Is privilege relative?

There is a complex relationship between privilege and discrimination based on sex, gender identity, and sexuality. In some ways, I’m seen as “other” because I am female and because there has been systematic oppression of my sex throughout history. However, this also places me in a unique place of privilege that often goes unrecognized. I’m queer. My sexual identity exists outside of the established “norm,” and I experience discrimination as a result, whether it is from my family, my hometown, or my government. Nevertheless, my gender identity and presentation appear traditionally female. People don’t identify me as queer based on my appearance alone, meaning I’m assumed to be straight in most situations.

In some ways, the negative assumptions our society makes regarding sex, gender identity, and sexuality mean that I’m privileged while I remain a member of such a society. However, very important aspects of my identity are invisible, which can lead to my exclusion from a group that I view as “home” in a world that often unknowingly oppresses me. In my case, being denied my identity makes it more difficult to function in our society when it means that, in many ways, I’m forced to stand alone. Privilege and discrimination can be relative — I know that I occupy the most fortunate place for someone of sexual identity, but at the same time, it is difficult to withstand discrimination from multiple directions.

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One Response to Is privilege relative?

  1. giuliai says:

    I think that you are making a very interesting point. Privilege really is relative and the presence of various forms of oppression that are deeply connected and intersected can make it possible for a person to be privileged and discriminated against at the same time.
    I believe that what you are saying about your own experience can also be applied, for instance, to people of color that can pass as white. Being “white-passing” is definitely to be considered as a form of privilege and an asset in our society, because people who can “pass” don’t face the same kind of racism and discrimination that people perceived as “others” might experience. On the other hand, though, they might find themselves involuntarily excluded from a community or a minority that they feel like they belong to, or feel guilty about the advantages they have over other people of color just because of their passing appearance or about their own inability to really relate to their struggles.
    On a different note, your reflection on the relativity of privilege made me also think about the forms of discrimination that can exist inside a specific oppressed minority. My mind immediately went to the issue of effemiphobia (or “sissyphobia”) within the gay male community (http://www.afterelton.com/people/2009/6/butch-it-up?page=1%2C2).

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