Penny's Story

A cute little drummer living her dream.

Archive for Random Philosophy

Privilege. Who, me?

I have lots of privilege. Truth be told, most of us do. Sure, there are varying degrees of privilege in this world, but every time I see or hear privilege being discussed I think of the old saw that goes: “I cried because I had no shoes until I saw the man who had no feet.” It’s not to minimize the concept of privilege, or to deny that some people clearly benefit from not much else than the luck of their birth. I guess what I’m saying is that for me the concept of privilege is most useful when I’m examining my own advantages. I find that if I worry too much about anyone else’s privilige I can quickly get caught up in divisive language and attitudes. So when it comes to privilige in the sociopolitical sense, I’ll examine my own, but I probably won’t talk too much about anyone else’s.

So, yea, I’m a pretty blessed lady. I spent a long time being pretty depressed, and then I spent some time being pretty caught up with my disadvantages. It was only a few months ago that I started realizing how blessed I truly am, how much privilege I have. It’s true that I have worked very hard to get my life to the point where it is, but I have had help and blessings along the way. And now that I am where I am, I have blessings and privilege that I never imagined would be possible.

The first is this thing called “passing privilege.” Simply put, it means that when I walk around, people look at me and interact with me and see a “big girl.” Very few (if any) people are able to discern anything about my unusual history unless I choose to reveal those details. This is something that most people take for granted; most men and women never have to give a second thought to being seen as the man or woman that they are. With people with similar histories and life struggles as me, though, this is not always the case. For many people, being seen by the world as one wishes to be seen is a constant struggle. I knew I was ready to give up trying to be something I wasn’t when I knew that even if the world always thought of me as transgender, I had to live an authentic life anyway. It was almost shocking when I realized that the world sees me as the normal woman I always wanted to be. I work everyday to not take that for granted, because it would be so easy to, and I know how hard I worked for it, and I know that it will never happen for some people.

Passing privilege carries a lot with it, and it sort of piggy-backs with “heterosexual privilege.” When people ask about my ex-spouse, unless they know about my history, they ask about my “ex-husband” (depending on the context I correct them or not). When I tell people I’m dating they assume I’m dating a man (and I am). People ask me about having kids (which touches on one of my burdens, my infertility, but it’s still part of straight privilege).

I’m realizing that there’s a lot of overlap here. People make assumptions about me because they perceive me to be a heterosexual woman. I am, which means that those assumptions are correct and validating. But those assumptions could just as easily be wrong. This is one of those things that makes privilege such a sticky concept. Back in the before time, one could make an argument that I possessed “male privilege,” but I never wanted it, I tried to disavow it whenever possible, I tried to never benefit from it, and I found the very fact that I was ~assumed~ to possess it incredibly invalidating.

Anyway, onward…

I could afford surgery. I guess I’ll call it “surgical privilege.” This is a big one here. Yes, I have a mortgage on my home solely because I needed to finance my surgery and other costs of transition (I think the total is probably around $70,000 at this point, and I’d say I’m basically “done”). I certainly don’t think of myself as well-off financially. In fact, I joke about being poor and broke quite a bit (and I’m not really joking). But when it comes down to it, I have financial advantages that lots of people don’t have. I have health insurance, yet treatments for transsexualism are ~specifically excluded~ from coverage under my health insurance plan (as they are from most plans). Even though I was able to fund my surgery, this is one of those pet issues for me. Sex reassignment surgery should be covered by insurance. I’m pretty adamant about that. I do not consider it elective or cosmetic any more than surgery for a cleft palate is cosmetic or elective. This is a surgery that is medically necessary for some people (and it’s a vanishingly small percentage of the population) and it should be covered by insurance. But, back to the point: the fact that I could afford SRS is a huge privilege, and I am very cognizant of that fact. [I didn’t even touch on the fact that surgical options for women seem to still be much more advanced and less costly than they are for men, which certainly grants me some privilige.]

I’m not sure how to word this one, but I have “support privilege.” I am horrified that so many transsexual people seem to lose their families and/or friends and/or jobs simply because of their medical condition. Society seems to be working its way toward understanding, but there are many who think of this as something wrong or evil or sinful or hilarious. Parents turn their back on their children. Employers fire their best employees. Friends stop calling their best friends. People lose people because of this condition, and I think it sucks. I don’t understand, and I may never understand. I do recognize, though, that I am blessed beyond words in this category. My grandmother, who messed up my name and pronoun until she passed away (at 94!), loved me and kept trying to get my name and pronoun right until the day she died. She would introduce me as her grand daughter. My mom has said she always wanted a daughter, and I am that daughter. My extended family has been amazing and loving. My friends have been, simply, my friends, always. What more can I say. Then there’s my church. My church gathered around me and layed their hands on me and prayed over me the day before I left for surgery. My church has encouraged my spiritual growth. My church has helped me to find my voice as a leader (a process that continues). My church has been the hand of God in my life (it’s funny how that’s works, eh?). There are so many other ways in which I’ve experienced support privilege. Even something silly like living in Boston, which has such a plethora of support options for transsexuals, is not lost on me.

There are a million other ways in which I’m privileged. One of the ones I’m sure that I don’t pay enough attention to is “white privilege.” But there are scads more. I think the most dangerous ones are the ones that go unnoticed.

Anyway, yea, I’ve got lots of privilege, who’d’ve thunk? And I think it’s important to examine my privilege. I probably won’t go around pointing out other peoples privilige, because I have found it unhelpful for me. I find the concept of privilige most useful, as I said earlier, when I’m examining my own.

Tapestries of Struggle

As we get to know people there will often be issues that might surface that seem like things that preclude us from getting close to them. In my dating-lingo, I call them “deal-breakers.” They’ve changed in the time I’ve been single. There were things that seemed like deal-breakers months ago, that now seem like trivialities.

I’ve been trying to broaden my perspective, and see people as whole individuals, instead of getting caught up on specifics irrespective of context. Afterall, we are all intricate tapestries; if we are viewed too closely our flaws can dominate the field of vision. It is only from a distance that our true beauty can be appreciated. A wise man once said to me that everyone can be scrutinized. If we’re too busy looking for flaws, they’re all we’ll see.

Something that used to be one of those deal-breakers was that if a guy was attracted to transwomen, I instantly ruled him out as a possibility. Now that I write it down in retrospect, it seems so obviously self-defeating. I basically said that I didn’t want anything to do with any guy that found me attractive. Wow. That’s dumb.

And yet, I am sensitive to the fact that some men fetishize transwomen. At what point does attraction for a group of people turn into unacceptable objectification? I was chatting with a friend the other day about this Asian woman who talks about guys having “Yellow Fever,” which is an attraction for Asian women. My friend and I were confused about where the line is between sincere and appropriate attraction and objectification. I think it’s a hard thing to quantify. So I’ve been talking to men about why they find themselves attracted to women like me. And the answers have been telling; most of them can’t explain it at all. They are just sincere folks with an attraction to a certain type of people. And so this has gone from a deal-breaker to a mildly interesting topic of discussion as I get to know someone.

Finally, I’ve been starting to look at everyone’s lives and see struggles and hardships and I’ve been able to relate to them in ways I never could before. As I adapt to my new life and settle more and more, I’m amazed at how similar the basic elements of our struggles are. We all feel isolated and powerless and like no one will understand. And if we can just take that step back, we see that our pain and fear could bring us all together. We all struggle. We all suffer. We all fail. We all succeed.

And the tapestry of each unique soul is a special creation, and deserves to be appreciated on its own merit irrespective of any group that it does or does not belong to.

The tapestry that is me is mad cool! 😉


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