The Cost of Privilege

Emma Lindsay
Jun 26, 2015 · 5 min read

It’s the eve of pride in San Francisco, gay marriage just passed, and I’m sitting in a coffee shop feeling a little bit disconnected, a little bit like “I’m not feeling as happy as everyone else is looking.”

One of my friends just posted a link to this on the facebooks with a few choice images in it

When I look on these corporate images, I reflect on what pride used to be for me. When I was a teenager in Washington DC, we had a separate event called youth pride which was a lot of fun. There were little stands from clinics and organizations everywhere, and you’d meet all these other teenagers from nearby schools who were really attractive, then you’d go dance with them at a dry club rented out for just the occasion. There were queer adults at the little stands who would talk to you and tolerate your giggling immaturity. Sometimes, people would get up on a stage and play music or demonstrate how to use a dental dam.

I have always expected pride — real pride, adult pride — in San Francisco to blow that little event out of the water. But, somehow it never did. I’ve been to bigger prides, with real parades, and dances that actually allow you to drink alcohol, but they never matched the authenticity of what I felt back in high school. Back then, you would only go to a youth pride event if you were really queer, or if some people you loved were really queer.

Now, everyone and everyone’s company goes to pride in San Francisco. I was talking to one of my straight friends who was telling me of one of her pride adventures, and she made some offhand comment like “if pride’s not the time to get out dressed up really slutty, I don’t know when is.” And, I didn’t say anything, but I thought to myself “don’t you straight girls have enough holidays to get slutted up on? Why does pride have to be about that as well?”

When I had my first serious girlfriend, gay marriage wasn’t legalized in most places including California, where we lived. I remember looking at her one day, and realizing that being with her may cost me a chance to get married, to have children, and to just generally be afforded the type of respect straight couples just get in the world — and I didn’t care. I loved her enough that there was no question, I would have given anything up just to be with her.

When I dated men, it almost felt the opposite. It felt like maybe, secretly deep down, I didn’t actually love this person as much as I was “supposed” to, but there were so many societal supports in place to keep me in the relationship that I often doubted my own doubts. Since then, I have often wondered if this was for a simple reason like “maybe I was just a little bit gayer than I was straight,” but I don’t think so.

When I lay down my defenses, I can feel attraction come and go in me for people of all genders. It’s hard to get to such an undefended state. Normally, I’m carrying some sort of anger at straight men, or lesbians, or internalized resentment toward bisexuals, or I have some sort of craving to be part of something or some community, and all that interferes with my innate desire. However, when my mind gets quiet and I am honest with myself, I can see that gender is rarely an obstacle to attraction.

And yet, I don’t want to date straight cis men anymore. The societal rules and expectations around such relationships are so problematic that it interferes with my capacity to feel my love for them. I’m not talking about my own defenses at this point, I’m talking about when I go on a date with a man and he insists on paying the bill, I’m just like “I don’t want to deal with navigating this script.” I’m talking about how my feelings get so caught up in craving or resenting the “straight dream” that I can’t differentiate what I feel for my partner with what I feel for my life. In fact, gay couples have been found to be generally happier than straight couples (here) and I have an innate feeling of why that is but it’s sort of hard to describe.

When you’re in a straight relationship, you look a certain way to the world that’s respectable and you kind of can keep pretending to be this respectable type of person you look like. But, deep down you know it’s not who you are and it sort of breaks your heart in this slow way that you can tolerate little bit by little bit, but one day, you wake up and you say to yourself “who the hell have I become?” Before gay was ok, you didn’t have that option — you shouldered the humiliation of having an inferior relationship but you didn’t have anything to gain from pretending to not be yourself. So, why would you be fake?

Now, I’m not advocating undoing gay marriage obviously. The shame of being in “illicit” relationships takes a huge toll on the queer population, and anything to alleviate that pain is almost certainly worth the cost. However, I can’t deny that I see the cost.

I see corporate float after corporate float drift by each other in the gay pride parade, while also finding it harder to meet and connect with other queer people who share my experience. I see advertisements trying to improve brand recognition by capitalizing on the pain queer people have absorbed in their bodies and in their lives, but I have no way or no one to articulate the pain I have experienced in my life to, and I have no way to receive the pain others have experienced in theirs.

Queer people have just gained a big chunk of privilege, but as always, privilege is gained at the cost of authenticity. Straight white men may think they rule the world, but nearly all the ones I know are completely blinded to their own suffering — or blind to the fact that it is because they are straight white men, not in spite of it. As queer people go mainstream, we will slowly find that we are no longer comfortable being open about our pain and our experience, that we have to whitewash our stories to make them palatable and marketable, but for the first time ever we are capable of inspiring envy in others and so we might think that’s a fair trade.

But then, maybe one day, some of us will wake up and say “who am I? How did I get here?” and that will be a beautiful moment. Out of those moments, we will be able to grow a real acceptance for who we truly are.

    Emma Lindsay
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