At what point does accumulated privilege stop the pain?

I have struggled in my life as a result of disadvantage, including my peculiar upbringing, my estrangement from my family, my sexual orientation, gender (identity) and mental health. I have also experienced many privileges, including my white skin colour, education, access to money, social benefits and care at crucial moments. Then there were the obstacles I created for myself, out of ignorance or unproductive coping mechanisms, which I have been able to minimise over time.

From an objective point of view, I’ve done brilliantly as a queer woman. At the age of 40, I am healthy. I have a safe home, and a job in which I feel good. I’m paying off my student debt. The relationship with my family has improved, and life in general has become better. I feel grateful and happy. However, I don’t always feel great, whether that is for a reason related to the past or the present. I then deal with those situations, and continue to learn from them.

 

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This drawing expresses the part of me feeling traumatised and afraid – a part that has fortunately become much smaller over time. My head/brain/thinking was disconnected from the rest of my body for a long time. ©Suzanne van Rossenberg

 

The other day I saw a cartoon by Jiro Ghianni about power dynamics within queer trans activist communities perceived by individuals in those communities who are able to improve their position, financially or otherwise. The artist expressed feeling ostracised, and being afraid of losing safe spaces as a result.

I think it is quite hard to tell stories like these, as there may not be an audience for them (yet) except oneself. I recognise the experience, however. My ‘success’ has always been accompanied by a new pain of not being fully understood – in the communities I belonged to and the ones I newly entered. I would always interpret this pain as a ‘privilege’, but it also takes energy to continue to frame it as such and not to feel worse as a result of your experience.

 

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Making art has been very important in improving my situation. In art, you combine thinking and feeling. While feeling better over time, the hole/emptiness in me became much more visible and graspable. ©Suzanne van Rossenberg

 

Changes in people’s privilege and disadvantage over time relate to the concept of ‘intersectionality’ – which acknowledges the structural or societal intersecting discrimination based on race, gender, gender identity, class, sexual orientation, dis/ability, age, pregnancy and other grounds. Somewhere in the social exclusion that specific groups experience (often measured or measurable), there are individuals moving within or across sections and experiencing new forms of inclusion and exclusion. These individual stories of change are usually not accounted for in the general narratives of social mobility.

As I wrote in a previous blog post, intersectionality is a very useful word to quickly increase our understanding, but, as Angela Davis says, we probably have not yet begun to understand what intersectionality truly entails for social justice practice. Understanding that intersectionality exists does not – in itself – challenge any power dynamics.

 

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Moving to London, and leaving behind the communities I belonged to, was very scary and hard. It was also the biggest privilege – an opportunity to unlock my pain and become happy.  ©Suzanne van Rossenberg 

 

To answer the question in the title of this blog post, I think that, for many people who have overcome great obstacles in life, the internal struggle and pain related to these obstacles will always be there to some degree, and hopefully to a smaller degree over time. The route to ‘privilege’ is more complex than outsiders may be able to see.

As for not losing the safe spaces that are your community, as Jiro Ghianni suggests, I think there is pain in both staying and leaving. I accept the pain, and treasure the positivity I did, and do, receive – including through the artworks of queer artists I find on the web 🙂

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