I am oppressed as gay and autistic, and I am also privileged as white, middle class, and male. The categories of privilege don’t cancel out the categories of oppression, but they matter. Being in marginalized groups does not preclude me from having privilege in different areas of my life.
The term that Kimberlé Crenshaw came up with over three decades ago for the interaction of multiple forms of oppression is intersectionality, which she employed to write about race and gender oppression in the lives of women of color. Crenshaw makes it clear in her writings that identity for multiply oppressed groups is not defined by “either/or” binaries, but by “both/and” multiplicities—women of color don’t face either race or gender oppression, but they face both, which impacts how they experience the world every day.
While I might use that term to discuss the interaction between disability-based and sexuality-based oppression, I don’t use that term to describe the interaction between privilege and oppression, as instead, I say that multiple forms of privilege and oppression overlap.
This was especially inspired by the checklists by Peggy McIntosh and Ampersand, formed as a reminder to myself as a gay, autistic, white, middle-class male that race, class, and gender privilege very much matter in my life. I have tried to avoid duplicating items from the McIntosh and Ampersand checklists, but it should suffice to say that the aspects of my race, class, and gender privilege that I mention by no means render my list exhaustive.
So, as a gay, autistic, white, middle-class male, my privilege via race, class, and gender includes the following “invisible knapsack,” as McIntosh put it:
- I have access to tremendous physical and mental health care resources. This means, among other results, that I have become a healthier, far more social person (by neurotypical standards) than most autistic people with my disabilities have had the chance to become.
- As the result of benefitting from the U.S. racial wealth gap, my family has some wealth, likely considerably more wealth than most families of color.
- When I speak and write, I am taken seriously as an authority on matters of race, class, and gender, more than people of other, less privileged races, classes, and genders, even though I have been taught not to see how these categories have privileged me and thus I have this knowledge of privilege and oppression is from others and is not mine.
- In terms of sexual violence, not only do I not have to fear going down most streets I visit at night, but if I am raped, it is most likely not because of my gender, race, or class.
- My social struggles are not reducible to race, class, or gender—though sexuality is connected to gender, I can still have male privilege as a gay man and thus have an advantage over women.
- In matters of marginalization, most people I see representing LGBTQ and autism spectrum concerns in the media and elsewhere look like me: they are white men, and if they are supposed representatives of various social concerns, they probably have some wealth and access to monetary resources.
- In my song, “Some People Say,” when I sing, “. . . like some people said that they knew I was gay for years,” my status as a white, middle-class male puts me less at risk and makes me more likely to belong than to be an outcast when I sing it in public, including if people learn that I’m gay for the first time.
- If I am a victim of a hate crime, I and my family are more like to successfully have legal recourse and compensation for what has happened to me.
- My interests were encouraged to flourish, as my parents could afford guitar lessons and other luxuries.
- I grew up in a hometown with awful bullying, but I had lots of access to resources for education and leisure, like libraries, coffee shops, and bookstores.
- I was able to attend private school for much of my life with little financial aid.
- Even though I don’t drive, if I were stopped by the police, I know I would not be stopped because of my race, class, or gender.
- If I am charged with a crime, my individual situation is more likely to be considered as problematic, rather than my race, class, or gender being blamed for my actions.
- My gaze is powerful, so that even if I am arrested for looking at a police officer “the wrong way,” it’s probably due to miscommunication because of my disabilities, rather than to my being targeted because of race, class, or gender.
- I can pay little attention to current events without being called ignorant on the basis of my race, class, or gender.
- I have the privilege of being able to call attention to others’ racism, sexism, or classism—and be taken seriously for it—without interrogating my own.
- I have the privilege of being able to study racism, sexism, and classism without critically examining my own histories within structures of domination, instead studying these matters from a supposed distance.
- I can critique music (and art in general) without examining how constructions of race, class, and gender impact the works I critique or my own location in relation to these constructions, instead examining works from a supposedly apolitical, technical standpoint.
- My stance of seeing matters as “about” or “not about” race, class, or gender is taken more seriously than a similar or divergent stance when made by someone who is non-white, lower-class, or non-male.
This is a very personal, incomplete look at how privilege operates in my life. It may look different to other people, but the basic idea of privilege, as I understand it, is what I call ostensible [category]-lessness: racial privilege is ostensible racelessness, limited to whiteness; male privilege is ostensible genderlessness; social class privilege is ostensible classlessness, limited to those who have some wealth. Being white, male, and/or middle class means you don’t have to think about categories of race, gender, and/or class unless they’re pointed out to you.
To be clear, wealth—in terms of total accumulated assets—is different from income, and privilege does not mean that whites, men, and middle-class individuals do not suffer; it just means that their race, gender, and/or class status are not reasons for that suffering in terms of historical victimization and oppression. White middle-class men can be oppressed in other ways—for example, disability and sexuality—but when it comes to whiteness, maleness, and middle-classness, reverse -isms simply don’t exist.
So, during all months of the year, I challenge everyone who has privilege as white, male, wealthy, heterosexual, able-bodied, Christian, or any other privileged categories to make their own privilege checklists—not as a matter of guilt, but as a matter of responsibility. Recognizing privilege and then challenging it is an important step to create a better, more just country and world.