The Privilege of Vulnerability

Life lately has been almost excruciating in it’s vulnerability. Most of that is me. Me and my tendency to say things. Some of it is my general life circumstance and merely being honest about that (addiction, rehab, relapse).

I’ve come to think a lot about vulnerability and what it means to embrace it, lean into it, and live through it. What I’ve come away with is this two-pronged idea of privilege inextricably associated with being vulnerable.

The first part is that it takes a lot of privilege to be vulnerable in the first place. I can say a hell of a lot more as a white, straight, cis-gendered woman than could a queer trans woman of color. I walk with a lot more certainty in my life and can lay my cards on the table in a way that isn’t so dangerous to my personal safety or the well-being of my family. That being said, the harder life gets–the lower I start to fall in the social strata–the more barriers there are to being vulnerable. The more I realize that privilege that goes hand-in-hand with the idea that vulnerability is the open door to more in life.

It was much easier to be “vulnerable” when my nuclear family was securely intact, when my bills were paid, when my body and mind were capable and when my future was bright. When I could exceptionally care for my children and show up occasionally for friends and family. When I was fit and healthy and thin. I think often about this article about the missing voices from my beloved Brené Brown’s work on shame resiliency and the power of vulnerability.

The second part is the privilege that comes from vulnerability. If it really is the doorway to all the good things in life (and Brené says that’s the case), then the ability to be vulnerable holds a huge amount of social capital. Like most things in our capitalistic, patriarchal, white supremacist society, the ones with more gets more and the ones with less lose out. Vulnerability is not a good option if you engage in criminal activity to survive. Or struggle to properly care for your children. Or if you’re on the brink of bankruptcy. Or if you’re engaged in addictive behaviors to cope with your life.

If you can’t provide for yourself or your family, society does not look kindly on these realities. Even as we know (right? we know this now…I hope) that we live in a social stratosphere built off the exploitation of so many that hardly have a hope of surviving–much less thriving. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and work hard to succeed in life is an antiquated and oppressive belief system that goes against the actual economic make-up of our culture.

It’s easy for me to go to the financial side of life because that hell is where I’ve been living for longer than I’d like to admit. Being honest about this fact makes people about as uncomfortable (and judgemental) as I’ve seen. How dare you buy x? How are you still prioritizing y? How can you get along without access to abc and xyz? It’s a messy existence and a daily dance with desire, discipline, and fucking fate. There is no quick solution or easy way out. There is only perseverance and showing up as best one can in the meantime. It’s hard. I struggle. Mightily.

What I’ve found is a hitch in my ability to be open about a situation that is both common and expected. Many people are struggling to make ends meet right now–whether they admit it or not. Our society is built upon a system where a few benefit while many struggle and suffer. These are both true and yet there is immense shame in falling prey to something that can (will?) be perceived as your fault. Your shortcoming. Your mistake. Your fuck up. Your failing.

Shudder. Squirm.

It’s uncomfortable.

It’s a lot less appealing to hear about the vulnerability of genuine struggle without a straightforward solution than to hear the inside scoop on someone’s cheat meal or the cost of their personal care habits. “Oops, I spent $400 on a bag” versus “Ouch, I owe $12k in back mortgage payments”. This vulnerability is therefore less positively reinforced and we collectively engage in a cycle of silencing those whose voices we need to hear the most.

Listen, I still have immense privilege in this world and I flex that trusty muscle every time I open my mouth or splay vulnerability across the internet. I don’t pretend to know the realities of daily racism, antisemitism, or xenophobia. I don’t experience homophobia, transphobia, fatphobia or [much] ability-related discrimination. I can only speak from the life I have led. The life I’m leading most recently has me re-thinking my own access to vulnerability, the benefits that engaging may/may not provide, and the context within which we all make the choice to share or stories or keep our mouths shut.

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