“Privilege” is a word that makes me feel a little icky, and every time someone brings it up in a conversation I get a bit defensive and skeptical. The concept feels too much like a scapegoat for responsibility, or a guilt inducer for the fortunate. And if you send me any mail after this telling me I’m a SJW who is shaming those with privilege, I will shoot you in the face.

But I want to try to understand it as sympathetically as possible, and I wasn’t able to until I noticed a specific feeling in myself in regards to my friend Josh.

Josh is extremely handsome (cis white male). He’s charismatic, friendly, confident, a world traveler, and gets laid. A lot. I feel happy for him. He’s got a great lot in life and is doing well.

But I noticed a funny response I had sometimes when he told me about his adventures, particularly when he said things like “You can just go talk to strangers, it’s easy!” or “And then I shook his hand and he offered me his basement to stay in for a week.” It was kind of a negative feeling, but I brushed it off.

I made friends with this (white cis) girl named Brittany. She had easily 9/10 looks – pouty red lips, huge blue eyes, blonde hair, button nose. People begged to photograph her. She worked for an agency and did product promotions. She exuded sexuality. Every time I was out in public with her it was like I was invisible – men swarmed to her and paid attention to me only to be polite.

And that funny response in my brain happened again when she said things like “Oh I’m sorry you hate your nose – I really hate my crooked tooth!” or “Haha I got invited up to his penthouse but I said no, you know how it is”.

In conversations with them I found myself trying to point out exactly how lucky they were. I said things like “You know, other people can’t just talk to strangers like that with the same results,” or “Nobody actually notices your crooked tooth, and my nose is super obvious.” I had the sensation that they weren’t fully aware of their extreme fortune, and over time I realized that this semi-frustrated feeling I was having towards Josh and Brittany was probably the same thing people felt when they talked about privilege. What I had been trying to do in conversations was get them to check their privilege.

And why did it feel so bad? What was the source of that discomfort and frustration when I sat there listening to Brittany talk flippantly about being hit on by a smalltime celebrity for the third time? Definitely some of it was jealousy (and I suspected for a time that people upset about privilege were just jealous), but that didn’t explain the entire picture. With time, empathy, and security my jealousy reduced, but that funny discomfort didn’t.

And I realized that my discomfort came from a specific phenomenon I wish we had a word for – “when someone feels as though they understand you but you feel as though they don’t understand you.”

I’m gonna call it One-Way Sympathy for now, and shorten it into this horrible conglomeration “onwapathy” and I’m going to use it and you’re going to deal with it.

My displeasure didn’t come from Josh having a great life, it came from Josh having a great life and assuming that I could too if I just did what he did. In his expression of this idea came a fundamental lack of understanding of what it was like to be me. In implying that he understood me, he was assuming that there was no further understanding to have, and by doing so he shut down the exploration of avenues I felt were unexplored – and that hurt. When I expressed insecurity with my physical body and Brittany tried to empathize by comparing her tiny flaw to my huge one, I felt bad. I felt unable to tell her that she didn’t understand. I felt onwapathy. And it’s not their fault – they were trying hard to be sympathetic. They just didn’t know.

I think when people express outrage about privilege they’re usually just trying to communicate onwapathy. They just want to feel understood.

Now I’m still skeptical of the word ‘privilege’ because it’s used in an accusing way, a way that implies wrongdoing or obligated atonement on the part of the privilege. I don’t believe in being ashamed of fortune or doing anything to counteract privilege, but I do believe in communicating the way you feel, especially if you feel misunderstood. All I really wanted from Josh and Brittany was an acknowledgement that things were harder for me than for them – that introverts have a harder time talking to strangers, that a crooked nose is a lot worse than a crooked tooth. That was it.

So I vote for eschewing the concept of ‘privilege’ for the concept of ‘onwapathy.’ It’s gentler, less accusatory, more communicative of feelings rather than aggressive moral principles, and I think brings us closer to the thing we all want the most deeply – to be understood.

The Iron Price

There is pain, and then there is suffering. The division between the two can get a bit fuzzy, but on one end we have things like “my fish just died” or “that dog just bit me” or “I just got fired from my dream job.”

On the other end we have things like “My father never loved me and I am angry” or “the world is unjust because my best friend killed herself” or “It’s been ten years and my abuser still haunts my thoughts.”

One side of the scale is an immediate, visceral reaction to pain that seems to be designed to get us to escape whatever is hurting. The other end is what happens after – when we’ve categorized the pain into part of the “story of our lives”, when we recognize how this affects us, and we’ve decided that it is bad.

When it comes to suffering, this frequently isn’t something we do voluntarily to ourselves. It doesn’t feel like a choice. It feels like a wound so great that it stayed open while all the others closed.

Other ‘bad’ things that happen to us frequently don’t seem so unfair – losing a footrace sucks, but it gives you the motivation to get better. Getting cheated on really sucks, but now you’ve learned what kind of relationship you want and how to look for it. Losing a job? You get the ability to find better employment, or go your own way, or whatever happened to you last time you lost a job and came out of it alive. The experiences might be terrible, but you’ve undergone a multitude of terrible experiences without indefinite suffering, right?

This is because the pain of those experiences are a price we pay to get an equivalent reward, whereas suffering comes when we’ve paid a price and got nothing in return. It comes from a sense of injustice. It is being cheated by life. It is that emptiness in your hands after the death of someone you love. It is that pointless void left from a parent who didn’t believe in sparing the rod. It is the unanswered why? Because there is no reason. You gained nothing. There was no equivalent exchange.


Sometimes I complain about my job as a camgirl.

This is absurd. I am one of the luckiest people alive. I have an amazing job doing fun work for people I like talking to for a great income. I am living the dream. And yet, after four years, somehow I get discontent about it.

Sometimes I have to take myself by the shoulders and shake a bit. I remind myself of the contrast, of how life would be without camming. I go to the store and look at a box of tampons that cost 8.25 and I think “I used to have to work an hour for that.” The gratitude comes flooding back pretty quickly.

I think we’re all pretty familiar with the concept of the power of perspective, the ability to change the way we feel about the world by changing what we pay attention to.


The trick to healing from suffering, I think, is deciding that the pain was worth it.

How do you decide the pain was worth it? Find out what it gave you.

I have a friend – edit, aka me, full post here She had an emotionally abusive father and, as an adult, experienced a great deal of suffering about her childhood for many years. It impacted her relationships, her ability to function at jobs, and her mental health – until one day she took a lot of psychedelics and “relived” her traumatic experiences, from her earliest memories to leaving home.

This was immensely painful for her, but the contrast of shifting from the memories of childhood trauma into memories of adult freedom made her feel overjoyed and she realized the things she had gained from that experience. It taught her that the world could be so much worse, which gave her a deep gratitude for things she had now, whereas so many others seemed so pessimistic. It taught her heightened awareness of emotional boundaries which helped her to avoid damaging relationships herself. It had taught her that she could endure horrible things and come out alive, which gave a rare confidence few other people seemed to have.

And she realized that the benefits she had gained were so great that, if given the choice, she would live her life over again exactly the way it was. It had been absolutely worth it.

And in deciding that it had been worth it, the suffering ended. Life had no longer cheated her. Life had made a fair trade.

You can always find the thing pain gives you, if you look hard enough. Sometimes that search takes years. Sometimes it’s hidden deep. It takes a very specific kind of hunt.

It’s also different for everyone. There is no One True Path of meaning gained from tragedy. Whereas my friend found her price in gratitude, others might have found it in something like “being able to empathize with others who have endured the same” or “knowing what not to do to my kids.” And lots of people around us have problems or insecurities that came from a lack of difficulty rather than a surplus. Your life is a story and your character might just be climbing a higher mountain than most. If anything, there’s a little bit of “worth it” in knowing that more people would watch your movie.

If you want to read more along these lines, I highly recommend the book Man’s Search for Meaning. One of the top 5 most influential books in my life. It was written by a neurologist and psychiatrist who went through the goddamn holocaust and then wrote about the ways humans deal with trauma.