Sunday, June 17, 2012

An Exercise In Recognizing Privilege: "It's the Bi-ble, Not the Straight-ble," and Other Scenarios

Privilege is something many of us with privilege don't think about enough. I include myself in that category. I'm a white male living in the USA who identifies as Christian and lives above the poverty level. Sure, I could be more privileged, but not much more.

We in privilege often don't realize the oppression and ostracism we insert into the hegemony. I've been thinking recently about how we in privilege would feel if that metaphorical shoe were on the sore foot of the oppressed. Here are some of the scenarios I've imagined we would hear.

"It's the Bi-ble, not the Straight-ble."

Why do some people make their points so ineffectively and rudely? If someone wants to support their beliefs with their religion's traditions and holy texts, they should first make sure they are sharing their beliefs, not arguing. Arguments place everyone involved on the defense and nobody wants to listen to the other person or budge an inch. Arguing makes people believe their beliefs even more than before and without justification. 

This scenario basically is politics today. Democratic and republican politicians "argue" in front of a microphone in front of a ton of people who completely agree with them--the politician is one of the leaders of their party's hegemony--not people who oppose them. The arguments are full of pithy statements like the one I created above and simply make everyone involved believe their argument more, often haughtily looking down on the Other. I presume this is the reason we have bumper stickers and political ads that do nothing other than say something like "Change," "Vote Yes/No on Such and Such," and "Pro-life."

Next, it is important for people in privilege to recognize they understand the world from a point of privilege. Perspective necessarily influences (haunts?), well, perspective. If you've never considered what it is like to be someone else, than you've never truly understood anything.

"It was their choice."

You think being part of the GLBTQ community is a choice? I'm not positive if anyone was born straight or not. What I do know is that nobody chooses their genes or the environment that rears them. I never chose to have a Christian background or to become liberal. I was raised Christian, which included that culture leading me towards a point where I thought I was choosing that religion for myself and so I "asked Jesus into my heart" and, later, was baptized. Did I really choose Jesus, though, or did everything in my rearing convince me that I had chosen him? I still identify as "Christian" today, although I know many Christians won't allow me that term today.

And what about being heterosexual? If everyone is born that way and some people choose something other, when do people make that choice to accept their heterosexuality? I at least feigned a choice with religion, but I never made such a choice concerning my sexuality. Unlike many who think sexuality is a choice, I've actually interacted with people in the GLBTQ community and they don't recall making a choice, either. Instead, I hear stories where individuals simply find themselves sexually attracted to certain people. They simply learn/find out about themselves the same way everyone else does. Heterosexuals find out they especially enjoy people of the same gender, gays and lesbians learn they enjoy the same sex, and bisexual people find out they enjoy both. And often times those who identify heterosexual or gay/lesbian find out they even enjoy some situations involving those who don't fit their general, sexual identification. We are sexual beings first, then we are in a specific sexual community (sometimes).

Finally, if sexuality were a choice, then every heterosexual could choose homosexuality. What heterosexual thinks they can make that choice? That choice includes not only enjoying and preferring sex with the same sex, but also preferring the romantic love and companionship of the same sex over against the opposite. Trying to make that choice is a great exercise in understanding privilege.

"Look at that straight couple holding hands. What they do in the privacy of their bedroom is their own business, but do they have to flaunt it in front of everyone's face?"

What anyone does sexually is their own business, as long as they don't hurt anyone (physically, emotionally, or developmentally), the latter point being why rape and pedophilia are unacceptable. But if one group of lovers can constantly engage in PDA, why not the others? Heterosexual couples are everywhere. They walk down the street and no one looks twice. They're in advertisements and products like condoms and lubricants are even advertised in a way catered to these people's sex life during the day time. Most movies have a heterosexual couple or two prominently featured and anytime a guy sings a song, the person about whom he is singing is assumed to be a woman.

Heterosexuality is everywhere. The GLBTQ community should be able to engage in PDA without people thinking it is "in their face."

"That waitress is so straight. I'm a pretty good straight-tective."

"Gaydar," really? I hope the person who coined that term never felt proud of it. In fact, in the USA today, no one should think they can tell who is GLBTQ by the person's mannerisms or other characteristics and forms of self-expression. Granted, we all make inductive inferences. Stereotypes exist for a reason and, yes, there are certain characteristics that we currently see more often from a gay man than a straight man or a lesbian in comparison to a straight woman. However, even if we haven't personally met people who defy this stereotype, the world, even the media, is ripe with examples of people who destroy this type of induction.

My favorite example is Capt. Stephen Hill. You may remember him from the Republican debate back in September 2011.

This guy fits no GLBTQ stereotype. Just because you correctly infer someone's sexuality a few times or multiple times doesn't mean you have gaydar or, more so, that the GLBTQ community can be correctly stereotyped. At least, no more than any other community. Inductive reasoning's downfall is counterexample.

I would also like to point out that Santorum says sex has no place in the military. That statement is exactly like the previous scenario I imagined, because heterosexuality is in the military everywhere. The men and women in the military can talk about their heterosexual loves all the time. The GLBTQ service members deserve the same freedom. I don't currently believe the military is engaged in fighting for our freedom, but they are available and ready to do so. If people of the GLBTQ community will fight physically for my freedom, then it is our duty to fight for theirs politically.

"I had a straight/white/Christian roommate in college once. It was pretty weird."

As a Student Affairs professional, I feel comfortable saying that the roommate experience is a weird one, regardless of the identification process of your roommate(s). If your roommate is the same gender as you, but part of the GLBTQ community, you should not assume that roommate will want to have sex with you. And even if he or she does, that doesn't mean they are going to act on it or constantly desire it. Lots of heterosexual men have female friends with whom they would have sex or about whom they occasionally fantasize. That's simply how some men are (N.B.: not all men are as horny as many believe they are). However, they don't act on it or necessarily even want it in reality. GLBTQ people are humans, too, and they know when relationships shouldn't involve sex and romance.

I hear a lot of people talk negatively and awkwardly about living with other races and religions, too. Or sometimes they talk about it as if it is the quintessential diversity experience. When someone tells me they had a Muslim friend or roommate, I feel like I'm supposed to be in awe that they managed to navigate living with someone who worships a "different God." Living with a person of color or a person of another religion is really no different than living with a person of the same race, ethnicity, or religion.


Many other things exist to be said about recognizing our privilege and being more sensitive about it. What statements do you hear a lot that display ignorance of a person's or your own privileged status?

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