I’m going to preface this, Gentle Reader, by noting that this piece is not an attack on anyone. Rather, it’s meant as a sort of gentle sign-post, based on discussions I’ve had with many QUILTBAG individuals over the years, as well as personal experience. With that in mind: some Do’s and Don’ts of Being an Ally.
Do understand that you haven’t lived it.
Understand that you can’t really understand our experiences. I’m sure you’ve gone through times where people judged you, but that isn’t the same as knowing that who you are could endanger your life or lose you your family, your job, your home. There are many facets of LGBTQIA lives that are baffling unless directly experienced, and empathy is wonderful – but understand that it’s our own.
Don’t tell me “my gay friend says it’s okay.”
This goes for any discussion, really – your gay friend, your black friend, your trans* friend – any of your friends. No one speaks for an entire community, and even if someone did, they don’t have the magical power to confer the ability to use problematic language or behavior in a socially acceptable way. That’s not how it works.
Do listen, and sometimes, apologize.
It takes a lot of work to not be an asshole. Like most white gay men, for a long time I ignored lesbians entirely, didn’t believe in bisexuality, had no idea how to respectfully address a Trans* person. People rightfully called me on my shit; I listened. I educated myself. I grew and changed as a person, and I apologize, continually, for the boor I used to be. Sometimes, I still get things wrong, and when I do, I expect to be told what I’ve done wrong and why. It’s up to me to learn what to do instead, and to fix my future behavior.
This is really a good policy to have in general, not just in terms of allyship, by the way.
Don’t talk FOR us – talk WITH us.
I’ve seen this a few times, in the wild – a queer person will be trying to make a point, and no one pays heed until a friendly Ally makes the point for them. Sometimes, the Ally will talk right over what the queer person is trying to say. This very thing is what frustrated me so much about the whole Macklemore debacle; I wasn’t upset at the man himself, and his message is a good one – I was upset that queer artists were saying the same thing and no one cared until Macklemore spoke up. That isn’t his fault – my anger really had nothing to do with him – and it’s sometimes necessary for people in a position of privilege to call attention to important issues! – but it’s frustrating.
Right. Since we’re not all well-loved musicians, what can we do? When given the opportunity, use your voice to give a queer person a chance to speak up. This isn’t to say that you can’t speak up for us! Just let us speak up, too.
Do understand that LGBTQIA anger can be legitimate.
And ninety percent of the time it isn’t being directed at you, anyway. A few weeks ago, on my birthday, I was out with some friends at the Mix. A bachelorette party trooped in, and I was at the point in my cups where I was disproportionately vexed by it. As far as I could suss, they were straight girls, who were all “I LOVE the gays!” and “Do you want to dance? Of course you do! You’re Gay!” and that sort of thing. I am not a fashion accessory, I am not a stereotype, and I am not a pet. So, um,
So I started confiding to anyone who would listen that I hate it when straight people come to gay bars. Including to a lot of my straight friends, who were there for my birthday, and who come to the Mix all the time, with and without me – they’re regulars, for heaven’s sake. Not the most diplomatic thing I could have done, but I was pissed (and I was also pissed) and my anger that with the whole heteronormative world to choose from, they had to invade my little enclave spilled out. There are very few safe spaces for LGBTQIA folks, and a world full of straight spaces, and I felt invaded. It was legitimate; it was not directed at my friends.
Do support equality for all!
And we thank you for your support! We don’t have to all be the same to be treated equally by society, regardless of any of the many differences we have, and you recognize that, and that’s fantastic! There are so many out there who don’t realize this, and they tend to be full of hate, and history will prove them to be just great big jerks.
Don’t expect constant praise for being supportive.
Wait – hear me out! Yes, we appreciate that you’re standing with us, and that you don’t necessarily have to. You remember those great big jerks? You’re not one of them. But if you expect praise for being a decent human being, you may need to examine your reasons for calling yourself an ally.
Don’t forget that we’re all in this together.
We appreciate your allyship. We really do. Sometimes, we disagree, and that’s okay. Sometimes, I’m scared to talk about my experiences because I’m going to piss off a lot of allies. Sometimes, allies feel like they can’t say anything at all without riling up this bitter, angry queen. Sometimes, we all need to just relax, because we’re all fighting for the same thing.