So, here I am swimming in straight privilege. SWIMMING in it. I have so much straight privilege it’s painful. No really. Painful.
I married a man who I met when I was 15 years old. We started dating two weeks later when I was 16 years old. We’ve been together for nearly 25 years and we’ve been married for over 20 years. We have two children.
I can talk about my relationship with my husband openly. I could put a picture of my family on my desk at work without some sort of issue. When I mention my relationship with my husband people are often impressed. We’ve been held up as an inspiration to others. This adoration for our relationship is nice in some ways, but often comes with a dose of discomfort.
Our relationship has not always been the healthiest. Our relationship has also not always been the most traditional. I’m not straight, but I’m usually assumed to be. What appears to be a paragon of the type of relationship nearly universally socially supported is, in reality, not completely that. My sexuality, which appears to be in-line with social expectations of a woman, isn’t.
I know many people who have paid an incredible price for living an authentic life. I know many people who didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. I know people who have tried to live a life that society would accept and failed and crashed and burned.
I’m never going to deny the privilege that assumptions confer upon me. They are vast and obvious. However, I refuse to allow how others see me to define who I am. For people like me, in so many ways, lying by omission becomes a way of life whether we like it or not. This reality is not insignificant or without consequence.
The way others treat me (as a cis person, as a straight person, as an able person, as an intellectual person, as a strong mother, as a person of faith, as genetically superior) matters regardless of reality or truth. The assumptions attached to those often supposedly known characteristics have absolutely profoundly affected me. The way I have been treated and the privilege which I can wield due to many of the assumptions others make is existent, ever-present, and formative – but they do not define me.
Honesty about who I am is not implicit or explicit denial of privilege. If that is what you HEAR when I say that I am not straight. KISS. MY. ASS. Assumptions that privilege me or dis-privilege me are often complete crap. Many of those “known characteristics” are very very wrong. Bigotry is not accurate. I am made aware of this every. single. day.
Perhaps this is why I am so adamant that “woman” not be defined as oppression. Being considered a woman by others sparks a set of prejudices and reactions that shape lives in many ways. This is not controversial. This is the reality we all live and many seek to change. The observation that misogyny and sexism exist in many forms and that we are treated differently due to our ability and willingness to conform to the features of privileged classes – does not define us.
How we see ourselves does not just profoundly affect us – it is us.
To define “woman” as a shared set of experiences based on how people are treated is giving bigotry the power to tell us who we are. I reject this notion completely. I reject denying anyone the expression of their authentic selves because they lack many of the experiences, formative or not, that have made me who I am.
I am not every woman nor am I a woman just because I am assumed to be.