I read an interesting piece today by Dale McGowan (The Meming of Life). For those unfamiliar with Mr. McGowan, he is a secular humanist and free thinker who has authored two books on secular parenting (Raising Freethinkers is an excellent book).
He wrote about his privilege growing up in a household where he was not forced into religion, and was allowed to be creative and curious. He allows the same for his children, and he says that he feels his worldview is much more open and encompasses more than his religious friends.
That got me thinking about my privileges. I am white, and middle class, and educated, so those are pluses. Those are groups that are dominant in our culture. However, I am also not religious, and I am part of the GLBT community. Those are big negatives in our culture. Where most men are secure in their male privilege, I am constantly aware of the attention of the people around me. I worry about what I look like, if I pass to them, if I am sufficiently male. I have been discriminated against in job searching. Many transpeople feel the same way, that the rest of the groups they are part of are overshadowed by their being trans.
Like Dale, I was raised in a house where I was encouraged to be curious, to be myself. My parents were not religious, but they made an effort to educate my brother and I about all sorts of different faiths. One my favorite ways to spend time with my mom was to watch the History or Discovery Channel and talk about the programs. My parents also did not try to force me into a gender binary. I was allowed to get dirty, to work on cars and machinery with my dad, to cut my hair short and wear the clothing I preferred.
My question is: Can being part of an out-group be a privilege? Can it confer certain advantages, just like being white, or male, or heterosexual, or attractive?
Many would say no. Our American culture is largely resistant to too much change. Inevitable though it may be, a lot of people would rather drag their feet and kick and scream rather than change one iota.
However, I think that being trans has given me (and others) a unique and expansive take on culture and the way we relate to each other. I am more aware of the existence of a spectrum regarding gender than one of my cisgendered peers. I have a unique perspective on men and women, and how they are not that much different from one another. While there might not be much social advantage to it, there is something. Similarly, people with disabilities are more aware of interaction with people who do not have disabilities. Minorities are aware of the rights they do and do not have under the law, where white people are largely ignorant of them.
My "disadvantage" is actually an advantage. Although I had some privileges that others have not, I can say that everyone travels their own road, and I know transmen who've had a much rougher time than I come to the same conclusion.
Everyone has some kind of privilege. It's how you use that advantage (or "disadvantage") that matters.