Hello, Anon. I hope it hasn’t inconvenienced you that it’s taken me a few months to answer this. Your Ask came at a very busy time for me (for the record, it’s dated 22 November 2011), and since it didn’t sound urgent I wanted to wait until I had time to reply carefully.
I wrote a first draft of this answer that tried to get into theory and analytical categories and stuff, but to be honest I’m not qualified to attempt that. I see your point, because sometimes ‘queer’ (and other identity terms like it) is used in a way that by definition refers to membership of a marginalized / oppressed group. Can you be a member of an oppressed group if you aren’t personally affected by oppression? It’s a fair question I guess. On the other hand what am I if I’m not queer? Straight? Can a man be straight while going out with (or even just being sexually attracted to) someone who isn’t a woman? Not by any generally accepted understanding of the term. Not without invalidating my partner’s gender, and I am not okay with that.
Do I benefit from straight privilege in every respect? Well, I can tell you some things that are true for me that wouldn’t be true for me if I were going out with a woman.
- When I fill in demographic monitoring forms that ask about my sexuality, there is usually no box that I can tick that gives an accurate answer.
- When I hear or read jokes or derogatory comments about people who have sex with or have relationships with trans* people or with people who are not the ‘opposite’ gender, I know that those jokes and comments are at my expense.
- When I’m talking about my partner to people they aren’t ‘out’ to, I have to avoid using pronouns at all so that I neither out them nor misgender them. Talking about someone without using pronouns, especially if you’re trying to do so in a way that doesn’t sound weird and arouse suspicion, requires fairly intense concentration and can be tiring. Try it some time. As a result it makes me less inclined to talk about my partner than I would otherwise be, which is a bit sad for me because I love them and want to tell people about them and boast about them and stuff. It can also make people think I’m being secretive and anti-social.
- People who do know about my partner’s gender sometimes think that this makes it okay for them to ask me questions about our relationship, our future plans, &c. that it would be considered impolite to ask if we were a male-female couple.
- People make incorrect assumptions about me, such as the assumption that any partner I currently have, have had in the past, might have in the future, or might want at any time must be a woman. Because these assumptions are in line with social norms, people don’t treat me badly because of them, but I find it uncomfortable to have people make false assumptions about me even if they are ‘favourable’ ones. It can also put me in the position of having to decide whether to correct the assumption (and risk an unfavourable reaction) or let it stand (and risk difficulties later if it becomes necessary to clarify one way or the other).
- In order to get married we would probably have to pretend that my partner’s gender is the same as their assigned gender. That doesn’t mean we can’t get married, but it isn’t ideal.
- There are people who would think me weird / immoral / perverted / sinful if they knew my partner’s gender. My friends who follow Abrahamic religions might add it to their mental lists of reasons why I am going to hell.
- Anonymous people send me Asks on Tumblr questioning the validity of my identity. Don’t worry, Anon, I’m not angry or upset. I’m just saying. ;)
Now, I’m not going to assert that all this amounts to oppression or qualifies me to be a member of the queer club, let alone an expert on anything. I’m honestly not too bothered. Not that these things aren’t important: they’re extremely important to a lot of people, it just happens that I personally am fairly relaxed about them.
Kinsey Hope wrote some time ago that our whole terminology for sexual orientation is poorly equipped to handle the fact that there are more than two genders and you can’t tell someone’s gender by looking at them. If you want, let’s just say that I’m a man who fancies some women and some non-binary people (and doesn’t rule out the possibility that there might be some men he’d fancy too). Or if you want to say it’s nonsensical that we use the gender of the people you’re attracted to as an important identity category, I won’t even fight you about that, as long as we can agree that, logical or not, it’s going to be an important identity category as long as kyriarchal society treats some people worse than others on the basis of their partners’ genders. Which brings us back to your point that these categories are, at least to some extent, defined by the oppression that’s brought to bear on them. But are we really saying that that makes me straight? Does it matter? Do we need some new terminology to distinguish between ‘political’ identities defined by social forces and ‘personal’ identities defined by our self-identification, or is it important for us not to let those two things become separated?