Thursday, December 17, 2015

Visibility is not a "Privilege"

Originally posted to a private website.

I have been wanting to write something about this for a long time but haven't felt like dealing with it. It's racing around in my head over and over so I am just going to do it. It should be said that I think privilege discourse is highly flawed so I kind of hate to devote a writing to it. But, this writing is inspired by one of the great flaws of privilege discourse. So, yeah...

Visibility is not a privilege. Calling visibility a privilege is right up there with MRA's telling women they have the "privilege" of being able to have domestic violence shelters or to put men in the "friend zone." This is something that people who are visible and of oppressed groups (visibly queer, visibly trans, visibly of color, visibly disabled, etc) know for a fact. Nonetheless, some folks who are more invisible don't see it that way.

This does not mean invisibility itself is a privilege (even though it often comes with privileges) nor does it mean all people with invisible identities do this. (Repeat that line to yourself if you need to.) Not everything is black and white. Visibility and invisibility can both be sides of the same coin.

However, there is a trend, (especially with queer or bisexual people in predominantly opposite cis gender relationships in my experience), to call visibility a "privilege" in order to combat the invisibility of certain identities. I don't understand why erasing the struggles of the people who face extensive amounts of oppression is the tactic used to create visibility, but it's a thing. And it's a thing that hurts.

The most bothersome part about it is that people are saying that their discomfort in not being seen is more important that the threat of assault, imprisonment, discrimination, and death that visible people face. And before you accuse me of playing oppression olympics, I am fighting fire with fire here, since olympics are what started this "visibility is privilege" crap.

Privilege is a systematic set of unearned (or more easily earned) benefits (safety, economic security, freedom from violence, freedom from discrimination, etc) given to a certain demographic. It is not a situational advantage woman being paid more than men for her sexualization in porn, a butch woman being taken more seriously as a lesbian, or a trans woman being more likely to be thought of when someone references trans people. All of these rare situational advantages come with extreme discrimination, violence, and abuse in our culture at all other times.
Privilege is also intersectional. Someone can have one privilege and lack another. Someone can have male privilege but lack white and heterosexual privilege. Someone can lack male privilege but have cis and class privilege. And the way that these things intersect creates entirely new ways of experiencing oppression (e.g. a black woman experiences patriarchy differently than a white woman).
I am a visibly queer and gender nonconforming person who is also in poverty, white, and with partly invisible disabilities. Invisibility of my disabilities can make it harder to sit in disabled seats on the bus or have my health conditions taken as seriously. This is huge and harms me. But that does not in any way mean that visible people who use wheelchairs have "privilege" over me. Invisibility of transmasculine and nonbinary/genderqueer/etc people affects me because when I say I am trans, uneducated folks have never heard of my kind of trans and most medical professionals don't know what to do. But, that will never mean that visible binary trans women or transfeminine people are "privileged" over me.

Visibly gender nonconforming, trans, and queer people are more likely to be assaulted, killed, discriminated against, and so forth than cis and gender conforming people in opposite cis gender relationships- Especially in prison and medical institutions and especially when they are people of color. Invisible people of these demographics may not be taken seriously or seen and this is a real problem. But it hardly makes the daily danger and struggle of "visible" people a "privilege."
So, let's work together and keep fighting oppression without erasing each other's struggles. Because honestly, when someone like me is told I have "privilege" from the visibility that has resulted in such heinous abuse throughout my life, it makes that abuse worse. So, I'll be sure to validate your identity and visibility. And you be sure not to invalidate my life.