#MenInSA – All Identities Come With Privilege and Barriers

I’ll be honest. This might have been one of the more difficult posts I’ve written. But it’s challenged me to really understand my position on gender issues and even just better understand myself. For me, this conversation cannot be simplified down to a single identity, in this case my gender identity, and what privileges it may or may not provide me. My experience as a male in Student Affairs is directly influenced by my other identities of being a 30-something middle class gay Asian male. My experiences have provided me a plethora of examples where being male has both helped and hindered my work as a Student Affairs professional and where my other identities have altered the “traditional” advantages and disadvantages of being male. Every identity has privilege, but it’s how the identities and their privileges interact with each other that provide us our experiences. Below are a few examples of my experiences: There have been times when I look back at situations and say to myself, “huh…that student totally confided in me because I identify as a male”. There have also been times when I look back and think “huh…that student would have confided in me more if I identified as female”. There have been times when I’m in meetings with all female colleagues and I’m looked at to provide the “male perspective” to any given situation, which forces generalizations of the male population. There have been times when my sexual orientation has “cancelled out” my male identity. More times than I wish, I have had conservative straight male students seek me out for advice prior to knowing my orientation, but when they learn of my sexual orientation, they become withdrawn and eventually seek advice from a straight male colleague instead. There have been times when older male students seeking out a male advisor for basic information (i.e. financial aid, academic advising, etc.), will not confide in me as a young male, but rather seek advice from older male colleagues. There have been times when students and colleagues have stereotyped me into security and labor roles for events and programs. The phrase “we’d like all the men to be on the security team” or “be in early/stay late to help with load in/ load out” because they pigeon hole my abilities to the “traditional male roles” of protector/aggressor and laborer. There have been times when my sexual orientation has provided me opportunities to bond with co-workers when as a straight male I would not have had the opportunity. More times than not, I am invited for “Girls Night Out” because I’m gay. If I had identified as a straight male, I would have been excluded. These are just a few examples of my experiences as a male in Student Affairs. I’ve been granted certain privileges as a gay male that a straight male would never receive. There have been privileges that I have not received because I am a male and not female. Relationships have been built and lost because I was a male. Opportunities have been provided or excluded from because I am a male. There are battles of stereotypes I’ve encountered from both male and female colleagues as well as students. As you can see, being male in Student Affairs isn’t just about my gender identity of male and acknowledging that being male in our field can provide privileges. I acknowledge it does, but at least for me, my other identities directly impact those “privileges” that coincide with the male identity. As I’ve worked on this post, I’ve come to understand that acknowledging privilege cannot always be a conversation within the context of a single identity and the privileges it may or may not provide. Rather it is how a single identity interacts with other identities and how the combination of those identities are portrayed and then received by colleagues and students which will determine the advantages or disadvantages a person receives. It’s about understanding that everything is a balance within itself, with other identities and with one another. Every identity provides some type of advantage and disadvantage, but it does no good with moving our efforts forward at just singling out specific identities and assume there are privileges given. I, as a 30-something middle class gay Asian male get completely different privileges from a straight black male, from an older white female, from a bi-sexual Hispanic male, and from a white transgender female. It’s about the whole person and not just one of their MANY identities. ——————————— This post is part of our month long series #MenInSA, which looks to highlight men working in student affairs. Contributors of diverse backgrounds weigh in on what it means to be a man in student affairs, the challenges and opportunities, and their personal experiences within their career. For more information, check out the intro post by Sean Eddington.  Get Our STUDENT AFFAIRS Weekly Newsletter In Your Inbox (join over 3,100 SAPros)