Identity, gender and privilege
An argument i've commonly encountered from fellow trans women is that we can never have received male, or male-passing, privilege[a] if we never actually identified as male. i strongly disagree. And my position on this was recently labelled ‘transmisogynistic’, which feels like a form of the ‘self-hating’ epithet thrown around in various marginalised communities.
i agree that it's transmisogynistic to claim that a trans woman never read as anything other than a woman is given either male privilege or male-passing privilege. But that's not what i'm claiming. My claim is that any time we have been read as male, regardless of how we ourselves identify, we will have been given male/male-passing privilege - because that's how privilege works. Privilege is granted on who one is perceived to be, not on the basis of who one actually is (in whatever sense). And that doesn't mean that we won't, at the same time, have suffered due to toxic notions of masculinity and their physical and psychological manifestations; it just means we'll have been treated in positive ways, or at least not treated in certain negative ways, due to the assumptions being made about our gender. Nor will that treatment have always been obvious and/or explicit - privilege is a metaphorical invisible knapsack[b].
Another consequence of the “self-identity determines the forms of privilege one is given” claim is that it implies that trans men started receiving male/male-passing privilege the moment they started identifying as male. This in turn means that if they've identified as male for as long as they can remember, they can never have experienced misogyny and/or sexism; and even if they've only started identifying as solely male recently, the implication is that it's not possible for them to be read and treated as female, regardless of how they do and don't currently present. This is not purely theoretical; i recently interacted with someone who identifies as ‘transmasc’ and was told that they cannot have ever experienced misogyny because they don't identify as a woman.
The level of presumptuousness and invalidation of people's life experiences involved in the “self-identity determines privilege” position staggers me.
The politics of privilege are complex. Gender is complex[c]. Human psychology and perception are complex. How about we talk and act in ways that acknowledge this?☙
[a] Unless i indicate otherwise, i use the word ‘privilege’ not in the narrow sense of “class privilege” (i.e. being born with a metaphorical silver spoon), but in the sense used by Peggy McIntosh in her essay “Male Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”.
In this usage, there are various axes of privilege which influence one's position within the kyriarchy.
So one can have e.g. ‘white privilege’ at the same time that one has relatively minimal ‘class privilege’.
That said, my experiences over the last few decades have been of many ‘progressives’ downplaying or ignoring the existence of class and class privilege, leading to, for example, working-class/poor cis white men feeling rightfully aggrieved at being regarded as more privileged in some theoretical absolute sense than a woman like Gina Rinehart.
[b] Cf. the following comic about racism: