Monday, June 13, 2016

On heterosexual privilege

Last week I did something that I am not proud of. I got into a social media spat with a friend of a friend about why the shooting in Orlando was a hate crime.  I linked to a description of hate crimes and hate groups as identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center . And I texted an apology to my friend for instigating a fight on her Facebook feed. Then I went to the gym and lifted heavy things to direct my anger somewhere. Because nothing makes me more indignant than when I am trying to explain privilege to someone who refuses to listen.

The thing about privilege is that its really hard to understand when you have it. By way of example, I have white skin. This privileged status affords me a huge number of advantages. They are as far reaching as seeing people with white skin on television, having teachers and professors who look like me, and having a "white sounding name" on my resume.  These privileges are as small as being able to purchase bandaids and underwear that are called "nude" and also match my skin tone. My privilege allows me to drive or walk pretty much wherever I like, or shop in stores without being scrutinized. I don't even have to think about white privilege, because it is intrinsic to my experience. You can learn more about white privilege in this article by Peggy McIntosh, Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.

Heterosexual privilege functions in much the same way. Because I identify as a member of the LGBTQ community, my status as a member of an oppressed group, this difference is particularly marked to me.  I am only able to speak to a very small window of this experience. I defer to my friends and colleagues to speak more fully about what it is to identify as transgender, genderqueer, or the intersectionality of what it is to be a person of color who also identifies as LGBTQ.

I've been really frustrated by the inability of the media and of many people to claim the Orlando attack as a hate crime. The main argument that I'm hearing is that "all crimes are hateful, particularly gun violence." 

This is not exactly incorrect, as I would say that a crime in which an innocent person loses their life is indeed hateful, but it doesn't instill fear like a hate crime does. Hate crimes are intended to terrorize a group of people & instill fear in their very existence. 

It is a profound example of heterosexual privilege that the fact that this shooting occurred in a gay club is so easily erased. 

I find myself troubled by cisgender & heterosexual people co-opting the phrase, "we are Orlando." Because, no, you are not. 

You don't know what it's like to need a sanctuary club where you can dance with  same gender partners. 

You don't know what it's like to have strangers glare & shout at you in public for holding the hand of your partner. 

You don't know what it's like to be looking over your shoulder while walking together or glancing around to see who is around before kissing your partner in public. 

You don't know what it's like to be misidentified as sisters. 

You don't know the chore of coming out repeatedly.

You don't know what it's like to have your life sexualized and fetishized by heterosexual men. 

You don't know what it's like to be in fear.

You can stand alongside us, but your privilege allows you to leave. 

So please don't erase this as a hate crime committed against the LGBTQ community.  

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