The Things I Never Have To See: A Note on Gender Normative Privilege

This article is part of the month-long focus on LGBTQ mental health and issues. Each month, Life in Balance provides an in-depth look at aspects of mental health, identity, and wellness.

Dr. Jami Wilder

The recent news of 6-year-old Coy Mathis’ victory in the battle with her school district for access to the girls restroom has spurred a lot of conversation. Coy, a transgirl from Colorado, won the right to use the girls bathroom at her elementary school after initially being denied permission. While there is much to discuss in relation to this victory, I think for me what is striking is how few people (at least in my vicinity) were aware of this as an issue for Trans individuals. Quite frankly, they just hadn’t considered the challenges of something as simple (at least in their experience) as finding a safe place to pee.

Lack of awareness is the perk of privilege. A good way to understand privilege is to consider it the other side of discrimination. It includes all the ways an individual benefits in society by simply holding an identity that is considered normative, superior, desirable,or preferred in our culture. When we come from a dominant/majority group, we never have to consider the reality of those from minority groups. Many times it is not because we are cruel, mean people who care little for others. Most of the time we do not see it because … well, the fish cannot see the water in which it swims. We cannot see the benefits and perks of being cisgender (term for individuals who have gender identity and body concept that is socially congruent with sex and gender designation at birth). We cannot see them because they are inherent to our culture. We benefit from them sometimes without know that we do.

For those of us who are cisgender, we hold privilege in ways like:

  • Not having to consider, worry about, or fight for the right to use a bathroom that is congruent with our identity.
  • Not being at an increased risk for health issues like UTIs because we don’t have access to safe bathrooms.
  • Not having our validity as a man/woman/human be based on how much surgery we’ve had or how well we “pass.”
  • Not having people ask what our “real name” is.
  • Not having people use the wrong pronouns, even when they have been corrected.
  • We are not required to undergo psychological evaluations in order to receive medical care.
  • The medical community does not serve as a gatekeeper, determining what happens to our bodies.
  • People do not ask invasive questions about our anatomy or about how we have sex.

For many Trans individuals, the lack of awareness by cisgender people, including allies, can be a source of emotional distress. To learn more about gender normative privilege, visit the Lambda 10 Project. To find resources related to gender identity, trans and gender non-conforming issues, visit our Resources page.

Jami Wilder, Psy.D. is co-owner of Wilder Therapy and Wellness located in Cranston, RI. She is also a postdoctoral fellow at the RWU Counseling Center.

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