I remember feeling annoyed by some of the comments on Ari's Wired interview in the ontd_political community on LiveJournal. Basically the interviewer wrote something like, "Imagine a world where most of the public discussion of homosexuality was about curing it." And everybody flipped out and was like, "but that IS what it's like!! Oppression Olympics!"
First of all, the interviewer is gay, which I think matters. His experience as a gay person obviously hasn't led him to feel that most of the public discussion of homosexuality is about curing it, or he wouldn't have made that analogy. I understand commenters may not have known he was gay, but they assumed he wasn't. And I think the fact that a gay person made that analogy indicates that "public discussion of homosexuality is mostly about curing it" is a disingenuous statement in the US. I wouldn't make that analogy just because I don't think it's particularly helpful (plus I'd expect all the Oppression Olympics accusations), but as a gay person I don't think the basis of the analogy is untrue. Of course SSA people are oppressed but I think we moved out of the medical model a long time ago, which is a triumph.
I was also really pissed because at one point one of these people said, "Hey, people get KILLED for being gay, that's not a fair comparison." Getting pissed at someone else for doing Oppression Olympics on what you claim is not a true assumption, and then starting your own Oppression Olympics round based on an assumption that is incredibly untrue, and obviously so to anyone who's engaged with disability issues...is way way worse than what Steve Silberman did.
Oppression Olympics--let's call it "comparing oppressions" to be a little more measured--is a tricky issue. A few months ago I posted about this person who was saying, "Pop culture is so into portraying autism but eating disorders and depression should be portrayed too." That person's post really frustrated me because they obviously didn't have a good grasp on how autism is being portrayed or how people with autism feels about those portrayals. They didn't have the compassion, or didn't do enough research, and ended up complaining about how good people with autism have it in pop culture compared to them and their friends with psychiatric disabilities.
However, I do think that comparing oppression can sometimes be a good thing. Because I'm queer and disabled I'm obviously aware of things straight and non-disabled people do like "trying to explain alternate points of view and get you to think more objectively." (I'm not going into detail on this, but do you know what I'm talking about?) So I think this means that while I definitely don't "get" what it's like to be a person of color, etc., I'm at least a little more aware of my privilege and try not to go all, "But you're being mean! Think about white people!" This term I have also felt sort of weird in my fiction class because I've felt kind of synced-in to classmates of color's stories which address identity and experiences of oppression, but when my instinct is to respond to those stories as a minority, I worry that it will be rude because they may not read me as a minority or as the same kind of minority as them.
I recently had the interesting experience of saying to someone, "I mean I know comparing oppressions is wrong, but--" and having the other person cut me off: "I don't think it's wrong. I think the only way anyone ever learns anything about someone else's oppression is by having it related to a type of oppression they're familiar with."
Which...damn, I'm sorry, but that is how it's worked for me.
I feel like one way of looking at this is that there are just two different kinds of comparing oppressions and one is trying to prove that someone has it worse than someone else (which I guess you should say is about dividing people), and one is trying to help people understand other people's experiences (which is about allyship and connection), but I think this is really an oversimplified way of putting it, because a lot of the time someone will think they're doing the latter, but other people will feel that they're doing the former. For example, when the Special Olympics did ads where they used racial slurs to try to make people more aware of ableist slurs. That was really fucked up. At the same time I feel like trying to relate ableism to other forms of discrimination can be useful sometimes.