I have seen a number of transgender people express confusion at feminists saying that transwomen are the recipients of male privilege. It seems that trans people cannot believe that they have benefited from privileges in their lives. This is possibly because being transgender feels so hard so often. We feel excluded, discriminated against, unwanted and indeed unloved. The everyday experience of being transgender overwhelms the objective world view.
My view is that all men, those that are men, those that were men; whether cisgender males, male to female or female to male trans people benefit to some degree from male privilege. This is an objective fact. Whether you wanted this benefit or not, whether you enjoyed this benefit or not or indeed whether you realise this benefit or not, is immaterial. The objective fact is that male privilege exists and those that are or were male have benefited in at least some way. Of course some benefit more than others, some people use this privilege more effectively than others and yes, some people surrender this privilege but that does not negate the fact that this privilege exists.
Either you have had the benefits of being considered somehow more worthy as a male child, or you gain these benefits when transitioning to being a man. And sadly boys seem to be given far more latitude than girls. They are allowed to get away with more, they are pandered to more and are treated in a fundamentally different way to girls. In business there are many subtle (and less than subtle) ways in which women are denigrated in professional and non-professional environments. Women are the de facto minute takers, coffee makers and often have to work so much harder to be listened to and taken seriously. Added to that are the troubleome issues of sexuality and sexual harassment. Many men see women as fair sexual game at work and low level harassment is common place. To the point that some men do not even realise they are doing it. These are often deeply rooted social constructs that prove hard to overcome. The fact is that society confers these benefits. It is true that transwomen may surrender many (all?) of these privileges, but the way of thinking about yourself and the accumulated life experiences up to that point, at least, remain.
I appreciate that many of us have had very unhappy lives as a result of being transgender and that we did not necessarily want this male privilege that has been conferred upon us. Many of us believe that we would have been happier human beings had we not been born male and that therefore male privilege has turned out to be an unwelcome millstone around our necks. But we need to acknowledge that not being happy and not wanting something does not negate having had the benefits of that thing, even if these were only relatively small benefits. Perhaps if we acknowledged the privileges we have had and worked harder to eradicate the biasses in society we may get some more traction in gaining acceptance?
The idea of male privilege also gets confusing as we probably believe that privilege and ‘success’ need to be highly correlated. Surely a privilege is only a privilege if it helps you to do something, something you actually ‘want’? So how does male privilege help a male to female transgender person? Our definition of success and therefore what we want may be quite different to the typical alpha male. Or indeed it may not be. The fact is that often male privilege has given us better choices in life than we may otherwise have had. For some women (and I admit this is a relatively extreme position) their only options in life are to produce children and look after their husband. They have limited agency, very little room for self expression and self realisation and remain subservient. Of course in most western societies this is no longer true and women have much more power at their disposal. But again I think those who benefit from male privilege have greater agency than those who do not. They are allowed the option to be alpha males without being judged. They are allowed the latitude to pursue their own interests.
Of course we may counter this and say but when the transperson tries to assert their feminine side they are ridiculed and shunned. This may also be true, but even in this context I think those who have benefited from male privilege remain better off. A woman asserting her masculinity in a marriage would probably face a harder time than a trans person asserting their femininity. So I believe my argument remains valid.
Of course my position is somewhat compromised. I benefit everyday from the privilege of being male. It would be foolush to surrender this. I do what I can to change society incrementally. Perhaps I am part of the problem? I have written about these difficulties before and whilst I am making peace with my position I am still not totally comfortable with this dynamic.