Disclaimer: Most of my idea for this post came from the boycott of feministing and feministe and the frustrations of the trans bloggers who feel like their voices/issues are not heard in the blogosphere and that when ever they try to have a dialog it is constantly derailed by privilege blind cis feminists. It has had me thinking a lot about privilege and how I got to where I am now and all the different lessons I had to learn to try not to spew privilege all over posts that had nothing to do with me. I am hoping this post, and others in the same vein can be used to explain why certain behaviors are insulting and demeaning to the women that feminism still routinely oppresses. I don’t have a big following but if even a few people come across this post and it affects the way they engage I feel it is worth it.
I’m a liberal, open-minded person. I believe everyone should have equal rights and that racism, sexism, homophobia & tranmisogyny is wrong. I am an ally to all of those that are underprivileged. Therefore it is perfectly acceptable for me to ask any type of intrusive or or non-intrusive question about another person’s experience, identity, culture, transitioning etc. My intent is pure and I just want to better understand their experience and identity so that I can be the best ally EVER. Anyone who is gay, trans, asian, etc should have no problem explaining their life experience to me. They should be grateful and appreciative that I WANT to learn about their experience. They constantly complain about people not “understanding” shouldn’t they want to help me understand.
The above paragraph is nothing more than a gigantic FAIL but I didn’t see why at first. I was blinded by my privilege and believed positive intent and didn’t understand why it would be insulting to make someone explain basic concepts to me.
In any conversation like that I was treating an individual like an object. I was investigating their experience and making them relay information that could have been painful or annoying. Instead of realizing that I was making an individual a mascot for what I perceived as their “issue”, I believed I was being open-minded and giving myself an cognitive pat on the back for being a “good person.” My actions were not showing support but another form of othering and a way to take someone’s personal issue and make myself feel better about caring and being “informed”. I reduced a person to one part of their identity instead of seeing them as a whole and letting them tell me their story in the way they wanted. I could have easily went on the internet and searched for the basic info I needed but in my world it was easier to make another human being be my own personal encyclopedia.
I took personal questions and revelations and made them nuggets of information to place in my congratulatory image of myself. It never came into my head that what I was doing was insulting, I was just asking questions. I wanted credit for caring without ever realizing that what I was showing over and over again was that I didn’t care. I didn’t care enough to find basic information, I didn’t care enough to consider the other person’s feelings and life experience and I didn’t care enough to check to see if my assumptions about my behavior were actually true. I have privilege and privilege means I don’t have to care. I can be offensive and claim other people don’t “want me to learn” when they get irritated or yell about derailing. Because in my little world, people were supposed to want me on their side and they had to earn it by providing me with the information I needed. They had to submit to a quasi national geographic interview based on my desire to intrude upon their real world when I had no respect for the life they actually have to live.
It took me awhile but eventually I learned. Now I am embarrassed by the times where I took for granted that people wanted to tell me everything I wanted to know. I am embarrassed for all the times I felt that others were obligated to explain their situation if they wanted support. I am embarrassed for others who don’t realize that privilege and are a reflection of me when I see them demand that people use language they understand if they want their support. I am embarrassed that even in feminism where we realize we shouldn’t have to explain basic terms to a man that comes on and demands statistics and definitions for sexual assault we haven’t realized that an explanation of a term cis-identified does not belong on a thread focused on how we can do better when dealing with trans-related issues.