Big Question: What is privilege?

Privilege refers to how a person’s identity allows him or her special acceptance that people who are different don’t typically enjoy. People may sometimes be unaware of their privilege—both the privilege that they themselves have, as well as unaware of others’ privilege.  Privilege is reinforced by institutions such as laws and religion.

One example is the privilege that heterosexuals have. In a heteronormative society, straight people do not have to explicitly declare their sexuality, whereas those who identify in the LGBT community do. In a heteronormative society, everyone is assumed to be straight.

Since everyone is assumed to be straight, this forms an expected appearance. This can be a problem for femme lesbians. In Samuels’s “My Body, My Closet: Invisible Disability and the Limits of Coming-Out Discourse,” she describes the crisis that femme lesbians have. Being femme means that these lesbians can pass as straight. Because of this, some people, especially butch lesbians, may not find femme lesbians to legitimately be gay. Meanwhile, femme straight women are simply straight women. Their sexuality isn’t as confusing, so how they are not criticized for how they choose their appearance. They are privileged because they can appear femme if they want to.


Samuels, E. J. (2003) My body, my closet: Invisible disability and the limits of coming-out disclosure. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 9(1-2), p. 233-255.


One thought on “Big Question: What is privilege?

  1. lmassaro

    I completely agree! As someone who has been put through the coming-out process (which never really ends, as Samuels shows), it is sometimes easy for me to forget that all people don’t have to go through that. It certainly is a privilege. What I find interesting is that while femme lesbians and gay men that look traditionally “masculine” can “pass” as straight, the mainstream media really only shows us these types of LGBTQ people because they can more easily coincide with society’s heteronormativity. So while we rarely ever see representations of fleshed-out and humanized depictions butch lesbians and femme gay men that aren’t simply the butt of a joke, people in the real world automatically look at them and heap assumptions of gender, sex, and desire at them. Good post!


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