When Straight, White, Cisgender Men Don’t Get It

There’s a post on SexIs today from Roland Hulme, in which he shows that he almost gets how his privilege works. In his piece, he discusses the responses to a previous post of his, in which he wrote that (at the time), he was of the opinion that transgender people shouldn’t be able to change the designated sex on their birth certificates. And as he wrote:

It drew a lot of comments — many of them angry and frustrated — and opened my eyes to a lot of different perspectives on the issue. Ultimately, the debate revealed that something I thought was cut-and-dried turned out to be a lot more complex than I’d imagined. My opinion was challenged and my attitudes changed by the experience.

But he then goes on to write about how the sex-positive world isn’t living up to its stated goals when it doesn’t make room for straight, white, cisgender men (hereafter referred to as SWCM) to talk about various topics. Now, on that point, I fully agree with him- I think it’s not only appropriate but also important for SWCM to talk about these issues because the world isn’t going to change until they get on board with it. I think that men need to talk about sexism, white folks need to talk about racism, cisgender people need to talk about transphobia, and straight people need to talk about homophobia.

At the same time, I think that Hulme misses the point. If he wanted to actually model sex-positivity while both recognizing and responding to his privilege as a SWCM, he would have done better to have learned about the topic BEFORE sharing his opinion with the world. I’m glad that he was open to hearing other perspectives and that he was willing to shift his ideas. And I also feel anger that he felt qualified to share his opinions without having done that research first.

The world tells queers, people of color, transgender people, and women (and all of the people in the intersections of those overlapping categories) that their opinions and experiences don’t count. And the world tells SWCM that their ideas, beliefs, and experiences are important and that they deserve to share them with everyone else. So when he writes that “when we signed up to be a part of the sex-positive community, we were supposed to leave our skin color, sexuality and gender at the door. What matters here are words and opinions; not what continent your ancestors were from, or what is swinging (or not) between your legs,” he gets it exactly wrong.

He gets it wrong because sex-positivity doesn’t exist separately from race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or anything else. In a world in which some people of color are labeled as sexually out of control (and need to be contained), in which people with disabilities are seen as non-sexual and childlike, in which women are cast as sluts or virgins, in which queers are labeled as sexual predators when they do the same things that SWCM do, in which transgender and genderqueer people are called freaks, there is no way to talk about sex-positivity without understanding how it connects to every other form of oppression that exists. The idea that we can leave those things at the door is emblematic of the very privileged position that only someone whose identity is labeled as the norm can take.

What Hulme needs to do before he writes is to talk with the people whose experiences he wants to discuss. And when I say “talk with,” what I mean is “ask questions about what they experience and then listen to what they say.” Or he could do some research and learn about the issues. There’s no shortage of articles, blogs, and books about all of these topics. The ability to speak about other people from a place of ignorance is the problem, and he has a responsibility to learn about what he’s talking about first.

As I said, I’m glad that he’s clearly open to hearing different perspectives and changing his mind. Hulme could be an amazing ally for folks who aren’t SWCM if he started modeling that for other SWCM. He could support SWCM by helping them understand how these issues work. And he could show that it is possible for SWCM to learn to deal with their privilege more constructively.

I really understand his frustration since, while I’m queer, I am white and cisgender and male. I understand how difficult it is to have anger around being seen as the enemy. I get why he said this:

The refusal to recognize me as an individual and instead judge me as nothing more than a tick in some demographic survey box. These people act like I don’t have thoughts, emotions and experiences of my own — that I’m controlled by some giant remote tuned into the frequency of my skin color, sexuality and gender.

But the way to respond to that is to show people that you understand how race, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression, etc. work. You need to unpack the white privilege knapsack, the heterosexual privilege knapsack, the cisgender privilege knapsack, the male privilege knapsack, and come to recognize that while you had no choice about whether you were handed these things, you also have the privilege of getting to choose to deal with them. Folks who aren’t SWCM don’t have that choice. Ever. So when he suggests leaving these issues at the door, he’s recreating and reinforcing the problem because he’s a member of the only group that gets to set them aside.

I fully support Hulme in continuing to talk about issues of sexuality and gender. And I challenge him to learn how to do it from a place of understanding instead of privilege. I challenge him to take the time to talk with people before talking about them. And I challenge him to understand that while he’s frustrated that people “judge [him] because [he’s] white, straight and cisgender male”, that is so much smaller than the ways that people who aren’t SWCM are judged. I challenge him to see that the fact that talking about these topics runs the risk of triggering people who have been hurt, rendered invisible, and shamed. I challenge him to learn how to speak on these issues with a gentle touch because of that.

Sex-positivity needs SWCM as part of the conversation. We need everyone’s perspective and experience. And the only way that can happen is if SWCM learn how to deal with the intersections of social inequities, privilege, and sexuality.

29 Responses so far.

  1. Laurel says:

    I think you make some excellent points with this post and I am glad you wrote it.

    There is one particular thing I wanted to say about Roland’s column: The title is Devil’s Advocate for a reason. We’d hoped this title would clearly illustrate the purpose of the column as a place where he would argue from an unpopular point of reference.

    His role, as a “devil’s advocate” is to say what we suspect many others with similar demographics (i.e. – the straight, white, cisgender male) are thinking and which is often unpopular among those outside this group. His role, through this column, is not to directly help educate those who think similarly, but to invite those more qualified than him, to do so.

    I have said before, to those who have objected to us publishing and discussing what he writes AT ALL, that you cannot begin to change how people think about certain things until you know exactly what they are thinking—until they speak up (or put it in writing).

    You say he should seek out and speak with those who understand these topics better than he does, before he speaks out, but I say this column is his attempt to do just that.

    -Laurel Bartlett, Editor In Chief, SexIs Magazine

  2. Charlie says:

    I get that, but if his role is to create a space for other people to share their experiences and information, there are surely better ways to do that than to write something based on ignorance and then act surprised when people respond with anger. If he genuinely wants to create room for education and dialogue, he could (for example) invite someone who’s transgender to write a piece about the issue of changing a birth certificate or he could talk with them one-on-one and then write about it or he could interview them. Lots of other options that create genuine dialogue.

    I don’t have a problem with Hulme sharing his opinions. I have a problem with his sharing opinions about things that he doesn’t know about and doing so from a position that assumes that his perspective is more important than those of the people he’s talking about. And I don’t think we need to read it on your usually fab site to know what the opinions of people who haven’t taken the time to learn about the topics are. I can get that easily enough by turning on the news.

    I totally agree that we need people within sex-positive communities to talk about uncomfortable truths. I do that quite a bit myself. And that task is best done when it’s based on actual information instead of misinformation, inexperience, or ignorance.

  3. Sushispook says:

    I actually came here to say much the same as Laurel…

    In high school, I was one of those kids who fell behind the curve of education, and was never able to catch up. As such, I graduated HS only because I was transfered to a remedial school that was designed to get a diploma in hand with the bare minimum of work.

    I exited HS and went directly into the workforce, and I never did pursue higher education beyond that diploma. In the 20 years since that time, I’ve come to understand much of what I know now to be true about human sexuality and how it’s dynamically and intricately linked to all aspects of our lives by getting it exactly *wrong*.

    If not for general faffing about on the internet and engaging in discussion boards and chat rooms, and getting called on attitudes and concepts that were rooted in false or misleading information, I was able to be directed to information that has allowed me to be more informed, and as a result, more sensitive. Without the delicious taste of my own foot in my mouth, I don’t think I would be the person I am today.

    One could argue that a columnist is held to a higher standard – and I think that’s valid to a degree. But I also think it’s a gift – because this is just that much more awareness that can be distilled out.

  4. Roland Hulme says:

    You know, I LOVE the opportunity SexIs and Eden Fantasys have given me to be a “Devil’s Advocate.” It’s broadened my perspectives and helped teach me all sorts of things about sex and sexuality that I hadn’t have the chance to learn about before.

    Charlie’s post is one such example – his opinion that I write from “a position that assumes that his perspective is more important than those of the people he’s talking about” is INCREDIBLY illuminating.

    And utterly, utterly wrong, of course.

    Everything I write comes from a grain of earnestness; but as a “Devil’s Advocate” means everything I write has to be provocative. For that reason, I actually feel my opinionating is LESS important than everybody elses. The real payoff of Devil’s Advocate is in the response it illicits and what I, and others, learn from that response.

    I think Charlie’s wildly inaccurate belief that I think my opinion is “more important” than other peoples is a demonstration of him projecting his prejudices onto me.

    He’s made assumptions about me based on nothing more superficial and judgmental than the fact that I’m a straight, white, cisgender male. He’s pretty much demonstrated everything I complained about in my article. I’d find what he wrote incredibly offensive if it didn’t totally validate what I wrote (and that doesn’t happen often – most times I’m proved wrong!)

  5. Charlie says:

    @Roland

    When you say that you wrote something on a topic that “turned out to be a lot more complex than [you’d] imagined” because you hadn’t heard the varied perspectives on the subject, don’t you think that’s a sign that you would benefit from learning about it before writing about it? One of the hallmarks of privilege is the belief that one has right to talk about a topic and about people without knowing about them.

    For that matter, taking a “provocative” stance in order to collect responses so that you and others can learn from them is especially problematic when you do it around topics that are so deeply connected to shame, disempowerment, and violence. Take a look at the research on the effects of discrimination and violence towards transgender people before you decide that it’s OK to provoke a response by talking about deeply personal issues.

    There are ways to collect information so others can learn that don’t involve upsetting people and causing them pain. You don’t have to poke an injury with a stick to learn that it hurts. I believe that you did so out of ignorance, rather than malice. And the fact that you can be ignorant about the topic is another sign of privilege because transgender people don’t get to be ignorant about transphobia. You have the choice to learn about it. That is what makes it a privilege- you get to choose to deal with it if you want to.

    Further, it is also an act of privilege to expect the people of the target group (e.g. women, queers, people of color, transgender people, etc.) to educate you, to point out the gaps in your experience and understanding, and to assume that they’ll do it gently and with grace when you stumble over your ignorance. If you genuinely want to learn about these topics, you’ll do better to ask people for their input and to make room for them to say “not now” or simply “no.” You’ll do better if you do a little reading before you make sweeping statements about things that don’t directly affect you. You’ll do better if you learn how to deal with their anger, resentment, and frustration instead of complaining that they didn’t treat you nicely. And you’ll do better if you engage with people and thank them for their time and energy. They don’t have a responsibility to school you and they deserve your gratitude when they take the time to do it.

    I know that it’s possible to be a straight, white, cisgender man and not act from a place of unintended privilege. I have quite a few such people in my social circles. While they (we/everyone) has missteps, they’ve learned how to handle them with grace in order to gain insight and move forward. It isn’t easy, and it is possible. So I don’t assume that a SWCM is necessarily acting out of malice or privilege, but then, as a white, cisgender man, it also hurts me less when SWCMs do that than it hurts many other people. And yes, that is a mark of my privilege in the world.

    I’m not judging you for being a straight, white, cisgender man. I’m judging your actions because you’re doing the very same things that people with privilege do. Whether you intend to or not, no matter how earnest you might be, you’re doing some of the very things that contribute to injustice and privilege. If you want people to see that you’re not like the stereotypical SWCM, you need to stop doing the things that they do. You have to earn the trust of the people who have been on the receiving end of racism, homophobia, sexism, and transphobia. You need to deal with the fact that people who look and sound and act in ways that are similar to how you look and sound and act have done and continue to do a lot of harm in the world. And while it’s hard for you to be categorized as like them, that is a small fraction of the difficulties that women, queers, people of color and transgender people face, so you need to learn to deal with the fact that there simply isn’t a lot of sympathy for it. If you can find some SWCMs who are also trying to come to terms with these experiences, ask them for some support- it’s more likely to be there.

    And you need to deal with the fact that your privilege as a SWCM does mean that you will never understand what it’s like to be queer, female, a person of color, or transgender. Neither will I, except for being queer. I’ll also never fully understand what it’s like to grow up in Tibet, to be a firefighter, to be disabled, or anything else I’ve never experienced. The best that I can do is to listen to people’s stories and get as close to understanding as I can. I suggest that you do the same.

  6. I could write a whole blog post on this, but I’ll condensed it down to one question: Every one has an opinion what makes your worth money. Mr. Hulme?

    *crickets*

  7. Roland Hulme says:

    Charlie – My preconceptions weren’t challenged and my opinions changed because I “expected the people of the target group to educate you, to point out the gaps in your experience and understanding.” They were challenged and changed because I have an OPEN MIND and am willing to accept that I AM NOT ALWAYS RIGHT. It’s a very liberating state of mind – I suggest you try it some time.

    Namelesschaos – I personally think EVERYBODY’S opinion is worth something; but to answer your question: My column is worth money because I don’t say things just to be controversial: I voice what a significant number of people think. I express opinions that many others share (see the number of comments agreeing with me in my columns) but don’t necessarily feel comfortable expressing in our supposedly open-minded community.

  8. Charlie says:

    @Roland

    Yes, your being open-minded was part of your changing your opinions. And while that was a necessary ingredient, it wasn’t sufficient on its own. You still needed the input of other people. Your editor said that part of the intention behind the column is to “invite those more qualified” than you to help educate people. And you said that the “real payoff” of your column is to get responses, as well as the learning that happens from those responses. So it seems to me that both your editor and you actually do have an expectation that people who know more than you about the topic will respond. I can only assume that you include in that category the people of the groups you’re discussing (in this case, transgender people). The expectation that I was talking about was your assumption that they would use their time and energy to educate you and your readers. Do you not see how you’re acting from a place of expectation, in addition to having an open mind?

    Further, I don’t see anywhere in your column where you expressed gratitude for what people shared with you. Are they supposed to be thanking you for changing your mind? Or can you let them know that you are grateful for their insight and input?

    If you want people to stop thinking that you’re the sort of SWCM that assumes privilege, then stop acting like one. Stop provoking people by talking about them and instead, invite them to join you in a dialogue. Stop acting as if you’re doing them a favor by changing your mind and do your own research first. Stop making statements about how you think the world should be and start asking questions that make room for others to respond. Stop being surprised that when you poke an injury, people react out of hurt and anger and instead, tread gently. In other words, stop doing the things that people with privilege do and maybe people will stop seeing you as someone who acts out of privilege.

    It’s fantastic that you have an open mind about these topics. Most people don’t. But don’t expect that to be a free pass. Because that is yet another manifestation of privilege.

  9. Roland Hulme says:

    “So it seems to me that both your editor and you actually do have an expectation that people who know more than you about the topic will respond.”

    You’re making assumptions again, Charlie. It seems 99% of your case against me consists of assumptions you’ve made that bear very little resemblance to reality.

    I write my posts to illicit discussion – from anybody with an opinion, not just those who “know more about it” than anybody else (and who gets to make that call in the first place?)

    Unlike you, I do not feel the level of entitlement required to deign who is and isn’t qualified to weigh in on a topic.

  10. Charlie says:

    Your editor said that your role is to “invite those more qualified than [you]” to help educate people. So the assumption that I made was that she was describing your role accurately and that you see it that way. If that was incorrect, as you say it was, then maybe you and she need to talk about what your role is and get on the same page.

    Similarly you said that the “real payoff” of your column is what people learn, which I took to mean that you want to hear from people who actually know about the topics under discussion, rather than hearing from people who don’t know what they’re talking about. Call it an assumption if that makes you happy. But as has been said, “All opinions are not equal. Some are a very great deal more robust, sophisticated and well supported in logic and argument than others.” Maybe if you learned about the issues you write about beforehand, you might feel qualified to assess them.

    Rather than addressing any of the material points that I’ve made, you’ve resorted to ad hominem attacks on me and you’ve avoided acknowledging any of the ways that you’re acting out of privilege. And then you wonder why it is that people feel anger. You said yourself that “most times [you’re] proved wrong.” Don’t you think it’s a remarkable thing that even so, you still get to write a column? Do you really not see how you’re acting from an expectation that other people will educate you? Do you not see that you could take the initiative and learn about these topics and the lives of the people you write about first?

    As someone who moves through the world with much more ease than people of color, women, queers, and transgender people, it’s on you to take the initiative. No, that doesn’t mean that your life is easy and hassle free. It does mean that, other things being equal, you’re much less likely to have to deal with people treating you badly because of your gender, sexual orientation, or race. It’s on you to demonstrate through your actions and your words that you get it. That you understand as much as is possible for someone who hasn’t lived it what it’s like to be on the receiving end of social inequities. If you want people to treat you as an individual, to not assume that you aren’t like the vast majority of straight, white, cisgender men, then stop acting like them. I’ve offered you some suggestions. It’s up to you whether you want to do anything with them.

  11. Roland Hulme says:

    “You said yourself that “most times [you’re] proved wrong.””

    That’s actually something called modesty – you should try it some time.

    There’s truth there, though – and I own it. The fact is: if you put something out to an audience that doesn’t always agree with you, then you’re going to have your ideas challenged. That’s a good thing.

    I have to wonder if you spend too much time talking with people who have the same point of view as you, and that’s why you get so frustrated when people don’t abide by your playbook.

    My advice to you is to roll with it, be open minded to new perspectives and points of view and you might find your perspectives broadened.

  12. Charlie says:

    And again with the ad hominem attack rather than addressing the repeated substantial points I made.

    I suggest you read this page, with special attention to the sections on educating people with privilege, when people with privilege claim they’re discriminated against, when they claim to be “different from the others”, and the last section on playing Devil’s Advocate.

  13. Roland Hulme says:

    Good lord, did you honestly just LINK to a definition of ad hominem? You know, I am actually familiar with the term – after all, it’s wheeled out every time somebody on the Internet gets their boxer shorts in a bunch!

    Accuse me of making a “straw man” argument, “mansplaining” and then compare me to Hitler and I’ll be able to tick off the entire bingo list of trite phrases that invariably get used in arguments on the Internet!

    That being said, you might want to pop back to that page and click through to read what it says about “genetic fallacy” – the notion that a statement is judged not on what it says, but who makes it. Kind of like concluding that an opinion is worth less because of the specific demographic of whoever expressed it.

    Also – I’m very familiar with that Derailing for Dummies page. I’m also aware of how it feels to have somebody dismiss and trivialize your perspective and experience (and, in fact, your entire worthiness of being a writer.) That’s exactly what you’ve spent the last few days doing with this article and commentary.

  14. Charlotte says:

    I just want to say, Charlie, that in addition to a great article your deportment and professionalism during the comment exchange is pleasantly refreshing. I will definitely remember this next time I find myself in an online altercation.

  15. Roland Hulme says:

    Charlotte – the irony is that I like about 75% of Charlie’s post and think he can at least see the frustration I have in having opinions dismissed and derailed because of being a straight, white, cisgender male – “the enemy.”

    I think I went off on him a bit because he made from frankly damn silly assumptions and one of them – that I supposedly “assume my opinion is more important than other peoples” was just SO asinine and inaccurate it made me hopping mad.

    I think Charlie is a really, really, really smart guy – but BOY can he come across as an insufferable, pompous ass sometimes.

    And I know that I can come across as brash, insensitive and totally politically incorrect – so I’m certainly no better than him!

    But unlike Charlie I actually face the challenge of writing about controversial opinions that a significant number of people actually have, but don’t feel comfortable expressing. Charlie and Namelesschaos seem to think that if they silence voices like mine, those unvoiced opinions will magically disappear. They’re very, very wrong.

  16. unlike Charlie I actually face the challenge of writing about controversial opinions that a significant number of people actually have, but don’t feel comfortable expressing. Charlie and Namelesschaos seem to think that if they silence voices like mine, those unvoiced opinions will magically disappear. They’re very, very wrong.

    Really your hilarious. You fight against ass assumptions by making even more pompous ass assumptions.

    I don’t not believe you are making “controversial opinions that a significant number of people actually have, but don’t feel comfortable expressing.”

    I think the idea that your views are unvoiced, is comical. I have heard your supposedly “unvoiced” views so many times before I could predict the exact wording some of your supporters used in your defense. Why? because they have voiced your supposedly unvoiced opinion so many times before I’m sick of it.

    You remind me of Christians who keep saying they lack a voice in America or Fox News decrying the lack of a conservative voice. If you can call what you write an unvoiced opinion I want to be able to declare Justin Bieber an undiscovered artist.

  17. Charlie says:

    @Roland

    I’m going to reply to your last comment and then disengage from this interaction because I’ve said everything I have to say and I see no need to repeat myself.

    As someone who shares many of the privileges you do, being white, cisgender, and male, I certainly know how frustrating it is to come to terms with the fact that one has been placed in a position of participating in systems and institutions that cause so many harms to so many people, both directly and indirectly. As someone who wants to move through the world treating other people well and acting ethically, I feel a lot of anger and sadness that things I have done and things that I do contribute to that. I also recognize that while it is not my fault that I was placed in this position, it is my responsibility to do what I can to change that.

    As someone who experiences some forms of marginalization, being queer and Jewish (although admittedly fairly assimilated due to choices my family made before I was born), I also have some notion of what it’s like to be rendered invisible, dismissed, and discounted. And no, I’m not suggesting that my experience is the same as someone who is transgender, or a person of color, or a woman. Each form of oppression is unique, often with some similarities to others. For all I know, you very well may experience your own forms of institutionalized marginalization although you haven’t mentioned anything along those lines so I don’t really know.

    It’s unfortunate that people see you as a category rather than an individual. I get that it bothers you. And what you need to see is that there are reasons that people feel resentment and anger towards SWCM as a group, regardless of how any individual has chosen to act. Whether you wanted it or not, whether I wanted it or not, the benefits of being in the dominant group (leaving aside my being queer) accrue to us. We usually get treated better by banks, by employers, by the police, by hospital staff, by the media, by the legal system, etc. And in my experience, that far outweighs anyone on the internet venting their frustration.

    If you want people to stop thinking of you as acting like a stereotypical SWCM, then you need to stop acting like one. If you want specific examples of what I mean, I’ve given them to you in this thread already. Whatever your intentions may be, when you do the same things that folks with privilege do in order to maintain their position, you are almost guaranteed to be seen as having the same motivation. It’s unfortunate that people who are white, or straight, or cisgender, or male need to demonstrate that they’re trying to not act like the majority of our cohort. And that is so much smaller than the impact of racism, homophobia, transphobia, or sexism that to complain about it to people of color, or queers, or transgender people, or women almost always lands as an insult. If you need support around it (as most folks do), find some other people who also deal with those challenges and who are committed to trying to not act from a place of privilege and get your support from them. Don’t expect either sympathy or rewards from the people who have no choice about dealing with these issues. Most of them are too busy dealing with it on a nearly-continual basis, in ways that are often difficult or impossible to understand if you haven’t been there. And don’t act like someone who’s trying to maintain privilege and then be surprised that people see you that way.

    What you do with this is up to you. No, I certainly don’t think that I’m better than you or anyone else. I’ve had my nose rubbed in my privilege and I’ve been called on it enough times that I’ve finally learned how to see it, at least some of the time. I’m deeply grateful to the women, people of color, transgender people, and others who took the time to help me see it. They certainly didn’t owe it to me and nobody owes you their time and energy, either. And while many of the people who have responded to you on your posts were doing so out of anger, odds are you’ll get less of that if you stop poking deep wounds that are still hurting. I’m not sure why you’re surprised that people want you to stop doing that and I’m not sure why you expect them to do anything else. This isn’t about being politically correct. This is about treating with kindness people who have been hurt more times than you or I can fully understand.

    As I said, I’ve said everything I have to say on this topic and I don’t need to repeat myself in the hope that you’ll get it.

  18. Roland Hulme says:

    Maybe I should clarify – unvoiced within the community. Normally they’re voiced in places which are hostile to valid criticism of them – mainstream news websites, blogs outside of the sex positive community…

    But my “pompous ass assumption” recognizes the fact that within this community, these opinions aren’t heard and if they’re criticized, it’s outside of earshot of those who could actually learn from such criticism. I think what I said is valid – you tend to speak to an audience which is always likely to agree with you.

    I’m trying to bridge the gap between the mainstream attitudes you wish to combat and the totally insular community that complains about them. When you and people like Namelesschaos try to silence my voice, you’re working towards perpetuating the disparity between the two worlds, instead of helping reconcile them.

  19. Roland Hulme says:

    Charlie – didn’t see that second comment until I’d posted the first one.

    Hey, I really appreciate what you wrote and that actually clarifies where you’re coming from a lot more; and helps me see your perspective.

    I think you’ve addressed a lot of the things I was complaining about there – if I was going to add anything it was that although you feel you’ve had your nose rubbed in your perceived ‘privilege’, you also feel marginalized for being queer and Jewish. I can actually get that – and I get annoyed by the fact that the people who tend to go around abusing the term ‘privilege’ don’t actually get that people they view as ‘privileged’ might be marginalized in all sorts of ways they’re too close-minded to even recognize.

    I don’t think demographics are a score card. I don’t think being marginalized for being a person of color should “rank higher” than being marginalized for being queer. I think marginalizing people PERIOD is wrong. My problem with the abuse of the term ‘privilege’ is that it condemns some forms of marginalization while totally validating others.

    Anyway – thanks again. Your last comment actually made me feel really bad for calling you a pompous ass. I’m sorry.

  20. what if SWCM want to talk about issues relating to their own experiences, which may not all be ‘privileged’? do they need to be lectured by others first, before they are allowed to express their own feelings/describe their experiences?

    I found also on a note relating to this post that writing about trans issues got me in conversations with trans people that were much more meaningful than if I had have gone up to them with a list of questions cold so to speak. Some people ‘told me off’ for writing about something ‘without permission’ or input from trans people at the start. But I think it is my right to write about anything I want. And then learn from the responses I get.

    Also, writing about trans issues has made me realise I am not as ‘stable’ in my own gender identity as I thought. Did I need to ask someone else before I could find that out too?

  21. Lori S. says:

    Thanks for fighting the good fight, Charlie. I love how critiquing a post is always the equivalent of silencing someone. And isn’t Mr. Hulme such a charming ambassador from the mainstream to our cloistered and close-minded community? Ah yes, we should be grateful to him for doing such important and thankless work, like bristling at the mere notion of privilege.

    Wake me up when the reruns are over.

  22. Charlie says:

    @QRG

    It isn’t an either/or. People need room to express their feelings and experiences and yes, people in a place of privilege need to process through them as part of learning to deal with it. The difficulty, though, is that all too often, men try to get that emotional support from women, straight folks try to get it from queers, etc. There’s a certain logic to that since it’s a good guess that those folks will be more likely to be familiar with the issues, but what happens pretty frequently is that either they don’t ask for the consent of the person first (e.g. assuming that they’ll be available and willing to do it) and/or their defensive reactions cause them to discount the experiences of the person they’re asking or attack and blame them. And sometimes, it’s both. For example, I’ve seen white people start up a conversation with a person of color, assuming that they have the desire to do it, get angry about what they hear, and then blame the person of color for their discomfort. It gets old. I’ve also seen things like a bait and switch, which starts off as a different conversation as a way of manipulating how things go. Given how often that happens, it’s no wonder people feel resistant to being used that way.

    Having done that myself as I was learning how to deal with my stuff, I know that a big chunk of that is that one can go into the interaction with the best of intentions and then feel a cognitive dissonance between “I want to be/I think I am a good person” and “I have participated in systems that have caused pain (whether deliberately or not).” It’s often easier to disregard what someone has shared with me or to get angry at them for pointing it out. And in my experience and observation, when that defensive reaction kicks in, it almost always leads down a slippery slope. I find that learning to set aside that reaction, as much as possible, helps a lot. As does expressing gratitude when someone calls me on my stuff. Even if I don’t agree with them, I know that it’s often difficult to do and I appreciate the effort.

    Further, given that these issues are often deeply personal (and are not an intellectual exploration for the people who have no choice but to live with them every day), they sometimes feel strong emotions and say things in a less than perfect way. Unfortunately, the person with privilege’s defensiveness can lead them to nit-pick and attack, in order to prove them wrong. That’s not going to help, either.

    Do you have the right to write whatever you want? Sure. And I think that you also have a responsibility to learn about a topic from sources other than the people you’re talking about. Did you talk with other cisgender people who have explored transphobia and transgender issues? Did you do a little reading and listen to transgender people’s experiences, stories, and perspectives? Or did you write whatever you wanted to write and then expect transgender people to respond to you? And when they did, did you thank them for their time? Further, did you write it in a way that ended up triggering pain, anger, and other strong emotions? And if so, did you apologize for hurting people?

    It’s also crucial that folks with privilege talk with other folks coming from that direction who are developing new ways of dealing. Men need to talk with men about sexism. Straight people need to talk with straight people about homophobia. And we need to get some of our support from other people who are struggling with the same things, both because they share some of our experiences and can give a different kind of support, and because we need to not expect marginalized people to take care of us. Expecting them to teach us is actually another manifestation of privilege.

    Of course, YMMV. These are simply the things that I’ve found useful, so do with them as you will.

  23. Charlie says:

    @Roland

    OK, one more comment. 🙂 Thanks for that.

  24. Delux says:

    Laurel describes the sort of column Hulme posts as an “invitation” to more qualified people to take on the (uncompensated) role of educators, but I have yet to see a compelling reason why it is an “invitation” that the people he claims to want to engage would take up.

  25. Roland Hulme says:

    Delux – plenty of educated people have chosen to comment, so perhaps they have a perspective different to yours. Thank God.

  26. Delux says:

    Yeah Roland, that witty (?) comeback? Still does not address the issue of *why* I should participate in your sort of forum. Perhaps you could educate *me*. Clearly I missed an important point.

  27. Roland Hulme says:

    Delux – if you don’t want to participate, you don’t have to! Apparently some people do, so that’s awesome. I appreciate the comments and opinions of all the people who want to make them.

  28. nixwilliams says:

    I’ve only just discovered this blog, but I have really appreciated reading through this post and comment thread. Charlie, your comportment is thoroughly refreshing. Thanks.

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