Understanding my privilege
The following is an excerpt from my first book Fat Gay Vegan: Eat, Drink and Live Like You Give a Sh!t.
While I am sometimes marginalised and oppressed with regards to my sexuality and weight, I understand that I also live with extreme privilege because I am a white, cis- gendered and able-bodied man. It’s the white man part of me that gets a lot of people to listen to the fat and gay parts of me.
The modern world is designed to reward me for simply being me at the expense of people who are not me.
We need to know our own place in the world in order to be the most positive force we can be. So, with that in mind, let me start by exploring my understanding of my privilege for a short while before we move on to a plan of action. (Apologies. Plan of action is included in the book but not here)
I grew up in a poor family with a lot of abuse and sadness in a town where gay kids like me were routinely harassed by law enforcement and local homophobes, but I survived when many people around me didn’t.
Inequitable systems of oppression were in place to benefit me as a white man even while I was being targeted for my perceived sexuality. People around me who didn’t present as white men had safety and opportunity taken away or denied to them.
I left school at age fifteen and moved out of my family home. Even though I didn’t complete the most basic high school requirements, I was never out of employment from the moment I left the school gates for the final time.
Of course, a lot of that employment was dreadful and underpaid, but the point is that even as an uneducated young person I was employed for any position for which I applied and nobody can tell me my appearance wasn’t responsible. I was able to earn a desperately needed income for food and accommodation when a lot of people my age were discriminated against because of institutionalised racism embedded in Australian society.
An adult close to me sexually abused women in my family and these women have lived with the ongoing trauma of that abuse. As a young man, I was statistically less likely to be abused by this person and I wasn’t.
My teenage friends and I were searched by the police with alarming regularity during our often drunken nights wandering the streets of our hometown, however, indigenous Australian young people in the same predicament didn’t get off with just a warning or even with their lives in a lot of instances.
The worst thing to happen to my group of white friends was watching our cheap sparkling wine being poured down the storm water drain while the police laughed at us and ridiculed our clothing. We were not arrested, detained or physically assaulted thanks to our white skin and we were afforded privilege, consideration and relative physical safety during these acts of police surveillance. This was not the case for young people who didn’t look like us.
There is a story I think of quite often involving a young man in my hometown. He lived with a physical disability that resulted in him walking with a limp. I would smile at him as he passed by my workplace maybe once a week. We were the same age and we both recognised the other
as a queer teenager in a sad town where our kind was not celebrated. We both started going to the same gay bar as teenagers where we mixed with a lot of older people.
One terrible night, my hometown comrade was targeted by an older man who took him to a dark alley behind the gay bar and brutally bashed him until he was no longer alive. I found myself in countless compromised situations as a young gay man but I didn’t find myself targeted for living with a disability. To understand how people with disabilities are more often targets of violence, search for statistics in your local area and be prepared to be upset by what you find.
Following on from decades of dead end jobs, I secured a place at university to follow up on my interest and desire to become a schoolteacher. The four-year undergraduate degree culminated with a multi-month practical placement in a real classroom. I was the only person out of my group of friends offered a job by the school at the end of the practical teaching placement. I was also the only one of said group who was identifiable as a white man and I’m comfortable in saying that I was nowhere close to being the most accomplished or hard-working student teacher amongst my cohort.
I’m not reflecting on these memories to get a pat on the back for being progressively aware, I’m telling you because it is crucial for those of us living with and benefitting from privilege to understand that the animal rights movement is not separate to everything I’ve described above.
I have discovered that if I want to be a worthy activist for animals I must also learn to resist and challenge oppression in multiple forms within vegan circles. Vegan businesses, vegan activist groups, vegan socials, and vegan online spaces all operate within the same systemic framework of oppression that favours me in the ways I described above. If I am being rewarded, someone is being oppressed. That is how it works.
If you would like to read the follow up to this section, you can order my book from independent bookstores as well as online via WH Smith, Foyles, and Amazon. The book is also available via Audible for listening.