Wiktor Dynarski writes, as part of a series about Poland’s Left, on the context of trans rights in Poland. This is a timely piece, considering Poland has an out and public trans woman, Anna Grodzka, seated in its parliament. Even before MP Grodzka’s election, I had been interested in the situation(s) in Poland for the lewica (Left) not only on an institutional level but also, and far more importantly, the situation for queer, trans, and other marginalized subcultures on social and cultural levels.
Poland has a history for the last 200+ years of being subjugated, so the last several generations of Poles have always resisted something in some form no matter what their ideology. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, though, the country was taken by a new hegemony, this time with the oppressed coming to power. The resultant conservative state became dominated by neoliberal economics and Catholic theocratic morality–with formerly oppressed individuals now the institutional oppressors.
It is this broad milieu, ranging from the street-level personal to the state-level, that Dynarski addresses in his article. Perhaps the most compelling section is entitled “Not a minority“, which I quote in its entirety because it’s that incisive (emphasis my own):
Vulnerable groups (a phrasing which, unlike the word minority, concentrates on issues faced by a number of people sharing a similar feature rather than their numbers) are very often misunderstood by a society prone to judge them using simplified ideas and attitudes. When one defines themselves outside of a vulnerable group and lacks a need to engage in a dialogue with the group’s representatives, a line is drawn between the group and what can be identified as “society in general”. A line separating the two, often blocking any type of information exchange, including communication surrounding the needs of those seen as vulnerable (or even the recognition of such needs). This is where the idea of the Iron Curtain serves its metaphorical, rather than historical, purpose. Much as there was (officially) little talk about and need for democracy behind the actual Iron Curtain, today, even less is being said about trans* rights and the needs of trans* people.
What’s striking in this passage is Dynarski’s unequivocal and emphatic indictment of privilege. Privilege is often rightfully defined as something akin to invisible rights and advantages afforded a member of some dominant in-group simply due to their hereditary fortune of being born into the given in-group. While correct, this paints the privileged individuals too passively: as merely ignorant users, participants, and upholders of an oppressive system.
On the other hand, in my emphasized portion, Dynarski indicts the privileged as active participants in the oppression of minority, vulnerable people. In this case, the dominant individual is no longer just an unwitting participant in systemic domination and oppression. Rather, they actively define themselves as not-minority, actively reject the need for engagement and dialog with Others, and actively repel the needs of the vulnerable. Dynarski brings these aspects of privilege into the arena of conscious actions, where they are all exposed as deliberate moral failings of the privileged. Here we also see how personal decisions collectively build and reproduce the larger, oppressive system.
This is the sharp theoretical-practical lens that Dynarski brings with his piece. But, truthfully, it is not just Dynarski saying this. The social justice spheres on Twitter routinely employ this sharp lens via hash tags like #solidarityisforwhitewomen and #cognitivecissonance. This is a good lens to keep in one’s bag of intellectual tools. Its value lies in illuminating individual power and privilege not only in order to expose the concrete operation of oppression but also as a way of providing opportunities for the privileged to actively remedy and ameliorate their exploitive advantages. In these respects, this lens is both an ethical ontology as well as a practical methodology with perhaps an eye toward reparative justice. Mia McKenzie at Black Girl Dangerous writes more practically about how to apply this by “4 Ways to Push Back Against Your Privilege.”
Circumscribing it in the historically-powerful and geographically-appropriate Iron Curtain metaphor is just delicious poetic-justice icing on the very Polish dark humor cake. Yet, widening this metaphor out to “cracks in the wall” is equally powerful and hopeful. As Dynarski illustrates, it can be incredibly disheartening to read of the situation of queer and trans rights in Poland, for there is a wall undoubtedly. However, this wall has serious cracks. Evidence can be seen in the electoral gains of Ruch Palikota (Palikot’s Movement), the voices of leftist media, the organizational operations of Trans-Fuzja, the election of gay MP Robert Biedroń, and of course the election of trans woman MP Anna Grodzka.
A wall with cracks is weak. We find the cracks, we lodge ourselves in them, and we widen them. We also make more cracks. Eventually, people can walk through the cracks. Eventually, we can knock the wall down.