I am a transsexual woman. I am therefore marginalized and oppressed. Such is the nature of life for transgender people in the home of the brave and the land of the free. I live in a red state. I am therefore pushed further to the margins.
However, for me, this is only part of the story. I am also white. I am therefore given opportunities that many trans people - many people - do not have. So am I oppressed or am I privileged? The answer to that question is both. It has everything to do with a word that is becoming more and more intertwined with the way I see the world and the way the world sees me. That word is intersectionality.
My mamma stayed at home with me and my brothers and sisters. She read to me every day as a young child. I grew up expecting (and expected) to go to college. I never went to school hungry, nor to bed. My clothes were clean and although they were mostly hand-me-downs, they were always in good condition. I had all the school supplies I needed. I had everything I needed.
At the same time, at least by the age of five, I had come to believe that there was something horribly wrong with me that I couldn’t talk about with anyone. I knew that I was a girl, but my body was telling me (and everyone else) lies about who I was. I set out to learn how to be this little boy I was told I had to be, to try to learn how to be him, putting on my “Steven suit” every morning and slowly watching my soul die.
The female voice of authenticity could not be silenced. She was the voice of truth. She was the voice of correctness. She was the voice of freedom. The myriad of obstacles presented by trying to live as someone who is not you, while denying your true self, pushes a person to the margins in a very dark and lonely way.
And so it seems that I have always been marginalized and oppressed, and privileged. The reality of my privilege was made exceedingly clear to me as I recently suffered a minor heart attack. The events that were about to unfold made indelible impressions as to just how privileged I am, in spite of the fact that I am transgender.
It is almost impossible to effectively talk about privilege without also talking about intersectionality. When I went to the hospital, the Facebook wishes for wellness poured in and one of my friends wondered about how being trans had the potential to affect how I was treated (respected). Indeed, the healing process is much more difficult if a person’s basic identity is disrespected.
The rest of the story? I am privileged in so many other ways - not the least of which is having insurance - that I have been thinking more about that than how I might be oppressed. I have enough money in the bank to pay my deductible and co-pay. Not what I planned on using it for, but I never had to worry about the financial consequences of being in the hospital.
The words angioplasty and echocardiogram were not foreign to me. I had educated conversations with the doctors. I knew what was happening and I had a good idea of what was going to happen. Feeling really privileged.
This was my third time at St. Francis Hospital in Topeka. The first two times were when I was just beginning to live authentically several years ago. I was presenting as Stephanie, but the name on my chart, my legal name, was Steven. Both stays involved getting a hip replacement.
During those first two stays, the hospital staff was amazing, calling me Steph and using the correct pronouns (most of the time). I did have one nurse who was visibly uncomfortable with me. It didn’t affect how she treated me, but I could tell. I shared some of my poetry with her, and we talked, and before I left the hospital, she had become (and still is) a friend.
On this recent trip to the hospital, I didn’t even have to worry about being trans. My driver’s license and social security card are changed (major privilege). I was mostly in charge of who knew, and who didn’t know, that I am trans. One of the hospital staff actually came to visit me to tell me thank you for my activism in the LGBT community.
Being an activist, I also entered the hospital with full knowledge of my legal rights as a trans person, as well as where to turn if my rights had been violated in any way (more major privilege). They were not.
I have only scratched the surface of how intersectionality affects privilege and oppression. Hopefully, I have shined a little light on the dynamics involved. To know that I am privileged (and oppressed) is not enough. I have come to understand that if I am not actively working to eliminate the privileges that are bestowed on me as a white, educated, employed, able-bodied person; I am participating in those privileges.
I had another recent experience that I should mention here. I was stopped by the police for driving too fast. Neither I nor the white police officer who stopped me had reason to fear for our lives. I was fully aware of this while the officer was writing my ticket. There’s a bumper sticker on the back of my car that identifies me as transgender. I was fully aware of that, too. I wonder if the situation might have been different if I were a transgender person of color. Statistics say that there is an unjustifiably high possibility it would have been.
The experiences contained in my illness (and the traffic stop) have given me much to think about. To me, the real point is that I have been given much to do. The faces of oppression are many. Unity against oppression is born in our willingness to help fight the things that oppress others, in addition to the things that oppress our own. There is much to do, indeed.