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ISSUE 121 VOL 8 PUBLISHED 11/16/2007

Sex on the HIll: Heterosexual privilege

By Katherine Oyster
Contributing Writer

Friday, November 16, 2007

I am a heterosexual woman in a committed, long-term relationship with a fellow Ole. There. I came out. Are you shocked? Saddened? Questioning my credibility as a sex columnist? If past experience has taught me anything, most sex column readers will not care. Others might even breathe a sigh of relief. The vast majority of you probably assumed that I was "straight," so this announcement isn't exactly a shock.

Yet as a heterosexual woman, I can engage in different aspects of St. Olaf culture that lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people on this campus cannot. I have heterosexual privilege, a subtle and pervasive form of discrimination on this campus and in larger society. The very fact that you can make assumptions about my sexual orientation is an example of this privilege, and there are many others.

As a heterosexual woman on the St. Olaf campus, I can:

1. Celebrate my relationship in public. My boyfriend and I can hold hands as we walk around campus, sit on the same side of a caf booth (even if it is only the two of us), and kiss goodbye as we part ways to go to class. If we wanted to (which we don't), we could even perform overt public displays of affection in Fireside and only get looks of disdain from other Oles - not looks of disgust and hatred that an LGBT Fireside make-out session might invoke. Many LGBT people on this campus (correctly) fear the possible negative reaction of the student body if they were to be as touchy-feely in public with their partners as I am with mine.

2. Participate in the relationship "norms" at Olaf. As a senior who has been in a relationship for a long time, I am starting to feel the pressure of "ring by spring." While I'm not sure it is the right path for me personally, a somewhat large group of seniors leave Olaf wearing or having given a diamond ring to another Ole. While some LGBT people still participate in this St. Olaf ritual, many may consider a proposal kind of moot since most states do not recognize a gay marriage.

3. Never have my sexual orientation berated. I never hear "that's so straight" or "you're a breeder." All words used to describe my sexual orientation are rarely if ever used in a derogatory sense.

4. See and feel my orientation constantly reaffirmed. In many St. Olaf class curriculums, heterosexuality is assumed in professors' comments and in analysis and interpretations of class material. If there are LGBT authors or characters, we analyze them because of their sexual orientation and how it affects their motives whereas hetero motives are assumed and therefore not discussed. No one has ever told me that it's okay to be straight, because that fact is just assumed.

5. Be a "normal" friend. I have never been a "token" straight friend, kept in acquaintance with a LGBT person so that they may brag to others about how cool and open-minded they are. My sexuality is not used as a tool to enhance another's reputation. I can talk about my boyfriend to friends and share stories in class without my sexuality becoming the focus of the conversation. My stories, if on topic, are always considered appropriate, whereas a LGBT person might find their similar stories received differently.

I am missing quite a few examples of heterosexual privilege, primarily because I am writing this as a privileged person. I have to fight hard to see the ways in which my actions oppress my LGBT friends; not because I am personally doing anything wrong, but because society does not yet give LGBT people the security and freedom to act in the ways that I can. That's the tricky thing about privilege - only those on the short end of the stick see it clearly.

So how does a heterosexual person deal with their privilege? The first step is to acknowledge that it exists and to constantly search for examples of privilege in everyday life. By acknowledging it, you develop sensitivity and a compassion for those it oppresses and can start seeing it from their side. Imagine not being able to hold your significant other's hand for fear of violent repercussions. Imagine being constantly vigilant of others' moral judgments simply because of who you date.

With this new knowledge and vision, work to help your hetero friends discover their own privilege and create an environment where we all can live and love the same.

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