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 am not a huge fan of movies and even less of a fan of television. Therefore, it is rather odd that I have recently found myself watching an obscene amount of really bad, really heteronormative media.
What is going on?
On November 8th, when this country elected Trumpy Wumpy to the office of President, I fell into a deep and somewhat debilitating despair. I cried for two solid days and started looking at immigration websites for countries which I thought might accept me as a resident on day three. As someone who normally stands at the front lines of every fight for social justice, this time I just felt defeated. I have no more fight in me (or so I thought).
A week after the election, feeling like a shell of a person, I sat on my couch and stared at the fire. Then a thought popped into my head, “I need to watch something hetero.” I sat a bit longer, trying to come up with the most heteronormative movie ever made when the title, Father of the Bride flashed into my head. I gleefully found it streaming online and immediately watched the entire outrageously heteronormative film. Then I found Father of the Bride II and watched that on the same day. Admittedly, I growled at the actors, pointing out the not-so-subtle instructions on how to be a man or a woman…
Man: Bumbling, unobservant, goofy, tyrannical, possessive of the the females in his life, wealthy, out of touch, playful, juvenile
Woman: Pretty, intelligent (for a girl), nurturing, wiser than man, soft, wants nothing more than romantic love, stylish, mature
I won’t go into the overt racist and homophobic stereotypes that appear in the films, but know that they are there.
Over the course of the following several weeks I watched (this is highly embarrassing):
Gilmore Girls Little Women How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
At some point in this train wreck of a past time, I realized that I was engaged in an activity from my younger years- binge watching heteronormativity in the hopes that intense study of the phenomenon would allow me to accurately perform it.
I am reminded of all the years I spent trying to be a girl, pouring over fashion magazines and watching What Not To Wear to gain a better understanding of how I should perform my gender. I have not engaged in this activity for a decade, but it showed up in November after we elected Cheeto-head.
I am still uncovering the motivation for this recent hetero binge fest, but I suspect it has something to do with fear. I am an out queer/trans person. I write about the experience of being a queer/trans person. My doctoral research centers around the experiences of queer/trans people. My survival instinct likely kicked into overdrive and said, “Hold the phone! If you want to live you better learn how to perform their shit and assimilate into their world. Otherwise they are going to kill you.”
I had a dream last night that I grew my very short hair out into long, luscious locks. I wasn’t quite sure how it had happened, but people kept complimenting me on my beautiful, feminine hair. My only response was, “I feel like a drag queen.” I did not like the hair, but I noticed how nicely I assimilated into the dream society. This is not so far removed from my actual experience. When I shave my head, most people raise their eyebrows and say, “why did you do that?” When it starts to grow out I hear, “Your hair is starting to look nice again. I’m glad it’s growing out some.” If I ever wear anything that remotely looks like girl clothes, I am complimented. “You look so pretty in that.” “You look very nice today.” But when I wear my normal men’s clothes, no one says anything.
It’s interesting how people use compliments to let you know how well you are performing gender or not. The subtext of their words are:
“When you do things that push the boundaries of gender, you make me uncomfortable and I hate you for it.”
“When you assimilate in a way that makes sense to me, I feel better and therefore like you more.”
How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days shattered something in me. Even straight people must be offended by this! It was so overtly misogynistic, both men and women appeared ridiculous. Maybe it is supposed to be satire and I just didn’t get it which is quite probable. It did have a serious moment were the audience is supposed to “ooh” and “ahh” at the slender lead actress in her swanky yellow gown. I wonder what would have happened if they sent her to the party dressed as a Dapper Dan in bow tie, vest, and hat? And the lead actor could have worn the beautiful yellow gown (I’m sure he would have looked marvelous in it).
Shit. There I go again with my inability to assimilate. This period of binge watching has ended. As much as I might think I want to give up my queer identity in order to be accepted by the masses, I know I won’t. Living a lie won’t help me or anyone else. If I’m killed for being queer, so be it. I won’t be the first person. Plus, who knows if Mike Pence will get his bigoted little hands on our rights, or if there are enough people who don’t hate us to stop him and Trumpy Wumpy’s team of racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic cronies. And finally, if I go into hiding, then I’m not standing in solidarity with my fellow queers and we all need each other as we head into a period of time that we may refer to as “The Dark Years.” Or maybe just “The Years of Cheeto” which at least makes me smile.
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.
If you haven’t read my post, “Oh, So Discrimination Is OK As Long As It Is About Gender and Not Race. Got It,” then you should check it out. It was my first post about a pending gender discrimination lawsuit in Oregon, involving my spouse. The defendants at New Vision Wilderness currently maintain that they did not discriminate against anyone. In fact, they keep describing everything that they feel did occur including disorganization within the company, miscommunication, and oh yeah, discrimination. They do not get it. The owners of the company maintain that one of their policies requires transgender people to hide their gender from clients and that they couldn’t hire my spouse because xe “refused” to hide xyr gender (which also isn’t true, but they have told so many falsehoods at this point I no longer get bogged down by them).
Let me break this down for you.
Company A has a policy stating that employees will not reveal any personal information about themselves to clients. This is a therapeutic modality, ostensibly designed to support clients in therapy to overcome their challenges without being influenced by their therapist’s interests or personality.
OK. I think that’s kind of a bogus therapy model but I will allow Company A the freedom to incorporate it.
So cisgender Sara is hired as a therapist. She starts working in the field and clients refer to Sara with feminine pronouns (she/her). Because she has long hair, wears clothes styled for women, and speaks in a higher pitch than men, clients assume she is female and identifies as a woman. Her gender is known despite the “non-disclosure policy” of Company A.
Then cisgender Stan is hired as a therapist. He starts working in the field and clients refer to Stan with masculine pronouns (he/his/him). Because he has short hair, a beard, wears clothes styled for men, and speaks in a lower pitch then women, clients assume he is male and identifies as a man. His gender is known despite the “non-disclosure policy” of Company A.
Then transgender Tornado is hired. Before xe starts working in the field, xe is told xe cannot use xyr pronouns because clients might be confused and besides it goes against Company A’s “non-disclosure policy.” Xe is only allowed to work if xe allows clients and staff to erroneously refer to xem with feminine pronouns and be misgendered as female even though xe has a shaved head, wears clothes styled for men and women, and speaks in a pitch that is… well, xyr pitch. Unfortunately, transgender Tornado didn’t even get this far because the job offer was rescinded after xe came out as trans*.
So it’s OK for cisgender Sara and cisgender Stan to be “out” as cisgender, but it’s not OK for transgender Tornado to be “out” as transgender.
THAT IS DISCRIMINATION, MY FRIENDS! And it should not be excused by ignorance.
Here’s the thing: Human beings are not perfect. We screw up. We have biases and judgments and we hurt each other. But one would hope that when such biases, judgments, and hurts are pointed out; when a mirror is held up to our actions and reflects discrimination, we can see how we screwed up and we atone for our actions. When we are unable to do this, we perpetuate inequality. We perpetuate hate.
Stop the hate. Spread the love.
I sometimes think the whole world is stuck in that old nursery school rhyme:
What are little boys made of?
Ships and snails and puppy dog tails.
That’s what little boys are made of.
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice and everything nice.
That’s what little girls are made of.
From the moment we are assigned a gender at birth, we are shoved into this rhyme. Even if our parents acknowledge that they have independent puppy dog girls and sweet little boys, something in our socialization process requires that most of us hang out somewhere inside the box of this nursery rhyme. And God help you if you try to break out.
Besides, queer*trans* people aren’t even mentioned! Where is our rhyme?
What are little queers made of?
Cells and hearts and really pretty parts
That’s what little queers are made of.
What are little queers made of?
Stress and strife and fighting for life
That’s what little queers are made of.
Heh heh. If only that nursery rhyme had been whispered into our ears as infants. We would have been empowered AND prepared.
But I’m guessing that rhyme won’t go viral, so here we are, “freaks” born into a world that only sees a narrow, binary concept of gender and sex. And even though those of us living in progressive parts of the United States are feeling less oppressed than previous generations, we still have to fight for space; fight to be seen.
I don’t think straight people understand the depth of invisibility that comes with being queer*. I am misgendered every single day. I am generally assumed to be straight (though how anyone looks at me and sees heterosexual is beyond me).
I have to speak up, speak out, get on my soap box, be loud, yell and wave my arms, write blogs, publish articles, shave my head, refuse to back down, stand my ground, fight for my community, fight for employment, fight for legal rights, march in a parade, and carry a metaphorical sword JUST TO BE SEEN in the smallest way.
And then, when I have finally yelled and jumped up and down and waved my arms and pointed to injustice enough times for the heteronormative world to take notice, I hear “Wow, you’re awfully aggressive. What happened to the nice, sweet girl we used to know?”
I will tell you. She’s gone.
I am no longer nice, sweet, and compliant. Nice, Sweet, Compliant Me was violated over and over and over. Nice, Sweet, Compliant Me took care of everyone else instead of fighting for what I knew was right. I stand my ground. I stand up for what I believe in and I fight for social justice.
Why is it that people love the saying, “well-behaved women rarely make history,” but when they actually encounter a woman who is not well-behaved, they attack her? Do we only love and accept women who misbehave in the proper way? I’m not interested in what is proper. I am interested in what is right.
Stop the hate.