As soon as I pick up the phone and hear her, I know something has happened. Immediately, I ask “What’s going on?” She attempts to ignore my concern, but she’s a terrible liar and her voice is wavering, coated with emotion. Even through time zones, an ocean, and a handful of states, I can almost feel the fear myself. Again, I ask her what happened.
Through her tears and hesitancy to relive the night, I piece it together. Like most terribly awkward events, it starts with an ex-boyfriend…and an angry one at that. Throw in a crowded venue, probably a little bit too much alcohol on his part, and you have a screaming match where her worst fears came true. She takes a deep breath. “He told everyone. People that didn’t know at all now know. People left because of me. I have never felt so ashamed.”
I try to soothe her but I know it’s of no use because there aren’t comforting words that can erase gender slurs, insults that will bury themselves deep into the corners of our souls reminding us that that’s what we are every time we breathe.
She tells me a few more bits of the story. No one stood up to him. No one tried to stop him. Every pair of eyes was on her. I cut her off and ask “Are you okay physically?”
She is. But at this moment it occurs to me, what kind of world are we in where this is even my gut instinct to ask? What kind of world is it where my first thought is “Doesn’t this guy realize this could get her murdered?”
“Privilege” is a popular word being thrown around these days, the main ones being “straight privilege,” “white privilege,” and my favorite, “male privilege.”
Male privilege isn’t something I’ve always had, and it’s something she’s lost over the years. I grew up female; she grew up male. Due to modern science and a lot of luck on both of our parts, we’ve been able to blur the lines and switch places, so to speak. When I walk down the street now, people move out of my way. When I’m walking alone at night and there’s only one female coming towards me, almost always, she will cross the street before crossing my path. This is male privilege.
As a transman who has been incredibly lucky to experience the changes of testosterone relatively quickly, therefore being able to be gendered correctly since early on in my medical transition, I don’t have to worry about people studying me too intently. Do I still worry? Of course, but it never consumes me. These days, people don’t hold their breath anymore when I walk into a public bathroom -- but I do. Even so, some days my biggest concern is someone thinking I’m a gay man…which isn’t really a concern of mine at all. This is male privilege.
I can’t say that I’m your stereotypical manly man. I spend more time in the kitchen than I do under my car. I’m never too proud to ask for directions. I’d rather listen to slam poetry than watch professional football. But to look at me, no one questions my masculinity or my identity when I introduce myself. This is male privilege.
I can’t pretend like I know what it’s like to be in her shoes. It is hard to be a female and I do know that. We live in a society where women are scrutinized at every second of the day. Throw in being a woman who has had a little bit more of a past than most, and you have the taboo staring you right in the face. I can’t pretend like I know what it’s like to turn heads every time you walk into the room and have to wonder “Is it because I look good or is it because something looks different?” This is male privilege.
But now I have to ask, at which point does “privilege” become “abuse”? Just recently, I confronted a man in public for yelling at his wife, threatening to “beat her” when they got home. His child was listening, learning. The man stepped up to me, close enough for our chests to touch, and then turned away, yanking his wife and child with him. The woman looked over her shoulder at me and mouthed, “Thanks” before they rounded the corner. This is male privilege.
We live in a world now where gender expression alone is enough to get one raped, beaten, murdered. We are still living in a world where the color of your skin is enough to warrant the same treatment. We tout the fact that we live in a country of freedoms, and equalities while thousands upon thousands don’t have the equality to be themselves without risking everything.
E.E. Cummings once said, “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”
This battle will result in victory. It is not a privilege.
It is our right.