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.