I’m not even half-way into this program and there’s already talk of bringing me back next year as a TA. I suppose I should be flattered, but really, given the circumstances, I feel awkward more than anything else.
You see, the World’s Most British Person* and I were attending a cocktail party with one of the program-directors, who was aggressively trying to recruit both of us.
“What we need are TAs of great passion and intelligence, who put our institution’s best foot forward!” she enthused. “Like you,” she said, turning to the World’s Most British Person; “a student at one of the world’s top universities**.” And then she added: “Or someone who represents our commitment to diversity; like you Jaime.”
“Ah…thanks,” I replied, and sipped generously of my Alsatian wine.
Diversity. So this is what I have come to, is it? The moment that I have dreaded since I first came out: having all of my other accomplishments in life subordinated to the mere fact of my existence as what I am. The token tr*nny.
I must admit, the experience was almost surreal for me. All talk of “residual male privilege” aside, the fact of the matter is that I grew up appearing outwardly as a heterosexual, white, native-born, middle-class, man in a first-world country. And whatever other words get applied to people with such a background, I can guarantee you that “diverse” is not one of them. Suddenly finding yourself (if only to some limited extent) on the outside looking in is disorienting to say the least.
Rationally though, I can’t quite figure out why this incident bothers me so much. I mean, it’s a bit condescending to be sure, but it’s not the first bit of favouritism I’ve ever been shown. To cite an obvious example, I managed to get all of the way through undergraduate university without paying tuition due exclusively to the fact that my father was a professor there. Then, as now (only moreso) I was being granted a selective advantage not because of my own accomplishments, but because of the immutable circumstances of my own existence. And that was a much bigger advantage than this one***.
And that, of course, is that elephant in the room whenever people discuss “affirmative action.” It’s not that “mainstream society” doesn’t benefit from it, it’s that nobody ever sees fit to point-it-out to them when they do. The only functional difference between my unearned advantages before transition and now is that now I have fewer of them and I feel guiltier about them.
*He is tall, pale and possessed of a name which rivals “Benedict Cumberbatch” itself for Patrician flair.
**He is, of course, an Oxonian.
***And in my defense, I did feel pretty bad about this one too.