Gosh, it's been a while, hasn't it? Well, I'm back and I have a confession to make.
I have not dismantled my privilege.
SHOCKING, I KNOW.
Nobody has dismantled their privilege. I have said this from the beginning and I will continue to say it. No matter how much people will try to convince you that they have shed the effects of their privilege and think/speak/act objectively, they are wrong. We are all products of our privilege, in the same way that we are products of the ways in which we are not privileged. The ways that we have lived comfortably and fortunately will always affect how we function, even if we realize that we're doing it and, subsequently, do what we can to stop. The fact is that it takes work in order to distance yourself from your privilege and see things without it.
As a middle-class white kid, I've always thought that I was aware of my privilege. This does not, by any means, indicate that have somehow moved beyond it. But I've felt that I recognized the blessings of my social and economic status and what that meant for me in relation to others.
What I never realized was how fortunate I've been as a queer kid growing up in a diverse and accepting area.
I was never hassled at school--not for being queer, at least. I was never gay bashed or publicly humiliated, not in ways that traumatized me, anyway. There were some incidents in middle school but middle school is a cesspool of humiliation so I don't think that really counts. I could not have been more fortunate in high school. My teachers not only respected my queerness but they encouraged it and allowed me to flourish as I explored it. I was constantly praised for my "leadership" because of the way that I lived openly as a (at the time) lesbian-identified gender-bending non-conformist.
Coming out to my parents was a terrifying experience but there was no reason for it to be that way. I cried buckets when I told my mother that I was gay my freshman year of high school, and other than some regretted and retracted accusations said in the heat of argument, she never attempted to change or hide me. My father, who has a strict Southern Baptist upbringing, has actually been the most accepting of the two of them. My grandmother was the first person I ever came out to at all and her reaction was, and I quote, "No shit, honey." Anytime that I faced the prospect of harassment (which came in the form of a closed-minded friend who has since opened her mind in the most beautiful ways and a by-the-Bible family who disapproved of my relationship with their daughter), my parents stepped up beside me and supported me without wavering. I could not be more thankful and grateful for them. My mother likes to tell stories of walking through the mall with me and making steely eye contact with those who gawked at me as I walked past them, decked in rainbows and boy's clothing with pink hair and black painted nails.
I can walk around my town in men's clothing, with my short haircut and, occasionally, my chest bound and not face any adversity. People are people and will stare, will whisper to one another, "What is that? Who is that?" but I have never once felt unsafe in my neighborhood. I tell strangers at the supermarket about my girlfriend if asked about my boyfriend. I sit down at Barnes & Noble with a copy of Curve magazine and I feel just as comfortable holding that as I do the cup of tea in my other hand.
While it is true that I have not discussed my gender identity issues with anyone but a select few, this is not a result of prospective danger. My decision to keep my thoughts confined to this blog and my mind is one that stems from my own personal issues with discussing things that I am uncertain about with anyone until I've figured them out. Even if I never straighten these things out (and honestly, I never expect to), I can at least wait until I am older, when I can say that this isn't the restless remains of teenaged confusion and angst, that this is a conversation that I must have and have only once. I have days where I am sure that my parents would be fine with it and I have days where I am sure that they will give me 10 minutes to pack my things after I say it. But, regardless...
For all intents and purposes, I am out. I am out and I am out loud. So it's difficult for me to understand when others are not. When others are frightened of what they are, of people knowing what they are. I can't wrap my head around why someone wouldn't come out to their doctor or why they would be scared of seeing pictures of their boyfriend in drag on the internet. I am a graduate of the Harvey Milk Academy of Coming Out. I staunchly believe that coming out and being proud is the only way that any oppressed group is going to get anything done, in this country or anywhere else. We're here, we're queer, get fucking used to it.
But it's not always that easy, is it? Sometimes, that means violence. Sometimes, that means loneliness. Sometimes that means homelessness and hunger or suffocation in a place where you are no longer welcome. Sometimes, all the freedom that comes from letting go is snatched away by pain, rejection, and wounds that might not ever heal.
Some people come from places where they couldn't even dream about being able to be known as anything but the dictated norm. And sometimes, they carry that fear with them wherever they go. It's not something you can just let go of when you're not where you were. And sometimes, freedom is fucking scary. Going someplace where you can let go, be who you are, do what you want... sometimes, it's just too much to deal with at once. You have to take baby steps or else you feel like you'll get swallowed. It feels like you've stepped into the Wonka Factory: If you take too much, if you get cocky, if you say, "I want it now!" it'll all be over before you even get to taste it.
Strangely enough, my father is the one that pointed this out to me. My parents, I think, have realized that the key to getting me to talk to them without being first spoken to is to talk about queer things. After an awkward segue into the conversation via my father offering to take me to the Pride March in NYC next year (an adorable and heartwarming suggestion, albeit misguided because my father can't watch Desperate Housewives without blushing), we got onto the topic of straight assimilation and I began my diatribe against it.
My father was the one that pointed out to me how fortunate I am to be able to feel, think, and act with so little regard for others' opinions. I'm lucky that opinions are the only things I have to fear. And in that way, my privilege allows me to flaunt my status as a member of an oppressed group. If we were poor, I couldn't, for fear of being fired from a job that I would need in order to survive. If I grew up in a conservative neighborhood, I might not have the fearlessness I've acquired over the years of my upbringing.
Courage is just as socially determined as anything else. I have the courage that I have because of my lack of adversity during the most adverse times of my life. This is not to say that those who face adversity cannot be courageous, in fact, they have immeasurable amounts more than I do. But there is something to be said of my ability to say, "Fuck it!" and go on as I please. And I need to remember that not everyone comes from the same place as me. That maybe their hesitation is not an act of internal hatred or fear of rocking the boat but, instead, a survival tactic that they have been conditioned to believe that they need in order to live. And maybe, just maybe, where they're from, it's not unnecessary.
I will never dismantle my privilege. I will continue to encourage people to come out. I will continue to foster love, acceptance, equality, and flamboyancy wherever I go. But I will try my hardest, in the future, to truly understand where my closeted companions are coming from. And I will not stop fighting until the day when that doesn't mean anything.