I've started this entry about five times now, and I keep getting frustrated with the overly-strident tone and finger-pointingness of it. I know there have been lots of different blogs and various other things written about privilege, or lack thereof. But it hadn't yet reared its ugly head in my life. Until now.
A friend had made an incredibly cissexist and transphobic comment, which I felt certain was just thoughtlessness on hir part. Zie had been friendly to me since before my physical transition had even begun. When I mentioned to hir that comments like that hurt all transpeople, zie blew me off. The sentiment was basically "I don't feel that I have hurt anyone, so therefore I haven't." I wouldn't have brought something like that up, if nobody was hurt. I was hurt. And I felt like, somehow, my feelings had become a non-consideration for hir.
So a series of unfollowings and emails ensued, and it appears that we are no longer friends. Any chance of reconciliation any time soon is pretty close to zero. And that's a shame, because it didn't have to happen.
I won't lie: I'm angry at the way things went down. I'm angry that it had to happen in the first place. But I'm most angry that zie seemed quite unwilling to consider my position. It seemed like the core of the whole thing was an unwillingness to consider the positions of privilege that were at work.
I've radically changed positions in my life. I started out at the top of the privilege heap: male, white, heterosexual. And I didn't do a thing to get those privileges; they were mine simply by accident of birth. Now that I've shifted so many of those categories, it's hard to know where I stand. I'm still white, but I'm now a woman - a transgender woman at that - and a lesbian. I have never before had to consider the role of privilege. I was so disconnected from everyone and everything, I'm not sure what, if anything, it would have meant to me anyway. I always felt like I existed as something of a ghost on the very edge of the world. But now the clarity with which privilege is making itself known to me... it's a little overwhelming. And more than a little disgusting.
So in my previous role, it would have been inconsequential to have made the same comment as my friend did. I was above all those categories - sexism, cissexism, transphobia. But now, having started to experience some of those things first hand, I can say that privilege is a millstone around the neck of society as a whole. Privileged and non-privileged alike are burdened by it. It's laziness, pure and simple. It eliminates the need to actually get to know someone before making a judgement about who they are. I would suggest that those on the lower end of the privilege curve might even have the capacity to be worse in preserving the disparity than those on top; they're downtrodden, so rather than be content with everybody standing on their neck, they might seek to push somebody down, so they don't have to live at the bottom of that curve.
The problem is that this makes the problem worse, not better. Those at the top of the heap can just watch all those underneath fight it out to not be the worst. But all it does is preserves the status quo. Those on top remain, and those on the bottom remain, and none are truly benefitted.
The core of the whole thing is respect. Respect is a funny thing, though. It functions best when it is given, rather than when it is received. And rather than being in a limited supply, the more respect that is given, the more that comes back, and the more one has to give to others. Everyone is uplifted, and nobody is diminished. The trick is that it's a chain, and any weak or broken link can make the whole thing fall apart. It's a practical example of an iterated prisoner's dilemma, and there is no consequence for defecting, especially for those who already have the power of their privilege. Power they acquired by doing nothing more dramatic than drawing breath.
Ridiculous quote aside, it seems a bit crazy that the true solution is for everyone to "be excellent to each other", but it really is just that simple. First we need to form a chain of respect that encompasses everyone. Then we need to just not break it. I don't know if human nature would ever allow us to do that, but we could do far worse than to strive for such an ideal.
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