By Kaylia Metcalfe
You can’t have a conversation about racism without coming across the phrase “White privilege.” You can’t have a conversation about gender roles without getting hit by the concept of “male privilege.”
So let’s take a moment here and talk about what those sorts of privilege mean. They are, in essence, acknowledgements that the playing field is nowhere close to level.
And really, we all pretty much know what they mean—at least in a broad sense.
But as this is the LGBT article, let’s talk a bit about “straight privilege.” Which basically acknowledges that being straight, or presumed straight, makes your life a whole lot easier than being non-straight, or perceived as non-straight.
Any non-straight or perceived as non-straight person can probably attest to this with anecdotes of bigotry or discrimination. But what is more upsetting are the implied benefits: the subconscious behaviors and choices that people make which fly under the radar for most straight people. Yes, we all know about the struggle for marriage equality. Most of us are aware, at least on a peripheral level, that there are places where you can get fired for being gay.
What about the other stuff? Some examples of straight privilege you might not have thought about:
- Expressing affection in most social situations and not worrying about reactions from others.
- Learning about romance and relationships from fiction movies and television.
- Having role models of your gender and sexual orientation.
- Having positive and accurate media images of people with whom you can identify.
- Expecting to be around others of your sexuality most of the time. Not worrying about being the only one of your sexuality in a class, on a job or in a social situation.
- Working in a traditionally male- or female-dominated job and not feeling as though you are a representative of your sexuality.
- Acting, dressing or talking as you choose without it being a reflection on people of your sexuality.
- The ability to play a professional sport and not worry that your athletic ability will be overshadowed by your sexuality and the fact that you share a locker room with the same gender.
- Not having to figure out if or when to “come out.”
Of course, there are dozens of other examples, but these should give you a better idea of the sorts of things that straight or presumed straight people simply don’t have to deal with.
OK. So. There is such a thing as straight privilege. It exists. Many people benefit from it and if you are one of them, I’m here to tell you that it’s OK. It isn’t your fault that our society is messed up and uneven. Acknowledge your guilt and then help us change the system by working to diminish the power of straight privilege.
How to Combat Straight Privilege
First, work to change your own perceptions. If you find yourself wondering if someone is gay, or bi, etc., ask yourself, “Why do I want to know?” If you aren’t interested in pursuing a sexual relationship with that person, then their sexual orientation shouldn’t matter to you. (If it does, ask yourself why: Have you bought into stereotypes? Are you afraid of getting out of your comfort zone? etc.).
Next, push yourself to help the underprivileged. This can be as simple as going to an LGBT-themed film festival, donating to a local LGBT charity the next time you are in the giving mood or reading a book written by an LGBT author. Another key way to help is to not accept or allow homophobic jokes or slurs in your presence. Call people out for these sorts of hurtful behaviors; be an ally in the purest sense, even when there isn’t an LGBT person nearby to overhear you.
To help with that, and to continue working against heterosexual privilege, find allies. Whether it is just another “stick in the mud” who doesn’t like the gay jokes or an actual network of people working to change the world, having others on your side is a huge help. No one can change the system alone; we rely on our allies and our networks to make big changes in small ways.
Lastly, but perhaps most important, let the less privileged lead. Listen to those who have suffered from the system that you are trying to change. Chances are they will have a perspective on it that you could never imagine. We need the non-privileged to be empowered enough to lead, and that empowerment comes when someone else shares the spotlight or better yet, gives up the soap box.
We know the world isn’t perfect, but we can affect change and, like anything else, accepting that there is a problem is the first step. We just can’t stop there. We need to continue having the conversations about privilege of all kinds in order to keep these concepts on the social consciousness.
Kaylia Metcalfe is a writer, blogger and activist in Fresno. She is a cofounder of Skeptics Without a Cause and serves on the Gay Central Valley Board of Directors. Her short story collection “Links” is available at www.amazon.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.