07 August 2015

It's Not About Privilege. It's About How She Uses It.

OK, I'll admit it: I haven't watched "I Am Cait."  Then again, I haven't watched anything on television in a while because I almost never watch TV.

That said, I want to address remarks I've heard about it, and about Caitlyn Jenner's very public journey.  Those remarks have a common denominator:  privilege, or at least the word "privilege."  As in, "She's exploiting her upper-class privilege."  A few others have said she is using her "male privilege":  in essence, denying her transition and current life.  

The "male privilege" accusation comes mainly from TERFs and their allies:  After all, any man or any conservative who refused to see Caitlyn as female wouldn't see males as having privilege.  And, perhaps not surprisingly, the "white privilege" or "class privilege" whine doesn't emenate from the lips those who are darker or poorer than Caitlyn:  Those echoes of resentment come mainly from rich white cisgender heterosexuals who took a gender studies course or two.  Ironically, they are no different from white male conservatives in that they cannot see themselves as having privilege, but they can find it in a millisecond in someone else, whether or not that person actually has it.

There is no question that Caitlyn Jenner's celebrity--garnered mainly during her life as a man named Bruce--gives her more privilege than most people will ever enjoy.  And, if she's not part of the "one percent", she's close to it--which, of course, is another source of privilege.  Of course, being white doesn't hurt her standing, either.

Every male-to-female transgender I have ever known--I include myself--has lost some sort of privilege she didn't know she had when she was living as male.  This is especially true if said trans person is white:  As one black trans woman told me, "I don't feel I lost privilege because I had so little to begin with."  Whether the same thing will happen to Caitlyn remains to be seen.  Many of us are rightly celebrating her courage and integrity and, not surprisingly, some are mocking and hating on her.  Some of the haters probably own, or run, the companies that sponsor the programs on which Caitlyn has appeared, so it's hard not to wonder whether, after the attention she's now receiving has shifted elsewhere, she will lose some of her television work or be asked to make fewer public appearances in other venues.

I hope that nothing like that happens to Caitlyn.  As much as I'd like to have some of her privilege, I don't begrudge her for it.  If anything, I think she is using it well to call attention to such things as the suicide of a transgender teenager no one would have heard about if Caitlyn hadn't mentioned him.  Perhaps someone could knock her for taking a cross-country trip with her own entourage but, hey, if it helps to make us and our stories and struggles more real to the public, I have no problem with it.  If nothing else, such actions--and almost everything else she's done from the time Diane Sawyer interviewed her--has helped to break some of the old stereotypes about trans people.

If you're going to denigrate someone for having privilege, go after someone who's using it to bully or exploit people--especially if he's running for the Presidential nomination of his party.  But don't knock someone like Caitlyn, who's been using it for our betterment. 

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