Privilege and intersectionality

Viewing the world through the lens of intersectionality – a concept coined by Kimberle Crenshaw – shows us that some groups of people have privilege. The categories of those who have privilege include men, cis gender people, heterosexual people, white people, wealthy people and able-bodied people. Chances are you will belong to at least one of those groups. In contrast to privilege, there are groups which experience discrimination and disadvantage. These groups include People of Colour, Disabled people, women, trans and gender diverse people, poor people and those who have a non-heterosexual sexuality. There are other groups which face disadvantage – this is not an exhaustive list. Privilege means that you will have less – or no – barriers to succeeding in domains of life like work and education. Being privileged does not mean your life will be free from hardship. It is more a structural issue than an individual one. So a white, cis gender, able-bodied, heterosexual man will most likely be free from discrimination in employment but this does not mean he won’t have any challenges in his personal life.  

Like most of us, I belong to a few disadvantaged groups and a few privileged ones. The privileged groups I belong to are white people, middle class people and  Australian citizens. I have always hated my privilege, even at a young age I didn’t like the advantages that came with the privileged groups I belonged to. I used to feel very guilty about being white or being wealthy. Recently I learned that guilt about your privilege is actually really unhelpful. It doesn’t achieve anything in the struggle to make a more inclusive world and it commits the cardinal sin of diversity – that of making it ‘all about me’ as a privileged person.

So if guilt is unhelpful, what should we do about our privilege?

I think the first thing is to acknowledge and understand the privilege and what it means. Learn about intersectional issues, listen to the stories and experiences of people in disadvantaged groups. Become aware of your privilege. Also become aware of your biases. Often our biases are unconscious but we can still observe our attitudes and behaviour and call ourselves out if we see any biases. One way of noticing bias is looking out for if you are stereotyping and making assumptions about a particular group. 

Another thing which isn’t helpful around privilege and bias is the attitude of ‘but I’m always nice’. Nice will not save the world. I mean being nice to people is certainly not a negative thing but if we think we are saving the world by having a friend from a diversity group that we don’t ourselves belong to then we have got something wrong. Certainly be nice but that is the very first step on the journey to my mind. It also should be a given ro respect people from any group.

Don’t hate your privilege but do check it. I had a friend say they would have had housing issues if their parents hadn’t purchased a house for them! That is a situation where checking of privilege would probably have been appropriate. Checking your privilege can become a useful habit. Being aware that not everyone has the same opportunities that you do is a good place to start.     

You can actually use your privilege in a positive way as an ally. Often people in a privileged group who are not inclusive will only listen to others in their group. As an ally you can be the person they listen to and in that way you can help to change their mindset. Genuine allies are a very useful thing indeed.

I have an example of privilege which relates to the idea that people in positions of privilege don’t always have any concept of what that means. I have a friend who used to work for a company that put on events. Her manager – a white, cis gender, heterosexual, able-bodied man – gave my friend a list of speakers for a conference that he had created. My friend – a woman from a refugee background – took one look at the speaker list and said ‘you have no women here, no People of Colour…’ The manager was astounded at this perspective and asked my friend how she knew all this information on diversity.  The manager probably wasn’t being deliberately exclusionary. He simply didn’t have any experience of not being privileged. He picked speakers who were like him – a very common action from a person occupying a position of privilege.

Privilege is just part of society but it is extremely important to be aware of it and check ourselves to ensure our privilege is not causing us to be prejudiced, biased or disrespectful. I find intersectionality to be an excellent way of understanding the world, especially given that I belong to many intersectional groups and work in the diversity and inclusion space myself. However, it is a useful way of approaching life for all of us.  

Difference is a gift, diversity a treasure. Love yourself as you are - different, unique and wonderful

Responding to the attacks on transgender autistic people

I am a non-binary autistic person. Non-binary identity is a kind of transgender identity. I have many other trans autistic friends and am very proud to be an out trans person. Sadly not everyone shares my sense of pride and respect for trans people. Transphobia is very, very real and many of us experience bigotry daily. Autistic trans people are often on the receiving end of bigotry and discrimination. Being autistic brings a range of additional challenges for trans people. 

There is a recent study from the USA which showed that autistic people are 7.5 times more likely to be trans and gender diverse than the general population. This statistic is borne out in my anecdotal experience too and I know many autistic people who are trans and gender diverse. Children and teens are particularly well represented in these statistics. I think this is wonderful and I am delighted that kids know their gender at younger ages. It took me 43 years to realise I was non-binary and I would have loved to know my identity at a younger age as my identity is liberating.

Sadly not everyone sees coming out as a liberation. For transphobic people gender diversity is a threat, something to be attacked and criticised. Critics of autistic trans people come from a range of quarters. I want to unpack some of the bigotry here. 

The first form of bigotry is TERFs. What is a TERF? It stands for trans excluding radical feminist and it is nasty. JK Rowling is a prominent TERF which really upsets me because I love Harry Potter and always thought the Harry Potter universe was an inclusive one but apparently not. TERFs are particularly hostile to trans women. I can never quite figure out what their issue is but I think it centres around thinking trans women are men trying to infiltrate the world of women and somehow gain rights as women. TETFs refer to trans women as men and even want to harm trans women sometimes. Basically at is a load of bigoted, harmful nonsense. TERFs make me very angry. Trans women do not have some sinister agenda. Being trans is an integral part of identity, not a conspiracy!  Trans women experience a significant amount of bigotry and discrimination. I cannot imagine anyone transitioning in order to gain perceived advantages as a woman. To my mind the TERF argument is just nasty hostile prejudice. The fact that feminists (and it is not all feminists I should add) participate in discrimination against fellow women (who happen to be trans) is very disappointing indeed. I used to identify as a feminist in the past but now I avoid the term because I don’t want to be associated with TERFs. 

Another issue trans autistic people experience is autism world figures making harmful statements about gender identity and autism. This happened recently with a notable clinician saying autistic trans kids don’t know their own gender and are being coerced by adults with an agenda. Seriously WTF?? Autistic people spend a lot of time reflecting and questioning our identity. We are known for it. If you are singled out for being different then you are probably going to reflect on who you are. An autistic young person who is questioning their gender should be supported rather than criticised and invalidated. And it is the height of condescension to tell autistic trans people that they don’t know their gender. Instead of making these statements maybe clinicians could listen to their trans autistic clients and understand where they are coming from rater than dismissing their experience. I hate when public figures – be they fiction authors or autism clinicians – use their position of authority to spread transphobic thinking. I think these people have a responsibility to promote inclusion not division. 

The other transphobia issue is a nasty one and it involves trolling and bullying. When I was in school I was bullied for my autistic differences and also my ambiguous gender. As an adult I have been trolled for my non-binary identity. These things are extremely hurtful and can be dangerous. Many autistic and gender diverse people – in fact I would estimate possibly all of us – experience trolling and bullying and it is not OK.

I think we need to build a sense of pride and respect for trans autistic people. This involves challenging bigotry and transphobia wherever we find it. Genuine allies can help with this by calling people on poor behaviour and prejudiced or ignorant statements. Trans and gender diverse autistic people have a right to be heard and respected just like anyone else does.  

Here are some resources:

QLIfe – 

Spectrum Intersections – 

A Gender Agenda –