Gay on a Budget >> Is Emotional Privilege A Real Thing?

Privilege, a word, a concept, a reality, meaning something different from every mouth it leaves, ears it enters, and computer and phone screens on which it’s written and read. Roxane Gay once called privileges, “peculiar benefits,” in an essay for The Rumpus and later in her NY Times Bestseller Bad Feminist, because the word is poorly received by many due to the inescapable reach of its good and bad content in modern-day media. I won’t be stealing her line, so you’ll have to bear with me as I introduce a type of privilege that we don’t often talk about, but one that has unique effects on people across the globe, spanning identities. I’ll be referring to it as Emotional Privilege.

I think it’s about time that we talk about this kind of privilege. A simple Google search yields posts and articles with the words ‘emotional’ and ‘privilege’ in them, but none that speak specifically about the upcoming topic. Stop for a second and create a safe quiet space for yourself within which you can objectively reflect on your life, if it’s possible for you. Ask yourself the following questions: Did my parental figures or guardians support me when you was young? Was I told that I was special? Was I told that I could do anything I wanted to do? Were my dreams and aspirations taken seriously or were they brushed off as nonsense?

I won’t ask every question I could ask in this area, because the main point of this lies dominantly within the first question, whether you received support as a kid. It might seem like a minor detail in society, lost among all sorts of intersections of identity. But we shouldn’t let it get lost because people are bad at talking about emotions. Isn’t it at all possible, even for people who don’t think about privilege in their daily life, that how our parental figures treated us could have an impact equal to some of our social and cultural identities?

I talked with Luis Ramirez, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and Clinical Coordinator of the Counseling Program of the Attic Youth Center, in Philadelphia, about this topic. The Attic Youth Center, commonly called the Attic, is the only organization in Philadelphia working specifically and exclusively to support queer and questioning youth. They work in providing a safe community, life skills programming, as well as mental health counseling.

Ramirez, through his work at the Attic, has counseled queer and questioning youth of various backgrounds. But one thing that remains the same is that many come from unsupportive households or households within which they are rejected. He said of his work, “We [the Attic] work with LGBTQ youth, between the ages of 14 and 23 years old, and their families.”

Stressing the importance of emotional support—particularly for marginalized youth who are often less likely to have or earn unconditional love and support, across the globe—Ramirez explained, “What we know for LGBTQ youth is that there are many struggles for them in society. Studies and research from the Family Acceptance Project in California stated that family rejection is a major factor that influences these youth.”

The website for the research Ramirez cited, said the following on its website:

“Although there is an increasing amount of information about the risks and challenges facing lesbian, gay, bisexual (LGB) youth (and much less information about transgender youth), we know far less about their strengths and resiliency, including the strengths of families in supporting their children’s health and well-being. Even though the family is the primary support for children and youth, and family involvement helps reduce adolescent risk, there have been no previous comprehensive studies of how parental, caregiver and family reactions controbute [sic] to their lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) children’s risk and well-being.”

The research focuses specifically on queer youth, but that certainly doesn’t mean that research is inapplicable to people of other identifiers, whether they are related to race, ability, gender expression, or religion. Rejection from family can feel the same across the world and can manifest in very much the same ways for people who are nothing alike in society, setting them up for similar disadvantages later in life.

“Rejection affects mental health on many levels. They feel they’re not worth anything, they feel disconnected from people, they feel unstable, so they’re more likely to engage in risky behaviors like self-harming, drugs, or unsafe sex. There is proof that through connection to family the risks are decreased,” Ramirez said.

It’s hard then to argue that family rejection doesn’t create a sort of emotional disadvantage that, through manifestations of risky and toxic behavior, doesn’t set a person up for a more difficult life. Really, how can we expect youth to focus on their education in the present, let alone plan for higher education and their professional future when they aren’t given the sort of limitless, shoot for the stars mentality that so many successful people grow up with? If you’re not told at home that you can succeed and that you can achieve your dreams, where are you going to get it, and if you get it from those other places does it even mean as much?

That’s keeping emotional privilege general. It gets immensely more complex when you add in society and its hierarchy of other privileges. Ramirez echoed this sentiment, explaining that, “When we talk about privilege, it’s always connected to a system.” What this means is that a lack of emotional support may look different on a black, femme youth in Philadelphia than it would on an upper class, Christian white boy, because one has other privileges within the system that can validate and empower them, compensating for the family support that they missed. Meanwhile, black femmes, transgender and non-binary youth, people of all non-white colors, and the poor, among many examples, have little in the mainstream world that tells them that they can succeed and encourages them to work hard.

This isn’t just about the benefits of support alone. It’s about what the lack of it does in the long run. If you’re marginalized, and your family was marginalized, and your ancestors were marginalized, visualizing and realizing an escape from the cycle of oppression and being lesser than, is a brutal, shoulder-shattering task. It goes without saying that family support certainly doesn’t negate all of this, but it serves an important purpose in a youth’s present and future, because at the end of the day, we all need some sort of support system.

If people don’t get that support system from home, they’re tasked with creating it themselves, which is just another challenge facing those without emotional privilege. Ramirez talked about the importance of support systems, reflecting on his early years in the United States. “Some people have to create their own family with other people. I didn’t have opportunities where I came from [Mexico] but when I came to the U.S. I had a chance to succeed and create my support system.” He added, “Support systems are very important because they show youth that they have opportunities to move around the world and make real connections with people. That’s what we do at the Attic. We connect them with peers and mentors.”

What it boils down to is that a non-traditional support system is still a support system. Marginalized people, and queer people, in particular, have made non-traditional support systems since forever. However, the sad reality of it is that having a support system occurs for some people so late in the game, that by the time they catch up to the emotionally privileged, they’re often just finding their voices and their worth. It then makes it difficult to compete with people who were built up to greatness since they were kids.

Now, this isn’t meant as a read on people who grew up in supportive households. Talking about privilege is never meant as an attack, and when it is taken as an attack, it’s often more a reflection of the societal discomfort with oppressed people finding words for their oppression than anything else. People who are privileged don’t always know they’re privileged, which is another major piece of why conversations around privilege are so difficult.

Emotional privilege, like any other form is privilege, is not a science. It’s a unique, insidious, living creature that varies from person to person, and environment to environment. You may know someone who’s having a really difficult time because they’re not being supported at home. You might be in that place yourself. Comfortable with privilege or not, emotional privilege manifests itself so powerfully that we’d be silly not to invest more time and resources into creating a more community-oriented society within which people of all identities are raised with the idea that they’re important in the world.

I’ve used the word ‘privilege’ 22 times in this article, including the one at the beginning of this sentence. Some people will tune out the message because of the redundancy and prevalence of the word in and out of this article, but hopefully there are still people interested in learning and talking, so that through awareness and conscious empathy we can create a world within which everyone, at the very least, has a fair start, and any person of any identity feels like they can be whatever the hell they want to be.

Gay on a Budget >> Watch Misogynoir At Work With The New, Trump-Loving, Kanye West

I’m not trying to take up too much of my time writing about Kanye West because he’s irrelevant to me but in the name of fighting misogynoir, I’ll write something. For those not familiar with the term, misogynoir is the intersection of misogyny and racism, wherein black, female-identifying people are hated, oppressed, and antagonized for a combination of their race and gender. Everyday Feminism has a great, more lengthy post on misogynoir if you’d like to read more on the topic. Back to Kanye West,–a line I’m sure he uses when people talk about anything but him–let’s talk about his latest, Donald Trump rant at a concert where people, I don’t know, probably paid for him to play his music and not ramble about politics for 40+ minutes. And while we’re at it, let’s talk about how Azealia Banks definitely did not get away with similarly supporting Trump.

Rounded up by concert-goers on Twitter, West’s rant, without organizing every tweet for the night, revealed a few things:

  1. West did not vote in the election.
  2. If he had voted, he would have voted for Trump.
  3. He thinks we should not focus on race so much.
  4. He’s considering a bid for President in 2020.
  5. Concert-goers should be ready to listen to him talk a lot.

Among many unfortunate gems, there’s this one, that really needs to be seen to be believed.

His controversial support for Trump harkens back to Banks, who was essentially condemned across the board for her actions. She hasn’t had any mainstream releases or exposure since then, though, it’s worth noting that gay, white America has seen to it that they attacked her at every turn for saying “faggot,” while they ignored Trump and Pence waltzing up to the White House.

First off, I would like to apologize to Donald Trump for all the stupid jokes I made. (I was kidding). secondly, I would like to apologize for all the other times I was dumb enough to let the liberal media sway my opinion of you. Thirdly I’m fucking proud as FUCK of you. One for being a gemini, two for being from NYC, three for winning the presidency and four for beating the media. The last part is your biggest victory in my eyes and I must say that I am TRULY inspired by this and feel deep amounts of vindication. Thanks for letting me know that I’m not crazy (even though I fronted a few times) liberals run hollywood and it’s been a COLD WORLD OUT HERE FOR ME AS A TRUMP SUPPORTER 😹. Best of luck on everything and thanks again. Sincerely – AB #TRUMP2017

A photo posted by Azealia Banks (@azealiabanks) on

I certainly can’t see or predict the future, but this sort of thing happens all the time. Men can get away with basically anything and be forgiven, but women, especially women of color, are forced to wear their sins for the rest of their days. I mean, Donald Trump can have multiple accusations of sexual assault to his name and still be President-Elect of the United States of America but people were dragging Hillary over her husband cheating and some emails.

While society will view West, post-rant, as a complex person who is more than this one incident, Banks will still be treated as nothing more than one of her opinions. Neither of them is in the right because Donald Trump is a xenophobic, misogynistic, elite, white supremacist who is supported by the KKK. There is no looking at the other side or trying to be bipartisan. Hate is not something we can play devil’s advocate to or try to reason with. Both of these celebrities had opportunities to stand for people who look like them, and instead they chose their upper-class privilege and beliefs over the rights and lives of marginalized people.

From the ruins of these train wrecks, West will re-emerge and continue on with his attention-obsessed, culturally appropriating family. Mainstream media will call him “crazy” for a few days, explore his rant in-depth with all sorts of “hot takes,” and eventually forget it ever happened. Meanwhile, Banks will always be the black woman who supported Donald Trump, no matter what. I think it’s safe to say that her chances of mainstream, worldwide fame are done–though, arguably she wasn’t given a real shot in the first place. This is how misogynoir works.

I didn’t write this to low-key support Banks or drag West. I wrote this to open people’s eyes to the bigoted, toxic bullshit that the media puts out 24/7. At the end of the day, they’ll be treated differently and that’s a fact. Both held and expressed unpopular beliefs, but only one was a black woman.

Gay on a Budget >> Smile, It's Almost Your Time

[Play this for vibes]

I always feel so cool when I go out to eat. Lately, it’s been hard for me to leave the house, so I take the small victories where I can. I barely step outside my room because it feels to me as though I have everything I need here. I’ve got snacks, a bed, my TV, my computer, and headphones and music. It feels safer to me than the conflict of everything outside my door. People are in pain everywhere. Racism, misogyny, homo- and transantagonism, the slaughter and abuse of animals, the suffering of people who don’t and were never intended to have an equal access or opportunity–they’re all proposed unavoidable, invincible elements of our world that people accept because they think they have to.

I can’t go a day without feeling choked by it all. I don’t mean to whine or complain. I just feel, at my core, that I’m an empath who experiences reality in ways that are different from some of the people around me. When I read stories about people facing oppression, I don’t just go on with my day afterward. I wonder how they feel. I taste the injustice when I’m in their shoes. I try to carry the weight of the injustice(s) they face and it crushes me. I don’t consider this a weakness–because I think weak is looking away from unpleasantness in the name of blissful ignorance–but I know it’s not a trait I should pride myself on either. I shouldn’t be praised for feeling bad when I see terrible things, especially if and when they aren’t happening to me. Admittedly, I hate this part of myself sometimes. People are out there getting seriously marginalized by society and I’m caught up feeling bad about it instead of doing more to help.

Thankfully, I have a partner who saves me from myself and takes me to places where we can eat vegan food and feel like, for just a second, we’re safe from our problems and far from the hate-filled world that makes me want to die sometimes.

Gay on a Budget >> Smile, It's Almost Your Time Gay on a Budget >> Smile, It's Almost Your Time

Lately, I’ve felt like a disappointment. I don’t feel like I’m a good partner, son, brother, activist, or writer. I’m kind of trapped in a bubble that can only be popped from the inside, so no matter how much the world encourages me to try harder and do better and believe in myself, it’s ultimately up to me to break free. And I can’t. Something is holding me back, something deeper than all of this. Something I’m not in a place to understand because it’s probably so close to me that I don’t have the space to see it from the outside.

I know I’ve got greatness inside of me but I feel like the biggest tragedy of my life will be allowing my anxiety and depression to rob me of it. I worry I’ll be on my deathbed seeing mainstream hacks taking the spotlight when my stories really matter, when my intentions are beyond money and recognition. I want to make people feel less alone in the world. I want to use my life to make the world a better place in whatever way I can, which, for a panicked mess like myself, is writing.

Gay on a Budget >> Smile, It's Almost Your Time

I’m trying really hard to get better. I’m trying to keep my body moving and forcing myself to leave my room. I’ve started playing Pokémon Go–now that I have a data plan–and it helps me a bit. It gives me something to look at, some sort of direction that makes the world less terrifying to me. I’m not necessarily safe from the violent gazes of the people around me, but at least I don’t see them anymore.

Gay on a Budget >> Smile, It's Almost Your Time

My other saving grace has been my kitten, Mr. Kitty Fantastico. I just call him Kitty. I probably mentioned this before a ton of times, but I rescued him off the streets a few months ago and he’s been with me in my room 24/7. He can’t roam the house because of our elder cat, who is simply not ready to accept a new cat this late in his life.

For a long time, I feared he’d get to the point where’d he get frustrated and tired of being “trapped” in the room with me. I knew that day would have to come. I thought it would happen shortly after we got back from house sitting for my aunt–he came along–where he had the freedom to roam the house. But when we got back home, he was purring and snuggling on his bed and playing with his toys and resting at his usual spot on my desk while I worked. He’s… ok being with me and that makes me happier than I can explain.

My partner and I are saving up for own apartment and I can’t wait until we get it. Kitty will have a whole apartment to claim and I look forward to him being the king of a new castle.

Gay on a Budget >> Smile, It's Almost Your Time Gay on a Budget >> Smile, It's Almost Your Time

Things are far from perfect but I’m trying to get better and trying to think about who I am and why I feel what I feel. I’m making plans with my friends so that I get out of the house. I’m listening to new music and watching new movies and TV shows. I’m trying to exercise and eat better. I’m a mess, honestly, but I think I’m a good person.