The Matter with Priviledge, or Why I should never blog after watching "The Handmaid's Tale"
Matter of Privilege…
I have had a busy spring and summer giving talks and workshops with Mylove about the care and feeding of unicorns, commonly referred to as transgender health and rights. One series of talks was as a member of a panel of speakers that helped prepare the entire workforce of Kaiser Permanente West LA to begin offering GCS. Yay KP, but the reason I'm bringing this up is that I was blessed with meeting amazing, articulate, engaging, and committed members of our tribe who shared my passion for getting it right for us, but who had amazingly different views and experiences..
Wow.. Didn’t see that coming.
But I will confess, the conversation during the course of 12 workshops over a 3 month period went down a few roads that even caught me off guard. And one of the most significant of these was the various privileges and status we as transwomen and transmen had given up or, surprisingly gained with our various transitions within our ethnic communities. We were as diverse as could be: Asian, Black, Latino, Latina, Native American and lil ol me, I don’t like to say white, cuz that doesn’t take my Finnish, Polish, Swedish (mom’s side) mixed with my dad’s Irish and Scottish (vs. Scotch Irish which are two very different things!) into account, and of which I’m very proud. But for argument’s sake, will use the pejorative “white” for this post, if for only to make a point.
So, fairly representative of the major ingredients of our American culture, we laughed that we made up a Justice league of trans superheroes even tho’ we had 6 incarnations of Wonder Woman and about 3 of Superman (tho’ Josh, I’m sure, struck me more as one batting for the other team… meaning the Marvel team of course, being more of Reed Richards, Fantastic Four kinda guy...).
Did I just digress? Probably. If you’re new to me, it’s kinda what I do.
What struck me in one of these convos was that Sharon, a Black woman (she never got into the label African-American), stated that, “while Scottie stepped away from White Male Privilege, I [Sharon] have gone from the bottom, reviled in my community, as an effeminate gay black man, up the ladder of status to the top, as a Black woman. Now white men are afraid of me.”
As I let this thought sweep me off my feet, Aly, an amazing Chinese-American woman laughed, “Well if we’re buying into stereotypes, which the world seems to soooo want to do these days, I went from the tippy top of Privilege as an Asian Man, down one rung to Asian woman, and I still intimidate white men.”
Gino, a transman joined in, “Well, I went from Latina to Latino, and now, somehow I am suddenly smarter.”
As we all pondered the ironies of our journeys, two things struck me:
1. We all knew what each was talking about - the assumptions and tropes didn’t need explanation or context - the reality of the stereotypes of how race and gender was regarded in each community was known by us all…
2. They all used the metric of White Male as the point from which status was calculated and measured.
It’s especially a factor when measuring my value and worth by others. In fact, one phrase that is used to continually bash my sector of the marginalized societies that march under the rainbow flag is “White Male Privilege.” As in:
“Easy for you to say, you enjoyed White Male Privilege.”
“You’ll never know, because you are stained by White Male Privilege.”
And my personal favorite, “Now you know what it’s like to live without White Male Privilege.”
So, let’s get something straight. I am, and always have been, a woman. Except when i was a girl.
Tho’ the world thought and conspired to make me the boy and then the man my original birth certificate proclaimed me to be, it was obviously a typo, which has since been corrected thru a court order (had to get the big guns involved) and medical skill. But nothing changes my experience of being raised by wolves.
So it is accurate to say I enjoyed WMP, and benefitted in certain situations. I, and my fair skinned sisters will not and do not deny that. But what is ironic is that when we are reminded by the slash of this accusation, we are often found bewildered, not because we don't understand that we, through an “accident of birth,” received endless seen and unseen overt and covert benefits merely because of the color of our skin, but we were too haunted and hounded by the spectre of dysphoria to enjoy them. This does not excuse us (okay, getting too broad here) excuse me, nor am I asking for forgiveness, sympathy or any additional anything, I am merely explaining the presence of the bruise that appears, when this question is slung at me. Because the asker of this question assumes two very messed-up things; Number 1, that WMP is something of intrinsic value that we both, asker and I, are presumed to agree to it’s value, and thus agree to a sense of loss at it’s being taken away.
And B, and more insidiously, it is also a “tell” that the asker does not see me as a woman (otherwise, how could I have had WMP long enough to lose it) but also that I am too stupid to have known what we as women have endured (for decades) with WMP’s existence, and thus need it pointed out to me now.
Why the dramatic language you say?
First my weekly disclaimer is in order. The trans people I know, myself included, are some of the greatest students of human nature you could possibly ever know. The later we transition, the longer we have been in the “observer” mode because it’s the only place we can rectify our dysphoria, by longingly and lovingly scrutinizing every move cis people make. It’s both how we soothe our aching souls and how we will protect ourselves when we do finally venture out into the world. Our radar sweep is wide and scarily astute to make sure we aren’t read, lest your clock tolls for us. So we know and must read between the lines.
And we hear the truth in your language that you aren’t even aware of.
Its why we on the panel all knew why the various changes in status made so much sense, even when it was patently absurd. Because it was undeniably… real.
And the sting of having WMP slung at us white girls whenever we cry foul at our treatment has a particular venom designed to hurt. The sins of our fathers, it seems, are to be atoned for by the daughters.
We know, especially as transwomen, that the shock and awe of our comings out make most scratch their head. It was one even of Mylove’s first questions:
“Why would you want to be a woman?”
As a woman who had been raised through the fifties and sixties and had borne the extra burdens that women have been expected to bear, and the lack of privilege and rights and general regard in our “enlightened” American society, Mylove wondered why I, who as forty-five year old, “man” just hitting my stride, would willingly walk away from all that to step into womanhood.
She didn’t use these words but others had a catchphrase, and they wanted to know, “How could you possibly want to give up “White Male Privilege?” As if being a white woman was a step down from my lofty birthright. A loss. Somehow bad or less-than.
This has, please god tell me you can see, implications of sexism that I pray we are never going to pass on to our daughters and our sons. This question acknowledges, and more importantly reinforces, the notion of male superiority. Yes.
Tho’ it might not be the intention; this is what’s being said.
This question also reinforces the notion of white supremacy. It does not merely acknowledge its existence (as WMP critics keep saying) it continually puts this bullsh*t back into the conversation. I don’t know how you were raised, but where I came from, I was taught that character and achievement made you better than yourself. No one is supposed to be better than anyone else merely by the color of their skin, the language they speak, the religion they practice and certainly not the gender or non-gender with which they identify. And if, more likely when, they act that way, or believe that way or try to legislate or discriminate that way, it must be stopped immediately… with extreme prejudice. (irony is mine).
Julia Serano wrote astutely in Whipping Girl, that the reason why cis men and, more horrifyingly, cis women have such a visceral aversion to the mere idea (i.e. a figment of a very fucked up imagination, that allows the nurturing of stupidity) of trans women, is that both men and women believe and continue to support the notion that men are superior and “given a choice” can’t believe for even a moment that anyone, in their right mind, would willingly give up that privilege to be… GASP - a mere woman.
She goes on to say that Transmen get the opposite treatment. They are suddenly regarded as smart, of seeing the light, when they step into privilege of the male class. This is an over simplification and, tho’ some of my trans male friends, including Josh “Reed Richards” might agree, others have a tough time as late-comers to the boys’ club, and face their own set of discriminations, and prejudices. But if they choose to do so, once they “pass” and blend in, they can feel the warmth of privilege. Never underestimate the superpower of facial hair.
So we as transwomen get it coming and going. When we finally get someone to wrap their heads around the reality that we are women, we get regarded as stupid or crazy for choosing to live our lives as “the weaker sex,” and then get discriminated against as women and marginalized as transgender.
As bad as it can be, it’s never, despite what my sisters in the Hall of Justice say, as bad for me and my white sisters as being a transgender person of color. 2017 is only half over and the HRC is already reporting 14 murders of transwomen, all of them women of color. Last year, 27 deaths were reported, with almost all of them trans people of color. That’s more than two a month in a population estimated to be 250,000 in the U.S. Death by “living while trans.” Seriously? Come on!
So, tho’ my mere presence can incite revulsion and violence, statistically speaking, at least I won’t end up set on fire, stabbed, shot and stabbed, raped and stabbed and set on fire, and the ever popular dragged behind a car.
So there’s that.
And let’s keep this in context - my super sisters of color in the league aren’t myopic, they are being “ironically optimistic” – when they spoke of how as individuals each had risen from various rungs within their communities, they were still measuring against the benchmark of “White Male” – they and I harbor no illusions about how their entire slices of the human pie continue to reel from centuries of abuse, discrimination and the blatant R-word “racism” at the hands of white society.
It’s 2017 and every time someone chants “Black Lives Matter,” some backassward insecure cretin, who we hope has not added yet to our gene pool, responds with “White Lives Matter too” or it’s passive aggressive lil brother, “All Lives Matter.” So, yes, an unfortunately too large a section of the fabric of our country is fighting tooth and nail to remain in its arrogance, hubris, and ignorance.
Yes. it’s been a hard lesson for whites to continually swallow that despite, “not being a racist,” our society is. Still. Despite the civil rights amendment, despite having a black President, this is still a country where black parents have to have “the talk” with their black sons; where black parents live in real fear that this might be that night when their sons die at the hands of those charged with protecting them.
This is still a country when our current “President” is doing everything in his power to build a wall between America and the entire Latino and Latin America world.
Let's get real. We all know we live in a world where, even before we got a pussy grabbing sex offender for our Commander in Chief, most everybody in government is in, or supports, the ultimate boys’ club, with the exception of shining lights like Elizabeth Warren, Maxine Waters, and Kamala Harris who fight every day against that boys club - a world where it took a full frontal attack on women's health and the ownership of our own bodies to get women on the other side of the aisle to wake up, Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins, lest our fate being determined by a panel of old white men…
So, yes. None of us in this league of heroes, despite the inherent confidence that comes with our superpowers, are Pollyannas. We get it. The world is hard out there, it’s hard for everyone. You don’t have to tell us, we live with this reality everyday.
Does your mere presence invoke violence and rage inside someone else?
Does your mere existence and the violence you suffer foster a sense of “well, she must’ve asked for it…” in the heart of anyone? How ‘bout in the heart of a sweet old so-and so, who everyone generally agrees “would never hurt a fly?” Yet, this sweet old so-and-so might as well have pulled the trigger, swung the bat, jabbed the knife or lit the match, herself. She turned her back on us in her heart. What’s her Jesus gonna think of that?
If your mere existence creates that in someone, why would you choose…
… to stand for it?
None of my sisters, no matter their color, chose this. God did. What we chose was between living and hiding, living and dying, and hopefully, one day, living and thriving. Our brothers too.
That we fly in the face of gender norms should be inspirational, not a cudgel with which to beat us.
And still the darkness reigns.
And maybe it is the wolf blood that once ran through these veins, but this… enrages me.
So, here’s where superpowers come in handy, we use them on ourselves, to keep our swords in our sheaths/ And choose instead our motherly compassion.
As a fifty-five year old woman, I expect men to be boys. I expect them to cling to the safety of their mommies’ skirts when confronted by the likes of me, to roll their eyes, scratch their heads and say aloud, “I don’t get it, but I admire your courage.” And then stumble over pronouns as they half-heartedly try to re-see me as a woman in their worldview. I also allow some to grow out of this toddler stage and grow into men that will treat me with respect. Most times the sign that this has happened is when they start treating me like woman and…
… stop calling me and forget to include me in the things we used to do together. Another sign is that I find that I start talking to their wives and girlfriends more than to them. In short, I am no longer my friends’ equal, but rather someone who must be dealt with, managed or… just plain ignored. But, and here comes the Stockholm’s syndrome that women have chosen for years as coping mechanism - at least the good news is, they do see me as woman!”
As maddening as that is, what makes my once wolfen blood boil is when I get it from women. I have been completely dismissed by some of my lesbian sisters as “will never be a woman.” As if the stain of testosterone has tainted me forever.
Are you kidding me? I'm a fucking gold-star lesbian! How many of you can claim that? And… I am not your opinion, belief or definition. You do not define me. You don’t get to admit me to womanhood. If anything I am wonder woman - having fought and won the testosterone wars, despite all odds, even biological ones - to stand in victory with Grace, with dignity, with love.
And in these emotional and psychological skirmishes, Julia’s theories become freakily prescient. Not even pure radical feminism escapes the patriarchy (which critics have said for years), because it allows itself to be defined in the negative, no matter how you spell womyn. But it can’t be had both ways - we as transwomen can’t be (in their words) stupid enough to “want” to be women, while being audacious enough to claim that we are. Both fly in the face of feminism. We are not second class anything. And no one, certainly not even another woman gets to define who any one of us, are.
We as trans people are the living examples of just that. The world believes it can have a belief and/or an opinion of whether we actually exist or not. As if its opinion matters at all. And at the same time we are mysteries who dare to flaunt the boundaries and limits of a binary world - how dare we! And where did we get such courage? “They are not like us.” “They are not human.”
We push everyone to reconsider their own identity and that comes with a price. Most push back - it’s too uncomfortable, too radical, too intimidating. If we’re living at close to total potential, why aren't you? We scare people because we are Superhuman. We know ourselves and you better than you will ever allow yourself to know yourself. Our living out loud throws shade on you living in your quiet secrets. Our light is seen and felt as your shadow.
But it shouldn’t be that way.
if we have to forgive you for abandoning core feminist views and harboring revulsion in your heart, judging us as less than anything, then you can certainly forget that physical biology has anything to do with identity.
I worked an entire lifetime to get to here. I want to be a part, not be apart. My femininity is not a commentary on yours, my womanhood doesn’t devalue yours. You do you and I’ll do me.
Look, I and my tiara’d sisters (and brothers) get it that when we first come out you may need a minute or so to reconfigure us in your mind as individuals. But for as a whole community, we as humans should never have been outside your hearts. Even if you never had an occasion to know we existed.
And if this isn’t you, great!
But if this shoe fits...
Ask yourself are you playing into sexism, supporting old outdated ideas of what a woman is, what femininity is? Are you supporting our grandparents’ notions that we, as women, could never be more than second class citizens, the weaker sex, the fairer sex? Have you allowed these to create a hierarchy in your own heart of gender, of race, of economic, intellectual or any other otherness? Do you still not see that we as trans people bring to the human table the virtues (among many): live out loud, passionate compassion, following one’s own heart fully, and above all, unconditional, unwavering love?
Follow our lead.
Adjust your tiara, coil your golden lasso of truth and let’s all get out there and fix this world!