Op-Ed

This is how you use your ‘gay privilege’

Tamsin Wu takes a closer look at LGBTQ people who – whether they admit or not – have ‘privileges’, pointing out the need to “appreciate and understand each other’s lived experience, remind ourselves to devote whatever we can to help, and not cause any more pain by participating in systemic oppression and carrying this into the LGBTQ community.”

PHOTO BY NOWY ARATAN

Privilege is an intangible asset that may have either a positive or negative impact on other people’s well-being, depending on how mindfully, considerately and effectively it is used. Let’s talk about it in the context of the LGBTQ community. Some LGBTQ individuals fail to see the power of their privilege, so let’s inject some awareness into it.

This is what being a privileged LGBTQ looks like in our current society-–

  • Being cisgender or “straight-passing” makes us fall outside the radar of homophobes and bigots, thus lessening our chances of being targets of discrimination.
  • Having the freedom to be open about our sexuality without being threatened of losing our family, friends, job and other opportunities, unlike some who have to face that unfortunate possibility.
  • Living in a place and time wherein we have the opportunity to be proactive and vocal about issues and rights, and to be honest about our sexual orientation, without having to face the great risk of getting killed or hurt. Compare this to the hate crimes that LGBTQs deal with in some parts of the country and also in some parts of the globe, as well as those who had to face very strong anti-LGBTQ sentiment and violence head-on — 10, 20, 30 or so years ago — in order to gain the social acceptance and rights that we are reaping today and continuing to fight for.

Hence, let us not just sit back and be prodigal children of such privilege. It can be slightly illogical (and against my will) to use the word “privilege” in referring to these things because, in actuality, these are basic rights that everybody should have without question. But, considering the reality of where we are at, it is kind of a privilege in the relative sense that some LGBTQs have it while a number of LGBTQs don’t. We have to acknowledge it and, more importantly, use it for furthering the progress of our advocacy. Otherwise, we might go back to square one in our fight for equality. A terrifying thought, indeed.

Imagine my disgusted surprise upon learning that there are those who partially side with discrimination, while identifying as a member of our community. Quite a number of stories or examples, really. LGBTQ people who-–

  • also perpetuate negative stereotyping of LGBTQs that they don’t identify with;
  • use wrong terms in addressing someone’s sexuality;
  • are appalled by someone’s nonbinary gender expression;
  • disapprove of effeminate men but love fellow masculine gay dudes;
  • are against the idea of same-sex marriage or gay parents adopting;
  • express racist thinking when looking for a partner;
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…and the list may go on and on. This painful oxymoron should be addressed together with other LGBTQ issues because, otherwise, it can be a huge blow to the advocacy.

PHOTO BY NOWY ARATAN

Let’s be clear though that not all of those instances of exhibiting oxymoronic behavior are due to privilege. On the contrary, some may be because of the absence of it growing up, such as having no access to a support system or a well of quality information. For example, a queer person who has lived in a place that fosters animosity towards LGBTQ individuals, or in a poor community with no access to proper education and other empowering tools, may have had very little to no opportunity learning about LGBTQ-affirmative facts, news and events. Thus, that person may have developed a sense of internalized homophobia or transphobia, even after coming out of the closet. Inversely, a queer person who has had the good fortune of experiencing or growing up in an LGBTQ-affirmative environment would have formed a different mentality.

The ill manifestations of privilege arise when people don’t care about, and consequently tend to step on, other people’s plights, as long as the system works to these privileged people’s advantage. Within the LGBTQ community, we can probably see this from those lacking interest and humility to educate themselves about the struggles faced by other LGBTQs who have different backgrounds, social status, experiences and traits, just because they feel unaffected by the others’ issues. This practice of “other-ing” though can lead us to building a wall and gap in understanding one another. Such lack of awareness can turn into misguided or insensitive ideas, comments and actions.

One example of privilege gone wrong is when an LGBTQ person outs someone closeted just because the former is against the idea of hiding one’s sexuality. But to think that one is all the more a better person for being out than being closeted is a form of privilege. We should be aware that, due to different personal reasons, not everyone can afford to live beyond the closet’s confines. Actually, even for LGBTQs who are already out of the closet, there are situations that force us to go back because otherwise, we would be putting ourselves in harm’s way. Let’s be cautious that the liberty of being out is still fragile. So let’s properly utilize it as much as possible when we do have it.

PHOTO BY NOWY ARATAN

How exactly can we maximize on our “gay” privilege? Well, it’s a combination of conscious choices and actions.

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Knowledge is power.  If you can get your hands on LBGTQ-related literature, if you can read up on news about LGBTQ-related issues, if you can connect with LGBTQ-related groups and organizations, do so. In this Internet age, almost everything we want to learn about is within reach! (provided, of course, you’re not living somewhere that practices censorship) Understand that, within the LGBTQ community, different minority groups face varying degrees of oppressions. Let us not become short-sighted in our own struggles only.

Speak up. Or, write about it, if you’re someone who doesn’t have great skills in verbal eloquence (yet!) like me. If you see discrimination sprouting about, if you have been given any platform to raise your voice, if you have a great following in the social media universe, if you can share about significant LGBTQ-related matters, don’t hold back your tongue. Talk about it. It’s important to defeat the silence with regards to LGBTQ issues and rights. Otherwise, being indifferent is tantamount to complicity.

Get involved. It’d be good to devote some of our time and energy in LGBTQ-related causes and events. Some groups and organizations are always looking for volunteers to help in continuing to spread awareness and in our collective fight for equality. Along the way, we learn things and build relationships, which are crucial to further empower our advocacy towards equality.

Be visible. It’s crucial for the LGBTQ community to have members who are in the forefront of every nook-and-cranny of society. Apart from activists, it’s a great thing to see professionals, media personalities, politicians, teachers, students, family members… basically, everyday-people who identify as LGBTQ. We, regular folks, can positively shift people’s misconceptions about LGBTQ people.

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Always be supportive. In reality, not everyone is inclined to get political or vocal about equality, despite identifying as LGBTQ. That is okay. But let us always remember to, at least, stay informed and be courteous of those who are active in the advocacy. After all, that we can live out openly is because of those who did, and who are continuing to do, the fighting for us. Let us always show our support.

PHOTO BY NOWY ARATAN

While there are privileged LGBTQs in this awfully heteronormative society, in no way does it discount the fact that they may be underprivileged in some aspects. A lesbian whose looks coincide with heteronomativity, for example, may find herself swatting away unwanted attention or harassment from gross men. A “straight-passing” bisexual might feel alienated or misunderstood by a society with a prevailing notion that sexual orientation is only either hetero or homo. A well-educated queer person may find job options reduced by the number of prospective companies that do not welcome LGBTQ-identifying employees.

The point is not to maliciously judge those who have some sort of privilege, but to appreciate and understand each other’s lived experience, remind ourselves to devote whatever we can to help, and not cause any more pain by participating in systemic oppression and carrying this into the LGBTQ community.

Hopefully, we could eradicate this messed up reality that some people are in better situations to live authentically, and create a society wherein people don’t give a damn about labels of sexual orientation and gender expression.

A utopian dream, perhaps?

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