Certain Moral Values May Lead to More Prejudice, Discrimination

People who value following purity rules over caring for others are more likely to view gay and transgender people as less human, which leads to more prejudice and support for discriminatory public policies, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association.

“After the Supreme Court decision affirming marriage equality and the debate over bathroom rights for transgender people, we realized that the arguments were often not about facts but about opposing moral beliefs,” said Andrew E. Monroe, PhD, of Appalachian State University and lead author of the study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

“Thus, we wanted to understand if moral values were an underlying cause of prejudice toward gay and transgender people.”

Monroe and his co-author, Ashby Plant, PhD, of Florida State University, focused on two specific moral values –what they called sanctity, or a strict adherence to purity rules and disgust over any acts that are considered morally contaminating, and care, which centers on disapproval of others who cause suffering without just cause – because they predicted those values might be behind the often-heated debates over LGBTQ rights.

The researchers conducted five experiments with nearly 1,100 participants. Overall, they found that people who prioritized sanctity over care were more likely to believe that gay and transgender people, people with AIDS and prostitutes were more impulsive, less rational and, therefore, something less than human. These attitudes increased prejudice and acceptance of discriminatory public policies, according to Monroe.

Conversely, people who endorsed care over sanctity were more likely to show compassion for those populations, as well as support public policies that would help them.

“The belief that a person is no better than an animal can become a justification for tolerating and causing harm,” said Plant. “When we believe that someone lacks self-control and discipline, we may make moral judgments about their life choices and behaviors, which can lead down a dark path of discrimination and hate.”

The first experiment involved people who were generally moderate politically and religiously. They rated their agreement with five moral values (care, fairness, sanctity, loyalty and authority) and then read short descriptions of five different men: a gay man, a man with AIDS, an African-American man, an obese man and a white man. Afterward, the participants filled out questionnaires about their thoughts on each man’s state of mind (e.g., “John is rational and logical”) and emotions (e.g., “John is rigid and cold”) and their attitudes and feelings of warmth toward each man.

“We found that people who placed more value on sanctity were more likely to believe that the gay man and man with AIDS had less rational minds than the obese, African-American or white men,” said Monroe.

Experiment two focused on how political affiliation might affect responses. The researchers recruited an equal number of self-identified liberal and conservative participants and used the same morality survey as in the first experiment, but this time, participants rated their thoughts on the state of mind for only four men: a gay man, a man with AIDS, an African-American man and a white man.  The liberals and conservatives then assessed their feelings of prejudice for each man (e.g., “I would rather not have a black person/gay person/person with AIDS in the same apartment building I live in”), their attitudes about public policies that would help or harm gay people (e.g., conversion therapy) and people with AIDS and their willingness to help them by being involved with pro-gay/AIDS awareness activities.

Liberals tended to value care and fairness more while conservatives were more focused on loyalty, authority and sanctity. And the people who valued sanctity were more likely to discriminate against the gay man and man with AIDS but not the African-American or white men, according to the study.

Experiment three focused on perceptions of transgender people and found that participants who endorsed sanctity were more likely to hold prejudiced attitudes about transgender people and to support discriminatory public policies.

The fourth experiment tested whether temporarily increasing sanctity values, relative to care, increased dehumanization and prejudice. Experimenters collected survey responses on a college campus on two separate days –Ash Wednesday—a day associated with sanctity and spiritual cleansing in the Christian faith—and a non-religious day. Participants filled out a survey intended to assess their moral beliefs and attitudes toward a woman described as a prostitute.

Participants surveyed on Ash Wednesday reported much higher concerns about sanctity compared to care and this caused participants to become more likely to dehumanize and express negative feelings towards the prostitute, according to the study.

The final study explored whether heightening concern about care was an effective method of reducing prejudice about gay and transgender people. To prime care values, participants listened to a radio news clip about the importance of safe spaces for people of color, while in the control condition participants listened to a clip about Brexit. Afterward, the participants rated their moral values, made judgments of a transgender woman, a gay man and a white man and indicated their support or disapproval of three public policies that would either help or harm gay and transgender people (e.g., national legislation for marriage equality, banning transgender people from the military).

Participants who listened to the clip about safe spaces emphasized caring as an important moral value over those who listened to the clip about Brexit. Caring individuals showed less prejudice toward gay and transgender people and less acceptance of discriminatory policies against them.

“Our study suggests that a person’s moral values can be altered, at least temporarily, and that highlighting certain values, like caring, can be an effective way to combat prejudice,” said Monroe. “We hope that by showing the moral roots of bias and discrimination against sexual and gender minorities we encourage others to conduct further research to increase equity and inclusion.”

Military Service Boosts Resilience, Well-Being Among Transgender Veterans

Transgender people make up a small percentage of active-duty U.S. military personnel, but their experience in the service may yield long-term, positive effects on their mental health and quality of life.

A study from the University of Washington finds that among transgender older adults, those who had served in the military reported fewer symptoms of depression and greater mental health-related quality of life. The findings were published in a February special supplement of The Gerontologist.

The paper is part of a national, groundbreaking longitudinal study of LGBT older adults, known as “Aging with Pride: National Health, Aging, Sexuality/Gender Study,” which focuses on how a range of demographic factors, life events and medical conditions are associated with health and quality of life.

Estimated numbers of U.S. military personnel who are transgender vary widely, but range between one-tenth and three-quarters of 1 percent of the roughly 2 million active-duty and reserve forces. A study from UCLA estimates about 134,000 transgender veterans in the United States.

The new paper, by researchers from the UW School of Social Work, explores how military service affects transgender people because previous data indicated that, among LGBT people over age 50, those who identified as transgender were more likely to be veterans than lesbians, gay men or bisexuals.

Reports have indicated that transgender individuals serve in the military at higher rates than people in the general population. In the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey of 28,000 individuals, 15 percent said they had served, compared to about 9 percent of the U.S. population overall. And yet, little is known about how military service influences the well-being of transgender veterans later in life.

Other studies have shown that transgender veterans suffer higher rates of depression than other veterans. UW researchers were somewhat surprised, then, to learn that the transgender veterans they surveyed tended to have better mental health than transgender people who hadn’t served, said lead author Charles Hoy-Ellis, a former UW doctoral student who is now an assistant professor at the University of Utah College of Social Work.

The traditionally masculine culture of the U.S. military would seem to be a potentially difficult environment for someone who doesn’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, he said.

But military service creates its own kind of identity, the authors said, because it presents often dangerous and traumatic challenges; overcoming those challenges builds resilience. And that’s where the identity as a transgender person enters the picture.

“Many people develop an identity as a military person — that it’s not just something they did but something that they are,” said Hoy-Ellis. “If transgender people, who are among the most marginalized, can successfully navigate a military career, with so many of the dynamics around gender in the general population and in the military, then that experience can contribute to a type of identity cohesiveness.”

The internalizing of negative stereotypes, such as those around sexual orientation, is considered a risk factor for poor mental health, added co-author Hyun-Jun Kim, a UW research scientist in the School of Social Work. Military service could be the opposite — a protective factor.

“Often when people think of the transgender population, they focus on the risk factors, but it’s equally important to focus on the protective factors and nourish those resources. In this case, what aspects of military service contribute to being a protective factor?” Kim said.

Researchers said they were somewhat limited by the size of their study sample: Out of the 2,450 people ages 50 to 100 who were surveyed for Aging with Pride, 183 identified as transgender. Of those nearly one-fourth, or 43, had served in the military. Of those who had served, 57 percent identified as female. People of color made up 29 percent of the transgender veterans in the study.

But as awareness grows about gender-identity issues, there is an opportunity to address support services for transgender veterans at the federal level and in the community, Hoy-Ellis said.

“This is a population that has served the country very proudly, and it’s important that we recognize that service,” he said. “Learning what we can about transgender older adults with military service may help us develop and implement policies and programs for people who are serving today.”

Other co-authors were Chengshi Shiu, Kathleen Sullivan, Allison Sturges and Karen Fredriksen-Goldsen, all in the UW School of Social Work. Funding was provided by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging.

Transgender TV Characters Have the Power to Shape Audience Attitudes

transgender teen

Watching transgender characters on fictional TV shows has the power to influence attitudes toward transgender people and policy issues, according to new research from USC Annenberg. Just published in the peer-reviewed journal Sex Roles, the research further highlights the ways political ideology shapes viewer responses to transgender depictions in entertainment.

The researchers surveyed 488 regular viewers of the USA Network series Royal Pains, of whom 391 saw a June 2015 episode featuring a portrayal of a transgender teen, played by transgender activist Nicole Maines. Those who saw this episode had more positive attitudes toward both transgender people and related policies, such as students using bathrooms aligned with their gender identity. The fictional Royal Pains storyline was more influential than news events; exposure to transgender issues in the news and Caitlyn Jenner’s transition (which was unfolding at the time of the research) had no effect on attitudes.

Beyond the impact of the Royal Pains episode, the study is the first to demonstrate the effect of cumulative exposure to transgender portrayals, across multiple shows. The more shows featuring transgender characters (such as Amazon’s Transparent and Netflix’s Orange is the New Black) that viewers saw, the more transgender-supportive their attitudes. Viewing two or more transgender storylines reduced the association between viewers’ political ideology and their attitudes toward transgender people by half.

According to Traci Gillig, a doctoral candidate at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and the lead author on the study, “While media visibility of transgender people reached new levels in recent years, little has been known about the effects of that visibility. Our study shows the power of entertainment narratives to influence viewers’ attitudes toward transgender people and policy issues.”

The research was conducted in collaboration with Hollywood, Health & Society (HH&S), a program of the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center that serves as a free resource to the entertainment industry on TV storylines addressing health, safety and national security issues. HH&S Director Kate Langrall Folb explains: “We worked closely with the Royal Pains writers, connecting them with medical experts and providing information for the storyline.”

The results of this research suggest increased visibility of transgender characters in mainstream entertainment can have far-reaching influence on public perceptions of transgender people and the policies that impact them.

“Watching TV shows with nuanced transgender characters can break down ideological biases in a way that news stories may not. This is especially true when the stories inspire hope or when viewers can relate to the characters,” said HH&S Senior Research Associate Erica Rosenthal.

Read more about the research in an analysis by Gillig and Rosenthal. “Can transgender TV characters help bridge an ideological divide?” was published by The Conversation.

New Research Shows Split on How People Consider Transgender Rights Issues

Photo: AP

The Trump administration in late February withdrew Obama administration federal protections for transgender students that would allow them to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity.

Transgender activists protested outside the White House. With two presidents essentially taking opposite stances on the issue within a year, it is obvious how polarizing transgender rights policies have become, said a University of Kansas researcher of partisanship and American politics.

“For as hotly contested as transgender rights are for some people, we don’t know a lot about how Americans think about this set of issues and what shapes those attitudes,” said Patrick Miller, a KU assistant professor of political science. “We don’t have a very rich understanding about how average people think about transgender rights.”

Miller was lead author of a new study measuring attitudes on transgender rights issues that found significant support for protection of general civil rights for transgender people — like equal access to military service, employment and housing non-discrimination laws. However, public opinion is more divided on policies that relate to the body and gender roles, such as people being able to choose which public restroom to use based on one’s gender identity or the ability to change one’s sex on a state-issued driver’s license.

“On traditional civil rights debates, people are more liberal on those issues when it comes to transgender people,” Miller said. “On policies that are more body-related, such as physical changes and physical presentation of gender, all of which are more specific to the transgender community, more Americans seem to differentiate those and can be more conservative on those questions. People don’t see all transgender rights questions equally.”

The journal Politics, Groups, and Identities recently published the study online. The article, “Transgender politics as body politics: effects of disgust sensitivity and authoritarianism on transgender rights attitudes,” includes Don Haider-Markel, chair and professor of the KU Department of Political Science, as a co-author, and the research team has completed a series of studies on transgender politics that will appear in a variety of journals this year.

Miller said regarding body-centric policy questions — such as questions about public restroom choice, or whether Medicare or health insurance companies should be required to pay for gender reassignment surgery or hormone therapy — those most opposed are people who report having a higher tendency to feel disgusted in general, though not specifically about transgender people. Also, more opposed are those who score higher on a psychological trait called “authoritarianism,” which represents a higher need for order or to see the world in black-and-white terms. These individuals may place greater value on conforming to traditional social norms.

The researchers found those traits outweighed factors such as partisanship, ideology, and demographics in shaping attitudes about transgender rights, he said.

The findings would make sense given that much of the controversy surrounding debates at the federal level and in state legislatures have centered around transgender rights policies such as public restrooms, identity on driver’s licenses, and coverage for medical procedures.

“For many Americans, when they think about transgender people, their mind is on the body and how that defines transgender people in some ways, and maybe how that makes them different in some ways,” Miller said.

The study could provide insight for transgender rights advocates. Oftentimes it is communicated that it is taboo or offensive to discuss issues surrounding the body and transgender people, such as how someone dresses or how someone is undergoing medical transformations to their body.

“Certainly, I understand people have the attitude that it is ‘none of your business’ or ‘why would you ask that?'” Miller said. “But I think the implication of our research is that the evidence points toward the body being a major consideration that people have. So, if you want to lead society in a more accepting direction on things like the bathroom debate, you might be doing yourself more harm than good to not engage with questions about the body and to shut down those questions and discussions.”

Researchers consider the transgender population to be around 0.5 percent of the American population, and it’s likely most people won’t have direct contact with a transgender person, he said. However, as mass media news coverage and depictions of characters in popular culture becomes more common, that could influence how people think about the minority group. That also could spur more people to become curious and ask more questions about the transgender community, spurring some of those conversations that might be seen as taboo, he said.

“That’s an area where engagement may be uncomfortable for some people,” Miller said, “but it could be beneficial if you want people to be more sympathetic and understanding of the experiences that transgender people have.”

HB2: Ignites A Civil War Over Bathrooms

LorettaLynchLS

Toilets, potties, johns privies and bathrooms, we have names from the delicate to the coarse to describe them.  But, who knew that “protecting” this space for the hygienic disposal of human waste and lip stick application for some of us, could be so important to require a special session of the North Carolina legislature?

On March 23rd, the North Carolina legislature came into a special session to pass one bill: HB 2 “An Act To Provide For Single-Sex Multiple Occupancy Bathroom and Changing Facilities In Schools And Public Agencies….”.  Law makers state HB2 was enacted, ostensibly, to protect the public and according to many interviews, specifically to protect (vulnerable) women and children.

According to the Advocate, neighboring state, South Carolina Senator Lee Bright responded to HB2 by stating, “There’s a segment of the population that believes that you ought to be able to use whatever restroom you identify yourself as being.  So they think it’s okay for a man to use a woman’s bathroom if he thinks he’s a woman.  From a safety issue, we don’t need men going into women’s bathrooms.”  

However, spokespeople from the Transgender Law Center and the Human Rights Campaign have said there is no data to corroborate lawmaker’s fear of male predators using women’s bathroom to prey on unsuspecting women. The FBI’s 2013 Uniform Crime Report counts 5,928 bias motivated crimes, 31 related to gender identity in which it was the victim who suffered because of his or her gender-identity.

Since the bill’s passage, activists, business leaders, celebrities and the general public have reacted to North Carolina’s law to require that people use the public bathroom or changing facility that matches the sex they were assigned at birth. In response to HB2, 180 CEOs and executives from major companies including Apple, Bank of American and Marriot International have joined celebrities like Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr, and Pearl Jam have cancelled shows and PayPal has cancelled a planned expansion that would have brought 400 jobs to the state. Also, Nick Jonas and Demi Lovato have cancelled scheduled shows in North Carolina, and Adam Silver, NBA commissioner announced that if the law is not repealed, the 2017 All-Star Game will not be held in Charlotte as planned.

Governor McCrory has reacted to the outcry by couching his support of the bill in terms of state’s rights and “overreaching” by the federal government.  Lambda Legal, the ACLU, and the ACLU of North Carolina all argue that HB 2 is unconstitutional because it violates the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment and violates Title IX by discriminating against students and school employees on the basis of sex. Apparently, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch agrees with them.

This week, Attorney General Lynch announced the administration’s decision to counter sue North Carolina and notified them the state may federal funding to state public safety agencies and to the University of North Carolina withheld during litigation. She explained the justice department acted because the law was simply discriminatory.

Attorney General Lynch said this action is “about more than bathrooms, it is about the dignity and respect we accord our fellow citizens.  It is about the founding ideals that have, haltingly, but inexorably, moved in the direction of fairness, inclusion, and equality for all Americans.”

What is Identity Anyway?

If you’ve read about Caitlyn Jenner, Rachel Dolezal, or just about any story of social importance lately, you have heard a lot about identity. Caitlyn Jenner identifies and is a transgender woman. Rachel Dolezal identifies as black but as Kimberly McKee, et al, aptly state, one can not simply choose to identify as a different race or ethnicity.

Everyone has an identity and as discussions of what facets of one identity really means, it is extremely important for social workers to know what identity means as whole for themselves as well as for their clients whose identities are certain to differ from their own, simply because no two people can possibly have the same identity, even if they both fall under one or more of the same cultural sub-groups.

Identity in the dictionary is “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.”

art17035wideaIt includes how you define yourself and to a much more limited extent how others define you. It includes both ascribed traits, which we have no control over, achieved traits which we do, and some that appear might initially at least appear a combination of the two. Identity is a pretty broad concept, with layers of nuance, as one might expect from such an obtuse definition as provided above. For the purposes of defining identity here, we will borrow the ascribed vs. achieved trait/status model developed by sociologist Ralph Linton as a shortcut through flushing out nature vs. nurture, ecological systems, and free will.

Ascribed traits are outside your control and can include who your biological parents are, where you were born, your age/date of birth, what you look like without modification, your biological sex, parts of your health history, and slightly more fluid but nevertheless ascribed characteristics like sexuality, gender, and automatic thoughts and feelings when exposed to certain situations and triggers. It can include the socioeconomic status of your family as you grow up, because bootstraps are not provided until a certain age, what with our child labor laws and all. It can also include statuses related to those traits, such as the institutional racism afforded people of color, or the relative likelihood that a white individual will not be arrested for a similar legal transgression.

Achieved traits are up to you, at least in part, and can include your perception of who you are and others’ perceptions, as they related to things you do. It includes your beliefs and paradigms of how things work and how you interact with them. Sometimes it includes your choice of education, fashion, activities, literally everything you do and your behavior in general, how you vote, where you volunteer, and where you work, if you have the resources and awareness of options to be so picky. It include skills you practice, books you read, and subjects you study in school or elsewhere. An importantly overlooked achieved trait or status is how we specifically express our gender or sexual identity. More on that later.

Your identity includes your environment too. You can not separate your environment from your identity, whether it is chosen, like where you go to work, or not. Even if you are a child, are in prison, or economic factors prevent you from leaving a place you don’t want to be, where you are is part of who you are and may be an ascribed or achieved trait. A quick look at literally any survey based on geographic region (read: all of them, unless one is doing the biggest, single characteristic meta-analysis ever) and differences from locale to locale prove the role that location has an influence on, or is at least correlated with, who we are.

Some identity traits can be a combination of ascribed and achieved, or at least appear to be. In a non-scientific review of potential identity traits, many that initially appear combined may be more accurately separated into separate ascribed traits and achieved traits developed in response or as the result of an ascribed trait. For example, the all too common talking point used when denigrating individuals who are not heterosexual: They choose to act on it [with the assumption that it’s wrong]. To unpack this further, sexuality is an ascribed trait. Who you decide to have sex with, how you decide to sexually express yourself may be an achieved trait, but it’s no more reasonable to herald that as proof that sexuality is not ascribed than it is to expect any heterosexual individual to not find a way to express their sexuality.

To separate sexuality into an ascribed trait with achieved statuses may be technically accurate, but hollow in that the argument is not extended to individuals with heterosexual identities. The idea of sexuality as a choice or achieved status has already been appropriately eviscerated in other forums, with good reason. The fact that how one expresses it is a choice while technically accurate, is similarly hollow. It’s ridiculous to expect anyone to not make choices to express their relationship to such a deeply ascribed trait as sexuality.

Many other characteristics are clearly not chosen even when conventional and later fringe wisdom said they were, such as  gender status, including transgender status, but may have connected, achieved traits or statuses. The argument is frequently made that the ways available to express a transgender identity (surgery or literally any other way anyone else expresses their gender identity such as through pronouns, how one fills out forms that ask your gender, grooming habits, fashion choices, etc.) falsely asserts that the decision to express one’s gender identity is separate from the ascribed trait of gender.

The same as a cisgender people can choose a variety of ways to represent themselves, can decide on a variety of ways to identify or not identify as their gender, transgender people can too. And the same way it’s not okay for you to judge the way a cisgender person interprets their identity as it relates to their gender without directly harming others, it’s not okay to assign expectations and judgements to how a transgender person expresses their transgender identity, whether that be through surgery or any of the other number of ways everyone or no else expresses their gender identity.

Race, is now curiously up for debate as being not wholly ascribed, under the guise of being “just a social construct.” This recently popularized argument tends to ignore that it was and is a social construct connected directly to skin color and other physical characteristics, which are traits ascribed by biology. We made race, but we based it on ascribed traits and even if we had not, the society at large ascribed our races to us. While it is accurate to say we play in a role in the continuing cycle of oppression and our race identities, it is not accurate to suggest they are not ascribed anyway.

The fact that we made it up doesn’t mean it’s not connected to other identity characteristics we can not change at will. To suggest that one can simply decide is to completely negate the experience of individuals of color who did not get to choose, and have dealt with the consequences of racism. And even this is a dramatic oversimplification of race, as it does not take into account individuals of mixed race who do not clearly fit into one phenotype or the other. As noted previously, Kimberly McKee, et al, eloquently state why we can not choose our race in their recent article, “Why Co-opting Transracial in the Case of Rachel Dolezal is Problematic.”

Identity in the social context: One of the most challenging thing about identity is that our most true sense of our identity is our own, but the way others perceive our identity still impacts our lives and functioning. We can not arbitrarily decide that the intractable, ascribed pieces do not exist, but we can choose to not focus on them when we think of who we are, or minimize their importance compared to other parts of ourselves.

We can choose to focus on whatever we want to focus on when we describe ourselves or in how we act around others, and that is likely to impact their perception of our identity. It’s not a solid guarantee that this will impact how others’ identify us though, or necessarily should. To say “my identity should be only decided by me”, while appearing to be the most moral and reasonable determination, is not practically achievable because we can not divorce ourselves from all social interactions. All social interactions are reflections of the views of the people interacting in them.

In the cases in the news, it includes what we choose to highlight about all of the above when we represent ourselves to others. Caitlyn Jenner could have had transgender individual as part of her ascribed identity, and to her credit chose to be a transgender individual discussing her experience with her identity publicly. Her transgender status may have been ascribed, but how she expresses it is the part of her identity over which she can and has exercised volition.

The intersection of how identity includes your perceptions as well as those of others can be further illustrated with this example. Perhaps your identity includes being very confident in some situations (crisis intervention situations at work), but very insecure in others (large social gatherings). You prefer to emphasize your confidence, and think of yourself as a confident person. However, some friends of yours primarily interact with you at parties where you communicate that you are insecure through nonverbal communication. Which is your true identity? Can any really be excluded?

So identity is as broad as “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is” but with lots of facets:

  • What you have control over and what you do not (ascribed vs. achieved traits and statuses)
  • How you think of yourself and perhaps to a lesser extent, and in very specific ways, how others think of you
  • Where you are, whether you chose to be there or not
  • Your beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and actions
  • Parts are concrete (like your birthdate) but others are more fluid by design (your age) or through your decisions (new job, new hobby, new friends)

Identity is as complex as all of the possible things that can make up what you are.

So who are you? When analyzing the identities of those in the news and those around you, which parts are up to your interpretation, which parts are up to theirs, and which parts just are whether the two of you agree or not?

Power, Prejudice, and Paradox

I’ve recently changed how I describe myself or, more accurately, my experience. I now talk about “my paradoxical experience as a queer, caucasian, cisgender man with unique function (disability).”

indecision-967718-mEven doing this is paradoxical, given I argued the point in 2012 at TEDxAuckland that we need to decay labels to reveal diversity. But I’m doing it to explain a phenomenon of power, privilege and paradox, rather than to label myself.

Power and privilege have long been part of the politics of diversity and discrimination. Recently I heard another diversity expert, Leslie Hawthorne, encourage those with privilege to raise awareness of it by, for example, not using the word “lame” to describe something that is bad or stupid, because you are implying that people who can’t walk are bad or stupid.

There has also been the story of Ijeoma Oluo, a woman of colour, who experienced an instant reduction in racial slurs when she changed her Twitter profile picture to one that made her look caucasian.

These examples seem to me to slightly simplify the understanding of power and privilege — change a word here, look a bit different there. I think there are more complex subtleties at work, like context, subjectivity and objectivity, that paint a broader, more complex picture of power and privilege.

So back to me — let’s deconstruct those labels (or decay them) in terms of power and privilege (I’ll use P&P to save keystrokes).

  • Queer — not heterosexual (but not obviously so) — P&P comparatively low
  • Caucasian — not of colour — P&P unquestionably high
  • Cisgender — not transgender — P&P unquestionably high
  • Man — not woman — P&P unquestionably high
  • Unique function (disabled) — not non-disabled — P&P unquestionably low

So the question becomes, where do I sit in terms of P&P? We could do simple maths: 3 high P&P, only 2 low, ergo I have +1 P&P.

More complex maths — let’s give more points to unquestionably (2) than comparatively (1): -1+2+2+2-2=+3 — so I have +3 P&P? Or do I have +6 P&P as well as -3 P&P?

Of course this is where the paradox and complexity comes in, as well as context, subjectivity and objectivity (and other things I haven’t thought of but probably will do later). Let’s do some more decaying…

Context: As I said at TEDxAuckland, but to reframe it slightly, if I’m in a room of cisgender, caucasian men, they will not see my +6 P&P. They will see and/or sense my -3 P&P, feel awkward, discount me and I will lack P&P.

If, however, I’m in a room of indigenous, transgender and/or queer disabled people, chances are my +6 P&P will become very noticeable and my -3 P&P won’t be enough to save me. There goes my P&P. Again.

Similarly, if I’m in a recognised leadership role or on stage talking about P&P to a TEDx audience, I’ll have more of it than if I’m a stranger in the street.

Subjectivity: This works two ways. 1. The more people know me (i.e. the more subjective their experience of me), the more relative P&P I will have. They’re looking past the labels and seeing me for who I really am. 2. The more P&P I feel I have in different contexts, and the more I am aware of the behaviours and language that are commonly understood in the situation, the less threatening my perceived lack or abundance of P&P is likely to be.

Objectivity: I’ll refer back to Leslie Hawthorne, who recounted a story of an orchestra, which lacked female members. On becoming aware of this, “blind” (I’m not sure if that’s offensive or not to people who can’t see) auditions were held, so that decision-makers couldn’t tell the gender of the auditioning person.

Within a few years, female members had increased several-fold. So, ensuring some objectivity around P&P can decrease its impact.

So, where are we? Well, if you’re anything like me you’re likely in some state of confusion and uncertainty which, I would hazard to say, is a very good state from which to tackle diversity, not to mention leadership, complexity and change. Our human need to be sure and certain and to know the answers are precisely what leads us astray in the world, a world which is nothing like what we would like it to be.

In “A Short History of Stupid” by Helen Razer and Bernard Keane, Razer observes:

When you elevate lived experience to centrality in your socio- political critique and politics, you delegitimise the contribution to debate from other perspectives; if the traditional logical fallacy is appeal to authority, since the 1990s appeal to experience has come to rival it, creating a hierarchy of analysis with lived experience at the apex of authenticity. Moreover, as the phrase ‘check your privilege’ implies, it is not merely that a non- experience- based contribution to a discussion lacks legitimacy, the possession of other forms of experience creates an illegitimacy that is impossible to overcome: the scoring systems used to allocate ‘privilege points’ can be neatly flipped into a ‘how illegitimate is your opinion’ scale, depending on the colour of your skin, your sexual preference, your income and your gender. The result is a further fragmentation of public debate on issues, with fewer voices heard and greater unanimity among those voices given the imposition of dominant narratives even within sub- groups. The result is also a lesser willingness among generalists, and particularly media practitioners, to genuinely engage on policy issues arising from or including identity politics, for fear of being labelled racist/misogynist/homophobic/middle class/transgenderphobic/ableist/fattist/perpetrators of rape culture. They live in fear of fatally missing some critical nuance that would reveal them as inauthentic, or worse.

I agree. I don’t see myself (or anyone else) as absolutely either owning or lacking P&P — I don’t think it’s a useful paradigm. Sometimes we have, it sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we can influence it, sometimes we can’t. Sometimes we’re prepared, sometimes we’re not. Sorry kids, it’s messy out there.

And — hate to say it — it’s getting messier.

Theory Behind the Label: Queer Theory

Being blind to gender and sexuality seems to be a common theme within what makes a queer a queer.  There is a non-binary outlook on what identity and gender really has become, like an evolution past Male and Female.  Queers have ventured into a new section of the sexuality spectrum.  They have stretched gender and sexual identity to the point that a new language has been developed.   The language has gone beyond defining who they are to defining what they do, sexually and socially.

Others that place themselves within the queer cornerstone are individuals who stretch what sex has become.  Sex is not just a man and woman in the missionary position.  Sex now comes in all kinds of new and adventurous flavors.  From group sex to the rise of S&M culture, queers have ventured past “normal” sexuality to a sexuality that seems to not have boundaries.  Boundaries seem to be what these individuals are trying to blur.  And blur they have with the introduction of what is considered a third sex.

The New Gender

 Transgender is a whole new gender.  It is where biological sex and gender really start to blur and become a person who has evolved past the gender binaries to a queered outlook on how the mind and body can be within the same person, but also tell that person two totally different things about themselves.  Transgender people are people born into the wrong biological bodies and take it into their own hands to become who they really feel they are.  They alter their bodies in such ways as with hormones to even body modification with sex reassignment surgeries.  There are so many sexual identities that are within the umbrella of queer that there has been a new subculture that has developed.

Queer Theory

There is so much that falls under this semi-new cultural term that along with the label comes a new way of thinking. With so much meaning behind such a small word it is no wonder that there has been an uprising of the theory behind this discourse.  Queer Theory in academia has become more prevalent in the last 25 years.  You can now find courses within the university curriculum that are just dedicated to Queer Theory. Queer has also found its way into other courses such as literature and art.  The study of Queer Theory evolved from feminist theory and gender studies.

Just like feminist studies, Queer Theory revolves a lot around gender and sexuality issues.  The use of ‘queer’ texts and the words of theorist such as Michael Foucault, Michael Warner and Judith Butler are used to expand into the construct of what makes this theory worth the exploration.  These individuals’ theoretical works have brought a new way of thinking about sexuality and the politics of gender (Turner 123).

As stated earlier, non-normative sexuality and non-binary ways of thinking have blossomed into a new theory of where the sexual spectrum has expanded beyond the boundaries of heteronormative thinking.  The study of this theory balances history with identity.  As queer theory becomes more integrated into the academic setting it becomes more visible in day to day society as well.  It flows out of books into the streets as a political movement.

Reference:

Turner, William B. A Genealogy of Queer Theory.   Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000.

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