Sunday, July 14, 2013

Matters of Privilege

Last night I had the awesome experience of an evening out with the incomparable Miss Bella Duballe (Connie, Connor, Brandon, Karl and Skip...y'all missed out!) and driving home from the club about 1 in the morning I asked, because I am insatiably curious, why drag? In the context of answering the question the issue of empathy for what those of us born women go through to conform to the ever changing ideals of beauty came up and we ended up in a conversation about well, privilege basically.

As a biological male, Slade has things that he never has to worry about UNTIL he becomes Bella. Those are things that I, as a biological female, must always hold in the back of my mind. Things like, "Is it safe for me to walk down the street in this outfit?". Things like, how far is the closest parking to an event space and is that parking going to be safe after dark? Not to mention the thousand little things that just seem to be part and parcel of being a girl. Like shaving my legs and donning uncomfortable support garments, and HEELS (torturous evil things clearly invented by men!) and make-up that can sweat off and leave me looking worse than if I hadn't worn any in the first place (which is why I usually don't) when I go out in public to a dressy event. When Zaria comes out to play and I dance in a public space with my Desert Rose shimmy sisters, we ALWAYS have husbands or boyfriends along with us because some people seem to think that it's ok to put your hands on the bellydancers. We live in a "rape culture" where the responsibility is not on men to not rape but on WOMEN not to get raped. All of these are things that male privilege pretty much exempts everyone with a Y chromosome from.

As a straight person I have things I never have to worry about that must always be in the back of the minds of my LGBT friends. Things like how to provide for my partner in the event of my death or how to set it up so my partner can make decisions for me should I become unable to...that's EASY for came along with the package when I signed for my marriage license. In our state (along with many others) I certainly don't have to be concerned that displaying my partner's photo on my desk (assuming he's fully clothed) could be a firing offense...but my LGBT friends do. I don't have to worry about being denied or evicted from housing because of who my partner is. I don't have to think about how to tell my family that I'm *gasp* Straight. No one is going to send me to "reparative therapy" to try to make me into a lesbian. I'm not going to lose my church family when they find out who I love...O, Wait, scratch that. That one I did have happen...because I love my LGBT friends. Still, by and large, straight privilege, makes a million things easier for me than for them.

Both of us in the conversation are white, educated, middle class. Each of those generates its own level of privilege. Neither of us is overly likely to be shot because we were wearing a hoodie and carrying a bottle of tea and a bag of skittles for example. I live in a predominately black neighborhood. My next door neighbor has three fine sons. I fear for them because of what happened in the Trayvon Martin case. It absolutely PISSES ME OFF the garbage I am seeing coming from my friends celebrating the verdict. Because it shows that they have 1) no basic human compassion and 2) no understanding at all of the privilege that they enjoy simply by virtue of the accident of their birth.

I'm also Christian...and anyone who tells you that there isn't privilege attached to being culturally christian in this nation is an idiot and/or a bald faced liar. I will NOT go on another of my rants about our false persecution complex because it's old news to anyone that reads here. Still too many of my peers are unaware of or unwilling to acknowledge our christian privilege. Yesterday I sat on a panel in a getting started meeting for homeschoolers, SECULAR homeschoolers, and they are not welcome as members of the area homeschooling association because that association is explicitly and exclusively "christian". Which means, in practical terms, that they cannot access the collective power of 3000+ member families when it comes to creating things like band programs and sports teams and political action for their children that the "christian" families of MHEA control. I've been in job interviews where the question "where do you go to church" has been asked (illegal by the way) and the wrong answer would automatically disqualify a candidate no matter what his or her qualifications. So yes, christian privilege DOES exist and because I am Christian I benefit from it.

But I also benefit from a privilege that most WASP's like me don't...In my life I have a Bella Duballe and I have a Slade and an Austin and a Skip and a Kal and a Brandon and a Connor and a Beth and a Jennifer and a Leann and a Jeff (living) and another Jeff (gone but NEVER forgotten) and a Michael and a Jonathan and a Will and, and, and...I could go on and on and on listing the amazing gifts of LGBT friends God placed in my life over the last 4 and a half decades...but I have neither patience or space to do so. And they've been willing to share their stories with me and to welcome me into their lives and to become a part of mine. And I have a Bobby, and a Leon and a YY and a Teena and an Adrian and a whole Men's Athletic Dorm of African American athletes that I lived with (pretty much literally) for 4 years who would plop down at the desk beside my camera station and talk to me about what was going on with them and would let me ask questions that were probably, no in retrospect certainly, stupid and racist...It was Bobby who first taught me about privilege and opened my eyes to its existence.

In the wake of things like the Trayvon Martin case and the unjust verdict passed pronouncing George Zimmerman "Not Guilty" I find myself forced to examine my own privilege and pondering how to create a society where our differences don't define us. I don't have the answers but I think becoming aware of the reality of the ways we ourselves are privileged must be a crucial part of the equation. I also think knowing and listening to the "Other" is critical. It is said that "familiarity breeds contempt" but in my experience familiarity breeds compassion. We need to move out of our privileged bubbles and get to know our "Other" and listen to their truth. It's the only way we're all going to survive this world together. Because we're damned sure not going to survive it apart.

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