Oblivious to Privilege:Part Two

Part Two of Haley’s Guest Post…

The experience of living in two genders and perceived to have different sexual orientations, has made me aware of privilege and how oblivious I once was to it. I don’t share my experiences as some guilt trip to people who possess privilege or to paint a picture that my life is really hard. My life is really great. I am living freely and openly. I wake up and I look forward to what the day will hold. Honestly, my life has never been better. However, reflecting on privilege and how my perceptions of it evolved as I evolved, can be illuminating. In fact while I’ve lost some privileges I’ve gained a new one. It is a privilege to grow in empathy and see so many different vantage points. While there are some experiences that I will never authentically have. My journey as a transgender woman has exposed me to a wide variety of perceptions and encounters with people and I am very thankful for that.

My experiences make me sensitive to how doctrinal teachings can categorically exclude people. The other week Melissa was told by a gay affirming non-Catholic friend about what a good deal the Lenten fish fries at the Catholic Churches in town are and that they are open to the community. I’m sure the fish fries are very tasty and enjoyable. But Melissa was immediately wondering if she took her wife and kids to this fish fry would we be welcome? Would it vary from parish to parish? It feels funny being invited to churches where we’d be welcome individually perceived as straight women, but as a couple it could be a different story. Some churches I’ve been invited to have a statement of faith which basically says, “Gays unwelcome.” It has added new meaning to the warm invitation of affirming churches whose signs say, “All welcome.” And it makes those “everyone welcome” signs on non-affirming churches seem a little ironic.

Living as a lesbian couple has made me sensitive to how travel has a new set of risks attached to it compared to when we traveled as a straight couple. We regularly hear stories on both mainstream and LGBT news sources about gay couples or transpersons being assaulted or killed as a direct result of their orientation. Even if we are physically safe, disapproving people groups or populations can be exhausting.  How do we discern safe situations from unsafe ones?

And when is it worth it to bother to correct people’s assumptions about our relationships. For example, say a customer makes a reference to “my husband”, do I correct them and say “actually I have a wife” ? Is it worth taking the time to be open about my being queer if I hardly know this person, have no way of knowing their reaction to my being open, and have little to no chance of seeing this person again? These are questions I never had to contemplate before.

When we choose a school for our children, it matters to us that school officials will be welcoming and accepting of us and our family. This isn’t a guarantee by a long shot. We worry about our kids getting excluded or picked on because of their parents. And yet many people seem to think bullying isn’t a problem, try being anyone who is different from the stereotypically upheld “norm” and ask us about our experience in supposedly “bully free” schools; the efforts of groups, organizations and individuals, to recognize every person as having value and being worthy of respect, are still very much needed.

Found via Pinterest

Safe space is really important. I am so thankful for the support of each person who steps up and says to me that my family is beautiful knowing full well we are a queer family. I am thankful for each person who is an ally of LGBT people and comes to our defense when the oblivious and prejudiced come after us. I am thankful for each person who takes the time to even try to look out beyond their experience and have respect and toleration for people who are different from them. I am grateful for each person who has chosen to love rather than hate. I have such respect for the diversity of experiences including those who are very different than me. I value people who can listen to the experiences I’ve had and can step up to combat stereotypes and embrace each person as they are. 

I was oblivious of so much, and I’m still oblivious of so much, but as I’ve journeyed I have realized something very important.

Empathy helps us make this world a better place. It helps us understand instead of judging. As our empathy grows, we are better able to stand up for others and for ourselves. Each day things are getting better because word is getting out.

Thank you.


Re-post: I am Not My Parents
Rather Dead Than Queer
What I Understand
Brave New Life: Part 5: Tolerance
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  • Jason Dick

    I would say that the more people speak up and speak out, the better things will become. The best way to reinforce bigotry is for the bigots to be insulated in their own groups and not be exposed to the people whom they demonize. Breaking their assumptions, breaking their hermetic bubbles, can go a long way towards building a more tolerant society. So I think the answer to, “Should I speak out?” is almost always an unequivocal yes, with a large caveat: speaking out isn’t always going to be safe, and nobody is obligated to put their physical or emotional safety on the line, ever.

    Personally, then, I think it’s a good idea to speak out whenever you notice bigotry, if you can summon the emotional will to do so. I definitely try to speak out when I hear something, but I certainly don’t always. I berated somebody for making fun of another person in the airport for wearing some shirt, calling the man gay, and I feel particularly proud of that (the guy shut up). Another time, I was walking down the street and heard a man talking on his phone, “You know, she’s insane. Like all women. My wife is insane.” I just kept walking, and didn’t say anything. Though I feel bad for that: I feel it would have been better if I’d interrupted his phone call for saying such a hateful thing.

    This doesn’t mean, of course, that every response to an incorrect assumption or outright bigotry is going to be individually helpful. But I think the overall effect of breaking down barriers, of exposing people to other points of view, whether patiently or angrily, can do nothing but help to reduce bigotry in the long run.

  • http://summat2thinkon.blogspot.co.uk Considerer

    Ahhhh a great follow-up post. I think you’re right though – it somehow rocks our core when even a stranger misunderstands our role with respect to our family. When I take my Neff and Niece out, I quite often get referred to as ‘Mummy’ by (particularly) cashiers, and I’ve given up correcting them, because I realise it doesn’t matter to the cashier that I’m their Aunty, but it does make me feel slightly fraudulent each time it happens. I guess at heart we’re basically seeking integrity, even when it doesn’t matter.

    Such a shame y’all have to worry about so much hatred and dislike. I hope things keep changing for the better and people (especially those purporting to be religious) can find a way to show the love and acceptance expected by the faith.

  • RD

    Your family is beautiful.

  • Leslie

    It is though tear filled eyes that I write this. My heart shouting “yes!” With all it’s might!

    I am in the early stages of transition and can only nod in agreement and shake my head in dismay.

    Truly, our world here in the states is by and large a pretty accepting place – it seems to me the bad experiences we have are at the hands of a vocal and sometimes violent minority of narrow minded bigots. Ignorance is a dangerous thing.

    Love the quote from Eeyore!!! I have been so very blessed. This path is difficult – but it’s my path. I thank God every day for giving me everything I need to walk it with grace.


  • http://wayofcats.com WereBear

    I hope everyone comes to learn that the exterior really means so little compared to the heart it carries.

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  • David

    Two very interesting posts, thank you Haley. I had never really thought about this before, although I know that as a straight white male (albeit in a country with a LOT less people of any other colour than the USA or Canada), I can do pretty much anything I want too, as long as it is legal, and whilst I have known many LGB people in my time, including housemates and my children’s god-parents (for want of a better term), I do not recall any transgender people amongst my friends or aquaintances. (This may just mean that they didn’t say and I couldn’t tell :) ).

    I would be most interested in any other similar insights you may have as time goes on, and I think that if you were to write a similar article you would find interest from a few other websites, such as “RH Reality Check” or “Alternet” (who have picked up one or two of Melissa’s earlier posts).

    Oh, and you DO have a beautiful family (so do I).

  • Ashley

    I’ve commented before to say this but your family is an inspiration to me and the love between you and your wife is truly beautiful.

  • http://yaburrow.googlepages.com yvonne

    Great post. And yes, your family is beautiful.

    You would certainly be welcome at any Unitarian Universalist church, and at any Pagan gathering. Both traditions also include atheists and humanists.

  • Mashroom

    I had a similar experience (not as life changing as yours though) a while ago. It was through some simple changes that I did to my hair, of all things. Long blond hair = lots of male attention, most of it to do with attractiveness, and little to do with quality of work. Guys literally walked into things while watching me walk past them. Even people I’d known for years. (I work in a male-dominated industry). Being a brunette = next to no sexual attention from co-workers, no getting ID’d, but guys actually listened to my advice about things technical. And funky coloured hair (green, purple, blue, bright red – I’ve had them all) = people making stupid comments, staring, transit cops triplechecking my ride tickets (something that never happened with ‘normal’ hair), people refusing to sit next to me on the bus, etc etc.

    Clearly this is not the same as your life, but it did give me a very small glimpse of how people’s perceptions of us changes with our appearance. I was able to multiply that to say ‘well, if I got treated like this only cos I changed my hair colour, imagine how different people will treat others for something they perceive as more ‘serious”. I have friends with large visible tattoos that have a hard time being respected (or people are scared of them). It’s sad, really, cos given the chance, all those ‘weirdos’ are amazing human beings, with thoughts and feelings, smart, empathetic, and sensitive.

  • Karen

    Hayley, I’m sorry that in your transition you lost the privilege to have people automatically listen to you. As a cis woman who worked in engineering for a couple of decades, that more than anything else was the white male privilege that drove me crazy. Being talked over, not listened to, and generally relegated to the back burner (except — and this seems backward — when working for a military contractor).

    And, by the way, you do have a lovely family.

  • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

    A very, very interesting pair of articles.

    It has been a long time since I transitioned, 19 years to be exact. Most of the memories of “before” have become so faded that I have difficulty remembering the precise feeling and detail of people treating me as though I were a guy. The one thing I remember very well occurred shortly after my transition, however. I was left with the constant, nagging feeling that a very large subset of people—mostly men—had started treating me as though I were a child. The truly worrisome thing about the experience is that after being treated like this for so many years, I stopped noticing. Crappy, sexist attitudes and the awful treatment that comes with them are so common place that they take on the daily shape and texture of life… except for the most blatant examples, they are almost invisible unless you are really paying attention.

  • Susanna

    I watched the news today. They were talking about all those people in france who are protesting equal marriage in front of the Eiffeltower. I was sitting on the couch, thinking: in what kind of world do I live? Is everybody insane? Then, by accident, I found your blog. And it gave me hope. Thank you for sharing your experiences. All the best to you and your family!

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  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/ Ani J. Sharmin

    Thank you so much for sharing your and your family’s experiences.

  • Lightwing1

    I am a straight, white woman and I want to say – you rock! I love your courage and heart. You bring much lucidity and truth. Thank you.

  • ElaineBS

    Haley, I commented on your first blog some months ago and have just reread it. It is powerful, moving, eloquent and profound. I would like to use it on my resource references in my work in UK churches encouraging trans acceptance.. I hope this is acceptable to you. Is there a simpler URL link that I can use rather than the drawn out one on this site? Also, I would love to contact you privately to have some further dialogue; can you suggest how we can swap emails?
    You and Melissa are an inspiration to me and my wife, as we travel the exciting and sometimes scary path since I came out to our evangelical friends. Thanks so much for your example.

    • Melissa_PermissionToLive

      Hi Elaine! Feel free to use the series in your work, thank you for your interest. If hit the button to share on twitter, it will probably give you a shorter version of the link. If you would like to email, you can send it to seekeronthejourney@gmail.com and I will forward it to Haley’s private email.