An acknowledgement of Privilege
Before we go on this journey together, I think it’s important to get a few things clear. I have a lot of privilege that makes my life easier. It’s important I acknowledge this now and in the future because there are things that I will talk about that will be specific to my journey that might not be the same for everyone else.
Let’s start with the textbook definition of Privilege:
a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.
– From the Oxford Living Dictionaries.
This has often been understood to relate to someone’s personal wealth. Rich people lead incredibly privileged lives, especially those who are born into money. Let’s expand on that and look at some of the privileges I have and how they might affect those who don’t have them.
Before we start, I want to make it clear that acknowledging privilege does not mean you have to feel guilt for the privileges you have. Examining and Acknowledging your privileges is an essential process in becoming a more compassionate human being as it opens you up to listening to and gaining some understanding of the lives of those less privileged than you.
This will be a living document. I will edit and add to this in the future if I remember or am made aware of privileges I’ve not touched on, and if I realise that my entries are insensitive or incorrect. Please, if you see something that needs to be corrected, don’t be afraid to speak up.
Warning… This is going to be a long one.
Yeah, let’s start with this!
I don’t identify as a man any longer, but I spent 33 years living as a man, dressing like a man and being taught to see the world from a man’s perspective. I’ve said things and behaved in ways that come from this privilege. I’ve spent many years actively trying to unlearn some of the ways my male privilege has encouraged me to think and act, but I still catch myself making mistakes based on this.
Example: When I worked in a photography shop where we processed films and digital photos for print as well as sold cameras, men and women would routinely completely ignore the women I worked with and ask me for help. This would happen even if the (very competent) women were out in the store and I was (visible) at the back, working on something else.
The implication is that being a Man I obviously had to be more able to help with technical issues than my female co-workers. A complete fallacy based entirely on my gender.
My privilege still affects how I act, and will also affect how I’m seen when I’m out, though it interestingly shifts depending on how feminine my presentation is. At work, I basically count as Male seeing as how I don’t usually wear make-up and dresses in the gym. When I’m presenting feminine I have a much higher instance of people touching me and people making comments on my appearance, whether positive or negative.
I’ve had men come to me and start telling me what colour dresses I should wear instead of the ones I’m wearing. Men who don’t wear dresses and who are not fashion conscious and some who knew me before I wore dresses and somehow never felt compelled to criticise my choice of attire when dressed in accordance with my assigned gender. Why does this happen?
Men have the privilege of feeling competent and special and that their opinion has particular merit despite their mediocrity, because they are constantly given a leg up over women. This is a fact, don’t fight me on this.
I am born white and will forever be white. We live in a world where whiteness makes it easier to achieve certain things, and a world where being a Person of Colour (PoC) or a person with a NAME that sounds like that of a PoC can make life more difficult or even dangerous. Most of us are aware of the situation of policing in America right now, which gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement, but this problem can be much more subtle. When Serena Williams won the Australian Open while pregnant, people seriously questioned whether maybe being pregnant gave her a competitive edge that allowed her to win. SERENA WILLIAMS! As if she hadn’t proved that she was capable of winning everything ever multiple times already.
Anyway. Being white – especially in the UK – I am considered the “Default”. Nobody questions my right to be here despite being a foreigner, while people of colour have their legitimacy as citizens, as non-criminals, as leaders and just as people questioned on a regular basis.
As an extra example: Consider how African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is perceived. PoC are considered unprofessional and lower-class for speaking in a dialect that has nothing to do with economic privilege or their ability to do a job with competency and professionalism. (at the same time, white people mimic their words and intonations with no such ramifications. Think “on fleek”, “Yaaas!”, “aight!”, “thirsty”, etc) Same goes for natural hair styles for black Africans. For years, black natural hair has been seen as undesirable and unkempt while white people could copy their styles with impunity. This is thankfully starting to change, with more natural hair on display in ad campaigns and Film/ TV.
ABLE BODIED Privilege
I have no physical ailments that stop me functioning in the way humans are generally assumed to be able to function. I have all my limbs, I have no joint problems, no brain injuries, no major sensory deprivations (my olfactory senses aren’t great but I DO have a sense of smell!) and I have no chronic pain or other chronic illnesses.
There are so many chronic illnesses that are poorly understood and that go under the radar. Being mindful that there are others out there who might be struggling with ailments you can’t see is incredibly important in being a Good Human. Many who struggle with invisible disabilities don’t really talk much about them because their pain is dismissed as being whiny or lazy.
How many of your friends who keep cancelling plans have Chronic Fatigue? Or Endometriosis? Would you necessarily know?
PERCEIVED CLASS Privilege
My dialect and speaking voice are a mix of Received Pronunciation with a bit of London and a sprinkle of Scottish and Australian thrown in (I watched a lot of Australian kids’ shows growing up). My enunciation is clear and my intonation is friendly. When people hear me speak, whether they want to or not, they will automatically make associations and assumptions based on that. On top of this, I’m generally “clean cut” in terms of how I dress and present myself.
In practice, that means that if I’m trying to get strangers to do something for me, they will (generally) feel comfortable in their knowledge that I’m not trying swindle them or that I’m lying. This is based on a whole bunch of fallacies around class, where people who speak in stronger “colloquial” dialects can be assumed to be angling for something, sometimes even with an assumption of potential violence. If this seems far-fetched, ask yourself how you’ve felt when someone who seems unwashed and who speaks in a strong accent with maybe some slurring in their words has spoken to you in a public space, regardless of what they’ve said. Then consider the same situation with someone in clean, smart clothing with a clear speaking voice.
I spend a lot of time talking to strangers due to my dog. I’ve spoken with people at almost every strata of society, and I’ve often caught myself pulling back from completely innocuous interactions with someone because of my own preconceived notions and privilege as they’ve made me uncomfortable. This is NOT OKAY.
Many consider white privilege to be a myth because poor white people are also faced with barriers to success. These people are wrong. Class privilege is a thing, yes, but so is white privilege. These oppressions can and very often do intersect.
Privilege of PHYSICAL APPEARANCE
Without wanting to sound conceited, I am aware that I have a body and a facial structure that gives me privilege. Media in the form of advertising, film, TV, social platforms, etc tell me indirectly that my cheekbones, my hair colour, my muscles and my lean frame are considered attractive.
I’ve lost track of how often I’ve been told by women “You have better legs with me!” or “I wish I could wear that!” or similar when sharing photos of my dresses and other feminine clothing. Time and time again, we are told both directly and indirectly that we have to be of a certain size, shape, shade and age to be considered attractive.
Is my right to be gender queer and walking around among people predicated on my physical attributes? It would often seem that it is. I’ve seen some really damaging “jokes” being spread around in the form of meme photos of people considered not worthy of having freedom of gender expression or even to have sexual desires. I won’t link to them because I find them abhorrent.
A person’s physical appearance is not a marker for their worth as a human being. Every person has a right to exist as a full human being with ALL that that implies. We don’t have to be Fashion Mag Pretty to be proud of who we are.
MENTAL HEALTH Privilege
Now, this is a bit more complex as in the past several years I’ve realised more and more that I suffer with depression, and that this depression has been deepening. I also show signs of low-level anxiety. At times, I find it almost intolerable to even contemplate going to work. Not because I hate work; I love my job as a PT, but because I am exhausted from battling my internal thought processes.
Please, if you don’t want to know details on how I feel about myself and my life, skip this paragraph and just move on to the next one… Okay, so: For the past several years, I’ve had a strong and innate sense that I am worthless. This will come in waves, and in really low cycles, I will on an almost daily basis and usually then several times in a day tell myself that I hate myself and acknowledge that I am worthless. I say acknowledge because it’s as if it’s just a fact about me like that I have two arms, and every now and then it’s just brought to the front of my mind. From that comes a whole bunch of other thoughts, like that I can’t possibly be of use to someone who needs me to train them to become stronger, or that I’m a constant burden on those I love. Right now, I’m actively avoiding getting into sexual or romantic relationships because it’s not fair on whoever I would be seeing when I can’t “pull myself together” and don’t have the mental or emotional energy to give to people. My sex drive is low these days, but not non-existent, and I have some very, very complicated sex and consent related emotions and trauma. This means that while I DO want to have sex, I end up not having it as an active choice because it stresses me out too much to even contemplate the intricacies of a sexual encounter.
Okay, you can come back now! Being all that as it may, I do not suffer with crippling anxiety or clinical depression. I am not reliant on medicine to balance out my brain chemistry to function. I am also in an economic situation where I don’t rely on state-funded mental health support. I am seeing a therapist who understands LGBTQIA+ issues and is supportive of my journey outside of mental health.
Many people on the gender and sexuality spectrum suffer with mental health problems. Despite some people’s assertions that “indulging in trans identity” LEADS to mental illness, studies have shown that supporting trans children and affirming their gender identities significantly helps them compared to children who are forced to live as their assigned gender. Sadly, good support is not a CURE for mental illness, especially those arising from chemical imbalances, etc but it does help!
THE END (For now)
So these are some of the many privileges I have. Remember that you are not a bad person for having privilege, but if you have privilege you should take responsibility for making sure you don’t use that privilege to speak over those who lack it. White people need to listen to and try to understand People of Colour. Men need to stop mansplaining to more qualified women. Able-bodied and neurotypical people need to try to understand that people with various medical issues can’t navigate the world and social situations as them.