I am always saying that we need to think about the ways in which we are oppressive and the ways in which we are oppressed. I constantly talk about intersectional feminism, power dynamics, and positions of the oppressor. I speak about these mechanisms around me. I am aware of the ways I am subject to oppression, but I recognise that with that position, I ignore the ways in which I am taking part in oppression.
I am always saying we need to reflect on these dynamics, yet I don’t reflect on this myself. I speak about the ways in which my identity is oppressed but I don’t speak about the ways in which my identity is oppressive. Ignoring this is oppressive in itself. Pretending I am outside of this is oppressive in itself. Giving the impression and only writing about and only speaking about issues in which I feel oppressed and how others are oppressive isn’t self-critical, it isn’t reflective and it isn’t feminist. I give myself an ‘ally pass’ and avoid it, excluding myself from the conversation. That is a choice I make and that is definitely a privilege.
I’m in denial when I’m read as a man because I don’t identify as a man. I’m in denial when I am read as a man which means I am in denial about my male privilege. That also means I am in denial about how I see sexism play out because I put myself outside of that. I see sexism and the ways in which it manifests around me. But I don’t see myself as a part of that when I am read as a man. I don’t see it. I don’t let myself.
Ironically, I have been thinking a lot recently about taking hormones. I know that hormones would mean I definitely pass as male and that would mean I definitely have male privilege. I have been thinking a lot recently about what that would look like, to gain that male privilege. But I have failed to examine what that male privilege looks like right now.
Simply because I’m not comfortable with male privilege, just because I call myself a feminist, doesn’t mean I don’t have that privilege or that I can choose when to exercise it. It’s there regardless of how I feel, what I saw or what I get angry about and even what I choose to write on Twitter. It’s there regardless of how much I challenge others and how little I challenge myself.
Instead I’m wondering why the South Asian man who entered the room of LGBT people of colour shook my hand as well as the hands of the two men of colour sitting next to me and walked straight past the women of colour in the room. I am confused because I’m wondering how he sees me, feeling anxious about how I am being read. I’m so wrapped up in thinking about my trans identity, whether to hide or whether it is safe, I don’t even realise he is reading me as a man. I don’t even realise I am a man in this room and therefore automatically acknowledged with a handshake. I don’t even realise this is male privilege.
I am observing and taking part in this sexist behaviour. I am taking part in the oppression of women around me, and the oppression of women of colour in particular. I don’t call it out, I let it happen and I am failing as an ally. I put the comfort of myself above calling out sexism. I made a choice whether to see it or not, and just saying, “I can’t,” means I am making the choice to say, “I won’t.” It is still a choice. And that is a privilege. Privilege is being able to make a choice.
Why do privileged people make that choice?
Why do I make that choice?
In that situation, once he shook my hand, I felt safe. Looking back, I realise I only felt safe because he read me as a man. I am safe because I am a man. My trans identity is invisible and that gives me safety as a trans person. As much as I feel safe, I am only safe because of my privilege. And then of course there is that fear of risking my safety – the fear of losing it. If I had called out his sexist behaviour, he would look twice at me, I would have lost my male privilege. I wouldn’t be safe. I would be visible. But what is there to really lose? I am not one of the women who have been ignored. I am not a woman and I won’t be treated like one. I’m still going to be safe because I am a man and I will always have that privilege. However acknowledging this privilege doesn’t deny oppression I do face. It does not deny my experiences as trans or as a person of colour. I am not compromised, but I am compromising my comfort and holding onto my male privilege at the expense of women and feminine people of colour. Privileged people make choices in fear of losing it. But I am not going to lose anything because that isn’t how privilege works. Privilege is there simply because we are.
“Your silence is condoning.” I’ve said that many times. People choose to be silent. People choose not to speak up about an issue or stand up for others or choose comfort over calling out sexism or sexual violence. But what about when I don’t speak? What about when I choose to be silent? My own silence is condoning.
Simply being outraged at an issue, tweeting about my anger at something I witnessed isn’t worth anything. It’s me trying to score ally points. Watching gay men constantly refer to the women in the room as “girls” and tweeting about that isn’t supportive. It is simply stating: I’m a man and I saw this sexist behaviour and it made me angry. But it didn’t happen to me so I didn’t do anything. And I didn’t say anything. I don’t think about the silence that follows the anger. I was just angry about an issue. And? What about it? Did I do anything? No. I chose to be silent. Because it doesn’t affect me directly. Because I have that privilege.
My denial is coming at a cost to losing people around me, those close to me and those who barely know of me. My choices are selfish and putting the people I love at the back of my mind. This is not just a one off piece of writing. This is the start of something.
I promise to recognise that as a man of colour I participate in the same systems as all men and ignoring this comes at the expense of women and feminine people and in particular women and feminine people of colour.
I promise to speak up and use my voice where others cannot and break my own silence.
I promise to tell myself that when calling someone out and I say, “I can’t,” I am saying, “I won’t.”
I promise to remember that when I feel safe, it is because of my male privilege.
I promise to remember that as a man I have far more to gain than I have to lose.
I promise to check my male privilege; I cannot choose who I am when I want because that it is a privilege in itself. I have the privilege of being unaware of my privilege.