By Arati Nair:
You are walking down a bustling corridor in your college, when the crowd before a flamboyant notice board gives you pause. Your curiosity piqued, you venture closer and notice multiple flyers with run-of-the-mill messages about gender equality, sexual equality and the like. Before you can dismiss these missives as routine uptakes on social issues and activism, a conspicuous red paper flap grabs your attention. On it are the words ‘Heterosexual privilege’.
Heterosexual or straight privilege is the newest phenomenon to have taken the social media by storm. For the uninitiated, it simply enlists numerous ‘freedoms or benefits derived automatically by being (or being perceived as) heterosexual that are denied to gays, lesbians, bisexuals, asexuals and all other non-heterosexual orientations.’
The notice board quandary mentioned at the start is in fact a real incident at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA. While some of the campus community welcomes this exercise in reverse psychology to drive home the glaring truth of sexual racism, another section deems it inappropriate as ‘university-sanctioned material’.
— Gay-Friendly-DC (@IHateHomophobia) June 1, 2015
We live in a world where heterosexual privilege is becoming as real as white privilege…if that doesn’t scare you I don’t know what will.
— Kristin Rebera (@KristinRebera) June 19, 2015
And on another note: heterosexual privilege is a thing bc I can’t walk down a street holding a lovers hands w/o looking I’ve my shoulder
— Jed Hackett (@jed_hackett) June 10, 2015
But because I’m a white heterosexual male, I’m literally retarded due to privilege and can’t view anything objectively.
— Jim (@CheapCerveza) June 1, 2015
No matter which side of the fence you choose, heterosexual privilege has no doubt ignited debates and dialogue on the discriminatory treatment meted out to sexual minorities who do not conform to the conventional sexual binary norm. Besides dousing ice-cold water on biased sensibilities, it chooses a refreshing in-your-face attitude to achieve the same.
In the list of privileges available exclusively to the ‘straight’ populace are everyday liberties, often taken for granted. These include a naturalization of your sexual orientation at birth, open access to all career paths, the right to choose your life partner and even get married, adequate media representation, freedom to express your sexual preferences in public without fear of ostracism and an assured network of family and friends who could care less about your sexual choices. It is an ever-expanding list which is underpinned by the fundamental characteristic of freedom of will.
Why has it come to such beseeching pleas by a section of our society to earn their rightful place in our midst? Why do non-straight people have to raise slogans to enjoy benefits that others inherit as their birthright? Why must they fight to secure the acceptance of strangers whose approval is of little consequence? Sadly, even in liberal environments, the societal mechanism, which ought to be all-encompassing, suffers periodic glitches when confronted with varied sexual identities. The recent protest march against legalization of gay marriages in Italy is proof of the hegemonic attitude adopted by the straight to impose the ‘natural order’ of things over others. This elitist rubbish is bound to cripple communities in the future. The validation of the gay marriage referendum by Ireland has left many European conformists in a soup out of fear of similar legislation being adopted in their countries.
Just as the uncalled scrutiny of someone’s life choices by others is called prejudice, so is the prerogative to dictate others’ sexual preferences. Straight privileges, like male privileges, female privileges or white privileges, are meant to awaken a society that has feigned sleep for too long. Occasional sloganeering and impassioned activism are all techniques of a bygone era. Freedom cannot be selectively appropriated and if it is, a simple piece of paper may upend confined beliefs on their heads and thaw the perpetual cold shoulder of the society at large.