On Privilege and Luck

[Content Note: rape, abuse, physical and emotional violence, homophobia, fatphobia]

Sometimes I feel like I don’t have a right to talk about certain things. The intersection of identities where I live (bisexual/pansexual/queer, fat, cisgender, female, white, upper-middle class, spiritual atheist, and so on) gives me certain insights into those identities. But I sometimes feel like I shouldn’t talk about certain things.

For the purpose of this post, I want to define what I mean by luck. A lot of people see luck as a positive force in the world, some even see it as some divine gift. When I use the word “luck” in this essay, I’m talking about statistical probability. It’s statistically improbable for certain things to happen, and when those things happen, they’re usually labeled as luck, either good or bad. When I say I’m lucky, I mean that I’ve been the recipient of statistically improbable things or statuses. I don’t mean that I have a gift, or that some invisible being has favored me, or that I’ve done anything worthy of praise. I simply mean that the odds have been in my favor.

So I’m one of the lucky women who’s made it to 30 years old without experiencing sexual assault. Sometimes I feel like I don’t have a right to talk about sexual assault, because I don’t know what it’s like. I have a pretty good imagination, and reading the accounts of survivors or seeing graphic depictions of it in the media gives me some idea, but I don’t really know. And it’s not like I’ve done anything to prevent it, really. I’ve just been lucky. I never went out of my way to avoid being assaulted, I never worried about what I was wearing or whether I should walk alone at night (although walking alone at night does make me a teeny bit nervous, because I’m a woman). I’ve never worried about the men I’ve dated trying to force me. Some of this is probably a result of my physical size, but since large and powerful women have also been raped, I don’t want to say that’s the reason because that discounts their experiences. It isn’t because I’m fat, because fat women have been raped. The simple fact is, I’ve been lucky. And sometimes I feel guilty about it.

How fucked up is that, that I feel guilty about not being raped or otherwise sexually assaulted? I know that no rape survivor would ever want me to feel guilty. What does it say about our culture, that when I was younger I actually thought the reason no one had tried to rape me was because I wasn’t attractive enough (I know that’s not true now, but younger me was a product of our culture, as much as anyone else is)? What does it say about our society that I actually wished men would give me negative attention, because it was better than no attention? Once I actually encountered verbal abuse and catcalling, I was disabused of those ideas pretty damn quickly, but as a young woman who’d never experienced any of it, I bought into the idea that a man verbally assaulting me was a compliment, and envied girls who dealt with it! And that’s just proof of how immensely fucked up rape culture is.

I feel guilty about past me’s thoughts too. I know it isn’t her fault, because she was raised to believe she was undesirable, and that catcalling and other forms of verbal abuse were compliments. But I feel like I can’t talk about other women’s sexual abuse because of that, because I felt that way. Isn’t it great how many modes of silencing are built into this fucked-up culture of ours?

Today on another blog I follow, I encountered the term “invisible queer” and it was exactly what I am, too. I identify as bisexual or pansexual (depending on the audience and whether they know that there aren’t just two genders), but I’ve only dated a very few people in my life, and all of them were cisgender and male. Despite the fact that I’ve never dated a woman, trans* person, or genderqueer person, I know I’m attracted to people of all sexualities and gender identities, so bi or pan fits me. But I often feel like I don’t fit into the queer community, because I didn’t deal with a lot of pain or stigma related to coming out. I’ve never dealt with someone giving me a death glare because I held hands with or kissed a same-sex partner. The worst I’ve had to deal with was some clueless questions (like “but which gender do you like better” or “if you had to choose just one gender, which one would it be” or “do you have twice as much sex”). When I came out at 16, my best friends said “is that all? We thought maybe you were sick or moving away, when you told us you had something big to tell us!” My mom said “as long as you’re happy” and my dad said “I think you’re too young to know that yet” (not an ideal response, but not openly hateful, and he’s never said anything homophobic to me before or since). Even in queer settings, most people just assume I’m a straight ally (which is frustrating when I’m looking to meet people t0 date). So I often feel like I don’t have a right to talk about issues facing the LGBTQIA+ community, because have I really dealt with most of those issues? I remember a group of LGBT classmates and I talking in college, telling our coming-out stories. One person said their parents acted like they’d died. One said their father threatened to kick them out, and their mother cried for days. Another person’s family did kick them out, but they luckily had a friend whose family took them in. I just sat there, listening, feeling grossly out of place with my accepting family who acted like it was no big deal.

I’ve dealt with casual homophobia a few times, like when I got a super short faux-hawk haircut and a coworker asked me if I was a lesbian (she acted so suspicious about it too, like “I thought you were a decent person but now you look like that”). I vaguely recall saying something like “why would it matter?” and then she never talked to me again (she was in another department so I didn’t talk to her normally, we just walked by each other sometimes in the building). But I’ve never been physically threatened for being bi. I’ve never felt afraid of violence in a real sense, just mildly nervous because the possibility exists. I have straight-passing privilege, after all, so I’ve rarely been made to feel afraid.

Sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve the privilege and luck I’ve had in my life. I feel like there are so many people who are braver, smarter, kinder, more loving, more deserving, who’ve had horrible things happen to them. But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Violence doesn’t discriminate, it doesn’t bypass people who are better, it doesn’t leave the brave and kind and smart people alone just because they’re brave and kind and smart. Sometimes violence even seeks out the people who are kindest, bravest, smartest, because it wants them to suffer.

I don’t think I had a specific point to make with this post. I just needed to say something, because I feel so sad and angry about what happened in Orlando, and I feel guilty that I’m alive and physically unharmed when over 100 people are dead or injured. I’ve been so, so lucky in my life, when so many other people haven’t been. And somehow that feels wrong. I wish it didn’t. I wish that my state of being was the statistically probable one, that only a few people ever dealt with violence and abuse and rape (or none at all).

I feel like I’ve been stabbed in the chest, but I can’t pull the knife out. It hurts. It hurts.

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