I consider myself an ally to the LGBTQ community. Isn’t that enough?
I always wonder what people mean when they identify themselves as allies at the beginning of a sentence. Do you have a token gay or trans friend who you haul out when it’s convenient? Did you change your profile picture to a rainbow after the Pulse nightclub shooting? Do you get upset when people use “gay” as a pejorative but ignore your homophobic relatives at holiday dinners?
There are many ways to be an ally, but calling yourself one isn’t one of them. When you go out of your way with the, “But I’m an ally,” schtick, all I hear is, “I want to be immune from your criticism!”
Real allyship is about listening, not talking. If you want to actively work to support the LGBTQ community, or any marginalized community, you need to start by really hearing them. Ask about the issues that affect them. Leave space for them to vent if needed, but it’s just as important to leave space for them to not answer if they don’t feel comfortable. Try to understand what they’re saying and recognize that you are a part of the systems that oppress them. Do your own research and listen to as many gay and trans people’s stories as you can because we have different opinions. You can do all of this without actually saying anything, which is good because the last thing an ally should do is talk over a gay or trans person about gay and trans issues.
Listening is hard. I get it. Sometimes you just want to take action, and there’s a place for that in allyship as well. Communication is just as important here, though. You may think your mom needs a lesson about trans identities, but that doesn’t mean you can out your trans friends without permission to use them as an example. You might want to organize an event for gay folks in the community, but you should check with your gay friends first to see if they even want you to. You might have done or said something transphobic and gotten called on it, but that doesn’t mean you have to get defensive and start an argument.
I’m not saying this because I hate the sound of your cis voice or because I think I’m better than straight people. I’m saying it because I think too many people are forgetting the point of allyship. In fact, I’m not even exclusively talking to straight, cisgender people here. Gay people can be better allies to trans people and vice versa. The fact that we’re all crammed together into the same crowded acronym doesn’t mean we’re all experts on one another’s experiences. If you want to be a better ally to someone else within the community, be the ally you wish you had.
For all you performative allies out there, please remember you’re supposed to be supporting the people you care about, not claiming an identity for show. I’m sick of half-assed disclaimers saying things are “trans-friendly” or “inclusive” when they’re actually not. Saying you love trans people won’t make me forget all the times you equated vaginas and boobs with womanhood, and saying you have gay friends won’t make me more comfortable with you calling them “fags.”
You don’t get to put an allyship stamp on your Facebook profile just because it makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside.
Don’t ever tell me you’re my ally. Be one.
Got a queery? Send any questions you have firstname.lastname@example.org. Ask me what you’ve been afraid to ask or what you’ve always wanted to know. Your name and any other personal information will not be published.