Oh yes, it happened again. There I was, driving along a tree-lined snowy road, listening to NPR when Class Privilege reached up from under my sweater and smacked me in the face.
“Ye of the professional class, pay attention to this! Cause you have been missing it.”
I am so happy to have a working relationship with my Privileges: Race, Class, and Ability/Body. Without this strong bond, I would have to rely on other people to call me in on blissful privileged ignorance and that, in addition to placing undue strain on others, is woefully inefficient.
So the slight ego bruise notwithstanding, I was delighted at the smack.
I’m going to do my best to unpack the moment, but remember, this is an area of privilege for me so I may still miss something.
I tuned in to NPR when they were in the middle of a story. It related to the 2016 Presidential election (what doesn’t these days?) and had something to do with voting patterns and privileged perspectives of certain candidates (or possibly the whole democratic party… I didn’t quite catch the context). What I did catch was a statement about working class white people being fed up with professional class white people telling them they are privileged when they are having a hard time finding jobs, paying the bills, or seeing themselves represented in government.
SMACK! POW! Ouch.
In that sudden smack, I knew without using words that I had a privileged perspective regarding the topic of privilege. While I understand intersections of privilege and oppression and the ways we might examine such a thing, I had not brought that cognitive knowing into my daily discourse on white privilege.
Let me see if I can articulate this right-brain, non-verbal understanding that is floating around in my consciousness:
Systems of Oppression
Systems of oppression are top-down processes that begin with the ideology of an elite class and end with squashed dreams, internalized hate, and opportunity deserts for the oppressed.
Social identity categories
I talk about privilege a lot in my everyday life. A lot, a lot. There is nary a corner of my life where I do not examine how my own privilege (and let’s be honest, the privilege of everyone around me) might be offering some majorly unearned benefits. I point it out. Yet this morning, as I heard the statement about white people who do NOT have class privilege, it occurred to me that I may have missed examination of this intersection:
Specifically, I tend to be ignorant of class oppression in the face of racial privilege. To me, white people have heaps of privilege… well, this isn’t just my opinion, it’s a fact. But white people who are poverty-stricken, working poor, or working class are also facing oppression at the hands of white people of the professional and owning classes. The NPR story noted that these people were tired of hearing professional/owning class people spouting their elitist jargon regarding white privilege.
I get it. The way to rally others towards inclusive thinking begins with validation of the ways they are oppressed. I suspect this is why so many “white men with no college” voted for Trumpywumpie Cheeto Head. They neither saw themselves benefiting from Senator Clinton’s policies nor even heard themselves represented in her discourse. To be clear, I got behind Hillary, but I also saw how her elite white feminist approach would be alienating to many groups of people. This is an ongoing issue in social justice movements: The marginalized elite (read: white, affluent…) pushing out even more marginalized subordinate classes (read: people of color, working classes…).
We see a clear example of this in the assimilation of cisgender gay and lesbian people into heteronormative values. I do not judge gays and lesbians who believe in those values and want to walk with them, but when those same gays and lesbians push queer and trans people out of the movement for being too freaky and ruining their chance at assimilation, well, then we have a problem.
Same thing happened with feminism. It was cisgender, whites only in its first and second waves which had to be challenged (and continues to be challenged) by women of color and trans women.
What am I taking away from this? I do not want to be another white member of the professional class telling people to examine their privilege before I examine how my own class privilege might be stomping all over my white neighbors. Therefore, I need to listen. I need to seek out experiences that take me outside of the elite professional class and into the working classes. Did I mention I need to listen? I need to hear how people are impacted by class oppression before I start with discussions of racial privilege.
For someone who makes inclusivity and diversity a focus of daily living, it is humbling to continue to encounter the privilege mirror. I suspect it will never end. I suspect understanding and fully internalizing systems of power and oppression will never be a box that I check, “done!”
May my Privileges continue to smack me in the face from now until forever. I offer gratitude for their tenacity.
Give me explicit discrimination over implicit hate any day.
When the People Who Wish I Didn’t Exist are explicit in their hatred, I know how to conduct myself (hide, run, ignore, placate). When the People Who Wish I Didn’t Exist PRETEND to be open, accepting, and inclusive, I fall prey to a false sense of safety and do things like come out at work, only to majorly regret it a few months later.
This happened to me in 2016 (along with an ugly break-up, the death of a friend, bike theft, the loss of beloved pets, slander, and more…good riddance 2016!). I was working at a therapeutic organization that supports the mental health needs of young adults. One would think that the helping professions would be more inclined towards inclusivity and diversity- they certainly pay enough lip service to these concepts- but my experience has shown that such organizations are often more hateful and exclusive than other companies; they just hide it well.
Paying lip service to inclusivity without doing the work necessary to actually create a safe enough work environment is extremely dangerous. When I first started at the aforementioned organization, I was pleased by the rhetoric around diversity. I’m a fairly obvious queer person with a shaved head and gender-bendy clothes and my supervisor made it clear that he was in support of my identity. So I came out. I let staff know that I am attracted to same-sex partners and, when that went fairly well, let them know of my trans identity several months later. I’m embarrassed to admit that my naivete prevented me from recognizing that staff would more-or-less “approve” of my sexual orientation (it’s “OK” to be a white cis lesbian in most progressive cities in the USA these days-thank you assimilation) but would recoil in fear and loathing at my trans identity.
Oops. Big mistake. Lesson learned.
From the moment I started to assert my gender, I was met with hostility. Staff members who previously expressed feelings of friendship and connection withdrew and made microaggressive comments in staff meetings. Curious about what I heard? Check it out:
- How can I support what I don’t believe in?
- You need to grow a thicker skin
- I can’t get on board with your pronouns
- Your gender isn’t real
- What do your partner’s genitals look like? Yes indeedy, a member of the leadership team asked me this
My colleague who is QPOC has it even worse. They experienced (and continue to experience) racist, transphobic, and homophobic harassment from clients. What is leadership doing about this? Nothing.
I presented a training on gender inclusivity and diversity to the leadership team and while they raved about the content, they didn’t do anything to change their toxic environment. It was during this training that I found out admissions personnel hid my gender from prospective clients, using binary pronouns ON PURPOSE in case the freaky trans employee scared off profitable bodies.
The scariest aspect of all this: This organization markets itself as an inclusive space for LGBTQ clients. WHAT?!
Let me repeat: Give me explicit discrimination over implicit hate any day.
If I understood from the moment my employment began that I was working in an environment that liked to be superficially inclusive but hid a wellspring of hatred and transphobia I NEVER WOULD HAVE COME OUT. Because I thought I had the support of leadership, I asked for gender inclusive practices to be instated (such as the naming of pronouns during community meetings) but I had no idea that cis staff and clients would be allowed to express hatred and microaggressions towards trans staff and clients who outed themselves.
What happened when I brought these issues to the attention of my supervisor? I was told I was being “theatrical.” In all fairness, he apologized for that remark, but I think it illuminated a truth of feeling that lurked beneath the surface.
The bottom line is that racism, homophobia, sexism, and transphobia abound at this organization, but administration and leadership refuse to examine their own roles in the creation of this hate culture. Why is it OK for a cisgender staff member to tell a transgender client WHO IS IN RECOVERY FROM ADDICTION AND DEPRESSION that their gender “isn’t real?” It’s not OK, but it happens.
One of the reasons I am not naming this transitional residential therapeutic center is because this issue is not unique to this particular organization. It happens all the time in the helping professions and I have said before that it is unacceptable.
- If an accountant commits a microaggression towards a client it sucks; it’s familiar, it might spur us to seek tax support elsewhere, but it won’t offer undue harm to our mental health (any more than the other daily microaggressions we experience from strangers)
- If my postal worker tells me to “pick a gender,” I feel hurt and confused but my recovery from substance abuse isn’t called into question
However, when your “mentor” at rehab tells you your gender isn’t real, it has an impact. This person has power over you. They are in charge of your health and well-being. They are your guides on your path to recovery. And they just told you you don’t exist. Good luck moving through your depression after that.
For queer staff members of the helping professions, such implicit biases lead to a false belief in safety which leads to vulnerable admissions of identity which leaves one open to attack. I came out at work, in part, because I wanted to support our queer clients. I thought my role as an out trans person would be a beacon of safety for them. I was wrong. My false sense of safety led to a false sense of safety in other staff and clients. Yes, other people came out and asked for support. And yes, they were met with microaggressions and hostility. I still feel responsible for that.
So how do we create our own safety?
- Don’t assume that organizational lip service regarding inclusivity is backed by training, professional development, or policy in any way
- Be wary of cis-het white people who claim to understand multiculturalism and diversity without offering any education or training on such topics to staff
- Remember that it’s not your job as a queer person to educate everyone else on inclusive practices. You can point out areas that need improvement if you feel safe enough to do so, but know that leadership teams and management are the ones who need to work to create a safe enough environment
- Form groups with other queer and marginalized employees. Share experiences. Support each other. Do not tell management you’re doing this
- Take your time in coming out. Do what feels right to you, not what you think might be in the best interest of clients or other staff
“Ninety-seven percent (97%) [of trans people] have experienced mistreatment, harassment, or discrimination on the job including: invasion of privacy, verbal abuse, and physical or sexual assault” (National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 2011).
Nice to know I’m just a statistic.
I’m starting a new job next week. As of now, I am uncertain of how to show up. I could let everyone misgender me without correction which feels rather craptacular, or I could come out and risk hostile encounters. There is a trans adolescent client at this organization and I already feel the pull to come out in order to stand in solidarity with him, but I think I will assess the situation over time before making any decisions. This makes me sad.
And thus I begin 2017…
I wear black because I am in mourning. I am in mourning for the country I thought I lived in. The country that is most certainly dead. My privilege allowed me to believe that Hillary would win by a landslide. It was beyond my comprehension to think there were enough United States citizens who aligned with Drumpf’s values of hatred to elect him president. I was so wrong.
In the past year, Drumpf has said the following:
Mexican immigrants are rapists
He will kill the families of “terrorists”
He wants Hillary assassinated
Muslims should be banned from the USA
Women should not have reproductive rights
Marriage is for straight people only
It’s OK to perpetrate non-consensual sexual acts (i.e.: Nothin’ wrong with rape)
He is narcissistic. He is a pathological liar.
He is selfish, self-centered, inarticulate, incites hate, preaches hate.
He does not understand how to run an ethical business, let alone a country.
The subtext for the slogan, “Make America Great Again,” is “Make America Hate Again.” Or, as the electoral college just informed us, “Bring Forth America’s White Supremacist Values Again.”
Drumpf is not my president. Drumpf will never be my president. I do not acknowledge his position because I do not believe in hate.
I do not acknowledge his position but I do acknowledge my racial privilege. I acknowledge the ideological, institutional, and systemic racism upon which this country was built. I acknowledge the implicit and explicit sexist values upheld by Drumpf and his supporters. I acknowledge the extreme violence perpetrated against trans people. I acknowledge the high rates of alcoholism and suicide of Native Americans.
I have been saying for years that this country is ill. I see the symptoms of its illness manifest as depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and PTSD in the children and teenagers to whom I offer therapeutic support. The election of Drumpf to the presidency of this country is proof of this illness.
I hear some of my fellow writers and activists calling for strength and action. I wish I could say that I am in a place to offer such things, but I am not. I am afraid for my life and my liberty.
We just elected a man to the highest office in the world who admitted to molesting women and denied any wrongdoing in doing so.
I support everyone who holds enough privilege to face this embodiment of hatred head on. As of now, that’s not me.
To all the people who voted for Drumpf: You can have this country. I will take my brilliance elsewhere.
Despite my horror at the multi-ring circus called the 2016 Presidential Election, I am committed to seeing it through to the end and am therefore tuning in to the debates between Donald (who I affectionately refer to as Trumpiewumpie) and Senator Clinton. As if it wasn’t embarrassing enough to call oneself a United States citizen this century, we have now gifted the world’s stage with a reality-TV-show-style election. Sigh.
On Monday evening, Trumpiewumpie and Senator Clinton debated (can we even use that term?) the issues… or rather, Senator Clinton attempted to articulate her stance on national security, foreign trade, and racial tension while Trumpiewumpie sniffed, snorted, and made fish faces into the microphone. I am not a die-hard Clinton supporter (shout out to Bernie), but at least she has a modicum of decorum and poise and is undeniably intelligent and capable of being the Commander-in-Chief. And she deals with a heck of a lot of sexism, microaggressions, and discrimination. Hey Trumpiewumpie, if she has a face, she has a presidential look.
I am used to being invisible when it comes to our nation’s ideology. President Obama mentioned trans people for the first time ever in the 2015 State of the Union address, but it felt more like throwing us a bone than highlighting all the issues we face. I’m fairly certain most people on Capitol Hill don’t have a clue what non-binary means and if they do, they certainly wouldn’t acknowledge our existence. For today, I’m going to let that go. Cause watching the debate on Monday illuminated all the other people in this country who are invisible.
The two candidates were asked a question about the current tension between races in this country and both candidates responded as if African-Americans and Latinx were the only people of color in the United States. Trumpiewumpie referred to them as one group: “Africanamericanhispanics” and Senator Clinton fared only somewhat better by giving them their own and slightly less colonial labels: African-American and Latino. But if memory serves, neither candidate mentioned any other race (someone fact check me, please!).
Hmm, am I wrong in noticing that there are many, many races of people represented in United States citizenship? Aren’t there Chinese-Americans, Filipino-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Iranian-Americans, Korean-Americans and (gasp) NATIVE Americans (goddess forbid we mention the people whose land we stole and now reside on) etc…? Maybe I see people who aren’t really here like the kid in The Sixth Sense who sees dead people (I see racial minorities), but I’m fairly certain I’m not wrong about this. So why is it that when our politicians discuss race in the United States they only talk about Africanamericanhispanics?
It makes sense to some extent, considering the rampant killings of unarmed black men by police. There is definitely a major issue with the ways white supremacy specifically targets and discriminates against the black community and the candidates should address this, but when asked about the racial divide, shouldn’t they at least acknowledge that there are more than three races in this country?
Politicians, Senator Clinton and Trumpiewumpie included, perpetuate white supremacy when they fail to acknowledge their racial privilege. When a politician gets on stage and says, “I have racial privilege and therefore have many unearned opportunities because this nation was built on white supremacy” then I will be excited to vote. But wait, I WANT our country to change in ways that will actually create equality, not just give it a head nod and I’m guessing most white politicians want to retain their unearned white power soooo I suppose I will wait a long time before I hear the above phrase.
I shall save abelism, classism, and heteronormativity for another post.
So while my gender and sexual orientation are completely invisible at the ideological and institutional levels and nearly invisible at the interpersonal level (a barista just “ma’amed” me), there are plenty of people who are also invisible for other reasons. I have race, class, and ability privilege. I am represented in that regard.
“In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.”
I am angry. Again. I am angry because I have heard numerous stories in the last couple of weeks about people serving in the helping professions (therapists, doctors, health coaches etc…) who have no idea what it means to be queer* or marginalized and are HARMING their clients because of this ignorance.
The first rule of therapy is “Do no harm.” Rule #1 is not “help others,” precisely because one person’s idea of helping could actually harm the object of the help.
Example: I see an elderly person crossing the street and I assume they are not super mobile and decide I am going to be a hero and help them. I dash to their side, grab their elbow, and support them as we both cross the street. I do not hear the elder person’s quiet protests because I am so focused on getting them to the other side. Once we have “safely” landed on the opposite curb, I release their elbow and feel proud of myself for serving my elders. Only at this point do I make eye contact and truly connect with the person. I see fear and confusion in their eyes. They say something to me in another language and hug their arm to their side, tears in their eyes. How can I know that this person is the survivor of a war and terrified of strangers? Did I ever consider the fact that my spiky hair and tattoos, which are benign enough in my social circle, scream “thug” to this elder? The elder person did not think I was helping them, they thought I was after their wallet! Now they are terrified and confused and worried I am going to harm them further.
I could give more examples about therapists who question the validity of a queer* teenager’s identity; supporting the parents in thinking it might be a phase or the result of a trauma. Or leaders of a therapeutic organization who discriminate against a trans* employee then act contrite, claiming they could never discriminate against anyone because, after all, they are part of a helping profession.
WAKE UP PEOPLE!
I can forgive this extreme ignorance in people who are not helping professionals. I am happy to support the education of the human race and speak out again and again about the queer* experience and queer* rights. But I cannot forgive those of us who have advanced training in psychology, who are supposed to be offering support and healing to others. We are supposed to educate ourselves on a regular basis, for crying out loud! We have to pay attention to current research and take continuing education credits supposedly so we do not harm the people with whom we work. We should be seeking out the voices of marginalized groups and not just listening to cisgender, heterosexual, white people. There is no excuse for trained professionals to allow an unlicensed, unregistered “therapist” to work with young girls, touching them unnecessarily and showing blatant favoritism for the slender white girls.
It is NOT OK to hire a queer* employee then tell them that even though they identify as third gender, the company will need to refer to them as “woman” because they only have two gender boxes. It is even more NOT OK to ask the queer* employee to solve this problem! SOLVE IT YOURSELVES! This is why you have a human resources department… or do they have their heads up their asses too? Judging from the situation, I can make an educated guess that the answer is yes.
My heart is racing, my muscles are tense, and tears threaten to spill from my eyes. If I could turn this post into a “howler” so that it shrieked at everyone on the internet, I would do it. I am so sick of people refusing to do their work. We all have to examine our biases and blind spots or else we are doomed to repeat the same stupid mistakes for all eternity.
I am no exception. In an effort to be transparent and walk the talk, I will show you mine.
What are my biases?
I struggle with finding compassion for people who insist that anyone’s personal expression of identity is wrong. I am biased towards freedom of choice and independence in young people. I tend to feel overwhelming and disproportionate compassion and benevolence towards people of color (I am rather ashamed of this one and try to bring awareness to my unconscious actions when possible). I am prone to racial biases and recently caught myself wondering if the only black man in a group was a thief (the group was discussing stolen property). I am not proud of this, but I look at it. I take the ugly parts of myself out of the shadow bag that I carry around with me and I shine a light on them. Through this process, I learn where I need to grow and I learn that I need to ask lots of questions and not operate under assumptions.
I remember that first and foremost, I do no harm.
Picture this: You are offered a job. You tell the hiring manager you are transgender and use gender neutral pronouns. Three days later the owner of the company asks you to write a letter outlining how your gender will impact the company and its clients. Shortly after that, the job offer is rescinded.
Or more appropriately, WTF?
This is what happened to my beloved three months ago when xe was hired by New Vision Wilderness then un-hired when they found out xe was trans*. We are still reeling form the impact of this discrimination.
How is this OK? Should I write a reflection outlining the impact of my womanhood on my dance students? Or better still, should my assistant write an essay outlining how his Filipino-ness affects our cast? Since he’s not white, he really should explain himself and how he’s going to deal with his non-whiteness in our professional world.
No one would think that was OK!
So why would someone believe it’s OK to ask S to write a paper discussing xyr gender in those terms? I need to take a deep breath and not say what I want to say about New Vision Wilderness (because I hold myself to a higher standard). What I will say is that they are clearly ignorant, most likely transphobic and homophobic, and do not understand the law. Because guess what? IT’S NOT OK to offer someone a job then rescind the offer when you realize they are trans*! T’is illegal (at least in some states). And now there is a lawsuit pending.
I know that New Vision thinks S is out to get money but that is not the case. S wanted a job! And this one seemed perfect for xem. S was super thrilled to get a job 10 days after finishing graduate school and xe has been completely devastated by this situation. Having your identity attacked does not feel good. Being told that your gender “is a concern” and that you have a personal agenda by being that gender is hurtful. S has suffered deep wounds at the hands of New Vision and they need to know that what they did was not OK.
If an African-American person had been offered this job, then asked to write a reflection about how being black would impact the clients, then told they did not actually have the job because their race “was a concern,” then this lawsuit would be a no-brainer and New Vision would KNOW they had done something wrong (at least I certainly hope they would. It is possible I am being naive in my racial privilege). Yet New Vision doesn’t seem to realize how badly they hurt my beloved. They seem to think it was perfectly alright to question S’s gender and behave like bullies because xe is trans*. To date, they have neither apologized nor admitted wrongdoing.
The bottom line is it is NOT OK to discriminate based on someone’s identity. Unfortunately, only 21 states have sexual orientation on their anti-discrimination laws and only 18 states have gender. Luckily, Oregon has both and that’s where S’s lawsuit is happening.
This incident has really highlighted why the unemployment rate for trans* folks is 75%. Unacceptable.
People are people. All people have a right to live in a body. Discrimination is an act of hate. Stop it.