Topics Within this Training
- Defining Privilege
- The Phobias
- Debunking Common Myths
Privilege can be categorized as dejure or defacto privilege. Dejure privilege is a special right or immunity granted by the law (or lack thereof) because of a personal characteristic. An example of a dejure privilege is having your correct name and gender marker on your identity documents.
Activity 2a: How many of the following dejure privileges do you enjoy in society?
Conversely, defacto privilege is a special right or immunity granted by social norms because of a personal characteristic. An example of a defacto privilege is not worrying about having access to a bathroom or being denied access because of how you look or identify.
Activity 2b: How many of the following defacto privileges do you enjoy in society?
Privilege operates through the construct of normativity. Normativity is the implicit bias that some things are the default rather than more common. In other words, we implicitly believe that it is “normal” to be cisgender (i.e., not transgender) rather than just more common. An example of how this plays out in our society is saying things like “John is a man and Jake is a trans man.” We don’t qualify that John is a cis man because we implicitly identify is cis identity as being “normal,” whereas Jake’s is, implicitly, abnormal and needs clarification.
Privilege as Social Capital
The amount of privilege we have helps us get ahead in society. It helps us because privilege is a form of social capital. Social capital is an intangible currency which allows us to get ahead in life. Think of it like having a lot of money. The more you have the easier your life is. It doesn’t mean that life isn’t difficult for you in some ways. It just means that, compared to people with less privilege than yourself, it is not as hard as it could be. The more privilege we have, the more social capital you have. For example, studies have shown that men are implicitly given preferential treatment which helps them to get ahead even if they aren’t as qualified.
In terms of gender identity and sexual orientation, privilege takes the form of cishetero privilege (or cishet privilege for short). Cishet privilege is a combination of two types of privilege: cisgender privilege and heterosexual privilege. Cisgender privilege and heterosexual privilege are a form of both dejure and defacto privilege.
- Cisgender (or cis): identification with the gender roles and behaviors which are socially assigned to your biological sex
- Heterosexual (hetero): Attraction to the opposite-sex (i.e., straight)
Cisgender and Hetero/Straight Privilege
Cisgender people enjoy certain privilege in society such as not having legal impediments to their identity (dejure) or being social outcasts because of their identity (defacto). This means they don’t have to worry or even think about their gender identity or any roadblocks arising from it. Has anyone every said to you, “I would never have known you were cisgender?” If not, you enjoy cisgender privilege.
Similarly, straight people also enjoy innumerable privileges such as not having the legitimacy of their relationships questioned (in the same way as same-sex couples) or every having to worry about legal discrimination because of who they love. An example of heterosexual privilege: has anyone ever asked you, “when did you know you were straight?”
How Cishet Privilege Creeps In
Most of the time we are completely unaware of our cishetero, or cishet, privilege and how it changes the way we view people. It comes out in the language we use and decisions we make. It most often comes out when we are confronted with it (e.g., “I only asked if you had surgery because I want to understand”). This is because we operate under the assumption of cisheteronormality.
Cisheteronormativity is the bias we hold implicitly that states that it is normal to be cisgender and straight and a novelty to be transgender or LGB+, and it is therefore okay for us to objectify LGBTQ+ people for our own understanding or amusement. Cisheteronormativity is an outcome of cishet privilege. An example of cisheteronormativity can be seen in the difference between saying, “this is my friend Susan,” versus “this is my transgender/lesbian friend Susan.”
Our biases against LGBTQ+ people are called homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia. The term “phobia” suggests that homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia are fear or anxiety based. However, this is inaccurate. The “phobias” are actually prejudice and a subset of sexism.
Sexism: A Quick Primer
Before we unpack the phobias, let’s talk about sexism. Sexism is the combination of sexual prejudice and social power. Sexual prejudices are negative prejudgments about a person because of their sex or gender. Social power is simply the dejure and defacto privileges a person has because of their sex or gender. Thus, only those with gender privilege (i.e., men, cisgender people, straight people) can be sexist (i.e., against men, against transgender people, against LGB+ people) while those without it (i.e., women, transgender people, LGB+ people) can only be gender prejudiced (i.e., against men, cisgender people, or straight people). For example, Don is sexist when he refuses to promote Kate because she is a woman. Kate exhibits gender prejudice when she makes biased generalizations about other men.
How The Phobias are Sexist
The phobias are, by there very nature, sexism repackaged. Homophobia is driven by the implicit bias that men are amazing, women should want men, and men should “act like men” and must dominate women sexually. Thus, men being dominated sexually is a feminization of sexual acts. Feminizing any behavior or action which is see as “lesser” is purely sexist (e.g., asking a gay man “which is the woman in the relationship”). Transphobia is driven by the implicit bias that women are somehow inferior and “men” should “want to be and act like men” and “women” aren’t “worthy to be men” (e.g., “Does Janet Mock look like she belongs in a men’s room?”). Biphobia is driven by the same bias as homophobia but goes a step further to declare that since the default is heterosexual, bisexual people in straight relationships are “out of a phase” and bisexual people in gay or lesbian relationships are “in a phase” (e.g., “Laura is with a man, so she is straight. Her attraction to women is a fetish/college experience”).
Unfortunately, LGBTQ+ people can inadvertently perpetuate the phobias. The LGBTQ+ community internalizes the phobic messages that its members have been marinated in their whole lives. Sadly, this internalization of phobia is often played out by members of the community on each other. Indeed, Transphobia and Biphobia are very rampant in the LGBTQ+ community.
Erasure, Politicization, and Violence
The perpetuation and widespread nature of the phobias has many negative and harmful outcomes on the LGBTQ+ community. Specifically, the “phobias” lead to three terrible outcomes: Erasure, politicization, and violence. Erasure is when a person’s identity is invalidated (e.g., “it’s a phase”). Politicization is when a person’s identity is made political (e.g., “the homosexual agenda”) and any attempt by that person to address the oppression they face is a political statement or act rather than a legitimate concern. Violence occurs when erasure and politicization are combined.
Debunking Common Myths
There are many common myths about LGBTQ+ people that are perpetuated by the media and anti-LGBTQ+ activists and organizations. Here are just a few:
Myth 1: LGBTQ+ Identity is a Choice
Identifying as LGBTQ+ is a choice to the extent that we choose to embrace and accept our intrinsic sexual orientation and gender identity. We do not, however, choose who we are romantically and/or sexually attracted to. Sexual orientation is a key part of sexuality which develops with puberty. Moreover, we do not choose our gender identity. Gender identity is a key component of personal identity which develops around the age of three.
Myth 2: LGBTQ+ People are Predators
Research into sexual predators has not found a link between sexual orientation or gender identity and increased risk for becoming a sexual predator. Unfortunately, this mindset has been used to justify discrimination against LGB+ people (e.g., gay men being excluded from leading Boy Scout’s troops) and anti-transgender bathroom legislation.
Myth 3: Allowing Children to Explore their Sexuality or Gender Identity is Abusive
Actually, not allowing children to explore their sexuality and/or gender identity is abusive. Children who feel free to explore their personal identity tend to have healthy psychosexual development, while children who are restricted in identity exploration are at increased risk for mental health issues, social maladjustment, and health issues later in life. Every major professional medical and psychological association supports the exploration of sexuality and gender identity in children.
Myth 4: Sexuality and Gender Identity can be Changed
While organizations like NARTH advertise conversion therapy as an effective treatment for reversing same-sex attraction and transgender identity, research has continuously found these therapies to be both ineffective and psychologically detrimental. All major psychological and medical professional organizations denounce conversion therapy and agree that it is impossible and unethical to change sexual orientation and gender identity.
Myth 5: LGBTQ+ Parents Raise Dysfunctional Children
Children of LGBTQ+ parents do tend to be at increased risk for mental health issues, but this tendency can be explained by a lack of familial acceptance, legal recognition, and peer victimization. Children of LGBTQ+ parents are more likely to feel loved and accepted by their parents and tend to have healthy psychosocial development in the absence of a toxic, anti-LGBTQ+ environment.
Myth 6: LGBTQ+ Identity is Unnatural
There are plenty of examples of same-sex attraction in animal species. Indeed, same-sex behaviors are observed in over 1,500 animal species. In animal societies, same-sex couples tend to play the important social role of adopting and caring for orphaned and rejected offspring. This is especially common among penguins. Additionally, the animal kingdom has numerous examples of species which defy our narrow, binary view of gender such as female lions and slipper snails.
People who are cisgender and straight enjoy numerous privileges because of the gender identity and sexual orientation. These privileges can lead to the idea that being straight and cisgender is normal and being gay, lesbian, bi, plus or transgender is not normal. The phobias of homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia are a form of sexism and can lead to many terrible outcomes for LGBTQ+ people. Most myths about the LGBTQ+ community have elements of truth to them which are distorted by the phobias to justify oppression.
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