The problem with privilege is that it is invisible to the privileged. When others defer to them, that just appears normal and reasonable to them.
Black people are menaced and marked because they are Black, and being gay or trans hardly makes that worse. White trans women or gay men might pass as a man, and so exercise white male privilege, but they lose that when they are seen to be queer. We might still seek safety in the conventions of white male straight privilege, which might work or might not. When they don’t work, it surprises us. We are bewildered. We complain. I get the analysis from James Baldwin, quoted by Shon Faye in The Transgender Issue.
“There’s an element of bewilderment and complaint.” But it always had worked, and now it does not. People seek safety as best we can, hence all the lonely hearts ads in the 1990s for a “straight-acting” partner. You could just be two best buds, hanging out. You could never make a public display of affection. You might have a man-hug, but there would be the temptation to go further, and let the disguise slip. Imagine being with the person you are lusting for, and having to conceal it.
Some gay men and trans women will always have been seen as effeminate, and bullied for it. They never had male privilege with men or boys, even if white. I always felt inadequate as a man, but I had a shell, a male act, which I managed, much of the time. I told a friend I was trans and she said, “I would never have guessed”. And, I still have class privilege to an extent: my clothes might indicate otherwise, my accent and use of words indicate educated person.
When people treat me as privileged, I like it. It keeps me safe. I might speak against white privilege, but do so mostly in white spaces, where I am showing my right-on-ness. With black people I see the risk of being the white saviour, but want at least to be an equal, an ally.
And how is it with cis women? Cis privilege is real. Where groups divide by gender I am nervous of being seen not to fit. And, by contrast, some anti-trans campaigners say that women relax among women, speaking more freely than in mixed company, and that this is liberating; but that it is constrained by the presence of trans women, who are privileged.
That could be a way of fomenting or bolstering resentment against trans women. Look, look, they behave like men, they are treated as men, therefore they should not be in women’s spaces. Look at that man, throwing his weight around.
And it makes me nervous. A woman treats me with courtesy. Is it her response to my male privilege? Is it just kindness? Questioning whether there is equality here makes me self-conscious.
Having privilege in some matters, and not in others, makes it harder to find God within. Quakers talk of the inner light, or that of God in each of us. The concept is linked to God the Father Almighty, the imperial God that Constantine and the Empress Victoria used as their imperial ideology, a God of Power and Might.
If power for me means maleness, the shell, then it is not power at all. It is a pretence, acting in conformity with Kyriarchy because I have no better way of feeling safe, and a terrible feeling of unsafety and need to feel safe. It is the same safety as when in conversation with a man I realise that the purpose of this conversation is for him to speak, work out what he thinks, tell me the truth, or express his feelings and get affirmation support and sympathy, and relax into my supportive role. Safety which supports kyriarchy is no safety at all, but constraint.
I do not believe in God the Father Almighty, and am rethinking God within. Mary Oliver may have it right: “the soft animal of your body”. “You do not have to be good… You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” That gets rid of any concept that God in me is power and control. God in me is seeing the good I may achieve, and flowing like water to achieve it.
It is a choice, between my true power, from being who I am, or a false power gained by conformity to rules which occasionally benefit me but really keep me in check. If I have any shard of male privilege I can only liberate the soft animal by letting it go.
I have been reading The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula le Guin. At first, Miss Lelache the lawyer sees George Orr as “A born victim… if she stepped on him he wouldn’t even crunch… revoltingly simple”. After talking to him, she sees him differently: “she now thought that he certainly would not squash if she stepped on him… he was peculiarly solid”.