A Women’s Center Blog post and reflection by student staff member Daniel
On September 22, 2014, I published my first Women’s Center blog post, titled “Male Privilege in Women’s Spaces.” In it I shared my anxieties about joining the Women’s Center staff and reflected on my male privilege. I thought about what my role or place might be and how I could manage my privilege in a healthy and productive way.
I want to begin my last year at the Women’s Center the same way I began my first year here. I want to think about and complicate my male privilege and how I show up in the Women’s Center and other women-centric spaces.
A lot of things have changed in the two years since I published that first post. After serving my terms in student org leadership, I’m now much less involved; I’ve watched freshmen and sophomores step forward and take positions I once held and do a better job than I or my predecessors did. My trans identity has evolved and my understanding of my relationship to the world has changed. My perspective on privilege is different now and I’ve learned that reflecting on my privilege makes me a better leader. I’m a third-year staff member and I often find myself in leadership and mentor roles, meaning this self-reflection is even more important than it was when I first started.
When I wrote my original blog post, I had been on testosterone for nearly a year and solidly identified as Male. I wrote from the perspective of someone who identified with a privileged group and I was reconciling male identity with feminist identity; I felt like I needed to make up for seeming like a traitor who joined the patriarchy. Plus, I had a lot of unprocessed feelings about losing the camaraderie I shared with women and learned that some spaces just weren’t for me anymore.
Now, things are more complicated. It’s been three years since I started medically transitioning. I’ve legally changed all my documents and had surgery. I’m more male-passing than ever, but this is the least I’ve identified with maleness since I came out.
It would be easy to deny my male privilege by claiming a queer, non-binary identity. It would be easy to say I don’t experience male privilege because I don’t identify as male, but it wouldn’t be true. I still exist in this world as a male-passing individual and the world treats me as such. I still benefit from male privilege when I’m awarded more authority on a subject in conversation or more time to talk than my femme- and female-identified counterparts. I don’t get interrupted and I’m given more space. My queerness doesn’t change this and it doesn’t excuse me from perpetuating sexism or ignoring the ways male privilege has advantaged me in life. Trans men and masculine trans people are equally as responsible for perpetuating and participating in transmisogyny as cis men. We don’t get a free pass just because we may have once identified as women.
Of course, it’s important to understand how being queer and trans and fat and mentally ill have disadvantaged me in life, but they don’t negate the impact of the privilege I receive from being male and white. And while this self-reflection is important and necessary, it doesn’t excuse me from having to do something about my privilege.
I’ve been guilty of this. I’ve been guilty of letting others’ praise of me as “a good guy” in queer or feminist circles be enough proof that I’m not one of Those Guys. I’ve also been guilty of patting myself on the back just for acknowledging that I have privilege.
I hope my friends, classmates, and coworkers feel like they can call me on my shit, but that’s not their job. It’s my job to be actively combatting my privilege. It’s my job to be mindful of interrupting people, taking up too much physical and conversational space, giving credit where credit is due, and never concluding that my work is done. It’s my job to say, “This issue it important to me. How can I be of help to you?”
It’s also my job as a masculine trans person to be aware of (and do something about) how my passing privilege (as well as the economic and healthcare advantages that made my transition possible) makes me safer than gender non-conforming and non-passing trans people, how being trans masculine is safer than being trans feminine, and how race and white privilege are major factors in the safety of trans people.
Being a third-year staff member at the Women’s Center means I’m in a leadership and mentoring position, and I feel it’s important to think about privilege when I’m collaborating and working with other student staff. I think about how my coworkers might approach a problem or a project differently because of their experiences (and the things I might miss because of mine) and how working here for longer than my coworkers doesn’t mean I know more than anyone else. I’m wary of how my maleness and my whiteness puts me in a position of power and authority, so purposely taking steps to create a non-hierarchical relationship with my peers is a priority.
I’m ready for the new challenges and learning opportunities coming my way this year. I’m excited to meet all the people who use the space and offer our services and resources to the best of my ability. I’m excited to be in a place where I understand the role I play here, and I’m excited to continue to grow and learn from the amazing people and stories I encounter. And, I’m excited to walk away from this place knowing there are newer people with better ideas, fresher enthusiasm, and more drive to enact change ready to replace me.