Queerness and privilege

A friend recently linked me one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever read. This is from a 2013 article on EverydayFeminism:

Although a queer person may pass as straight if they’re in a heterosexual relationship, straight privilege by definition doesn’t exist for them because a) they’re queer and b) they still have to deal with prejudiced assholes on all sides, and I’m pretty sure that cancels out any ephemeral benefits of temporarily passing.

…I’m sorry, but are you joking?

pansexual transgender

I am a cis-woman who is attracted to a variety of genders. I’m not a huge fan of the term bisexual because I feel that it enforces the concept of gender binary, which I think is misguided, but I also dislike pansexual. It sounds like I should be off cavorting with satyrs. Pan was a jackass in the Greek. So we’re going to go with queer for the purposes of this little rant, if you don’t mind.

I’m a queer cis-woman in a monogomish marriage with a heterosexual cis-man. Just a few of the examples of how I  absolutely receive straight privilege unless I choose to out myself are:

  1. When people ask after my spouse/husband/partner, and I mention my husband, or say his name, their automatic assumption about the gender of my partner is correct and reinforced. There’s never been a moment since I’ve been with him that people say “Oh!” blink several times, and then start telling me about how all their best friends are gay. That happened a lot when I was with my girlfriend.
  2. When my husband and I decided to get married, we had the support of our families and the church I attended at the time. In fact, my relationship with a certain segment of my family improved, as they decided I was now “fixed,” despite my attempts to explain the concept of orientation fluidity to them. (I will admit I only tried so hard. There was a certain place where it became clear they weren’t listening, and didn’t care.)
  3. When my husband and I had children, there was no hubbub about his name going on the birth certificate. He didn’t have to fill out special paperwork, and we didn’t have to invest money in him adopting our children.

These are just a couple of examples, there are a near infinity more. Of course, one of the things about privilege that seems to confuse so many people is that you don’t just have privilege. It’s not an all-admittance pass. I can easily point to white privilege, able-bodied privilege, and class privilege in my life. When I choose to pass, I also easily gain access to heterosexual privilege and Christian privilege in my life. But that’s the key here. I have to choose to out myself. I have to talk about my girlfriend, or people have no idea. The fact that I don’t have to deal with people’s nonsense in my face every day, that I get included in these higher power groups unless I remove myself, that is a big part of what passing is. Passing is its own kind of hell, I don’t discount that for one minute, but the whole point of it is that you do it because you gain privilege (and remove perceived threats) by doing so. And when I do out myself, sometimes the backlash is…intense. I once blew up an entire parenting message board by asking the question of how someone like myself spoke to her kids about sexuality to avoid reinforcing heteronormativity. That…was an intense week.

I don’t like passing. I did it for a very long time, for a variety of reasons, and my personal experience was that the costs outweighed the benefits. I am loud, now, about my queerness. I stamp my feet when clients or editors demand bi-erasure in stories.

I don’t know if it’s enough, I’ll never know. But it’s what I can do.

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