Antonia D'orsay

Fundamentals: Privilege

Filed By Antonia D'orsay | March 31, 2010 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Media, The Movement
Tags: anti-intellectualism, assimilation, Bisexual, cisgender people, DSM IV, DSM V, education policy, health care reform, homophobic behavior, horizontal oppression, improving relationships, Intersection, Lesbian, LGBT, Lookism, mental health, Oppression, Patriarchy, Privilege, Sexism, smoking, Stigma, substance abuse, Trans, transphobia

This is the second in the fundamentals series of articles I'm writing.

In this one, I'm going to look at something that people have a very hard time with.  It is something that everyone has to at least some degree in the United States (and it can be argued that outside of the US the same holds true, but I'm going to stay with the US culture).  Everyone.

It is related to stigma in that like it, it is something that one needs to understand fundamentally -- it lies at the base of the challenges and the fights we have with society at large.

I've chosen to make it the second article in this series because it is the most difficult of the concepts to understand.  And I will not pull punches here: the people who have the hardest time with it in the LGBT movement are "white" gay men.  They perceive it as an attack of sorts of them, and for many of them it is associated with anger and harsh exchanges.

The usual tack that most of us who understand privilege take when encountering these people is to suggest, often strongly, that they go out and learn for themselves.

Well, they aren't going to.  The people who have the greatest difficulty with privilege are indeed the ones who are making arguments using it, not realizing how they are furthering the marginalization of people because, in the end, they do not realize that they have privilege, and therefore do not know what questions to ask.  They are also typically hostile to the idea -- which is fairly common.  Most people who are called on their privilege are hostile to it.

So rather than tell them to go somewhere and find out something they can't even see, I am going to take the time to give them a bit of information on it.

And to start off, I'm going to explain privilege very simply, and very directly.

Privilege is not about who has it worse.  It is not about being a bad person or a good person.  Privilege is simply a set of expectations that one person has that another person does not have.  That's all it is.

Let's look into it in more depth.

The Invisible Knapsack

The kind of privilege being talked about here is not the sort that one commonly thinks of. It is not a visible privilege, and not something granted by some governmental authority. It is not being born to a wealthy family or the lap of luxury in the common sense that we speak about normally when we talk about someone coming from privilege in most uses.

The sort of privilege we are talking about is related to those things, but not in the same way.  It is still a form of entitlement and immunity to stigma, but not the sort that people are commonly familiar with. This kind of privilege can be earned, and often is earned.

No, the kind of privilege we are talking about is more formally known as Dominant Privilege, and is an unearned thing.  You do not have to do anything to get it, and you receive it whether you want it or not.

There are many forms of Dominant Privilege. The form that led to the visibility of it all came from the observations of Peggy McIntosh, as outlined in her essay titled "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" based on her paper: McIntosh, 1988. Working Paper #189, Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, Wellesley, MA 02181.. It  deals directly in white privilege, which is readily and easily apparent to a person who puts effort into learning about their privilege in a society that is as institutionally racist as the US culture is. The paper, though, gave rise over the last 20 years to a much greater understanding in multiple fields and areas, including those surrounding sex and gender.

Forms Of Dominant Privilege

Another form of Dominant Privilege is Male Privilege. The US is a very severe patriarchal society.  Men occupy a higher status and have more culturally supplied entitlements and immunities than women do (historically speaking).  An example of this is the wage gap -- women earn less than men.  Over a lifetime in the same positions and with the same skill sets and same basic value, a woman will more often be expected to take time off to bear and raise children, to bend her schedule to that of her spouse's, and earn less than a man simply because she is a woman.  

If she chooses not to have children, she is looked down on -- she is subjected to stigma. Men do not face such a stigma.  If a woman fails to adapt her life to her man, she is afflicted with a stigma as well. Men, again, do not suffer from that.  A woman is considered of less value than a man, economically -- and it holds even when a substantial number of people say that they are for equal pay for equal work.  Most people today feel that's fair and reasonable.  And yet, the culture we live in, as a whole, still does not live up to that expectation.

Another form, and one that's of particular importance to the target audience for this column, is heterosexual privilege. In my commentary on male privilege, I use a certain set of statements.  At first, when I introduce the idea of a woman adapting, I said spouse. The second time I referenced it and in relation to that, I used "her man." The Dominant Privilege contained in that second statement is heterosexual privilege -- the expectation that the normative pattern for society is a heterosexual relationship, and that it has primacy.

How many of my G & L friends have a regular expectation of turning on the television and seeing the lives of gay couples depicted?  How many of you have heard the statement "two men kissing is just gross"?

Those are examples of heterosexual privilege.  They are an unearned entitlement or immunity to stigma. They are merely one form of normative, not the only one.

Another form, of course, is Cis privilege.  I won't talk about that one directly now, because if I do, people will bitch.

Additional forms of dominant privilege are found in all areas of oppression: Class, Ethnicity, Education, and so forth.

Privilege is very subtle, and one of its greatest powers is that those who have privilege do not see it until and unless it is pointed out to them. And, when it is pointed out, they are quite uniformly hostile to it.  This is most readily apparent in the reactions to it.  It is so predictable, that it has become a trope in and of itself. Even people who are otherwise aware of their unearned privilege will react with defensiveness at the very least, often taking the form of a spike in aggression.

Dog Whistles And Subtlety

People speak of "dog whistles": words and statements that are seemingly innocuous, but are intentionally phrased so as to suggest something other than the seeming innocence. A good example of a more blatant dog whistle is the Bathroom Meme "They will allow men into the women's restroom!"  On the surface, this is fairly innocuous.  Men go into the women's room surprisingly often (I walked in on a guy waiting for his daughter yesterday at the grocery store and he was far more embarrassed than I was). But the idea that was dog whistled there is that letting men go into bathrooms is dangerous for women.  And I did indeed feel some concern about having a man in the bathroom there -- because as a part of society, I am expected to see men as predatory culturally, and therefore I should fear this man helping his daughter learn how to use the toilet. Not because of what he was doing, but because of what he was and therefore what he represented.

Privilege is like that.  It's subtle, it exists under the awareness level.  It is, to an oppressed person, a screaming siren, and to those with privilege -- that unearned Dominant Privilege -- it is a silent agreement, a tacit understanding, and unspoken agreement that they are not even aware of having made.

Privilege has three aspects:

  • Innocence: I am not looked to as the cause of problems in a social group.

  • Worthiness: I am presumed worthy of a social group's trust and wealth.

  • Competence: I am expected to be skillful, successful, and autonomous.

All of those are things we all think about ourselves in general.  Indeed, all three of those are things that LGBT+ people are fighting to achieve in the social group that is the culture of the United States.

Two really good examples of privilege as it's been used by gay men against trans people recently include :

I don't have privilege. This one is an assertion of innocence.  When one says this, one is saying that they are not the cause of the problem, when, in fact, it is rather useful at pointing out that they are, in fact, a part of the problem.

I can't be oppressing you if I'm pro trans. This one deals in the worthiness of the individual. When something like this is said, it is staking a claim to being worthy of that trust and wealth (and, in this case, that wealth is a metaphorical sort, such as information, esteem, knowledge, etc. linking it as well to the question of their own competence). It denies the unearned privilege the writer has not on the basis of the unearned privilege, but on the basis of their unrelated stance.  This is similar to the argument "well, I have gay friends and they think you shouldn't get married too", or the "I know a lot of trans people and they like that movie."  In both cases, the individual is asserting their privilege -- you should listen to them because they are more worthy than you are and they support it by citing people that they know in the oppressed class as evidence that they aren't part of oppression.

These are, for the most part, trans specific examples of privilege in action, stripped of something important to understand, and that's context. We'll get to that in a few moments.

These are examples, as well, of the defensive posture that is taken when people are confronted with their privilege.

Loss Of Privilege

That unearned privilege is very hard to lose.  To lose it, you have to suddenly be stripped of your status.  You have to affected by some form of stigma that reduces your ability to do this.

Closeted gay folks are often perceived as heterosexual, and as a result gain the unearned privileges of heterosexual privilege. When they come out, they lose that unearned privilege.

There are arguments surrounding the concept of how they gained that privilege in the first place, and readers are free to enter into those in the comments, but I'm not going to go there right now.

One of the most glaring experiences of a trans woman, however, happens frequently enough that's it's also a trope -- a sort of fully expected and normal experience that's very, very common. And that is the loss of male privilege.

The most subtle form of it is often described as how when they were perceived as men they would be in a meeting and if they spoke, people stopped and listened to them. They gave their attention, and often would even stop what they were doing to allow the person to speak.  Then they encounter a similar situation as a woman and are ignored.

Their ideas -- even if it is the same idea they may have expressed when perceived as a man -- are suddenly less valuable, and have less merit and are lacking in worthiness.

This is the effect of privilege when it is used: it puts someone in their place.  It is, in and of itself, a form of oppression, and people are typically utterly unaware that they are doing so.  Even a very supportive and dedicated person working on behalf of a particular oppressed group will do this and not realize it until they have it pointed out to them.


The most common way of demonstrating someone's privilege in simple and reducible form is via a checklist.  This is derived from the short form of the paper cited earlier.

Privilege checklists are often interpreted as being "individual specific," and as having a uniformity to them.  That is, when people see a privilege checklist, they often expect all of those things to apply to them.

This is an incorrect reading and a lack of understanding.  Checklists can apply only partially.  A checklist also can intersections -- there are things on a Cis Privilege checklist that can also apply on a Straight Privilege checklist. Those commonalities do not reduce the truth of the particular point, they are simply an intersection.  And, just because you as an individual may not have experienced a particular form of privilege used to further your marginalization that does not mean that it is not an actual aspect of privilege.

Conversely, just because a given person does not have a particular privilege described in a list (for example, a cis person looking at a cis privilege list), that does not mean that the particular privilege is not such.

One checklist that helped me, personally, come to see a great deal of my personal privilege was one that has an opening thusly:

Daily effects of straight privilege

This article is based on Peggy McIntosh's article on white privilege and was written by a number of straight-identified students at Earlham College who got together to look at some examples of straight privilege. These dynamics are but a few examples of the privilege which straight people have. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer-identified folk have a range of different experiences, but cannot count on most of these conditions in their lives.

That is also a link to the checklist itself.

I mention it because my understanding of myself for a long time was that of a straight person -- a heterosexual. As I've grown as a person, I've noted that I have some interesting variances that actually make me bisexual, and I'm still in the process of coming to terms with that and what it means. I'm not particularly happy about joining another oppressed class that is subject to extreme erasure, but if that's what I get, well...

I will discuss the particulars of privilege as it plays out in discourse and what things mean and why it is that people call others out for privilege in the next column.  There I will also discuss how you can address being called on your privilege, and how you can call others on their privilege.

That part is important, because if you cannot discuss your own privilege, then "the privilege card," when played, can effectively end discussion and thus shut down learning, and, ultimately, means that we aren't going to achieve our goals of equity and equality.

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Last year I walked into the RiteAid in my neighborhood to buy a Mother's Day card and some wrapping paper. This is something I've done every year for the last 40 or so years without much of a thought other than hoping the selection wasn't too sappy.

So here I am a white guy standing in an aisle brimming with mother's day cards. All these beautiful brown faces looking at me from the card racks. Not one of them looks like my mother. I rocked back on my heels and thought about all the years when some sons couldn't ever find a card that looked like his Mom. It's about time. I found a card and went on my way.

Privilege - the things we automatically expect but rarely ever think about.

George Byrd | March 31, 2010 8:48 PM

Thanks for sharing, Greg :) I like that! I can't name a specific instance, but I've had similar experiences.

One item from that list, the Daily Effects of Straight Privilege that really jumped out at me,

"I can choose to not think politically about my sexual orientation."

I am generally envious of straight voters who have the privilege of casting votes on ballot issues related to the economy, international relations, the war, health care, etc. Because 9 times out of 10 my vote has to reflect my sexual orientation. I have to choose the candidate LEAST likely to further trample the civil rights of LGBTQ people. Not even, in most cases, the candidate most likely to champion us. Just the one least likely to hurt us.

I don't actually get to vote on any other issues. I look forward to a day when that bias doesn't have to dominate every trip I take to the voting booth.

Privilege? Oh, I love privileges. I have lots of privilege. I recommend everyone go get some. It's really much easier than most people think it is. In fact it is simply thoughts.

My greatest privilege is free will and exercising it I can find something in every single person that is worthy of my respect and admiration. I may disagree with how a person acts, speaks and lives their life yet still find a way to value their life and their inalienable right to experience it. Anything less diminishes my own privilege and therefore hurts only me.

People are generally hostile to privilege being discussed, and I think usually because it comes in the form of an accusation (You're just a privileged straight dude who'll never understand! You are acting out of privilege and are hurting me because of it. Stop oppressing me, you privileged white man!). People don't listen when they're being accused. (and then it's usually followed up with, "Don't make this all about you! That's an act of privilege! It was never about you in the first place!" Yeah.....)

Perhaps there are better ways of framing it. Because usually the accusation of privilege is only effective if the person being cited actually has an investment in confronting their own privilege, and they rarely do. Heck, the material rewards come to those who maintain their privilege, not those who deconstruct it!

Chitown Kev | March 31, 2010 1:44 PM

Alex, I think that what may need to be explained is that "privilege" is systemic and largely unconscious.

And, yes, it's almost as if the mere awareness of that privilege is more or less equal to eating the fruit off of the tree of knowledge.

Sometimes I think that there needs to be a very fine distinction made between the personal privilege that one has for beine white or male or straight or cis and being actively racist or sexist or homobigoted or transphobic.

Because it seems to me that privilege is, by and large, a very passive...process? way of thinking?

Chitown Kev | March 31, 2010 1:45 PM

oops, that s/b "being" and not "beine"

Excellent suggestion, Kev. I will be sure to incorporate that in the follow up.

I had planed to just make it a single column, but these are already really long and it seemed a bit overkill, lol

While more limited in scope, I see instances of gay male privilege in the tendency to give us unearned credit for being fierce, artistic, fashion-conscious, and/or having good decorating sense.

Some might argue that such credit has been earned by gay men who have demonstrated such traits, but that misses the point -- the privilege is often there regardless of the actual traits.

A related topic I wish I had time to develop further: I see privilege playing into discussions of mid-to-late life celeb comings-out.

When Sean Hayes and Ricky Martin came out, they both spoke about choosing to preserve their hetero privilege for years. Coming out had a self-sacrificial aura, a la I've decided now to give up whatever sliver of privilege remained from my "open secret."

And, while they see it as a purely individual act, LGBT folks are more likely to see coming out as joining the community, a long-standing cultural tradition binding us together. A common response, then, goes something like this: Wait a minute... the decades you spent enjoying hetero privilege coincide with decades we spent losing jobs, families, status, and winning costly incremental battles to make it possible for you to come out with fewer repercussions today. Can't you acknowledge that in some fashion?

However, the celeb who has resolved his/her ambivalence about coming out often remains ambivalent about identifying as part of the community. (Or in Hayes' case, long-standing rifts with elements of the community remain.) In that context, he/she is happy to be out, but tentative-to-resistant about identifying with, or expressing appreciation of, the community.

I think a definition of "Community" should be added to the list of Fundamentals topics. :)

Trans women get called angry because they are what all women would be if all women were raised with male privilege.

I don't like talking about privilege because I know my place is to put everyone before myself. As is expected...

... of a woman raised without it.

Somewhat ciscentric, but yeah, there's some value (imo) to that statement (although I suspect it'll go over like a lead balloon in some areas of trans centric conversation).

Completely ciscentric, and the reason that it would go over like a lead balloon is because it is one of the most common forms of transphobia aimed at trans women by queer and feminist cis women.

I also think that the statement "trans women are what all women would be if all women were raised with male privilege" is pretty much unfounded, unless you believe all trans women are defined almost entirely by having experienced male privilege, as if trans women are exactly like cis men before we transition, as if any given trans woman transitioned the day before any cis person meets her (which is a common attitude a lot of cis people seem to have about trans people), as if trans women post transition don't experience any kind of sexist pressure to conform to what's expected of women in general.

And because the "Angry X" trope is not uniquely applied to trans women, and is not applied for unique reasons. Trans women are not called angry because we were "raised with male privilege," trans women are called angry just like every other marginalized person who is called angry because we're not playing by the scripts privilege expects of us.

And there you go, cis women are not allowed to talk about the privileges they lack. It is of course transphobic to do so. We are so very ungrateful.

We're not raised to believe we're entitled to anything. We're raised to put everyone before ourselves, and be sensitive to everyone else's feelings and needs. We are not permitted to have our own needs.

(Somewhere a member of the RNC is watching two girls in a glass cage simulate sex and someone will call it lesbian-themed.)

Cis women make less than men because of how they were raised. Since cis women aren't expected to be providers, we're not encouraged to prepare for or go to college. The largest group aided by Affirmative Action programs are cis women. I guess you could call that a privilege.

Cis women are more likely to do unpaid work, underestimate the monetary value of their work, and less likely to feel entitled to a raise.

Despite loving science and math, I was not encouraged to pursue those things in an educational setting because that's weird. Girls don't go with science.

Trans women get called angry just like every woman who behaves with a sense of entitlement. If you don't know that then clearly you have not heard the words "bitch" and "cunt."

I *wish* I had been raised male.

Just let me know if you want me identify as butch dyke or genderqueer gay. Any other pieces of me you'd like me to abandon for music, my culture, whatever you have deemed unbefitting. 'Cause I'm just here to help other people--gay men, straight men, feminists, trans folk. Cis lesbians pretty much roll over for anyone. As is expected...

Ana W.-L. | April 1, 2010 8:07 AM

Ah, but trans women do not get called angry 'just like every woman who behaves with a sense of entitlement': all too often, when they get called angry the argument is that this is a remnant of their male privilege. They do not merit either the B or C word, but instead there is an implication that at some level they are still male. In other words, male privilege suddenly becomes trans stigma.

That's what happens when people are myopic about privilege.

I tend not to be. But because so many have, the grain of truth is thrown out.

My thinking has always simply been this:

Trans women probably have some residual male privilege in how they were raised.

However that is not justification for not considering them women or barring them from women spaces.

In effect, I please no one.

Do you feel like you were raised with straight privilege before you came out or that you were being "privileged" whenever someone erased your sexuality by assuming your straight?

Yes, superficially passing as a member of a dominant group gives you access to some of the superficial privileges of that group. but it comes at a high price. If it didn't then trans female spectrum ppl wouldn't transition. Or we'd detransition.

Being consistently misgendered for an extended period of time causes *trauma*.

So ask yourself would you rather have straight gender conforming privilege or be yourself?

Yeah I've always worked jobs alongside cis women before and after transition. I now work in a male-dominated trade--for a cis woman--and every dime I've ever made that didn't go to rent and food has gone to my trans related medical expenses. I;ve spent more out of pocket on my own healthcare then I've ever grossed in a year.

How much have you spent on trans related healthcare?

I was meaning to be cissexual-lesbian-centric to be precise. After 2,000 words, that was as tactfully as I could put it. If I were honest about privilege, no one would get off. Not G, B, T or even straight feminists.

L is the glue when everyone wants to break away. And we're also expected to be that. There isn't much value in letting loose as the whole ship would sink. So, yes I know it would go over like a lead balloon.

saying L and meaning cis L is transphobia and cis privilege.

its also a convenient way to sweep under the rug the major reason you are definately not glue: Michfest and cis-dominated women only spaces.

saying L and meaning cis L is transphobia and cis privilege.

Did I say L when I meant cis L? No I didn't. I bet you just assumed, without reading, that I did somewhere. I'm not stupid enough to get ensnared in that trap that is wholly designed to stop the conversation. If you want to call me transphobic, fine, but you'll have to find another reason.

its also a convenient way to sweep under the rug the major reason you are definately not glue: Michfest and cis-dominated women only spaces.

Cis lesbians have been having trans inclusion workshops at Michfest over the years. Cis lesbians are not monolithic. Yeah, there are actually allies inside the fest. They've been wearing armbands for the past 6 or 7 years to show their solidarity.

DC Lesbian Avengers boycotted Michfest back in 1998. Boston and Chicago Lesbian Avengers restarted Camp Trans in 1999 after it had fizzled out by 1994.

Amy Ray has gone to both Michfest and Camp Trans, and has interviewed folks at both. She's just one of the cis lesbians that have kept communication open between Michfest and Camp Trans.

And here's a fun fact, while Michfest hasn't formally changed the policy, they don't actually enforce it. There are actually trans women going to Michfest, openly.

Sorry if all this trans-inclusive support from cis lesbians is inconvenient for you.

Ana W.-L. | April 1, 2010 3:40 AM

Yes, there is some value in it. There has to be, otherwise this neat trick of turning privilege into stigma would not work. 'See, you were raised as a man, therefore your anger is no more valid than you are' hurts so much more if one in fact has to wonder which actions and attitudes are due to having had a male upbringing, however reluctant that was.

Trans women get called angry because that's a favorite silencing tactic to use against marginalized people.

Other descriptions of this same thing:

Nezua's Drowning Maestro
The Angry Black Woman's post on the Privilege of Politeness
Derailing for Dummies, especially the entry "You're Too Hostile," but others cover similar ground.

How is it that so many marginalized people are characterized as angry - cis women, trans women, trans men, people of color, people with disabilities, but that trans women specifically are accused of being too angry because we were "raised with male privilege?"

Antonia didn't mention it, but there's a common trope used to attack and dismiss trans women's concerns, by focusing on assumed male privilege and assumptions about what our upbringing and lives were like, while ignoring what it means to grow up trans, pretending that trans women are exactly like cis men until we transition, and completely erasing the existence of cis privilege.

mmm. Am I too hostile? I deeply apologize. I am an ungrateful bitch.

Trans women get called angry because they act with a sense of entitlement...just like cis women do when they do the same.

Women getting called angry for thinking they're entitled to things is part of the experience of being a woman...cis women, trans women, any woman. And yes, cis women will tell other cis women they're being too angry.

Cis women don't make it an issue because we're used to it enough that we blow it off.

For you though, it's central. I've noticed. Because I was raised to notice other people's issues and feelings. As is expected...

sorry to bust your bubble cuz I know you put a lot of stock in this "unique cis female socialization" thing but there are plenty of cis women that managed to completely block that shit out. and there are trans women who internalized it just as much as you did.

According to your logic my abusive Aunt must be a "male-entitled" trans woman.

ellysabeth | April 2, 2010 2:10 AM

Oooh, goodie! The good old "trans women uniformly grew up with full access to male privilege" meme! The best thing about this one is that 99% of the time (at least!) it's thrown about, it's being done by cis people, who of course know what it's like to grow up trans and are happy to tell us!

To be fair, it's not the least reasonable conclusion to reach when one is missing the context of having actually grown up trans. It is, however, important to recognize the lack of proper context and avoid assuming that your speculation overrides other people's actual lived experiences.

Those of us who did have the pleasure of growing up trans have had a wide variety of experiences. Some of us, for example, did have unrestricted access to male privilege! Incredible! However, some of us were never terribly good at passing as male, and had spotty access, if any, to male privilege. Some of us grew up continually third-gendered by people, which in most modern cultures affords even less privilege than cis women have. Some of us have been reminded with repeated violence that we are not even human like everyone else, let alone possess a gender, let alone possess a male gender.

How do you access male privilege when people won't treat you like a fellow human being, much less a male one?

I've been reading this thread and pondering things a bit. How much internalized privilege does one build when one is regularly physically and emotionally abused by one's peers from grades one through seven? How much internalized privilege does one accrue when one is completely ostracized by one's peers during some of the earliest, most vulnerable years of one's life?

Then, toss on top of that experience many, many years of being re-socialized as a woman. Then, of course, there's all the prestige that follows when you come out to people as trans and they start thinking of you as a space alien from the planet of crazy penis people.

Hey, that kind of experience really helps build that tough, manly self-confidence and self-centered focus that we all associate with growing up as a boy, right? That's like, the perfect storm of gender privilege! Weee! I'm so happy to be me! Who wants to throw me a party?

I wasn't thinking of male privilege in terms of manliness, but just expectations in the realm of education. I'm also aware that not all trans women have the same experience, that some have more privilege than others and that they come from all classes and all races.

The same is true of gay cis men and gay cis women. We are not all raised with the same privilege, trans or cis.

I know that trans women do not uniformly have less total privilege than all cis lesbians. And believe it or not this is a good thing. Because coalitions aren't built on sympathy. They're built on being mutually beneficial.

I'm not talking about manliness, either. I'm talking about real, lived access to privilege as experienced by actual trans women. Those few paragraphs that I wrote were taken directly from my life, but I've seen the same themes reflected in the narratives of many, many trans women.

What this means is that the standard notion of access to male privilege vs. the limiting effects of sexist oppression breaks down when talking about trans women (and trans men, for that matter). The model doesn't work well in describing trans people's lives because it was fashioned with cis lives and cis experiences in mind. Once one strays outside the boundaries of a strictly binary system of gender, the model begins to break down. All theoretical models have their limits, regardless of whether you are trying to model human behavior or the effects of wind passing over an airplane wing.

The problem is, people don't recognize the limitations of these social models and consequently, the models become a kind of entrenched dogma that many people (cis feminists in particular) use to degender and marginalize trans women. That really sucks because it has produced a huge rift between trans women and cis feminists... one that probably won't heal for a at least a generation or so.

One more thing, when I was college in the late 80s and early/mid 90s, I took many, many courses in women's studies and sociology. The theoretical models surrounding gender privilege and sexism were pretty well defined at that point in time. No one, in any of my classes, mentioned transgender or transsexual people. Not a single instructor. Not a single textbook. So, it's pretty obvious to me that many of the social models that address gender-based oppression and gender-based privilege were fashioned with cis people's life experiences in mind. Unfortunately, many people's understanding of those models are still deeply rooted in that legacy.

My purpose here is not to play a round of the Oppression Olympics™, but to illustrate that the binary notion of gender-based privilege—either you have access to male privilege or you have no privileges related to gender—obfuscates people's lived experiences. Sexual orientation, sex identity, gender identity, gender expression, and physical sex all have deep ramifications in the realm of society's understanding of gender and its accompanying degree of access to power and privilege. I mean, geez, I just named five variables off the top of my head—and probably missed a few others. This goes way beyond the binary notion of male privilege vs. sexist oppression.

Lumping trans women's life experiences in with cis men's experiences by talking about male privilege doesn't work because it serves to gloss over and obscure the distinct forms of oppression that trans people experience in their lives. When we're addressing childhood experiences in particular, trans kids generally do not experience gender-based privilege and socialization in the ways that other children do. One only need read a few childhood accounts of trans women and trans men before this pattern begins to emerge.

Put in the most general way possible, the further one diverges from society's sexist, heteronormative, gendernormative expectations, the more deeply one's access to gender-based power and privilege is limited. Put another way, the further you move away from the baseline of cis, non-intersex, heterosexual, binary gender-conforming man/boy, the less access you have to gender-based privilege/power.

Again, that's a whole lot of variables to consider and a lot of underlying complexity comes into play. Unfortunately, it's not a terribly appealing theoretical model because it's not a simplistic binary and human beings love reducing things to binaries. The simpler, binary models give us a very rough "lay of the land" and that can certainly be useful in getting a very general understanding. However, when one is trying to talk about the populations of trees and the squirrels who live on the land, rough, topographical maps aren't quite adequate. However, some nice satellite images that allow you to zoom in on the the squirrels and the trees would be nice.

Do you feel like you were raised with straight privilege before you came out or that you were being "privileged" whenever someone erased your sexuality by assuming your straight?

I was raised with straight privilege in the same way trans women might be raised with male privilege.

Didn't want it, didn't understand it, couldn't grasp it. I got that I was supposed to do x, y and z but could not figure out why. I knew what was expected of me as a girl, but couldn't deliver.

Male privilege and straight privilege aren't the same. The effects of male privilege and straight privilege, which combined make up heternormativity, means that cis girls are held back from birth. We're not expected to be smart or financially successful. We're expected to be submissive and subservient. We're not provided the tools necessary to be self-reliant. We are instead provided the tools to be a wife to a husband and a mother to children.

This is especially true of lower class and lower-middle class cis girls who are raised to believe that the way up the economic ladder is not to go to college, but to land a wealthier husband. IOW, to marry up. And even those that do go to college, there is still an expectation that they'll marry a man, have kids and quit pursuing a career. And isn't just men who push this on them, women are just as guilty of it. In fact cis girls get this idea mostly from their mothers who did the same thing that their mothers did.

I was not, and never have been gender conforming. People could tell I was gay before I knew I was gay. And I guess Toni could repeat the percentage of cis gays that are reported to be gender non-conforming as kids. Is this supposed to prove to cis gays and cis lesbians what we have in common with trans but not the reverse? Commonality goes both ways.

I do get misgendered as many butch lesbians are. It happens with such frequency that people don't even care and don't even notice. I'm not particularly bothered when I'm misgendered because I'm aware that I'm not trying to be femme. Although I'm not trying to be a man either. It only gets under my skin when people insist I'm trying to be a man. I'm not trying to be anything other than me. Which you can call genderqueer if you want, but I haven't figured out why butch lesbian is inadequate as an identity. And part of me feels there's an element of sexism in the notion that I cannot continue calling myself a woman on the basis that I'm not feminine enough.

Are there gay cis men and women that passed for and lived as straight before coming out, and still pass even after coming out? Yes, there are. Just like there are trans folks who lived and passed for cis. Both gained some privilege in doing that. What is the purpose in acknowledging the former but not the latter?

According to your logic my abusive Aunt must be a "male-entitled" trans woman.

I don't think you've figured out my logic yet. I never claimed that men alone perpetuate male privilege. My father was largely absent in my upbringing. I was raised by a mother and several Aunts who were raised Catholic by a Catholic mother and went to Catholic school where they were taught by Nuns.

I didn't go to Catholic school because I was born out of wedlock and damned at birth. For years my mother believed that my being the way I am was God's way of punishing her, not just for having me out of wedlock but for having an abortion several years before me (pre Roe v Wade at that). I think she thought she could correct it by marrying my father when I was 10. Well, it didn't work. Given the percentage of the country that's Christian, I don't think I'm particularly unique.

The Catholic Church still has an influence in oppressing cis women. The health care bill is evidence of that. Even got Nancy Pelosi to say health care is not about abortion. This whole country seems to have been tricked into believing that health care that's specific to women isn't health care at it's elective or something.

No one in this country can escape the effects of the Catholic Patriarchy.

How much have you spent on trans related healthcare?

None. I spend money on cis women related health care. Not as much as I should though. I haven't had health insurance since I turned 18 and well, not a whole lot of options for unmarried childless women is there? I get by on luck or whatever, and hope that I don't follow the pattern of the rest of the women in my family and need a hysterectomy. On the other hand having a uterus just seems like a waste since I have no intention of having children. Poor privileged me right?


What you are speaking to is internalized oppression, not privilege.

Although it is fairly easy to think of it in that sense.

I mention *part* of this discussion you are having with the others in my article above when I talk about how one can benefit from some privilege, but it's actually that's person's privilege, but rather given to them for working within the dominant system.

I *can* benefit from white privilege, as an example -- and yet, I'm not white, and don't actually have it unless I keep my moth shut and "know my place" and let my betters decide to make me such.

I can benefit from the (white, male) privilege of others, but I myself do not have that privilege.

This is why I talk about privilege in terms of expectations:

I can benefit from the expectations of others, but I myself do not have such an expectation.

The kind of stuff you are talking about comes from knowing your place and not rocking the boat. From assimilation and submission.

And now I'm going to tiptoe on out...