Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Heterosexual Privilege

In the post, Wedding Protest in Florida, I asked whether a heterosexual boycott of marriage would help bring about equal marriage for all.

Reader Laura left an interesting comment that I wanted to highlight. She wrote:
I actually get really annoyed (sometimes even angry) when straight people decide to boycott marriage because same sex couples can't get married.

Even if you choose not to get married, people will still afford you the same social privileges. They're not going to stare if you're holding hands in the street. They're not going to heckle if you kiss. They're not going to ask if your nearest and dearest is just your friend. They're not going to apologise for the "mistake" when they realise you booked a hotel room with a double bed.

These are just simple everyday privileges. Legal privileges are far more complex. I had to fill out a form for an American visitor visa the other day (my girlfriend is Canadian) and one of the questions asked about marital status. I was so upset and angry that if my girlfriend and I get married, I have to put down that I'm single. I can't imagine how horrific it must be when dealing with hospital visitation or wills or adoption. Grr.
It got me thinking more about heterosexual privilege. A quick search revealed Queers United, which featured an interesting checklist of all the subtle privileges that are bestowed upon heterosexual people on a daily basis.

Here are a few:
  • If I pick up a magazine, watch TV, or play music, I can be certain my sexual orientation will be represented.
  • I do not have to fear that if my family or friends find out about my sexual orientation there will be economic, emotional, physical or psychological consequences.
  • I did not grow up with games that attack my sexual orientation (i.e., fag tag or smear the queer).
  • My sexual orientation was never associated with a closet.
  • I am not identified by my sexual orientation.
  • I can walk in public with my significant other and not have people double-take or stare.
  • People can use terms that describe my sexual orientation and mean positive things (i.e., "straight as an arrow", "standing up straight" or "straightened out" ) instead of demeaning terms (i.e., "ewww, that's gay" or being "queer" ).
  • I can be open about my sexual orientation without worrying about my job.

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Hadeel said...

"I can walk in public with my significant other and not have people double-take or stare."

I actually can't do this. Being in an interracial relationship is still tough, especially since I'm in the South.

The first and third bullets bring up different things for me, too. It's rare to see a Black woman and a white man together. And there are some pretty awful things from my childhood that involved the degradation of my race.

Now, I'm not making this out to be the Oppression Olympics or anything, but I think this list could apply to most interracial relationships as well.

Pichchenda Bao said...

I'm in an interracial relationship as well, but we live in NYC so we don't get a lot of stares here. We are not as interesting or scary as that guy spitting onto the floor of the subway car.

Anyway, thank you for your thought-provoking posts. There are a lot of unacknowledged privileges that go along with being in the majority culture, and it is useful for all of us to recognize them. The day after I got engaged I went to a marriage equality rally at city hall, and I was so heartened by the amount of people out there who were showing everyone that marriage is truly about love. I do feel that this issue is a civil rights issue, and it is fitting to connect this discrimination to the rabid fears of miscegenation. The same principles apply. These couples challenge traditional and patriarchal paradigms of what people should do and the power structure of society. So here is the backlash. But I am hoping that this opposition will go the way of racism--not that we are so enlightened on that issue, but it is not acceptable to be openly racist and our laws protect us, regardless of race. I don't think the path to equality is separated according to our "oppression" identities. It all leads to the same thing, right?

Anonymous said...

This Girl Asia, I totally agree. I think that Queers United's list was inspired by a similar list written by Peggy McIntosh in an essay she wrote called "White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women's Studies" (1988). She calls the items on her list the "invisible knapsack of white privilege," and I think that these kinds of normative privileges are definitely (and unfortunately) mapped onto constructs of race, gender, sexuality, disability, and other kinds of "difference" as well. It's the very reason why we need to work to destabilize and deconstruct the concept of "normal."

Great thought-provoking post!

Luis said...

Thanks for the list Sarah, but we try not to focus on it all all the time. Otherwise we would spend half our time being angry, and half our time being sad, and that just leaves no time for anything else.

V. Wetlaufer said...

At least it is no longer illegal to be in an interracial marriage....

But yes, I'm not trying to do the "who's more oppressed" game either.

This is what so many people take for granted, and I think it's good you posted this since I reckon most of your readers are straight.

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