When I first went to work, my manager warned my colleagues that I was arriving, because I’d disclosed my sexuality in an informal setting that was part of the interview process. They did this in order to make me feel more comfortable because they were worried that the banter in the office might offend me. In doing so, they violated something quite fundamental – my right to disclose my sexuality to whom I choose and ‘come out’ as I see fit. I could have taken them to court immediately and I would have probably won, but this ignores the power dynamic that structured my interaction with this situation. I was a young person from a working class background, it was my first job etc. This power dynamic and my own fear of what would happen if I did or said anything prevented me from seeking justice.
When I was growing up, I thought I would get married and have kids when I was older, and I remember the feeling of devastation I felt when it occurred to me that this wouldn’t happen for me. At the time it didn’t occur to me that I might be able to adopt, and I didn’t imagine that in the future gay people might be allowed to marry and so I experienced a real sense of loss. Then there was coming to terms with who I was – overcoming a sense of self-loathing inculcated by the society I was brought up in. There was the inner pain every time someone made a homophobic remark in front of me, which included members of my own family. There was the experience of coming out and facing the very real possibility that I might lose friends as a result of it & dealing with the people who ran through the corridor at university shouting ‘faggot’ because I was dating the guy next door. Then there’s the more subtle stuff – thinking twice about holding hands or kissing in public, the years of trying to ‘pass’ as straight and the ever-present fear that you might be outed.
My experience above isn’t unusual and irrespective of all the other difficulties you may have faced in your life as a straight person, you don’t experience the above and you so can’t fully understand what it feels like to experience these injustices, aside from empathising with what others experience.
To be privileged is to benefit from a set of institutions, practices, behaviours and unconscious biases. It’s usually experienced as an absence and is therefore easier to see if you don’t have it, than if you do. In many ways, I am privileged because I’m white, middle class and male. This means that I don’t experience systematic injustice as a result of my race, class or gender, but I do experience systematic injustice as a result of my sexuality.
So it’s easier for me than it is for most to understand the absence that I experience as a result of being white, middle class and male. There are all sorts of injustices that I won’t have to experience because of this and it is important that I acknowledge this and try to fight on the side of those trying to make these injustices disappear.