In my role as a blogger, I often get asked questions about my name.
No, not my real name of Sean O’Callaghan. Rather, people are eternally intrigued why someone would use a moniker such as Fat Gay Vegan.
If you are familiar with my story, chances are you are bored to distraction by my explanation of wanting to take words and constructs that have been used to oppress me and turn them into a reclaimed badge of honour. I have been driven by wanting to turn the phrase ‘fat gay vegan’ into not just a catchy blog name but also a mini-political act each and every time someone willingly says it aloud in public.
Over the past six years I have experienced dozens of opportunities to speak of different yet overlapping oppressions that have impacted my life. While I am grateful for this platform to have my voice heard, I am also acutely aware how this very platform has been afforded to me in no small part thanks to my own privileged position as a cisgendered, able-bodied white man.
Simply put, it’s the white man part of me that gets people to at least listen to the fat gay vegan part.
What I am saying is not a groundbreaking insight. The society I live in affords the voices and opinions of white men more time, space and gravity.
It is with these thoughts and understandings that I approached this blog post.
Most of us understand how privilege works to reward some people. It creates opportunities in work and education. It makes people feel they have the right to dominate conversation and not be challenged when they do monopolise conversation. It creates concentrated wealth. It socialises people into believing they are more entitled to power and decision making.
I could go on and on about what privilege does for the privileged, but I want to take a different approach with explaining my understanding of my own privilege. I want to explore the lives of my contemporaries who do not live within the privilege of being a cisgendered, able-bodied white man. These short reflections are my way of exploring not how I have thrived as a result of privilege but rather how those around me have been oppressed when placed in similar situations as me.
My hope is that this collection of reflections might kickstart a flame of compassionate enquiry in others. I believe we need to not only understand how we benefit from privilege, but how lack of privilege works to oppress, subjugate and even kill those around us.
Please read these stories no matter who you are, but please note I am mainly addressing other cisgendered, able-bodied white men.
If this description is you, don’t think of privilege as the reason why you thrive. For a moment, think more of it as the reason why you are alive and surviving. Our privilege is part of a system of inequity that holds other people down, controls them and often kills them.
I grew up in Australia where a girl is almost twice as likely to be sexually abused than a boy (Ref). Two of my family members who were both girls were sexually abused by an adult in our house. They have experienced the long lasting trauma of this abuse, including the revisited trauma of going to court as adults.
A young man in my home town was murdered outside a gay bar we both frequented as teenagers. I believe he was focussed on by his killer because he was seen as an easier target. This teenage man had a visible disability that resulted in him having a noticeably unique walk. An Australian study found people with disabilities are believed to be up to ten times more likely to experience abuse, violence or hate crime than similarly aged and gendered people (Ref).
As a teenager in Australia, my friends and I were often stopped by police for drinking alcohol in public. This never progressed past a caution and the removal of our alcohol. These stop and searches would have been extremely different if we had been young Indigenous Australian people. 48% of juveniles in custody in Australia are Indigenous, while arrest rates of Indigenous teenagers for first time offences is significantly higher than those for non-Indigenous teenagers (Ref).
During my final work placement as part of my teacher training, I was stationed alongside approximately seven of my University peers at the same school. I was the only white man in the group, with my student teacher colleagues mostly identifying and presenting as white, cisgendered women. On the completion of our work placement and our teaching degree, I was the only person from our group offered a permanent job with our host school even though I was clearly not even close to being the most accomplished student teacher. Women and girls in Australia make up almost 51% of the population but only 46% of employed people (Ref).
Immigrants are not universally welcomed into a 2016 United Kingdom. Reports of hate crimes against immigrants, refugees and people who do not present as white have soared this year (Ref). As a white man with English as my home language, I have experienced no form of this abuse even though I live in the UK as an immigrant. I have even had conversations during which I have challenged divisive or oppressive views only to have been told, “Oh, I don’t mean people like you”.
I do not intend to sensationalise these experiences or project myself as an enlightened expert.
I believe these could be my stories if I wasn’t born a white, cisgendered and able-bodied male. It is highly probable that because of who I am and what I look like I was not passed over for a job, I was not sexually abused by an adult in my own home, I was not unfairly targeted by police, I was not incarcerated, I have not been xenophobically abused in the street, and obviously I was not murdered outside my local gay bar.
Privilege doesn’t simply give more to some people, it also works to take away from others.
I want to do better in my life when it comes to understanding how I benefit from a system that also oppresses those around me. If I can continue to push myself to recognise systemic oppression and how it relates to my privilege, I can hopefully work to help redress it.
Extra note: I understand the situations I have discussed do happen to cisgendered, able-bodied white men. I do not intend to diminish the personal experiences of victims and survivors with my explanation of privilege and disadvantage, rather I want to point out how a lack of privilege works to oppress certain groups on a broader scale.