Layer 9: Gender and Sexuality – Example 1
I am a cisgender, heterosexual male that presents as a man. Most of my life, I assumed that I was simply “normal” and would have identified more with that word than anything else. It wasn’t until my graduate degree in organization development that I came to realize that the world is not a simple binary and that I have benefitted immensely from being able to identify as “normal.” The transition for me to qualify myself as normal, to saying that I am a cisgender, heterosexual male, has made it more evident to me that there are many people that do not identify as such. Effectively, by defining my own gender and sexual identity, I have in a sense forced myself to also find my place in the whole tapestry of identities, which has made me far more open-minded and curious to learn about other people’s experience. Thinking back, having been born Mexican, with cisgender parents, and raised in the US, I have never seen a reason to give my gender or sexual identity a second thought. In Mexican culture, anyone who identifies as anything other than straight and cisgender is considered an outcast. The US has also not been a place where the topics of gender and sexual identity can be openly discussed up until recently and we still have a long way to go. Without the impetus of my master’s program, I don’t know that I would have ever given these things a second thought. In fact, the transition from being unaware of, and effectively denying my privilege, both as being white and as a cisgender straight man, was not a pleasant one. My experience started with being totally oblivious to my privilege where my base instinct was to be aggressively defensive about it and deny that any such thing existed. This was followed by a healthy serving of guilt that put me at a crossroad of rejecting that guilt, or accepting that I had benefitted from my privilege for the better part of my life. I chose acceptance and forgave myself with the promise to use my privilege to serve as a voice for those who do not have it. In retrospect, my acceptance of my gender and sexual identity have allowed me to experience more than I use to. By that, I mean that there was a time where my friends and I interacted according to the “masculine” script of what men are supposed to be like in the US. While I am still friends with many of those guys and can still act according to the script, I now also have friends that have been initiated to many of the concepts and realizations that I have as they relate to gender identity and privilege. With these men, I can actually just be “me.” Society has very specific ideas of what emotions a man can and cannot have, or what roles he must play in the world, and it’s nice to not have to be that guy around the clock. This is not to say that I don’t appreciate the hand I’ve been dealt. With a few exceptions, I benefit from most of the privileges that society has labelled as important. I get paid more than the average woman, I generally don’t fear for my safety when walking around at night, and I don’t worry that I will be discriminated against when being considered for a job or a loan application. Life is good. It occurs to me that having an active awareness of my privilege as it relates to my gender and sexual identity has actually enriched my life as I can be thankful for all of these privileges and be intentional about how I use them. The richest language that I had access to 10 years ago as it relates to my identity might well have just been “normal.” Now I know where I fit in and what responsibilities I have given my privilege. More important to me than these dimension of identity is my active awareness and intentional engagement of them. It’s this awareness that has shaped and defined who I have become as a person, and enabled me to be a far more human human being.