In the light of the social upheavals going on in this country right now – and in despair that my work prevents me from joining Saturday’s protest marches (the museum can’t be run by one person, and only two of us can work on Saturday, so if I don’t show, my co-worker will be helpless to do her job, and the museum will be effectively closed for business for the day) – this seems to me to be a good time to take stock of myself, in the form of a privilege check. (Thanks to EclecticAlli for the example.)
The most obvious privilege (or lack thereof) right now is sadly based on the same thing it has been in Western society since said society began: where your ancestors came from, made apparent by what color your skin is. The fact that this is still a thing disgusts me. Society should have moved past this centuries ago. Or at least decades ago. But it hasn’t, and so the fact remains that light-skinned people, like myself, are still given privileges that the rest of the world – the majority (or at least plurality) of the world – are being denied.
Again, this is something our society should have long since gotten over. How men became the dominant force in human civilization because they’re a little bit larger (on average) is almost as much of a mystery as why this is still the case. History and current events alike have proven that women are in every way man’s equal, if not his superior, but there are still large sections of human civilization that insist we are somehow inferior because we were born with vaginas instead of penises. Today’s world makes me ever more grateful to have been born with a womb, even though I will never use it.
I admit to having trouble wrapping my head around the whole ‘gender’ issue. Thanks to the NaNoWriMo forums, I now have a good term for what I am: “gender apathetic.” Gender is a socially defined construct – unlike sex, which is biological – and I’ve never really cared one whit about what society has to say about how I should behave. When I was a little girl, I played with Star Wars figures, marbles, toy cars, Barbies and She-ra dolls. Some of those were “okay” for girls, and some of them weren’t, and I rarely cared one way or the other. I care even less now than I did as a child. As such, I have trouble understanding why people find their gender identity so important that they feel the need to change it (but one of my Read Harder books this year is going to be about a girl becoming a trans boy, so hopefully that will help me understand) and I absolutely cannot imagine why anyone would get upset that someone else wants to change (or has changed) their gender identity.
All that aside, the bottom line is that because I was born female, I consider myself a woman, and that’s what society wants me to think, so no one bothers me about it. (Apart from misogynists, but that’s a different issue.) My ‘femininity’ is more for linguistic convenience than anything else, however. I would be totally happy in a world where no one has a gender.
Given what I said about gender, it will probably not come as a surprise that I am asexual. (Though it took me 40 years to understand that about myself.) However, I don’t think I’m quite cookie-cutter asexual. (If there is such a thing.) I’m more “a-bisexual,” in that I find both sexes attractive, and like the idea of all combinations of love (m/f, f/f, m/m), but have zero interest in entering into a romantic or sexual relationship myself. In terms of privilege, I’m not sure where that ranks. I suppose it’s a close second to heterosexual, because no one can say “you’re wrong for who you love” when you don’t love anybody. They could, technically, tell me I was “wrong” not to love, but I’d tell them to take a flying leap if they did. More importantly, it’s not like they can tell I’m asexual by looking at me; in fact, whenever I go places with my brother, a lot of people assume we’re a couple. (Despite the fact that we look just freakin’ like each other. I mean, gross!)
Here, again, my standing is atypical. I’m areligious: I believe there is some higher power out there that was responsible for the Big Bang, but I also think a puny human mind cannot possibly comprehend a being of such enormous power, and that all organized religions must therefore be to a great extent wrong, even if they have aspects that touch on the truth. But it’s important to say that while I don’t believe in any religion myself, I do have strong respect for them and their place in other people’s lives. The religious freedom on which this country was founded is one of the most important freedoms we have, and it’s one of the many freedoms I have great fear for in the next four years.
It’s hard to judge where having no religion – while not being atheist, as such – fits into the scale of privilege in our culture. It’s not Christian, so it’s not at the top, but it likely won’t get me assaulted or make anyone threaten my life, either, as being Muslim might. And again, it’s not something that shows; you don’t know by looking at me that I lack a religious affiliation.
This is probably the way in which I am most privileged. I’m not rich by society’s larger standards, but I was raised in an upper middle class family, and some of my extended family actually does qualify as rich by most definitions. I’ve inherited enough money that I was able to pursue my own interests, and though I am now (finally) gainfully employed, it doesn’t matter that I don’t really earn enough to live on comfortably, because I have enough already that it cushions my currently somewhat low rate of pay. Additionally, I have no debt. No credit cards, no car payments, no mortgage payments. (And no, no rent, either; I own my house.)
I am very much aware of how much better off I am than so many other people, and though I have often in the past neglected charitable giving (mostly due to forgetfulness on my part), I will in the future be giving generously to important charities, particularly to the ACLU and LGBT+ charities.
My family holds education very dear, and I was lucky enough to be sent to a prestigious high school with a good reputation, and to be permitted to attend any college I chose. (Sadly, I chose the wrong one, but that’s another matter entirely.) I have two undergraduate degrees, and am working (slowly) on a Master’s. I know many people don’t have the luxury to study as much as I did, and don’t have access to the quality of schooling that I did. I wish everyone could study as much as they want, and could have the very best of schooling. On top of the general privilege my education offered me, I also got good grades, which makes me sound more impressive, intellectually, than I actually am. Not sure if that’s privilege or anti-privilege, though, especially with the way this country is going.
My family is becoming more unusual with every passing year, or so it seems: my parents have been married for almost fifty years, and their marriage is still strong. Though I often complain about the way they still treat me like a child, the fact is that in most ways they respect my choices, lifestyle and rights as a person, and are supportive of me in what I do. (Which isn’t to say that they aren’t given to lecturing.)
Additionally, my family has lived in this country for a very long time – my mother’s ancestors came over before this country was a country, in fact – so I’ve never had to deal with any of the stigmas that recent immigrants have.
I’m a native English speaker with no ability to speak other languages. In this country’s current climate, that’s viewed as a good thing, though it’s a mark against me in every other country in the world. I’ve tried to learn other languages, but ever since high school, my efforts have failed drastically. (Pity I didn’t stick with the German; I was pretty good by the 10th grade. If I had stayed with it instead of switching to Latin and Greek, maybe I’d have stayed with it in college, too. If I’d followed six years of high school German with four years of college German, I’d probably have become fluent, and maybe then I’d never have lost it.
Apart from being obese and asthmatic, I have no physical disabilities. My weight and general out-of-shapeness can prevent me from going to a few places (mountain tops, theaters with really narrow seats), but for the most part I am unimpeded. I do have a few minor mental issues – mostly an almost crippling social phobia – but they don’t account for much in the long run, since my financial standing prevents me from being absolutely required to go out and work.
Though in my day-to-day existence, I rarely sit around thinking “gee, I’m privileged,” it’s very clear that I am. I try to be aware of that in my dealings with others, try not to act out the part.
The way the country is now, I wish I had less in common with the minority that thinks it’s the majority. If I could become someone else, I would become a Mexican immigrant of mixed African and native descent, Islamic faith, and (of course) a lesbian. But I can’t change where I was born, or my ethnicity, and no amount of calling myself a lesbian would make me interested in having romantic/sexual relationships with other people, and it would be hypocritical and disrespectful to enter a religion without believing in it just to make a political point.
However, the next time the census comes around, I’ll probably list my sexuality as “bisexual.” It’s not entirely true, but it’s not entirely a lie, either.