lore m. dickey discusses the advantages he receives since his gender transition.
I am a female-to-male transsexual. I lived the first 37 years of my life as a woman, and have been living as a man for 12 years. When people meet me, they see someone who looks like an Average White Guy.
My transition has lead to some benefits I didn’t expect. For example, I worked for the same employer before and after my gender transition. For eight years prior to my transition, as a woman, I was never promoted. The only raises I received were the result of annual salary increases based on years of service. And the total salary change was likely less than $6. I left this employer shortly before I began my transition and returned several years later. I worked for this employer for about five years, as a man. I had several promotions that amounted to more than $15 an hour in wage increases. What accounts for that difference? I did not have a new skill set. I was actually working in a field for which I had little previous experience or knowledge. I can only assume that as a male, I was perceived to be more worthy of a salary increase than I had been as a female.
The idea of male privilege is that men are afforded rights and access based solely on the notion that they are male. This includes the idea that men have the right to speak about women as if they are objects men have control over. This has never been a welcome concept for me.
Some time after beginning my transition, I began to work in a manufacturing company. I was appalled by the tone and content of the conversations that men would have about women. Men frequently talked about women with demeaning sexual implications. I was not out as a transsexual in this workplace, as I was certain my safety might be threatened if others knew this about me.
Now that I am male-identified, men (gay and straight) talk very differently to me than they did when I lived as a woman. For example, prior to my transition, gay men rarely talked about lesbians in disparaging ways. All too frequently now, I hear remarks about women that are both unkind and often inaccurate overgeneralizations. Usually the content is uncomfortable and has a discriminatory tone. In places where I am out as a transgender person I feel safe addressing this discomfort.
Privilege, and specifically male privilege, is a complicated topic that men rarely discuss. It is almost as if men are worried that if they acknowledge the existence of privilege that someone will take it away. Maybe they will. Would that make the world a bad place to live? Not from my perspective. It might make the world a better place to live, but I am not convinced that anything would change that quickly.
There are ways to use one’s privilege for the benefit of others. If we can admit that there is such a thing as male privilege, maybe we would be willing to use that privilege to dismantle the oppression of others. For example, why is it that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people have no protection against employment discrimination in the U.S.? How does my sexual orientation, gender identity, or other aspects of my personal life make me any more or less qualified to do a job? My decision to fight for these rights is certainly self-serving, but what if people who have power were to support this type of protection? This is more about heterosexual privilege than it is male privilege, but these concepts are closely linked.
Privilege is like a dirty little secret. I never learned the handshake, but I didn’t have to. I look the part. I also try to take steps on a regular basis to assure that others do not suffer at the cost of my own success. What are the ways that you have privilege in your life? How can you (and I) continue to assure that others are not unfairly disadvantaged? Find ways to take action, our own safety relies on it. There are many ways to do this. Sign a petition for a cause you believe in, write a letter to the editor of your newspaper, call or write your elected officials and ask for support on an important piece of legislation. Find ways to use your voice to help others.
lore m. dickey is a full-time graduate student at the University of North Dakota. He is currently serving as a pre-doctoral psychology intern at Counseling and Psychological Services at Duke University (www.duke.edu). In the fall he will begin a fellowship at the Satcher Health Leadership Institute in Atlanta, GA (http://www.msm.edu/research/research_centersandinstitutes/SHLI.aspx). lore has completed various research projects about the transgender experience. He enjoys presenting the results of this research for members of the transgender community.
—Photo Drew Coffman/Flickr