In my experience, privacy is very much a privilege. Privacy is there until it is not – whether by chance, by choice, or by coincidence. Whether the gaze that sees us is that of the media (social or otherwise), the state, or even just circumstance, privacy can be abruptly withdrawn.
For me this realisation came after I was physically assaulted and the details of the event publicly reported in the newspaper. While my name as the victim was not included, and there were some mistakes in what was reported, the reporting was sufficient that anyone who knew me at my workplace could make the connection. Given that the event was also clearly tied to my sexuality, the reporting meant I was outed to a much wider audience than I might have preferred. At the time, it felt like a further violation, on top of what was already feeling like a fairly significant physical and existential transgression. Why did anyone need to know about this? I, rather naively, thought that my personal trauma did not really constitute ‘news’.
With hindsight, I began to suspect that this sense of violation of my privacy was more accurately to with a temporary and unasked for withdrawal of a privilege that I had not previously had to question. Because I had not had to question it, I had presumed it was a right. Anyone who has had to deal significantly with the medical system, the legal system, the welfare system, the police, or who has been caught up in events that have drawn significant attention, or anything that has caught the attention of the media would be aware that, to some extent, privacy is something fairly flimsy, or at least highly contextual. Thus it is very far from being a universal right with clearly established boundaries or notions of what counts as an invasion of privacy and what does not. Continue reading