The Problem with “Privilege”

September 21, 2008

This is a post I made in a different forum in February 2007, that a couple friends of mine told me to repost more publicly. There’s one link that was added for snark.

So, I’m basing this post off of lists available here and here, for context. See also my list written with these concerns in mind.


I often feel like cis privilege checklists really aren’t about privilege. All too often, they reinforce the “those poor transgenders” [sic] mentality and assist in making cis privilege invisible. (Those that are about “non-trans” privilege do so even with the name–there is literally nothing but a not-[oppressed group] to classify this thing which we are supposed to start thinking of as more than not-[oppression].)


4) I am not excluded from events which are either explicitly or de facto* men-born-men or women-born-women only. (*basically anything involving nudity)
5) My politics are not questioned based on the choices I make with regard to my body.
6) I don’t have to hear “so have you had THE surgery?” or “oh, so you’re REALLY a [incorrect sex or gender]?” each time I come out to someone.
# I am not denied entrance to appropriate services or events that are segregated by sex.
# My childhood innocence was not interrupted with desperate prayers to a divinity begging to wake up the opposite sex.
# I never grieve about my lost childhood and adolescence because I was born the opposite sex.
# I never worry about potential lovers shifting instantly from amorous to distain and even violence because of my genitals.


See all those “not”‘s and “never”‘s? That’s not explaining privilege or cisgenderness. That’s saying “other people are badly off, but not you.” It does, at some level, and there are some things that it’s very difficult or impossible to explain any other way. But lists written this way end up really keeping the attention off cis people.

Think about the difference between the first item in each set, above, and:
I have unquestioned access to all appropriate sex-segregated facilities.

The two above are more potent at showing a person what the world is like for trans people, and that’s an important part of privilege education. But it fundamentally doesn’t show how the person *benefits* from being cisgender. It shows how an oppressed person is oppressed. Really, all these statements are of the form y = not-x, where x is something that happens to trans folks, and y is the cisgender person’s experience. How do you expect someone who is used to seeing x and only x, to see y from that?

It is more disorienting and confusing to have cisgender privilege talked about in this way. It makes no sense to someone who doesn’t know jack about trans oppression. But, you know, that’s the way privilege is.

My potential lovers expect my genitals to look roughly similar to the way they do, and have accepted that before coming to bed with me.
I expect the privacy of my body to be respected.
I lived my childhood in a gender that felt appropriate for me at the time, and still does.
(or: I lived my childhood in the gender that I want to have lived it in)

17) When I go to the gym or a public pool, I can use the showers.



5 Responses to “The Problem with “Privilege””

  1. […] also has a criticism up about the format of privilege checklists, as well as the draft of an open letter to LGBT organizations: I want to make this a real open […]

  2. fireeyed said

    i gave a trans 101 the other day and for the first time instead of just reading through the cisprivilege checklist we had the group brainstorm examples of cis privilege.

    it was awesome because they came up with a huge list of privileges, from healthcare access to travel to assumptions around anatomy & the entitlement random strangers feel to ask extremely personal questions, a list that was way more comprehensive than the list that we had written down, which had a similar structure to your first examples. i’ll definitely be re-drafting our list…

  3. Cedar said

    Rad! That’s pretty awesome that they were able to think of it on their own.

    Send your list on, I’d love to see it!

  4. I keep linking people over here. Hope that’s ok.


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