DRMacIver's Notebook

Legibility Privileges

Legibility Privileges

There is the notion of passing privileges: The privileges you get when your marginalisation is one where you can pass as a member of a non-marginalised group. e.g. bisexual people have the ability to pass for straight, some people of colour have light enough skin that they can pass for white, some trans people are not read as such and can pass as cis, autistic people who can mask well enough can pass as neurotypical.

Passing is not a universally desirable thing (if you can pass then you can be coerced into passing), but nevertheless passing privileges are a real and important thing that it is useful to be aware of.

I'd like to suggest that there is another form of privileges related to marginalisation, and that this form is underappreciated. For example, I have the following experiences:

None of these are easily summarisable, and don't necessarily correspond to any particularly clean identity lines.

Are they a big deal? Well... sometimes? The food one is a particularly big deal - I've more or less stopped eating out, because there's a high chance I will end up eating something that I shouldn't because I don't fit in to any of the neat boxes that people understand food intolerances to fit into, and even if I don't it's high effort to avoid that.

I'm not suggesting that these make me unusually marginalised in degree. I'm clearly not. I doubt these even make me uniquely marginalised in kind - all of the things I've described are fairly common - what I'm suggesting is that there is a specific character to these issues that is underappreciated: These marginalisations are illegible to society.

Because they do not fit into a clean categorisation scheme which allows me to readily communicate them, they come with their own specific set of disadvantages that are not shared by more legible marginalisations.

In fact I think most marginalisations are illegible to some greater or larger degree - e.g. everyone with even very legible food needs is used to having to explain in great detail that yes actually cheese is a dairy product or similar - but some marginalisations are significantly less legible than others, and my suspicion is that most people experience some illegible marginalisations, things that exclude them from some aspect of life that they cannot readily communicate without being seen as difficult, of varying degrees of severity.

Moreover, I think a lot of the ways that we do feminism and social justice, e.g. with focuses on diversity, end up reinforcing that: e.g. It's very easy to look at a conference and say "Have we made accommodations for wheelchair accessibility? What percentage of attendees are women? Do we have a gluten free food option?" because these are legible categories you can focus your diversity efforts on. It is, in contrast, much harder to think about and optimise for illegible marginalisations because they are, by definition, too difficult for you to easily quantify.