Friday, April 5, 2013

Check your Privilege at the Door

We are reaching the end of the semester, which means, as stress from assignments begin to take their toll, my tolerance level to put up with some conversations is at an all-time low. I had a conversation with a "friend" last night about some current issues facing LGBTQ folk, and let me tell you, the conversation was not a good one. I left that conversation feeling drained, confused by some of the reasoning, upset by the shortsightedness, and all around crappy. I woke up today, and I think the sassy bug bit me, because now I have something to say. This message is for anyone who is thinking about engaging in a conversation with another person or group.

Ahem, here it goes.

Anything you want to say about positions/struggles/conditions/feelings belonging to another person or a group you do not identify with, is immediately refuted by the fact that you most likely were gifted with some innate characteristic that our culture has scripted to place you over another person without that characteristic. Here are a few examples of what I mean.

Whiteness vs. People of Color
Able-Bodied vs. the Disabled
Young vs. the Elderly
Men vs. Female-Identified individuals
Wealthy vs. the less wealthy and influential
Biologically assigned gender roles vs. those who do not identify with, or do not have clearly-assigned gender roles

The list goes on and on, but I also can't forget my current zinger. The reason for this whole discourse.

Being Straight vs. Being gay (or lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, trans*, queer...)

If you are in a conversation, and any of these topics come up, and you know that topic plays a dynamic in who you are engaging with, I ask you, take a moment to recognize that you come from a place of greater privilege, and cannot possibly fathom what the other is experiencing. It is appreciated if you are trying to understand what the other is feeling, but "understanding" and actually living the "experience" are too separate things, and if you can't understand that, I'm going to ask you to a) check your privilege at the door before you say anything, b) don't say anything, if you don't have anything nice or relevant to say, or c) don't engage in a conversation with me, please.

Quite frankly, I'd prefer choice "C," at the moment, because while you think everyone is entitled to their own opinions, some opinions believe it is okay to belittle or harm me for being gay. Some opinions keep me from having job security. Though there are some opinions that recognize I should be able to have the right to marry whomever I want, there are still people of the opinion that I shouldn't. And since those opinions are fighting a losing battle, they have formed a new opinion that because my school receives money from the State, my school should not appropriate funding to a safe place for anyone LGBTQ identified and their friends. An opinion, I imagine, could result in lower class attendance of those affected folk. If you think it is unlikely to happen, you should know you can't expect anything, when a school's student assembly can pass a bill that supports the option to exempt having student fees support those very centers that provide a safe place for anyone who doesn't fit the hetero-normative schema. Of course, these are just my opinions.

I know I sound very cynical right now, but that's the way I feel, and I won't apologize for that. It's a tricky situation to have some heavy-handed conversations, but I also don't want the conversation to stop altogether. I simply feel that your opinions might reflect some larger, institutionalized form of oppression, and rather than present them aloud, you may want to wait and seek first to understand, then to be understood. After hearing what you need to hear, maybe what you have to say might be a little more thought out, respectful, and well-received.

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