Revisiting Male Privilege

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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.

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Fall 2014 Women’s Center Staff

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.
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Gay Hair

A post written by Women’s Center Intern, Daniel.

So you’re out at your favorite vegan coffee shop sipping your $6 soy latte while reading City Paper and you peek over the top of it just in time to see a blue-haired cutie send a glance your way and wink as they strut out the door. When you walk into your sociology class on Monday, you scan the room and spot a classmate with pink bangs and an undercut and weave your way through the desks to sit as close to them as possible so that when the professor begins the chapter on sexuality you can roll your eyes and groan with them. Why? Cause that blue-haired cutie and the classmate with the undercut and the kid on the bus with the mohawk crusted in glitter are all totally queer just like you.

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Photo Credit: Audrey Gatewood

I stepped into gay hair territory in the summer of 2012 when I cut off all my hair and never looked back. Last summer I started dying my hair bright colors and I, again, haven’t looked back. I’ve been lavender, blue, pink, purple, and now platinum blonde. My freshman year, I attended my first impromptu hair party. Armed with clippers and bleach, my suitemate, a new friend of mine, and my biggest crush at the time went to town on each other’s hair. In a terrifying turn of events, I got to use clippers for the very first time on the one person whose hair I did NOT want to mess up. I actually did okay and went on to be a part of many, many more hair parties like this one.

A lot of us (and by “us,” I mean young, queer/gay, and trans people) don’t have the time or money to go to a hair salon to get our hair done and, frankly, not a lot of salons are willing to give us the cuts we want. A common experience among queer women (and a lot of other types of queer people) is taking a picture of a “man’s” cut or masculine style to a stylist and ending up with feminized version of it. “Passing” as a man well enough to sit comfortably in a barber’s chair is anxiety-inducing at best, not to mention trying to safely “pass” as a woman in a salon and a world of rampant transmisogyny. Getting your hair cut by a group of friends in someone’s poorly lit bathroom may not result in the most professionally done coiffure, but it beats being misgendered or told that what you want is too masculine or too feminine for whatever gender your stylist has assigned to you.

Getting a gay haircut can be an incredible experience that feels validating and makes you feel more connected with your community, but getting my gay hair gay cut this weekend made me think about what gay hair is and how politics of gender, identity, and queerness come into play with visibility and validation.

So, what is gay hair?

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“Gay Hair Squad” at Artscape

“Gay hair” is non-normative hair. It’s often brightly colored, always changing, and rarely professionally done. It blurs the lines of gendered cuts (why on earth do hair cuts have genders??) and challenges assumptions about the person wearing it. Some styles are more popular in some subcultures than others. For some, gay hair is an act of rebellion; for others, it’s a away to take control of their bodies or to step outside of them. For me, gay hair is how I make people see my queerness. When I dyed my hair lavender this summer, it was because I was worried that people were reading me as a straight, cisgender dude. I wanted them to look at me and see that I was not those things, even if they didn’t have the words for what I was, because being cisgender and straight are so far removed from my lived experience that being read that way felt like not only a big lie but a step back into the closet.

I love my gay hair and all my gay friends with all their gay hair. But I’ve come to realized that being able to have gay hair is a privilege most of us with gay hair have never thought about. The majority of people with gay hair are white, afab (assigned female at birth), and on the masculine side of the gender presentation spectrum– not because people of color or amab (assigned male at birth) or femme-presenting people don’t wear their hair in expressive and non-normative ways, but because our picture of “queer” looks like a thin, white, masc/androgynous person with colorful hair and cute shoes. Black women (cis and trans alike) don’t get to have cool and funky hair without being labeled “ghetto” and unprofessional. Queer trans women get serious criticism then they want short or masculine cuts like their cisgender counterparts because they aren’t performing femininity in the way that trans women are expected to in order to be validated and accepted.

Speaking of validation and acceptance, why is it that we assume queer people have to look a certain way, or that people who look or sound one way must be queer? Why is femme invisibility such a pervasive problem in queer circles that many queer women feel the need to cut their hair in order to be seen? In creating our own subcultures and modes of rebellion against gender norms and heternormativity, I wonder if we have not only isolated ourselves from the people for whom “gay” is not the primary mode of existence, but also created new barriers for already marginalized groups within our community. People who can’t have or don’t want gay hair should still be able to be recognized and validated in their identities, and we should be supporting our non-white and femme siblings in their pursuit of gay hair. Heck, everyone should try out gay hair. There’s something exciting about “breaking the rules” and toeing the ridiculous but still ever-present line of gender norms.

Besides, who doesn’t like a blue-haired cutie?

Male Privilege in Women’s Spaces

When I was asked if I would be interested in joining the Women’s Center staff, my first reaction was, “HELL YES.” The Women’s Center had very quickly become my favorite place on campus, and I was excited to jump on the opportunity to be a part of something that had been such a positive addition to my life. Last spring was a great time for me. I got more involved. I joined the Queer Leadership Council and the LGBT Campus Climate Workgroup. I was elected Outreach Coordinator for Freedom Alliance and Director of Public Affairs for GWST COMM. Recommendations, internship opportunities, and leadership roles were flying at me and it was great to feel like my skills were desirable.

How might male privilege show up in women-focused spaces?

How might male privilege show up in women-focused spaces?

But the more I thought about it, the more suspicious I became. How much of this have I actually earned? Aren’t there other people who are much more qualified than me for these jobs? How must my classmates feel about a freshman showing up and taking over? Am I taking over? How does privilege play into this? Do I even belong in these spaces? I have been thinking about these questions for months and I want to take this opportunity to reflect on what it means to be a male-identified staff member at a women’s center and the complicated combination of male identity and queer identity.

I think a lot of trans guys and people of trans male identities forget that even though some of us may have once identified as women or are sometimes read as women, we still have male privilege. Despite our queerness and the bureaucratic level problems we face with documentation or health care, there is still a place for us on the glass escalator. Now, this is not true for all of us– trans men of color, gender nonconforming trans men, or those who do not easily or readily “pass” (when one fits the standards of what a man or woman looks like well enough to not have their gender questioned) have a much more difficult time with this. For the sake of this post, when I say “trans men” I specifically mean trans men like me: white, medically transitioning, “passing” men.

My biggest struggle has been figuring out a way to see how my privilege has given me advantages in my life while also remembering that I actually did earn some of it. It’s a balance between knowing when to be proud of myself because I’ve earned something and knowing when I’ve been given something. I’m still trying to figure out how to contribute and participate in feminist and women’s movements without riding the glass escalator to the forefront. I’m learning to listen more than I speak and to support the efforts of others to liberate themselves rather than leading their liberation.

As for the Women’s Center, I think I will always be questioning and changing how I fit into my role here, just as women’s centers have changed since their first appearances in the 1970s. Women’s centers are still women-focused spaces but have branched out to include women of color and LGBTQIA women and people. Many women’s centers (including ours) have even started looking at toxic forms of hegemonic masculinity and how it affects women and men alike.

I belong here for now. My roles and responsibilities will change as the needs of my communities and the communities I support change, and I am still learning. I welcome feedback and criticism from community members– after all, you are why I’m here.

A Beginner’s Guide to Privilege

IMG_0540In addition to working at the Women’s Center as a student staff member, I also serve as a Resident Assistant in a first-year residential hall on campus. Recently, my paraprofessional staff and I have been exploring the topic of privilege by participating in meaningful discussions about the different forms that it can take on in our society. These conversations and shared experiences of my fellow staff members have encouraged me to dive into a deeper, more personal investigation of privilege and how it relates to my identity and my unique life experiences.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the concept of privilege, a dictionary definition classifies it as a unique benefit or immunity available only to a particular community or group of people. Yet what the dictionary definition fails to mention is that privilege is neither earned nor deserved by any specific group that reaps its benefits.

In reality, privilege is innate; it is a birthright that is automatically given to those who hold membership in a certain group or community. Privilege takes on several forms in society relating to identities such as gender, ability, class, race, and sexuality. It should be mentioned that one may simultaneously experience a certain level of privilege in one area of their identity while also experiencing a lack of privilege in another area.

Privilege, or the lack thereof, isn’t also always necessarily visible to the eye of a passerby. Yet these privileges are often at the root of social inequalities that exist in our society today. They may also cloud and bias our viewpoints of who don’t share the same privileges as ourselves, causing us to make unwarranted assumptions and conclusions about others. Therefore, it is important that we have conversations with each other in order to better recognize and effectively deal with our own unique privileges. Continue reading