Lately I feel a need to justify my existence. This is not a pleasant feeling, but certain societal shifts make me an undesirable on several levels.
I want to be permitted to be me. I want people to see me for me, as me, and understand me. Also, I want to counter stereotypes and myths and assumptions about people like me.
I am trapped in a hyper privileged experience and trying to figure out how to navigate the challenges inherent to that position.
Of course, the risk of me even writing this is that the reader will assume I’m suffering from “white fragility.” They’ll assume I am upset because “THOSE people are stealing away my voice! This, of course, is NOT the case at all. I am increasingly conscious how big and how loud my voice is in society and I am thrilled when that balance is made more even. I want the under represented and historically oppressed voices to be heard and to matter. I want to do what I can to help them.
Really I’m after two things. First and foremost, I don’t want people to think I hate them. Secondly, my privilege is not my fault; I don’t want it held against me.
Here’s what I’m up against.
I’m White. This means I have privilege, probably the most potent privilege, except for perhaps money. Whiteness these days is associated with fragility, with supremacy, with systemic ignorance and oblivion to all other ways of existing. Of domination and colonization. Of thinking everyone else should be like us.
That’s so not me. I’m actually quite resilient and quite good at interfacing with views and values different than and even antagonistic to mine. As an individual, I know I’m better than certain other individuals at certain tasks, but I’m not better than anyone just because of my skin color. “Betterness” is ultimately a character thing, and mine is generally only average. My privilege does shelter me from a whole lot of things and I have to work really hard to see outside my experience…but I’m trying. I know there are other experiences outside of mine that are just as, if not more important. I don’t want to be oblivious and detached; I want to see and be present with the experiences of others. I don’t want to colonize or make other people be just like me. I want people to be the best thems they can be.
I’m Male. This means I have privilege and a high amount of social mobility. Society is shaped by people like me for people like me. Male-ness these days is associated with dominance, violence, power, aggression, lack of emotional intelligence, insensitivity, insatiable sexual hunger and objectification of women. As a male, one can show up in any room, jump into any conversation and enter any given work environment and be pretty much guaranteed that their voice will be heard, their opinions will matter, that their work will be recognized and fairly compensated and that they will generally be safe while performing the tasks*(Certain exemptions made for high risk jobs.) (Also, these privileges do not necessarily apply to males failing to comply with cultural specific standards of masculinity).
I like my privilege insomuch as I am able to work interesting jobs in order to provide for my family. Beyond that, I reject most of what I perceive to be post-modern American masculinity. Society is not mine to control and benefit from. Men are not the only people living in our world. Women’s lives and needs are vital and beautiful. Dominance and violence(by whomever they are propagated) are never helpful. I’m not aggressive. I like my feelings and talking about them. I am trying to overcome insensitivity and though I do confess to sexual hunger, when I see an attractive body, I see a person with a name and a story and the right to tell me “no.”
I’m Cisgender. This means my genitalia match my self-concept. Similarly, I like most of my body, and I have the privilege of, most of the time, not really noticing myself. I’m a male who is also a man.
Being cisgendered is associated with perhaps the most supreme normalcy. To be other than cisgender is to be seen as the most deviant of deviants, and this is not fair.
To be perfectly cisgender is often associated with the strict and exclusive gender binary, which thing all too often leads to the oppression of one gender by another. To be other than cisgender means crossing lines and pushing boundaries and unearthing the world between strict gender norms.
I mostly like my body, but I have a harder time with “manhood.” At least the way society makes men out to be(see comments above). If having my body and genitals means I have to ascribe to all the tenets of toxic, domineering, aggressive insensitive unempathic sex-animalistic hypermasculinity, then I will quickly throw my lot in with the other genderqueer people.
I won’t have any part of toxic masculinity. As much as is in my awareness and power, I will seek to combat the disgusting perversions of manhood being propagated by our media and politicians and work to teach a better way…
…a way where men and women are both strong. Both sensitive. Both seen and heard and valued. Both able to be seen and valued for the strength of their character, not a given feature of their bodies.
At the very least, in all this conversation, I am a cis-person who sees Trans* people and works to be more informed about and sensitive to their experience.
Christian is the final and perhaps most important label I carry. More to the point, a Western Christian, a Protestant, and even one with Evangelical roots. People in this category are frequently associated with hate, bigotry, being anti-gay, anti-trans, anti-abortion, pro-guns, home schoolers, disinterested in social justice, white, varying shades of racist, nationalist and Republican.
In most contexts, I confess I am timid to be out about my faith, but not for the reason you might think. I’m not afraid that people will think me an idiot for calling Jesus my Lord; I’m afraid people will assume I hate them.
I don’t hate them. I don’t really wish evil or harm on anyone. I sharply disagree with some people about some things, but that is a different thing! Even in the face of disagreement, I still wish them well and hope that they will find the truest truth and prosper to their fullest!
I’m not a nationalist. I’m working to be more anti-racist. I have complex views about guns and abortion. I seek to be active in social justice and making the Kingdom of God a reality on earth.
I stand by my truth, but will not use it to shame or condemn anyone. I will speak openly of what I believe to anyone with whom I have worked to cultivate a trusting relationship where they will actually listen to my words.
I don’t hate anyone.
I am a white, cis-gendered Christian male. That’s my experience, my skin and my past. I carry these things like a cloak and sometimes they are suffocating. I am ever conscious of my space in society and how my space infringes on the spaces of others. I am me, with my perspectives and biases; they are the only way I can see the world. I think they are legitimate, but no more legitimate than anyone else’s, though in the unfairness of things, I will always have an easier time getting my voice to be heard.
I see the suffering of my neighbor and I want to help. I can only engage with justice issues from within my white, cis-gendered, Christian male skin. I hope to be shown mercy by a polarized society, and may their stigmatization of me be gentle; surely there are many other demographics with good reason to habitually stigmatize and revile people like me.
But even as I am my demographic, I hope to be seen as an individual within that demographic. I hope my experience will be considered valid, and I hope more people than not will take the time to learn how my experience is different than the norm.
I see all the others. I hope they see me too.