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The lives of transgender individuals are complex and influenced by a multitude of factors, not simply linked to their gender identity, sexual orientation, or transition; variables such as race, ethnicity, and gender come into play as well, and are often overlooked when analyzing the intense, unique, and arduous narratives of such individuals. While race and ethnicity are messy to define and pinpoint in a simple, concise manner, race usually is tied back to physical appearance, while ethnicity is linked to country of origin, common tongues, culture, and sometimes religion. As these unique traits play a role in defining individuals, it is clear that such a mezcla can create complex and conflicting experiences.
Privilege, in our modern and frequently xenophobic world, is often linked directly to race; however, it can be attributed to “sex or gender, sexuality, wealth, immigrant status, or social class,” Erickson-Schroth, 2014, p. (24). While not necessarily abstract, privilege is an ever-evolving monster that rears it’s head in various forms; while an individual may benefit from cisgender and heterosexual privilege, that same person may be vulnerable to prejudice due to their economic status, or racial background. In addition, a woman may be financially sound, yet face resentment due to her gender, or even sexual orientation. Even religion, ethnicity, and physical ability can be called upon in the realm of privilege.
Erickson-Schroth’s (2014) publication stated the following:
Our privilege and the discrimination we face may also be intersectional, based not just on one characteristic of our identity or who we are, but on the combination of traits we possess. The type of discrimination faced by a black woman is different than discrimination faced by a black man. Characteristics about us can also provide us with either privilege or make us vulnerable to discrimination depending on the situation. (p. 24)
As a great deal of privilege is linked to race, it is crucial to address and acknowledge the narratives of people of color. While whites in the United States, are no longer a majority, the term minority, when used to describe non-white races, should be avoided, as it “implies that a group is smaller or less important than another,” (Erickson-Schroth, 2014, p. 26). Prejudice, just like the aim of modern feminism, is intersectional, and therefore are the experiences of members of the LBGTQA+ community. The experiences of non-heterosexual, or non-binary people of color demand their own space and their own voice, as they are unique and crucial to the movement.
In order to best advocate for members of both the LGBTQA+ community, as well as people of color, allies must learn to step up and step back. “Cisgender people of color who are or want to be allies to trans people of color are important in creating and challenging individuals and groups that oppress trans people of color, often while residing within the same neighborhoods and communities,” (Erickson-Schroth, 2014, p. 36).
Issues regarding the transgender experience, narratives of people of color, and the stories from members of the LGBTQA+ community are intersectional and relevant in the modern age, and must be addressed, discussed, and understood.
Reading the aforementioned struggles, narratives, and diverse experiences pushed me to question my own story as a bisexual, cisgender, biracial woman. Reading of people whose culture clashes with their identity was comforting, as my nature-based spiritual beliefs, as guided by my Native American father during my childhood, were vague in regards to my now complex and sometimes even confusing and frustrating experience as I identify as bisexual. While the culture and religion of my mother, white and Christian, are not condemning to my existence, they are still not warm and receiving. At family functions when my identity is dropped, like a word bomb, sending ripples of raised eyebrows, small chortles, and eye rolls, I feel vulnerable and often yearn for the security blanket of heterosexual privilege that I was shroud in until coming out in 2014.
In my study of privilege and its romance with bias, prejudice, and even hate in the LGBTQA+ community in has become evident that the struggles of my brothers and sisters, not just my cisters are different across the board, ranging from being heavily laced with racial tension, to passing white privilege. The story of Wes, a queer, trans, Puerto Rican individual, impacted me, as he referred to himself as a fluke, as by the mouths of others. To feel itchy in your own skin, and perhaps even unwanted in your community is something that I’m sure many awkward adolescents, family black sheep, and social pariahs feel, but not quite to the extent of Wes, who stated he was “born bad” (Erickson-Schroth, 2014, p. 27). While I don’t feel that I was “born bad,” per se, finding my place has not always been easy. These narratives made me feel less alone, but also opened my eyes to my privilege. As a white, bisexual female from a lower income family, and also self-identifying as a first-generation college student, there have indeed been struggles that I have faced, but those pale in comparison to my self-identifying people of colored counterparts.
Through my reading, of course there was a shift of values. Although the LGBTQA+ community prides itself on being accepting of people from all walks of life, there is no doubt that casual racism, much like casual sexism, still exists and rears its ugly head. As a white woman, I must acknowledge that I benefit from systematic racism, as the hinges of heavy doors are more easily greased by my lack of pigment in skin. It is important to nod my head respectfully toward intersectionality, as well as being able to identify and combat subtle racism; being a member of a commonly oppressed group, the LGBTQA+, does not exclude me from racist behavior, and I must therefore combat the institutionalized racism around me in order to be a better ally. Even actions as simple as speaking up when in the presence of racist jokes, stereotyping, or prejudice is powerful and send a clear message: I am an ally to people of color, both within my LGBTQA+ community, as well as outside of it, and I am willing and ready to discuss and battle oppression in all of its forms.
In order to recognize my privilege, it is important that as an ally, I analyze ways in which I may benefit from both my identity as white, and ability to “pass” and seem heterosexual whilst dating a male-identifying individual. As I am aware of my privilege, I am willing to listen and learn from the experiences of people of color in order to be informed of their narratives; in addition, I must step back in spaces that are reserved for their expression and existence, in order to honor and respect their voices. Also, I must use my voice to raise theirs whenever possible. Being an ally can mean not being included in the conversation. Akin to how obnoxious it is when “feminist” men complain about phrases such as “not all men” in order to feel valid and included, obnoxious allies can easily, even innocently and accidentally, follow that trend. Most importantly, I will use the information I gained from reading these narratives, as well as learning from our class discussion, to empathize with and also support people of color whenever possible, especially within my LGBTQA+ community, as that is where the current focus lies.
These readings draw me to action, whether it be literal, physical action by marching in a Black Lives Matter protest, or inaction in closing my mouth in order to make room in spaces for people of color to share their narratives. In order to improve the lives of others, I am driven to learn and grow and share as much information, both as a member of the LGBTQA+ community, and as a white ally to people of color.
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