Is Queer, Millennial Privilege a Thing?
Is Queer, Millennial Privilege a Thing?
Do young LGBT people have it better than those from generations past?
Photos: Christopher Campbell & Ken Wu
Privilege is a word that brings either intellectual and social awareness, or a vile taste in one’s mouth and a severe case of the eye rolls. Conversations around this topic are divisive (to say the least) and often pit the "overly empathetic" against the "ignorant and heartless." The topic of privilege is a big one, spanning inside and outside of the world's many communities and identities, but privilege also exists inside communities, placing certain members in a group above others. Privilege also exists as a relationship between communities, placing certain ones above others.
In today’s queer age, there are debates each and every day about how inclusive or exclusive the LGBT community is (this is the age of the thinkpiece after all). There are some who feel their oppressions are strongly represented through research on homonormativity, while there are still those who claim the concept is made up and nothing more than controversy-seeking click-bait. Regardless of one’s stance on the issues, it’s clear that there is a certain level of separation in the community, and for today’s intersectional, queer millennial activist, there can often be intense separation from the activists of yesterday.
We’ll call this separation "millennial privilege." The meat of this privilege (ugh!) stems from interactions that seem to suggest that today’s queer youth are either ungrateful for the work of previous generations, or ignorant of the many ways that their lives are better than those before. Naturally, this can be difficult to discuss.
It’s tempting to critically explore the various ways in which queer millennials may or may not be privileged, but it could be incredibly crass and offensive to make judgments across entire generations. Instead, I think it’s important to present a few general points within which individuals of all different backgrounds and experiences can begin to have important dialogues. I represent only a few identities in the queer community and cannot, of course, speak for everyone.
The first major thought that comes to mind when those of the older generation say that queer millennials are ungrateful or ignorant is…who cares? Maybe there are queer millennials who are ungrateful for all the work that has been done to pave the way towards equality and maybe there are those who are not. The thing is, if queer millennials are in a place to be privileged and lucky in a world where that identity may have gotten them killed not too long ago (even though this is STILL happening to many people within the LGBT community today) isn’t that proof that the work these activists did succeeded?
Maybe the world has, slowly but surely, gotten better. Queer millennials are in a place where they may not have to know their history, or may not have to have safe places where they can be themselves, or may not need mentors to guide them towards self-realization. Again, this may seem flip-floppy, but of course, this is NOT the case for every queer millennial.
To dub an entire generation as privileged is problematic and inconsiderate because there are those in the community who still fear for their lives every single day because of their circumstances, their environment, and their identities. It is very true that this generation has advantages that were unavailable to the one before. But following the logic of generation shaming, would ultimately just lead to the blamers being reminded that they had it better than the generation before, which in turn envelopes everyone in an all-covering veil of shame.
To the activists of yesterday who feel slighted today: because of the work that you did, the world has become a different place. You fought to make this world a better place and you succeeded. So why do you feel that apathetic youth make your victories any less valid? Do youth who feel different from you anger you, and if so, why? Why is it okay to be mad at someone for looking at the world differently?
People shouldn’t be activists to fight for appreciation or to fight for moral/intellectual uniformity. The sad reality of activism is that people won’t always feel that they owe you. We have figures in history that stand out, but their names are only tiny fragments of a gargantuan mass of people who were out on the streets, rallying at our capital, and having really difficult conversations every single day. This is what makes activists so extraordinary.
It’s a disservice to the work of the previous generation to get caught up fighting queer millennials because their views of the world are different. The queer movement fought for our freedom, and with that freedom comes the ability to feel and think for ourselves. This is not an issue of right or wrong or better or worse. Are some queer millennials privileged? Absolutely! Are some older queer people privileged? Absolutely! In every reality, there will be those who are privileged and those who are not, and you can never pick an entire group and claim them all privileged because that marginalizes people who may already be marginalized in ways you can’t see or understand.
Queer, millennial privilege is a thing, because privilege is a thing, and every community deals with it. Instead of finding a portion of the LGBT community to blame, we need to bridge gaps and learn to be compassionate activists. We need to listen and not assume. We need to stop letting our imaginations run wild with us. We need to become an actual community instead of pretending we are one.