Monday, October 29, 2007

I discover my assumed privilege in losing it; Beth the late learner

Today started off poorly and went downhill. My only emails were from people telling me they were too busy to email me…..errrr, okay. Then while waiting to go to the DENTIST (by the by, I don’t like the dentist, unlike the rest of you), I wandered past some feminist blogs which seemed to be in the same place they were last week/month/year about how trans-women weren’t women because of privilege (apparently it is tattooed on at birth?) and about how real men can be married to feminists but how real feminists can’t be married to tradition, and of course the usual bad people: sex workers, people who eat meat, or plastic or don’t get coffee at independent houses instead of chain ones (and the other anguishes for those with disposable income). This depressed me no end because, fuck, am I allowed to be a feminist and BEG in front of Body Shop and Starbucks? Or is that not allowed too.

I wrote a piece called All intimacy, no dignity for the BBC at Ouch and reflected today on the idea of “privilege” and how every group that joins together likes to seem to pick someone to beat with that word. Well, at least until my dentist, in the “spot check” for my upcoming first dental crown “forgot” to mention in the previous spot check and hour long dental check-up that I “might” need some wacky and extremely painful jaw/gum surgery because of where a tiny piece of tooth chipped off while I was (oh the irony in this) FLOSSING! So while staring another bunch of needles and $1000+ surgery in the face I came back to find that home care couldn’t get in because the intercom was dead. Which didn’t matter because at that moment in time I felt I would rather be dead than have to face dental surgery in order to HAVE my first crown.

Then came the post, with a letter from Revenue Canada which says that they are missing a piece of paper which is why our tax refund (of many, many medical costs) is held up and if they don’t receive it in X days, the file will be permanently closed. I call; they will call back and clarify tomorrow, will I be in. I tell them that yes, I have a terminal disease and I am housebound; that if I am not answering I am either sleeping or in the hospital. They want to know if a home care worker will pick up if I am in the hospital. I guess they don’t want to make a .50 cent call for nothing.

Then a phone call from the medical company delivery supplies tomorrow. What supplies? It turns out my Occupational Therapist, when she quit her job, not only sent me an invoice to pre-approve through insurance, but also ordered them in my name from some friends of hers. They are coming by to get the $1,000 and drop off the supplies I didn’t order and are currently supplied free to me by Red Cross. Darn, where does Linda hide those $1,000 bills.

It was sometime around there that I realized that I, like the feminists and the (insert group here)ists, was one of the most privileged people around, and like the classic patriarchy, I didn’t even know it. I was athletic, not just able bodied but athletic and took the superiority that our west coast gives to those who are fit; now days Linda says to me, “I think in ‘Core Muscle’ class how we were planning to do this together, but now that’s not possible.” She uses that evaluative voice I used to use when planning hikes and jogs. Yup, I’m no longer self ambulatory and that loses a lot of privilege. I know this because the few times you might be invited somewhere (or more often told they THOUGHT about inviting you but couldn’t find a place that you could access), the group lets you know how much EFFORT they went to accommodate you. This is what I call, “stair climbing privilege” because those who climb stairs just go places, into places and don’t think about it at all. Of course, in order to get where they want to meet, I usually have to go to enormous effort but that isn’t even considered, because that isn’t the nature of the relationship; they are the ones with power who have lessened it to be with me.

The greatest privilege I had was my gigantic brain. Sure I had two different learning disorders but my gigantic brain overcame them and I never gave two thoughts about what it would be like to struggle and struggle to get a C against these disorders to be told to “try harder.” People listened to what I had to say, indeed one thing able bodied people do is always listen to what other able bodied people have to say, even if repeated statements show the person to be not that worth listening to. And sure, there were many who were threatened by the big brain, but more who liked being around me. Today, I have a home care worker who is what is kindly called, “not the brightest bulb” as she couldn’t seem to understand if I OWNED 2,000 books or WROTE 2,000 books (look at the book spines…I have MANY pen names, about 2,000 I guess). Her favorite phrase when I say something is, “Isn’t that cute, that you can still think about things like that?” And when I start to slur, well, at that point no one even looks at me, they just look at my “translator” or flee.

Anyway, I was an idiot in the ways of privilege and now I view many of the writings of others to be the blathering of other idiots. Can you walk up and down a flight of stairs? Then you are privileged. You worry about women-only spaces; I worry getting to accessible spaces and if I have the energy to get there. I am sure the raging 30 years of debate on what constitutes women only spaces is worth the trail of emotional bodies from the continuous knife fights. I hit horse chestnuts and flip out of my chair. I have yet to see a gang of feminists ride to my rescue (thank the patriarchy for the obsession of men to refuse to pass a woman fallen out of wheelchair, even if they leave their car on the road blocking traffic). I am sure as I realize how I wore my privilege as my clothing that I am just an idiot about other types of privilege I now use. I have learned from Nellie McClung that the best intentions of feminists end up with results that are crimes against humanity (the Alberta Eugenics’ board anyone?). I don’t know what is best for all women, nor do I plan to sterilize those who I disagree with for the good of all. I’m getting by, or not, one dental appointment at a time. Not very brilliant or pithy is it. Ah well, better to learn something late than not at all I suppose.


kathz said...

OK - stupid to e-mail to say how busy I was. Sorry. Good points about privilege.

I hope something good happens very soon.

Lisa Harney said...

Hi, I came across your blog via the Disability Blog Carnival.

There are some fairly good feminist bloggers who don't spend time proscribing. Most of them are women of color, women with disabilities, trans women, and some white, able-bodied women who aren't interested in making Feminism an exclusive club. Not all strictly define as feminists, either.

A few off the top of my head: Fetch me my Axe, My Private Casbah, Women of Color Blog, The Silence of our Friends, misscripchick's weblog, Having Read the Fine Print..., and more I'm honestly not thinking of right now. They also link back and forth quite a bit.

I'm commenting on your post specifically because of your BBC post - I've been ranting recently (in private) about how "having a medical condition" somehow makes one's body up for public discussion. Once you're trans (I'm a trans woman) or disabled (I'm mostly able-bodied), your medical and even personal history is somehow considered public property. People think it's okay to walk up and say insanely stupid things...and, well you know.

It's not the same degree - I mean, yes, I've had perfect strangers walk up to me and demand that to know the shape of my genitalia, or preach at me about how if I tried just a little harder I could've been a feminine man instead of mutilating my body - but I haven't yet had any medical professionals shouting deeply personal details in waiting rooms or paramedics accusing me of faking on the three occasions I've been in an ambulance.

My personal favorite was the dentist who refused to treat an abscessed tooth because he was concerned that the novacaine would interact with the estrogen and cause some ill-defined harm.

Also, referring back to a much earlier post: Pulse is available as streaming video on Netflix, but I only remember to watch it in the middle of the night. Is this a safe activity?

Lisa Harney said...

I forgot to add:

I barely have a frame of reference for accessibility. The stuff I've read and heard is just crazy. Privilege is blind and deaf when it comes to just about everything, except when it inconveniences the privileged. I'm still working through a bad case of privilege on my part, even though I know what it's like (yay intersections - trans and lesbian and a woman) to get it for some reasons. This makes it a bit easier to see it when it applies to areas where I am privileged, but I can't even pretend that I've actually managed to shed it.

The Goldfish said...

Sorry you had a crap day.

Well, there's social privilege and then there's plain old advantage. Being able to access places which are unnecessarily inaccessible to others is the former; being able to stroll about without the unavoidable limitations of a wheelchair is the latter.

I'm very grateful that I don't need oxygen like you do, but that's completely different from the social privilege I have because I easily pass as straight (for example - or because I'm white, or because my impairment is physical rather than mental or intellectual, or because I can do middle-class if I'm pushed etc.)

I don't feel grateful for those things because they are artificial; it need not be the case that being X gives me any advantage at all. Meanwhile, I don't hate being a woman, for example. Whereas not experiencing an unpleasant and scary symptom is always likely to be a plus.

That having said, it is still a frequent error of those campaigning for equality to imagine that they're already the bottom of the pile. The whole point about privilege is that those who have it are usually unaware of it, and can wind up using and abusing it totally unawares.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Kathz: actually your was full of detail and was 1 of 3 that I recieved that morning, it was more the other two which both said, "I see you have sent me an email, I am far to busy to reply right now, maybe later." ???? I hope something goods happens soon too.

Lisa: There is something about ignorance and experts which come together - the whole thing about my diagnosis (its rarity) simply made medical people walk away - it seems "professionals" are exposing their ignorance to you too.

I do occassionally read Fetch me my Axe and a few others it was just I wandered to places like Hugo and such and did the "not still!" - since I find most feminist arguements online are anquish of the middle class - Do I care about the Michigan's Wymyns Festival if I don't have enough money for a bus to go to a job interview? Probably not.

As for pulse: if it is the crappy american version, avoid like the plague, if it Kairo/Pulse the japanese version - My partner lasted I believe 6 minutes. It is definately worth watching but ahhh..........

Goldfish: I guess I don't get the different between privilage and advantage because of the "male privilage" thing - my understand is that males are born into a world which grants them privilage for being male. Thus aren't pretty people (through no fault of their own) also granted privilage because of our society values, aren't people of a certain type of intellect, people of certain athletic ability and in the end people who are born AB privilaged because of the way society is set up to grant them such privilage over others? If not, I am not too old to keep learning, I guess.

Lisa Harney said...

I'd say that while being ambulatory without a wheelchair can be considered an advantage, the fact that society builds itself around that ability is a privilege. I do think AB is a privilege (although a temporary one) in the sense of male privilege or white privilege or straight privilege because - like those others - the world is built to accommodate them, and they don't really notice the lack of accommodation for others. When it's pointed out, many deny it, or act like you're oversensitive. The reactions are the same, and sometimes the wording is identical.

Elizabeth: I agree completely with the "anguish of the middle class" characterization. I do care about the MWMF as far as the policy sets an example for feminist and lesbian subcultures for whether to treat trans women as women (and thus human) or as something other (and thus not human), although I don't have the money to attend either it or Camp Trans. It bothers me that MWMF has become a symbol or a nexus for this, too, because it's a vacation, not a job or a public facility...but it can influence those things.

Professionals... I also had one write into my record that I'd had DVT, which kept me from getting it prescribed - never mind that I was on the Oregon Health Plan, and her clinic actually withdrew from participation a month after I became a client.

They have the Japanese version of Pulse. Maybe the American too, but I didn't look. I guess it's Internet ghosts for me today.

Sara said...

Sorry you had a crappy day. I hope someone gives you candy corn soon. It's not as good as able body or, as I sometimes call it, "normal" body privilege, no, but it is something you asked for.


Lisa Harney said...

I need to learn to put everything into one post:

There is something about ignorance and experts which come together - the whole thing about my diagnosis (its rarity) simply made medical people walk away

This is so deeply wrong and unforgivable. I realize that it's idealistic to view medical professionals as "people who want to help all the time, even to heroic levels" but I also think there's a basic level of human decency and a willingness to do the job.

I really believe that medical care should be a right, not a privilege, and this kind of thing needs to not ever happen.

This is also a perfect example of how being able-bodied is a privilege - the doctors prioritize their health care over yours, and turn you away because the healthy, able-bodied patients are easier to treat.

Canada needs further health care reform (I write, typing from that bastion of health care evil, the United States).

Elizabeth McClung said...

sara: I guess I tried to find meaning in a dark day and really I hope that I don't come across as being a good person, because I am sure I am not. I don't really believe that I am "equal" in any significant way to a AB person and I guess this forced acceptance has produced some sort of belated understanding - which sort of makes me sound even more twisted.

Lisa: You make a good point about the MWF, particularly as a choice removed yet exampled for things like the Vancouver Rape center. The logic used is one which I have always stated as being absurd (If I find people of colour threatening, does that make a white only event a good thing?); and since most of my caregivers either grew up in soviet occupied countries or escaped from war zones; I am not sure what common experience we are all supposed to have. Being forced into prostitution? Being relocated to "cooperative farming" at gunpoint? Finding out the rest of your family is dead? Oh well, another arguement for another day.

As for my care, I find it eeriely similar to the documentary Southern Comfort - about the t-male who couldn't find doctor's to treat him because he had ovarian cancer. So he died.

I do have a question however - here DVT is short hand for Deep Vein Thrombosis -which doesn't really make sense with your anecdote - what does DVT mean in the story?

Ms. Pet said...

Ooooooo! Great Email discussion! I told someone in the last year or so, without going into details about basically living in terror 24/7 for the first 20 years of my life. She replied about how she realised she was privleged to grow up in a basically functional enough, loving safe environment. I told her that I didn't think that this was a privlege, but rather a right.

I think the term "privlege," confuses alot of people and also makes it easy to use in a "double speak" kind of way.

I've defined it like this:

Human Right: (such as the right to grow up in a safe environment free from abuse, lack of food, etc.)Something that every human being has a right to simply because they are human. That many in this world don't have this right fullfilled does not make it any less a right that everyone deserves and those who have it should not feel guilty about, but rather work towards everyone having it.

Privlege: Preferential Treatment giving that NOBODY has any RIGHT to have.

The obvious one is that no human has "the right to be treated preferentially based on their skin color," but white people, are treated preferentially and should work towards NO preferential treatment for anyone based on skin color.

There are so many different types of Privlege. Is White Privlege more powerful and thus worse then Able Bodied Privlege? Class Privlege, Male Privlege or Heterosexual Privlege? Well it depends who is answering and what their experience is.

I share your frustration with Privleged Class White Feminism and Feminists. White AB Women of the Middle and Upper Classes have always been, for centuries anyways, the most powerful women in the world. The only people who have power over them are White Males of their classes. Everyone else, they have power over. At least in a white supremacist rooted culture as our own. I'm sick of the women with and who has always had the most power in the world moaning and groaning about how "powerless," they are. How bloody convenient for them!

It makes me see red, when I hear about women still arguing about "women only space," that nine times out of ten has transmen in it. If you have transmen in your space, it's NOT women only, because they are NOT women or female.

And my Sister Transwomen they get so much shit and are so threatened by middle class feminists (who certainly don't get upset over poverty and ablism in the same way, interestingly enough) and the rest of the world that they are pretty much the last people we need to worry about getting raped by. More chance of getting raped by another born female person. Show me some statistics on females raped by transwomen, to back up the arguement that transwomen are a physical and sexual threat to women. I want to see the statistics. Surely, since they are such a threat, the Rape Centers, etc. have been tracking how many rapes in the year are done by Transwomen.

Plus, Transwomen get a double whammy, because many of them are Feminine and you know how certain PC groups have the Hate On for Feminininty.

I totally agree about most of the crediable feminism, the stuff that the average jane of the street would give brownie points for, is being written by women of color. *pause* On that note....*pulls out little piece of paper* I just found this new "feminist tea," where gals sit around and have tea and talk feminism. I'm thinking about checking it out!

Sara said...

You don't sound twisted. You sound like you're suffering, and I'm sorry. :(

And I think there should at least be candy as recompense. Okay, so an ounce of candy corn might equal .0001 Canadian dollars of recompense, but hey, it's something!

I am being willfully silly. I recognize that it might be obnoxious, and apologize if so.

Equality is a strange concept. I can never understand how it can even come up as a question, not now, not in this time in the "civilized" world. We (and I use the word "we" in the broadest possible sense) are not rats on a desert island competing for a single coconut. We should be able to see the gifts that each of us brings as valuable, without comparison entering into it. It should be obvious that we have lots and lots of coconuts and nothing better to do with them than care for each other.

You enrich my life more than any football player ever will, and all we do is blog at each other a little. In my world, you are worth far more than a great number of able-bodied people, and yet we are barely acquainted. And then we each step off the electron stream and go our separate ways, and you are blocked at every turn by stairs and other people's fear, and I have people who don't know how to speak to me because my way of walking and the shape of my flesh have changed, even though I am the same person I was before.

Very, very odd, this century.

Lisa Harney said...

Yeah, Southern Comfort is way too close.

I dropped some words. I should've written:

Professionals... I also had one write into my record that I'd had DVT, which kept me from getting estrogen prescribed - never mind that I was on the Oregon Health Plan, and her clinic actually withdrew from participation a month after I became a client.

The thing about putting that I'd had DVT in my medical records is that it's an automatic contraindication against prescribing estrogen, so the doctor (temporarily) sabotaged my hormone therapy. I accidentally dropped a few words from my post, which is why it didn't make sense.

Society is built primarily around able-bodied people (and white, and male, and heterosexual, etc), which leads to some fucked up things - like the lack of accessibility and for many people, the lack of understanding why accessibility is necessary. Society treats some classes of people as less than other classes, but less privilege doesn't mean less of a person.

I'm really not trying to sound like what conservative soundbite generators might call "oolitically correct" here. I think equality should be assumed and non-negotiable, not just a philosophical ideal, but the reality of how we treat people. I know this doesn't happen now, and I know that Eleanor Roosevelt's "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent" is a naive and privileged statement.

I don't necessarily mean "treat everyone identically" because that'd be a failure, but acknowledge everyone's needs and respect everyone as human beings. I do know that sounds hopelessly idealistic, too.

The Goldfish said...


The world is an unfair place and we are not all dealt an equal hand. However, there are a group of inequalities which just are and a group of inequalities which we can do something about. We need to differentiate in order to change the world for the better.

We can never allow men to have babies, or even up the differences in typical height or upper body strength between the sexes, but we could end male privilege. We, people, have the power to do that.

Similarly, it seems unlikely we will ever reach a stage where nobody experiences impairment; it's part of the human condition. However, we could put an end to disability.

There are grey areas; cleverness makes you better at some things than people who are less clever, prettiness makes you more attractive than me, and part of this is natural and part of this depends entirely on how society understands and appreciates intelligence and aesthetics.

However, the bulk of it; gender, class, race, disability and sexuality is pretty much clear cut. There's the bit which makes A different from B, and then there's the far greater difference society applies to the matter.

The latter manifests in social privilege for whoever comes out tops.

Ditto to everything Sara says. And Happy Halloween!