismissive of others' lived experiences, my first thought was that this was simply someone who wants to be angry at someone. There's sure enough to be angry about in the way that low-income trans women of color are treated.

But angry at me? What possible basis...what conceivable incident...why, it doesn't exist!

And then I thought of something. Hmm...but I didn't mean...didn't intend. I apologized, etc.

And then I dismissed it and moved on.

Wait...I dismissed it? Did I do that?

Yup. And then I recalled someone who used to say I was smug and self-righteous. (One of my exes, if you must know.) She said I got this look on my face and my tone made it sound as if the other person was dumber than dirt. Not a very attractive quality.

Gosh, that hurt. Well, as she used to say, the truth hurts.

Take A Chill Pill, Dumbass

Yes, there was an incident a few weeks ago where I was discussing ENDA on this blog. A commenter raised a question about whether we should support it when, in fact, we know that there is going to be an amendment allowing restriction of bathroom usage of trans people.

However, the leadership has refused to release the exact language, saying it's not yet finished. However, a conference call with Mara Keisling of NCTE revealed that the language will maintain the status quo, where employers are permitted to decide about bathroom usage, so long as it is not inconsistent with the employee's gender presentation. She said that even though this was unsatisfactory, it was the only way we could get the bill passed, and that trans people would not be worse off as a result.

I've been really focused on getting ENDA passed the last year and a half. I have a lot of personal time and effort invested in its passage. I accepted her explanation, even if somewhat dubious about it.

A commenter to my post about this suggested that this could allow genital checks by employers. That would be very demeaning for trans people. (A side note: remind me to tell you the story about the genital check that Hilary Clinton required of me in order to help me get a passport. I can assure you that it was demeaning when the doctor reached in to feel my genitals. Not kidding.)

Here's what I said about the possibility of genital checking under ENDA.

I think everyone should keep in mind that the EEOC has the right to issue regulations to define exactly how the bill will function in practice. Not everything is nailed down when a law is passed -- that would be impossible. I believe the EEOC would be sympathetic to these issues.

So take a chill pill. Your concerns are legitimate, but they don't mean we have to oppose ENDA. There is more than one way to get the results we want.

Another commenter replied, a bit angrily:

That's easy for a post-op with a secure job and political position to say.

Come back with no marketable job skills or recent work experience, and lack of surgery than tell us to take a chill pill you hypocrite!

Dr. Jillian T. Weiss - Talks the moral high ground talk but never walked the lowest status in society walk

That got my dander up. Hypocrite? The remark didn't even make sense. I told her that wasn't true, "Now you're just angry and you want to lash out. But you have every right to be angry." I noted that I'm not poor now, but I have been poor in the past, and unemployed for quite a while.

Then someone else came in with a left hook.

It is true. You are white, you are middle class if not better, have your surgeries, and have your money.

You are not at all equipped to speak for poor trans women nor trans women of color, yet you claim that anyway with a flat dismissal.

You need to be less patronizing and dismissive. This is about OUR lives, not yours as a post op.

Please address people's questions here in a less flippant, dismissive manner. They are legitimate, even if you disagree.

WTF? So what if I'm white, post-op and have a good job? That doesn't mean I shouldn't have an opinion on ENDA. I didn't say I spoke for poor trans women of color, or dismiss anyone. Flippant? Illegitimate?

Puh...leeze.

In Which It Turns Out That I Am The Dumbass

And then I thought about it for a bit.

I remember being very, very angry at one point in my transition. That lasted for a couple of years.

It seemed that everyone else was getting a piece of the American pie, and ignoring the incredible problems that I was having getting a job, finding housing, living in dangerous neighborhoods, retaining friends, dating and being treated like crap, constantly afraid of violence, having people laugh at me on the street and in public places.

I was sick and tired, damn it, of having people pretend that America was a place of equal opportunity, and that my poor treatment was my own fault for not taking the opportunities presented to me.

And then I applied to and got into grad school, graduated in record time, got a job in record time, and now have been teaching for the past seven years, received promotion and tenure, making a decent salary and paying off a lot of debt.

Why do you think I take great pains to title myself as "Doctor Jillian Weiss"? Because I am self-aggrandizing? Not at all. Trans people are so routinely disregarded and dismissed as freaks that I want people to understand that I am speaking from a position of knowledge and credibility. Of...privilege. It makes it a bit harder for people to dismiss me as just some freak spouting nonsense that no normal person could credit. Sure, it comes off as self-aggrandizing. My friends call me Jill and I'm just reg'lar folks at home, but in the wider world it's a fight for recognition for our community and I'll use every tool I can get.

No one laughs at me anymore I can afford to live in a safe neighborhood, get respect and a platform to speak with my articles being published in academic journals. I've also gained a platform on Bilerico, which has become quite a little powerhouse of a blog.

Am I privileged? You bet. The fact that I worked hard to obtain my position is beside the point. Without passing privilege and whiteness privilege and middle class privilege, I would never have gotten the job I did that has afforded me all these things. Working one's fingers to the bone, minus privilege, only gets you sore fingers.

Back to the comment against me - it may be true that I didn't intend to be dismissive, or speak for anyone else. But, whether I like it or not, I have a platform from which to speak as some sort of authority, and have positioned myself as someone who is a leader on ENDA.

This is political. President Obama has got to be very careful what he says, because he has great power. If he says the oil spill is being worked on with all possible diligence, and it turns out there were some other things they weren't doing that maybe they should have been doing -- people are angry. And they have a right to be angry. The person with the power to handle the issues effed it up. Minor screw-up or major doesn't matter. People with power have to approach that with due respect.

I don't have much power, but I have some. My voice is listened to by a lot of people here. I said "chill out" to someone who is close to the bottom rung of society, and it is dismissive, regardless of my intent.

So, I apologized.

I may not be poor now, but I've been poor. I'm post-op now, but it's not always been so. I never did claim to speak for poor trans women or trans women of color. I will be less patronizing and dismissive, but I reserve my right to disagree with you vigorously. Although I used the informal phrase "chill out," I didn't intend it as flippant or dismissive. I meant that one should not allow anger at a compromise to overcome the question of whether or not it holds important benefits for you. I also went out of my way to note that these concerns are legitimate. But I understand what it's like to be angry, what it's like to be left out, what it's like to have someone else tell you to be quiet. I have no problem with anyone here being angry. Even at me.

What It Means To Be A Community Leader

In retrospect, I can see that the issues facing the trans community, particularly among low-income trans women and trans women of color, are so enormous, are so enormously personally devastating, that I need to be careful what I say.

Not to avoid criticism, but to avoid poking a stick in the eye of people suffering under incredible hardships.

People facing rejection from just about everyone -- friends, family, lovers, employers, people on the street -- are not interested in what I meant. They are interested in what am I doing to help.

At this point in time, when ENDA has been put off until July, it would be extremely unlikely to see it enacted into law. Our community leaders suggest that passage of ENDA is nonetheless important, because if passed by the House, it will set a precedent for inclusion of gender identity for when it is introduced in 2011.

But it will also set a bad precedent if it has a clause in there that restricts trans people's bathroom access. For people working in most corporate offices, where the social milieu is respectful and there's another bathroom around the corner, this wouldn't really be much of a problem.

But people who work in factories, in agriculture, in retail sales, and all sorts of occupations are subjected to uncaring and even cruel managers. Those managers wouldn't bat an eye at asking for a picture of people's genitals, or making someone beg for a key and go to the dirty sub-basement to use the bathroom.

I thought it might be okay to have such a clause if it makes us no worse off AND the bill gets passed into law. But to have such a clause (and we don't even know what it is yet really) in a bill that passes the House would give this type of clause a cachet that could make it a really dangerous tool to restrict the rights of trans people, particularly low-income trans people and people of color.

This issue is being played out politically in an environment where, as it happens, upper middle class white transwomen are playing some key roles. Congressional officials are looking to us to say what is acceptable to trans people and what is not. And that includes trans people of color and low-income trans people.

So what did it mean to that woman who objected when I said "chill out"? Unintended as it was, it said "you don't know what you're talking about." Unintended as it was, it meant "screw your concerns, I know best."

Is that a way to build community? It is unequivocally not.

Trans people are divided by the same sorts of racial and social stratifications that divide our whole country. Anyone who wants to be a leader has got to understand that. Anyone who wants to be a leader has got to understand that they represent not only themselves and their in-group, but also lots of folk who are suffering great hardships.

If those leaders don't keep this in the front of their minds, certain segments of the community that are at the sharp end of the stick are going to say their truth about smug, privileged jerks.

And they will be right.

And the community "leaders" will wind up making a hash out of this supposed community.

This conversation isn't over, not by a long shot. I think it's just beginning.

Click here for Part II of this series.


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I've had the P-word tossed at me on a few occasions and can relate to what you're saying here. Yes, I have some privileges, and yes, I have a full-time job that pays decently. No, I don't think that discounts my opinion on issues.

The problem with the P-word is that it dismisses the effort sometimes required to gain it. I've worked my butt off to get where I am. Throughout high school and college I focused on making honor roll-level grades and collecting experiences that would look good on a resume, knowing that the market would be tight. (I'm not kidding; I have about a dozen and a half "stupid computer tricks" on my resume.) When I transitioned, I put a ton of effort into my looks, voice, and mannerisms, and am now enjoying the fruits of the privilege that afforded me. Again, it didn't come easy, and I don't feel bad saying that I take a little pride in these things.

I think the only thing you can really do is "check your privilege," share your opinion, and let the cards fall where they will. People will rage, and people will complain, but in the end you were the one who threw your opinion out there to be criticized, and that says volumes more than a quick, one-off comment on a blog.

(BTW, one of my favorite responses to an angry poster is usually "what you suggest instead?" It's a trick I learned teaching high school and it almost always works to defuse the situation.)

amandaisfun | May 29, 2010 1:15 PM

The problem with the P-word is that it dismisses the effort sometimes required to gain it. I've worked my butt off to get where I am. Throughout high school and college I focused on making honor roll-level grades and collecting experiences that would look good on a resume, knowing that the market would be tight.

This isn't anything personal Austen, but I sometimes see people with privilege defend themselves using a variant of this argument. Its just sometimes people do forget (even those who struggled to work hard to get where they are) what is was like to be poor, marginalized, hopeless, etc. A little bit of reasonably comfortable affluence can erase people's memories of what it was like to be, well, not so affluent and comfortable.

"People will rage, and people will complain, but in the end you were the one who threw your opinion out there to be criticized, and that says volumes more than a quick, one-off comment on a blog."

That's incredibly dismissive. The pain caused by the privileged is what's at issue here, and however hard one may work to get that privilege, there are always a lot of people who worked at least as hard and couldn't make it as far.

You seem to be generically invalidating anyone who posts a complaint, as if their hurt doesn't even matter. Complaining about some privileged person being smug or showing their ignorance does not equal trolling, and how exactly are hurt commenters "throwing their opinions out there to be criticized" any less than the person whose post they're commenting on?

It's funny, before I decided to transition, when I still believed such a dream was impossible for someone like me, I had resigned myself to living as male (who happened to be white). I usually didn't have much trouble finding and keeping work though I did go through my share of jobs.

Then, when I began living fulltime, all that privilege I didn't know I had suddenly vanished like it never existed and found myself unemployable for about six years afterward. Suddenly, there was no law that said I had to be treated fairly in hiring or on the job, and no employer who would hire me.

Privilege is a nebulous thing. Often, you only notice it when it's gone. That said, there's no doubt it exists, but I seriously doubt whether many of those who are so often accused of enjoying it actually do, or do to the extent some seem to contend.

Well, being oppressed in some ways doesn't mean you can't be privileged in other ways.

Forgive me for being ever-so-slightly anti-binaristic in all my non-operative glory, but I have to say, I find it a profound insult that my rights should ever be contingent upon my surgical status, as they currently are in Alberta, where I live, and as they are in many places in the United States.

We need to oppose law that delineates between those who present, define, express, and live, their genders differently than we do. I say this for those who are genderqueer too, even though I am not. We cannot afford to make of transition, a repeat of the disasterious practice, finally abandoned in my country, of enfranchisement, that one must first assimilate to be granted rights.

Oppose this bill, and defend the basis for our freedom.

Jillian, I recognize myself in so much of this! It's what needs saying from time to time.

Speaking as someone who has lived from dumpster to dumpster in days gone by -- I don't recommend it as the best political training, but when you encounter a sister or brother that's there, it's "valued experience" time -- to be present, attentive, respectful, and ready to learn. I wasn't dumber when I was dirt poor; on the other hand, I'm not really smarter just because I went to school and had a career since (now retired). I just had two different lives in that respect (as in so many others! -- grin).

We begin where we are, and if we hold back our contribution from fear to offend, nobody wins but the Beltway Boffins and the Bible-Belt-Beaters. A better life for all is worth fighting for, no matter what one's spoon tastes like.

"We begin where we are, and if we hold back our contribution from fear to offend, nobody wins but the Beltway Boffins and the Bible-Belt-Beaters."

I'm sorry if I'm misinterpreting you, but it seems like you're implying that the serious pain caused by ignorant and bigoted (regardless of intent) privilege-showing is the same as the kerfuffles started by conservative professional kerfuffle-starters. This is not an issue of someone with more privilege than Dr. Weiss was trying to shut her up. This is about people with privilege (in this case Dr. Weiss, but also in the generic sense) needing to be careful not to step on (or pave right over) people with less privilege. Discouraging thoughtfulness is not helpful at all.

To answer your question: You are not a jerk. I can't say if you are "privileged" because that word has been robbed of any meaning by your trans activist cultists friends. Cultists who assert that everyone is privileged, but then freely use that term to invalidate anything and anyone with whom they disagree.

Finally, unfortunately you are smug in the style of your trans activist friends. Weren't you the person who boasted on this site that you were so gallant and saintly as to deign to email Ron Gold after his expulsion? How you strived to "educate" this terrible, awful, bad man and dispense your golden morality to better him? That's smug, as were all the comments that came in from your trans friends expressing amazement as to your courage and tolerance of this human pestilence who had the temerity to express a viewpoint that was not trans-approved.

To your credit, you show a degree of introspection that doesn't exist in the typical braying trans activist. Since you do have that going for you, please consider how much more you could achieve by repudiating their language, tactics and attitude toward others. The world would be a better place.

That wasn't Jillian. That was Zoe that kept up a conversation with Ron Gold. Zoe is a commenter here.

Your opinions would hold more water if you didn't seem to have such a problem with trans people in general. It's one thing to have issues with a specific movement -- for example: feminism, especially second-wave feminism, has lots of bad crap associated with it, and thinking that doesn't make one sexist -- but you clearly just do not like trans people, and that makes it impossible [for me, at least] to take you seriously.

Jillian, excellent post. I am a trans woman who is white, upper middle class, employed and generally privileged. Other voices despearately need to be heard --- trans folks who are people of color, who are not native English speakers, who are young, who are financially struggling. If the movement is just for us white middle class folks, then we're no better than the gays and lesbians who wanted to throw trans people under the bus so they could get their sexual orientation protections in ENDA.

OK Jillian let's take this one piece at a time.
Are you smug? Well perhaps a bit.
Are you privileged? Far more than some but far less than others.
Are you a Jerk? Hmm...I'm not sure. I'd have to ask your inflatable husband.

Here's the thing. Read Kipling's poem "If". You might want to change the last line gender and that's ok. Now line by line how does your life, actions and the ideals you hold precious stack up?

I will not pass judgment for I only know you through what I see online. You rate pretty highly in my regard even if you do not always take everyone's situation into account.

Thanks for doing your thing.

polargirl360 | May 28, 2010 6:24 PM

The problem isn't just racism and classism. Those two things are merely symptomatic of the following.

It seems as if a handful of narcissists proclaimed themselves to be the "leaders" (something narcissists always aim to do) of a people that they don't represent the majority of nor have the majority of people they claim to represent consider them to be their leaders.

The arrogance, patronization, put downs, and overall bullying of every dissenter on this site who disagreed with the “leaders’ ” position on the ENDA compromise shows narcissism. The lack of credit to other people for influencing your change of procedure further shows narcissism. A narcissist always feels the need to convince others they are right even when they realize they are wrong and need to change to keep their perception of being a leader realistic.

I am not saying their narcissism is what drives autogynephilia. Dr. Blanchard's theories are quite repulsive. The narcissism even though unrelated to autogynephilia is however there in the extreme with these self-proclaimed "leaders". I needed to clarify this just so I am not accused of trying to label anyone an autogynephiliac.

If transgender people are serious about getting rights, they need to be vigilant in detecting and rejecting narcissists, psychopaths, and other people with personality disorders that make them seek out leadership positions to “represent” their constituents. These types of people have damaged other people’s causes and communities and the country as a whole. We don’t need them to damage our cause and community any further!

Oh, very well said. But, oh my, does that complicate things.
I hope we can take Dr Jillian at her word here. I hope she will stay open to consideration and criticism of those who feel alienated by some of her prose delivery.
But overall, were I trans (I am not, but I am a physician and VERY VERY supportive of trans people) I would only hope to have someone 'out there' presenting issues in my cause to others who will listen to her, only because...she is 'priviledged' 'to be seen as mainstream enough to get people to listen.
We must keep up the pressure for a fair, moral fully-inclusive ENDA, just as we must for all LGBT goals to FULL EQUALITY.

RE: The bathroom issue. I do not know why...except for resistance from the multinational corporations that now run the US. we cannot just change bathrooms to all have stalls. and ALL BE Asexual...as they do in Europe. So damned mature and civilized we cannot even consider it, I guess.

"I needed to clarify this just so I am not accused of trying to label anyone an autogynephiliac."

Yes, but from what I'm reading, that's exactly what it sounds like you're trying to do, polite denial or no. Stop beating around the bush with these accusations and say what you're trying so hard to say... and who you're specifically speaking about. Your message and being coy don't go together.

I agree with ginasf -- I think it's suspicious that you brought up "autogynephilia" in the first place. I also think that racism and classism (as well as isms in general) are the broader issues, and it's not all "merely symptomatic of" these egocentric wannabe leader types you mention. And I think that your associating people with personality disorders with power-seeking wannabe leaders, and generally vilifying people with personality disorders, is very ableist.

Jill - I don't know what you've been drinking to make you write a post like this.

But whatever it is... I could do with some of the same, could I not? Please send a can over my way.

No, you're not.

I was very critical of the post you reference, so it seems only right that I get in a word or two here.

Thank you for this. I think it stands as a reminder to others in positions of influence and power that their being there, almost by definition, gives them an amount of privilege that can distance them from the people they are ostensibly trying to help. And as someone said elsewhere, the only way to curtail that is to be aware of it.

(And, of course, I agree completely that codifying restroom restrictions in ENDA is a far cry different, and much much worse, than the current undefined state of things, which sort of relies on the occasionally correct-leaning judgment of employers. I can't tell you how nice it is to hear someone a little higher up on the food chain finally echo this sentiment.)

Thanks, Dr. Weiss. This is exactly what I needed to read.

Just to throw dirt on the wound, I do believe the term "jerk" is almost universally applied to men. So no, I don't think you're a jerk but occasionally oblivious, yes. I didn't like the post you're mentioning but you have a wonderful, caring heart.

Privilege is complicated in the crazy world of trans woman. Someone who actually transitions when they're young has privilege (no matter how crappy their life might be), someone who's 5'5" and 120 lbs. with full hair and delicate bones has privilege yet someone who looks like a man in a dress yet has a doctorate degree in engineering can also definitely have privilege. Needless to say, all white people have some form of privilege, all people who weren't tortured into quitting school and had the resources to get an education are privileged, all people who grew up and transitioned in the Internet age have privilege and all people who owned their own homes were privileged. There's a lot of privilege to go around.

Chitown Kev | May 29, 2010 9:45 AM

ginasf hit it on the head that most people have some form of privilege, even a cis-black gay guy like myself

I still have male privilege, for example, and "education privilege" (usually I group that under class privilege).

What I would like to see though, Dr. Weiss, isn't simply a white person "checking their privilege" but really, really examining their privilege. It just seems to me that people kinda sorta accept much of what is said about privilege on a theoretical level and don't look at the real-life benefits and opportunities that privilege affords.

polargirl360 | May 29, 2010 12:06 PM

Going off-topic from this blog onto the topic of privilege in general?

Looks like some people are interested in derailing this blog. I wonder why? [sarcasm]

Chitown Kev | May 29, 2010 3:05 PM

Speaking for myself, I'm not attempting to derail this posting at all (not saying that I'm inclusive in polargirl's "some people")

Let me give an example of a type of privilege that I have almost always had.

Ever since my late teens and early twenties people don't ask me if I went to college; I get asked where I went to college and when did I graduate.

I didn't get my BA degree until I was 36 years old.

Recently at Pam's House Blend, for some reason someone even assumed that I was some sort of academic based on a comment that I made that didn't seem academic to me at all. But maybe I did give off that air.

But I have always been a 1)voracious reader and 2) had that geeky look. People assume that I have some sort of "book smarts" sometimes without saying a word to me.

And it has afforded me some privilege in actually reaching across, for example, racial and even class lines in the course of some conversations.

Of course, I have also heard a little bit of what otherwise friendly white folks say about other blacks...because I'm not like THOSE black people. (I'm not shy about attacking those comments when they come up anymore but I used to be).

So I do understand, somewhat, how some forms of privilege operates in my day to day interactions in the world even though I also occupy areas of non privilege.

It is a fact of life that us "rich" White trans-gendered have privilege! That was made clear from one of my T- Friends that had been thrown out of their home at 15 and finally found the House system in NYC. I took Her/Him to one of my T meetings in Philly! She/He on the way back made the comment that " What a difference between my life and their life, Those rich White T=People worry about what Dr. to go to do the surgery, what wig, clothes, or Make-Up to wear" we street kids have to worry about Food, shelter, and getting killed! A luxury was buying hormones off the street and no idea about quality either" The street kids feel that if we had any empathy we could spend a few bucks to make sure they were fed and housed. A lot of them have to turn tricks just to survive! I in turn volunteered to video a big 3 House event. Got to meet and talk to the House Mother's! As we were entering the event We got a bit of "Shade" (Crap) after seeing that we had not only videoed the event but given the tape to the House Mother that sponsored the event we came out with "Street Cred" and got to have a few great conversations with the street kids! WE ARE PRIVILEGED! Best we can do is to send a donation directly to a House or a shelter! even our worst crap may be better that some of what they have!

It is a fact of life that us "rich" White trans-gendered have privilege! That was made clear from one of my T- Friends that had been thrown out of their home at 15 and finally found the House system in NYC. I took Her/Him to one of my T meetings in Philly! She/He on the way back made the comment that " What a difference between my life and their life, Those rich White T=People worry about what Dr. to go to do the surgery, what wig, clothes, or Make-Up to wear" we street kids have to worry about Food, shelter, and getting killed! A luxury was buying hormones off the street and no idea about quality either" The street kids feel that if we had any empathy we could spend a few bucks to make sure they were fed and housed. A lot of them have to turn tricks just to survive! I in turn volunteered to video a big 3 House event. Got to meet and talk to the House Mother's! As we were entering the event We got a bit of "Shade" (Crap) after seeing that we had not only videoed the event but given the tape to the House Mother that sponsored the event we came out with "Street Cred" and got to have a few great conversations with the street kids! WE ARE PRIVILEGED! Best we can do is to send a donation directly to a House or a shelter! even our worst crap may be better that some of what they have!

Paige Listerud | May 29, 2010 5:44 PM

This is the most fascinating discussion of privilege that I have ever read. It's profound how deep it goes and I am afraid that my comments will seem like fluff beside it.

As a woman who has identified as bisexual since 1985, I have been accused of heteroprivilege ever since I first took the "B" word seriously and began applying it to myself. Since then, I have identified as bisexual, pansexual, and queer--and I've grown in my understanding of fluid sexuality. I now know, as I didn't in my youth, that some lesbians have some experience of sexual fluidity and it is no less legitimate for them to identify as lesbian. Lesbians and gay men have grown somewhat in their understanding of fluid sexuality (at least for women) and yet one can still hear of bisexuals being accused of enjoying heteroprivilege.

The way I have experienced accusations of heteroprivilege from lesbians and gay men (I can't recall receiving a single instance from transpeople) is that the very accusation is not there to help me realize my heteroprivilege or make me more responsible for it. No, the purpose of the accusation is to delegitimize my open bi/pansexual presence in the company of lesbians and gay men. There may be lesbians and gay men in my presence who receive heteroprivilege--through being in the closet in some or every area of their lives--but the heteroprivilege that they are getting is totally forgotten when "the bisexual" shows up.

As "the bisexual" I am the figure that gets heteroprivilege, therefore, among other attacks--like "you don't exist" or "bi now, gay later," I get attacked for receiving heteroprivilege. I have to be attacked because the lesbian and gay group I have entered needs to be purified of the presence of any person getting heteroprivilege--or, is that the real reason for attacking me in front of all the rest? If other lesbians and gay men within that same group are not being excised from the group for the heteroprivilege that they are getting from being in the closet, why does the group focus on purifying the group of bisexual, pansexual, and fluid queer folks? Are we purifying the group of people who get heteroprivilege or are we purifying the group of people who openly acknowledge their fluid sexuality, some by the use of an identity that makes their fluid sexuality visible?

I have been accused of heteroprivilege in LGBTQ organizations that also included straight allies. I was accused in the presence of those straight allies, but the straight allies were never approached about the heteroprivilege that they received and would undoubtedly receive unremittingly over the course of their lifetimes. Never. I mean never. Never in my experience was any straight ally confronted about their heteroprivilege in the LGBTQ organization I attended. But, every time I came out as bisexual in front of a group of LGBTQ, I was confronted/attacked about my heteroprivilege.

How is it that I, sometimes getting heteroprivilege and sometimes not, would be the one getting attacked for heteroprivilege, but not the straight allies? How is it that I could not be trusted as an ally to my fellow L/G activists, when straight allies showing up to volunteer for the group could be trusted--even though they got and would get more heteroprivilege than me? Finally, why did L/G activists, so concerned with my heteroprivilege, look around them at the L/Gs in their organization who were still in the closet and confront them about the heteroprivilege that they were getting?

Well, I submit that the majority of the times I have been accused of heteroprivilege were really not about helping me to acknowledge my heteroprivilege. They were about delegitimizing my openly bisexual presence and preparing the ground for silencing me or throwing me out of the group.

Do I get heteroprivilege? Sometimes I do? Will that stop me from getting involved in opposite sex relationships? No. Will I give up struggling for full LGBTQ equality? No. Is it fair that I sometimes get heteroprivilege? No. But I get many other privileges, too--I'm white, I'm middle class, I've received a college education. I haven't made much money till now but I think if I really worked on that, that would change fairly quickly. I would certainly have a much better advantage than people of color or people without a college education.

Have I ever been confronted about my white, middle class privilege in an LGBTQ group? Never. Have my privileges, all or any of them, ever stopped me from fighting for LGBTQ equality? Never. I've probably made tons of mistakes and offended lots people, though. In fact, I should probably pay more attention to the privileged assumptions I make as a white, middle class bisexual than the whole heteroprivilege thing. Just sayin'.

polargirl360 | May 29, 2010 11:29 PM

Blog derailed into an "everybody; lets talk about your personal sense of privilege" thread.

This just reminds me of why I only occasionally go to trans websites and purely for the purpose of being informed about possible changes in my rights and why I abjure meeting "queer community" trans people in the real world.

I just don't want to be a part of any social cult, especially one that is based on a sexuality that I don't have! The mainstream world is just fine by me.

Let's get it back on track, Polar. What do you think needs to be addressed here?

Kathleen of Norfolk | May 31, 2010 1:43 AM

I appreciate Jillian's reflexivity here. At the same time, most people who engage in political activity are privileged in that they tend to have a higher socio economic status. Research has long demonstrated this and it is not some pox restricted to elitist transgender activists.

I think this is a really important piece.

Wow! I really enjoyed this thread. I enjoyed the original premise. "Am I a smug privileged jerk?"..and the subsequent commentary.

I am regularly accused of being all of the above, and based on the foregoing commentary, I use and have used the usual defense of choice..."I worked hard for it and earned it." OK so far so good. The truth is that like many who have commented on this thread, I was not always comfortably privileged and "middle class".

That being said I find it interesting that some attack those posting comments for "derailing" the conversation onto a discussion of "privilege". GEE! Wasn't that what this was about, an examination of privilege?

I am a mixed race transwoman who is non-op, pre-hormonal, and if you saw me naked, I'd still look like any other boy. I am also about to be homeless, am collecting SSI/Medicaid, and am only 25 years old.

I am sure many TG people could relate to my issues and have been there before. And of course, some people, like Jill, have become really successful, even though like she said, she had many struggles.

All I have to say that it is not a bad thing to have privilege, but whenever a trans person who life has been good to lately approaches a situation, they should never forget where they were, never forget the struggles they faced, for if they do, they become just like the HRC.

Here's a good link on checking your privilege.

http://questioningtransphobia.wordpress.com/how-to-check-your-cis-privilege/

Yes, it is about cis privilege, but apply it to trans privilege

And I know this might be tangential, but I would also advise transgendered people of privilege to...

1) Advocate for a true single payer healthcare system with inclusion of trans services (not only including hormones and SRS, but laser hair removal and voice feminization). These services should not be viewed as a luxury, but rather a necessary course of treatment for those with gender identity disorder

2) Be an advocate for the homeless, for homeless issues are queer issues, and trans people have to deal with not only gendered shelters, but shelters associated with less queer positive religious sects.

I like thinking I'm a Priviledged Jerk at times..until life hits me with another Cream Pie in the Face & I wake up.

Read about my lack of Priviledge as a Gay Hollywood 'Extra' ... just Google: John Starr Blog

Like ginasf said, most people have some privilege -- no matter how hard you've got it, there's nearly always someone worse off. Privilege isn't just for the comfy folks.

I'm impressed.

I don't often find cause to say that, but I think it is both justified and germane here, even after missing this post for as many months as have elapsed. I don't make this place a regular stop, so apologies for the delay.

The depth and clarity of your self examination lends me some small hope for those who would lead our community and speak for our many diverse experiences and needs.

That said, nicely done.

I'm a white, masculine gay male--middle class as far as that goes in the U.S. these days--and I think you are pretty smug and insensitive. Stop writing so much about yourself or at least get a journal. The larger audience is not your therapist or anger management group.

I just want to point out that within the paragraph you say is an apology, there is no mention of the words "sorry", or "apologize". Saying "I didn't intend..." is not an apology. Just thought I would point this out for you.

"I may not be poor now, but I've been poor. I'm post-op now, but it's not always been so. I never did claim to speak for poor trans women or trans women of color. I will be less patronizing and dismissive, but I reserve my right to disagree with you vigorously. Although I used the informal phrase "chill out," I didn't intend it as flippant or dismissive. I meant that one should not allow anger at a compromise to overcome the question of whether or not it holds important benefits for you. I also went out of my way to note that these concerns are legitimate. But I understand what it's like to be angry, what it's like to be left out, what it's like to have someone else tell you to be quiet. I have no problem with anyone here being angry. Even at me.

Jillian, I think it's hard to see it when its us doing it, but when we don't start out by first very clearly validating other people's feelings, those people can often feel like their feelings are being invalidated. It's not enough to simply refrain from invalidating those feelings. We have to take pains to very clearly validate them.

I suggest you think about that as you read your quoted comments above in the article. Even at the end, when you say that you have no problem with anyone being angry at you, you have left room for a person to interpret that as a dismissal of their anger, especially in that you don't care if they are angry. Of course, we know that's not at all what you meant, but maybe you can see in hindsight that a different phrasing might have been more clear.

I hope that helps in some way.

Our community can be terribly over-uber-pc, let's face it. We are probably the most bend-over-backwards accomodating bunch there is. Yet, it often isn't good enough for many in our community who go around looking for offense. As a white man I get the priviledge card played a lot in my community work and artistic endeavors, often just walking into the room there's dismissive eye-rolls before I even open my mouth. In fact the priviledge card is probably played more often in many activist settings to discount someones view and opinion as much as any other factor.

The truth is though that everyone's opinion - isn't equal. There are thoughtful, experienced, voices, and there's often brash, off-the-cuff, voices. There's people with laser-focused single interests, there's people with pet peeves and axes to grind, we are after all an incredibly diverse bunch (and richer for it). We don't like to admit it, but the truth is that when it comes down to it, we have to sort and prioritize the voices within the community. Not on priviledge, or race, or sex - but are they helpful, useful, well though out, community-based, etc.

i was numol earlier in the comments (login process is different now). i now think that, with at least some of my comments, it was not my place as a cis person to say anything. i apologize for crossing the line and cis-splaining.