Tag Archives: privilege

Reflections on transgender and feminist conflict

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few months reading the thoughts of good people who are very supportive of trans rights, good people who are themselves trans, and good people who are very wary about some things around transgender politics, and people on all sides who are downright shitty. I’ve taken my time over piling in, because I’m not trans, and I don’t identify with anti-trans feminists. I find I feel significant sympathies for people on both sides, and significant unease with people on both sides. Usually not the same people.

My starting point is that everyone involved, regardless of their position and opinion, is entitled to have their basic human rights upheld. This means being free from violence and the threat of violence. I am dismayed and disorientated by the violence, and threat of violence coming from all sides. I don’t think it’s ok to punch 60 year old women, however abhorrent you find their opinion. I am also aware that the anti-trans feelings out there can only add to the considerable violence trans folk already experience.

I see online that lesbians who are not comfortable with women who have penises, are being labelled as transphobic. This troubles me greatly. The freedom to love who we love is vital. The freedom to express that as we choose is vital. The right to say no, to any person, for any reason, is vital. I can’t see how not being attracted to someone’s body is phobic. We do not label straight people phobic for not being attracted to same sex people. Every time I go outside I encounter lots of people to whom I feel no attraction. We all of us, as a basic human right, need to be allowed not to have to fake being attracted to people. Being pressured into having sex with someone you do not want to have sex with, is rape.

So, here’s a theory. There are women who have started out with bodies that do not represent them. They identify with, sympathise with, empathise with other women. They want to be recognised as women too. I don’t see any reason to have a problem with this. I know a number of transwomen who I feel very comfortable with and who I have no difficulty identifying as women. Some of them are more feminine than I am, as a cis woman with some gender fluid stuff living in my head.

However, there are also men who want to move into female spaces, bringing all their male privilege with them. Men who want to make women do things for them, and who want women to put them first, and treat them as special, and let them be in charge. Men who feel entitled to tell women who and what they should be attracted to. If a man enters a female space acting from a place of male privilege, I don’t care what he looks like or how he has, or has not modified his body, I’m going to treat him as an entitled man forcing himself into female space. I’ve encountered a bit of this in person, too. It was not a good experience. Anyone who wants to be recognised as a woman cannot at the same time expect to keep their male privilege.

Equally, feminists raising issues about how some men may use trans inclusion to enable predation and violence against women is a thing I take seriously. Female safety is something I take seriously. But, a line is crossed if in the name of feminism, you start trying to deny human rights to someone who is transgender. That’s not what feminism is for. We need to be clear about the differences between human rights, and issues of entitlement if we’re going to figure this stuff out.

No Seasonal Pagan Shaming

Winter. For some of us, it’s a bloody awful time of year. Every year, without fail I see at least one piece online (usually more) that talks about celebrating winter in a way that is not especially kind to people who can’t. There are a lot of people who can’t. If you can joyfully celebrate the cold and dark half of the year – lovely. Have fun with that. It’s important to remember that there are very good reasons why other people can’t – it’s not that we’re lazy, or not trying hard enough, or fair weather Pagans, or failing at Paganism.

The shorter, darker days can really pile it on for people who suffer depression. Gloom and loss of energy make it a lot harder to get out to things or to feel like dealing with people. We may need to hibernate, not celebrate. We may not want to bring our gloom to your celebration.

For those of us with issues around mobility and balance, the mud, ice and frost is a nightmare. Outside becomes a treacherous place. Not everyone can skip along the frosty pavements like Legolas on the side of a mountain. For some of us, the fear of falling includes the fear of damaging an already fragile body. For older and more delicate people, a broken hip can be the beginning of the end and is not something to take lightly.

Celebrating the warm snugness of home and hearth is all well and good, but not everyone can afford it. If winter means choosing between heating and eating, there is nothing much to celebrate, and no resource to spare for joining in with other people’s celebrations. Poverty isn’t always visible or self announcing, people won’t always tell you they can’t afford to have the lights on at night.

Celebrating outside requires warm winter clothes, decent boots, a waterproof coat. Not everyone has or can afford that kind of kit. Not everyone can drive to the wild places in their four by four to go communing with nature whilst wearing their ski gear. It’s really tough going outside and getting cold when you can’t come home and get warm and dry in a reliable way. It’s harder, too, if you’re not eating properly. Cold and hungry are not a good combination, and there’s nothing like being cold for making you hungry. Not everyone has the luxury of a spare pair of outdoor shoes to wear if they get a pair soaked in ritual.

Not everyone loves the winter. Not everyone can. Some of us won’t survive it, killed by the cold and by lack of good food, by illnesses we could not fight off. Some of us will be injured by the conditions and some of us may never get over that. So, if you see someone Pagan-shaming over how people respond to the winter remind them that not everyone has the luxury of being able to celebrate. Not everyone is privileged enough to find winter easy.

Privilege and Pain

How do we make sense of each other’s pain? If someone is suffering, all we know is what we can see, what we’ve experienced and what we imagine. We guess, we judge, we decide whether to take them seriously or not. We call for an ambulance, or we tell them not to make a fuss.

I’ve seen rather too many statistics say that women’s pain is taken less seriously than men’s. I’ve also seen plenty to suggest that fat people in pain are taken less seriously than thin people. Black people may also find it harder to get taken seriously than white people. When it comes to the business of other people’s pain, we bring our prejudices to the table and judge accordingly. People who are wealthy and deemed important will have the slightest health issue jumped on – perhaps because they can pay people to do just that. The rest of us will have to make our case, and may be met with suspicion and disbelief.

As a child I was told I had a very low pain threshold. The implication was that I made too much fuss about things that hurt me – cuts, bruises, splinters etc. As an adult dealing with children, I’ve seen far greater reactions over far less. Not least because children have little to compare a hurt to, and are far more shocked by it. Often it’s the shock they most need you to help them with. There’s a balance to strike between helping a child keep their experiences in perspective, and comforting them.

Into adult life, it is often the people with least experience of pain who make the most fuss about it. The people for whom pain is not normal, are the people most keen to avoid it. I recall being told that a person just couldn’t go for a run unprepared, they would hurt themselves. Well yes, they might make their muscles sore, certainly. I don’t run often, because the jolting hurts my body too much, but when I’ve had a go, I’ve been in pain before I started. It must make it hard for an observer to make sense of me. I walk for transport, I do long walks, I dance when I can – it doesn’t mean I don’t hurt, it’s just that I choose not to be ruled by that hurt.

There are many conditions that mean living with pain. You choose how much you can do and what you can take, or what you’re obliged to take in order to work.  With the safety net ever harder to access, people who don’t know you may make superficial judgements about your pain and thus your right to time to rest and heal. Some things can be recovered from if people are allowed to rest and heal. Some things are more readily managed without piling on the economic pressure. The question now isn’t whether you should work, it’s whether you can. A person who is in constant physical pain can indeed work. I do so. I don’t think anyone should be obliged to, though.

I don’t look like I’m in pain. I’m not pulling dramatic faces or making sad noises, I don’t limp or have a sling, I only use a stick for longer walks over more challenging terrain. And like a great many other people in similar circumstances, I can’t prove to anyone how much my body hurts. This means we are easy to dismiss. If we’re inconvenient, we can be ignored. If we can’t do something we can be told off for not trying, not pulling our weight. It is really easy to deny, ignore and denigrate someone whose pain does not manifest in ways you can easily observe.

And then there are the people who feel I should deal with my pain in the manner of their prescribing. If I don’t, I’m not taking it seriously, not trying hard enough. Or I was lying in the first place. It can be frustrating to say the least, and I don’t have to take as much of this as some people will. As far as I can see, there’s a definite parallel between who gets to have their pain taken seriously, and who has other kinds of privileges going on. It all seems to fall out along the same lines, and that stands some thinking about.

The privilege thing

I’m aware of debates around privilege. I’ve been watching for a while, trying to make sense of it, feeling deeply uneasy, recognising there definitely are issues around how we treat each other that this language is flagging up, but feeling increasingly like we’ve got it a bit wrong.
There is a very genuine issue that people have privileges they are not aware of – most of us do in fact – because we’ve not been homeless, or transgender, or illegally gay, or victims of child abuse, or non-sexual, or a thousand other things that can put a person at a terrible disadvantage. In failing to know this and assuming our ‘normal’ should be true of everyone, or that those other problems do not exist, we can mess up, big time. In not recognising how the absence of those ‘normal’ things impacts on a person, we can mess up. If you’ve not been alienated and felt disenfranchised, it is not an easy thing to understand, and when we are the dominant norm, recognising other people may not find that innately natural and comfortable, is also difficult. We need to recognise all these things, though, and do our best to be compassionate in face of them.
The trouble with describing this in terms of ‘privilege’ is that it just doesn’t make much sense in many contexts. I’ve seen ideas about ‘wiccan privilege’ floating around online. Really? Wiccans took the forefront of the abuse and challenge for many years in Pagan rights campaigning. They aren’t perfect, but to take issue with their ‘privilege position’ seems a bit much. It also suggests a state of either privilege or non-priviledge, and that’s not always helpful. There’s a lot of wrong out there, and getting into a fight over who had it most tough, can be totally counter-productive. There’s also an assumption that if you’ve not lived it first hand, you don’t know – and that’s not fair. Plenty of people make it their business to know as best they can, and if we’re too quick to assume the ignorance of people who do not *appear* to have the first hand experience, we’re on a very slippery slope towards a pit full of trouble.
The problem isn’t really the privilege we may have. The problem is talking out of your arse. If you’re talking out of your arse, you are speaking from a place of assumption without thinking about how it might be different for someone else. You’re suffering profound empathy fail. You’re imagining that your beliefs about life are more right than someone else’s first hand experience. You’re almost certainly acting like there’s some universal truth to your opinion and experience, when that manifestly cannot be true. Talking out of your arse is usually patronising, it irritates the people on the wrong end of it, and it makes you deaf to hearing how things actually are for the people you’re dealing with.
Also, I have a feeling that saying “please stop talking out of your arse” might have more impact than “check your privileges” not least because with the first one, no one can pretend they do not understand what this means.
I’ve been in situations where people have told me I couldn’t possibly be feeling what I said I was feeling. I’ve dealt with people who did not believe anyone could do to me what had been done to me. I’ve dealt with people who could not see any problem with the things that had been done to me, and who were capable of saying things like “well, it’s not as bad as if you’d been stabbed or something, that’s much more serious.” This is not about privilege, but about ignorance, lack of imagination and a failure to recognise the not-knowing and not being able to envisage.
So can I suggest, be less worried about checking your privilege, and more worried about checking your facts. Be alert to recognising when you are imagining how something would be, and what you would do, and be aware you are not speaking from experience in such situations. What you imagine is not the same as how things are for other people. So many women say they would never stay with a man who hit them, and denigrate the women who do, because they do not understand there is a process leading to that, and that actually, they’d probably stay too, in the same situation. That’s not privilege, because we should not think of it as privilege to be free from abuse. That’s lack of insight.
Let’s not describe as privileges those advantages that should be better distributed. Let’s do something about getting a fairer distribution of respect, power and understanding. We can do that by checking to see which orifice we are speaking through at any given moment, and being alert to the possibility that if we have no experience to draw on, and we haven’t sought any information, there’s a real chance we are in fact talking out of our bottoms.