Sometime back in the late 90s I realized I had privilege and did not have privilege.
How is such a thing possible?
A good question given how we’ve come to characterize privilege: It is something some people have all the time, everywhere, and others do not, all the time, everywhere.
But privilege exists only in context.
If you stand or sit in a room by yourself, who oppresses you? Perhaps the voices in your head? If that is true, who then oppresses who?
Neither privilege nor oppression exists like air, all the time, everywhere.
In some contexts I have a privilege. When I interact with people in these contexts, they treat me with deference and assume I’m rich/intelligent and so on. Being white and male does this.
How do I know? People did not treat me deferentially when I lived as a woman.
These deferences I now experience remain conditional. If people know I have a past as a woman, perhaps they will retract their deference. Instead of being a white man, I become another category, another type of human being, one that can be treated without kindness or respect, potentially.
That potential becomes a possibility I must manage, always. Whether it is the TSA or an unexpected visit to the ER I can never expect the kindness of strangers. [1. It is the unquestioned assumption that kindness will always happens gives rise to accusations of “unacknowledged privilege.”]
Now I grant that while I perceive these possibilities as potential threats, not every transman does.
And that is okay. He isn’t wrong, nor am I. How he manages these potential threats or even if he views them as threats at all, does not diminish the possibility of the threat’s existence.
This is why the token argument – a transman isn’t threatened so you’re whining! – is just stupid.
Within every human interaction exists potentials for a range of behaviors from kindness to indifference to disgust.
Within every human interaction varieties of privilege and not privilege play out between actors.
The job of every person in a privileged position within these interactions is to enhance kindness and concern and reduce dismissive or threatening behavior.
Why? Because chances are we will find ourselves in positions where we are not privileged, and we must hope for kindness and prepare for disgust, or worse.