Thursday, April 1, 2010


I just read another amazing post by Harriet over at Fugitivus. About three months ago, I discovered her blog (I think via Feministing) at which point I spent the next three weeks reading every single post and every single comment published, three years' worth of posting. There simply is not another writer dealing as honestly, completely, humorously, wisely, and empathically with issues surrounding rape, feminism, and privilege. Today's post is about privilege.
So I’m trying to apply that to this. I’m cisgendered, and I don’t have any right to talk about a transgender experience. But I do have a right – and now an imperative – to talk about the ways in which strict gender roles have limited or damaged my life. These are things that have always fallen under the concept “Feminism,” but that’s a word that very obviously isn’t specific enough, because it’s a word that allows transphobic bigots to spread their wings. I need to find ways to understand, personally and politically, how my freedom rests on the freedom of transfolk, that these things cannot be divided. I know I have these experiences – I know many people have – and have just never believed that they had anything to do with transsexuals.
It's hard to quote Harriet; her essays are multi-layered and structured in a non-linear but pyramidal method so that you're reading along, laughing and engaged, and then she gets to something that you, the reader, recognize as A Point, and it's like getting walloped on the back of a head by a nun - you get the feeling that you should have known this all along. I can't recommend her blog enough. I even wrote my own Harriet-style blog entry once - imitation is the sincerest form of flattery - but this blog isn't quite anonymous enough for me to post that kind of personal honesty on the web for all to see. However, it is the perfect vehicle for me to post these kinds of paeans to her writing that otherwise would clutter up her comments. Really, all I want to do is stand up and clap. She doesn't need that from me, and I'm guessing that her readers won't get any value out of reading the applause from a privileged male.

Here's what struck me about today's post: It's the beginnings of a method for internally attacking privilege. Do you remember, on the first Utah Phillips disc that Ani produced, the story about the pacifist friend who ran the halfway house? Utah is telling a story about Ammon Hennacy:
He said, "You were born a white man in mid-twentieth century industrial America. You came into the world armed to the teeth with an arsenal of weapons. The weapons of privilege: racial privilege, sexual privilege, economic privilege. If you wanna be a pacifist it's not just giving up guns, and knives, and clubs, and fists, and angry words - but giving up the weapons of privilege and going into the world completely disarmed. Try that!"
That old man has been gone now about 20 years, and I'm still at it. But I figure that if there's a worthwhile struggle in my own life, that's probably the one. Think about it.
That absolutely is a worthwhile struggle. I've been working on it for about 20 years myself. And Harriet, in the post I linked above, actually outlines the first active steps in the struggle. Here's how I understand it:

1. Recognize your privilege at work. This most often occurs when someone you've hurt stands up to say, in effect, "ouch." It's hard not to react defensively, but remember, lots of others that you've hurt have not stood up in the past.

2. Connect the experience of the underprivileged to your own experiences. It's remarkably easy to do, once you start looking. It's why actors can play any role, and Shakespeare is so relevant even today - because all human experience is universal human experience. The only difference is quantitative, not qualitative.

3. Learn about how other people have dealt with the fallout of privilege. Read first-hand accounts of oppression and, when possible, successful strategies against oppression. Claim those individuals who have defeated oppression, in small and large ways, as your heroes - despite whatever surface differences there may be between you. Is your goal the same as theirs? Then claim them. Mother Jones, Mahatma Ghandi, Dr. King, James Madison. What did they do, how did it work, where did they mess up, what did they say that we have not yet heard?

4. Create positive tactics in your own life to chip away at oppression. Write down your thoughts. Don't laugh at rape jokes. When you see a situation that could turn to violence, witness it with attention. Place yourself in environments that are open to all people - stay away from all Country Clubs, whatever they may be. Work to them even further. Refuse to accept oppression, stand up and say "Ouch."

Disarm yourself. It's the only way to survive.