Knowing When to Just Shut Up
Ah, privilege! What a loaded word that is, isn’t it? By just saying that one word, you can depress or enrage entire groups of people. I didn’t even really know what the word meant until I got to seminary. It wasn’t a word I grew up hearing. It wasn’t a topic of conversation at my school or in my community. Yet, now that I know that word, I have come to realize just how privileged my life really has been even when I wasn’t aware that it was.
I am a white, cisgender Christian male who comes from a comfortable, suburban background where all my needs were easily met. I have had layers upon layers of privilege bestowed on me, some of which I am still not aware of even now. Privilege Lists is a good place to go if you are wanting to learn more about all the different levels of privilege that so many people already have.
What’s the twist, you might be asking then. Why did I even bother writing this article when my colleague Rodger McDaniel already articulated so well about privilege. What more do I add to the conversation about privilege?
I am gay. Openly and proudly gay. How does my being gay affect my privilege? It doesn’t change my skin color or my sex. It doesn’t change my religious affiliation or my gender expression. Yet, because of this one factor, I do not get to reap the full benefits of my being privileged. I cannot marry my same-sex partner in over 30 states. I cannot get ordained to the ministry in most religious denominations. Many people of a more conservative persuasion believe that my “lifestyle” is sick and perverted and against God. Does this mean I am no longer privileged?
Far from it. I am indeed still privileged even as a gay man. I am privileged because I am out and live in a part of the country where it is safe to be out. I am privileged because I am cisgender. I am privileged because my family and friends have been completely accepting and affirming of my identity. I am privileged because I am white. In all these ways, I still benefit from privilege and still reap the benefits of privilege.
How can I, then, better use my privilege? First thing I need to do is be aware of the ways in which I am hurting others with my privilege. I cannot speak for the African-American lesbian because I am not one. I cannot speak for the Latino bisexual because I am not one. I cannot claim to understand or know anything about what their lives are like. I can use my voice to advocate for their inclusion into the conversation but I cannot speak for them. Even as a gay man, I have no right to speak for lesbians or bisexuals or transgender individuals. I can only speak to and from my experience and my privilege. Acknowledging my privilege also means knowing when to shut up and recognizing that because of my privilege, I will always have a voice within certain communities. I will always have a voice in the male community and the white community and the cisgender community.
It is also vital that I be willing to give up some of my power or share it with others who don’t. My privilege has gotten me to where I am but that means nothing if it was given to me at the expense of others. I can choose to step down from positions of power and allow others to step up and accept it, especially those who don’t already have it.
Acknowledging privilege is important but not the only step. I have to be willing to take the next step and push back against my privilege. Only then can I say that I have done the hard and necessary work that I am called to do as a member of the LGBTQ community. I have to use my privilege for the good of others, not for the good of myself.
Tad Hopp serves on the MLP Editorial Board. He was born and raised in Denton, TX and has been a lifelong Presbyterian, ordained as a Ruling Elder at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Denton, TX in 2008. He graduated from Austin College with a Bachelors in English and minors in Communications, Japanese and French. After graduation and coming out, Tad served in the Young Adult Volunteer Program of the PC(USA) reaching out to homeless LGBTQ youth in Chicago.
Tad is currently in his third year of studies at Francisco Theological Seminary and will graduate with an M.Div. in May of 2015 and hopes to eventually work with LGBTQ youth and young adults. He is an Inquirer of Redwoods Presbytery and a member and ordained Deacon at Sausalito Presbyterian Church. In his free time (when he has some!), he enjoys watching movies; doing yoga; baking; reading; writing/blogging/tweeting and singing karaoke!