On Being Privileged

Life is complex and often full of contradictions. I think most people accept this on some intellectual level but, when faced with a single fact or data point, it can be all too easy to jump from it to one conclusion and then the next without stopping to ponder what alternatives might exist as part of a more nuanced story.

That’s a lot of big words to express what perhaps seems a lofty idea, so let me give you a realistic example to truly get to the heart of what I’m talking about: in my previous post, What I Make As a Writer, I broke down the facts and figures of how I’ve survived as a disabled self-employed person so far. On the one hand, I have had to manage on welfare payments. On the other hand, I talk about having lived rent-free with my parents while I got on my feet.

Receiving welfare is, in some ways, a privilege because – while necessary for basic survival – it’s not something open to everyone in need for a myriad of reasons. Compared to the people who need it but can’t access it, we’re lucky. Yet, at the same time, we’re unfortunate to need it in the first place.

Living with my parents sounds like a more clear-cut thing. Yes, my existence there was rent-free. In some ways, that gave me financial freedom. But not when you understand what a toxic, neglectful, and downright abusive environment that place was. Most weeks, I had £10 to live on. Ten pounds to call my own after I paid the minimum amount off my credit card and student overdraft. An overdraft I was privileged to get in the first place, get disadvantaged enough to need.

With my £10, I was in no position to have savings. I couldn’t gather together a deposit and first month’s rent for a place while I applied for housing benefit and waited for it to kick in and pay the rest. Before I met my now-husband, I was entirely trapped.

When I read back over my previous post, I worried about how some of the facts I’ve now pulled out and looked at more closely here might initially appear on the surface. I want people to read my posts and get a clearer understanding of my situation, not be left with false impressions based on ill-explained points made in a throw-away manner.

Context is everything.

Intersectionality is very much a thing.

Like, I’m a white person living in the western world. I can “pass” for straight and I can “pass” for able-bodied. Each of those factors come with their own set of privileges. Yet, at the same time, I have clear disadvantages. Because, despite how it might appear, I’m not straight and I do have disabilities. On a more basic level, as a woman, I’m less likely to get the same opportunities or pay as a man in the same situation.

Class divides are their own minefield. Both of my parents grew up relatively poor. They would have been considered working-class, but now they’re doing alright. Quite well off, all considered. These days, they’d probably be considered middle-class. What does that make me? I have the education of a middle-class person, but I do not benefit from my parent’s money. I live in a small, terraced house in a somewhat deprived area. I live on welfare, as I’ve already discussed.

I want to clarify, just in case it’s not already clear, that this isn’t me trying to present a sob sorry. I’m not feeling sorry for myself and I’m not asking you, as a reader, to pity me. I want to present you with my life and I want you to understand me.

My life is complex and full of contradictions.

I ask you not to judge me for it.

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