I’ve wanted to write a blog on this for a while, and with glorious pictures of Pride filling my news feed, I’m inspired to do this now.
What is an ally and why does it matter?
An ally is a person who champions the rights, freedoms and equality of people who fall on the spectrum that we call LGBT*. The star (or +) represents a growing number of additional letters including, but not limited to: intersex, queer, asexual, pansexual, nonbinary and questioning.
It is so important because, ignorance on the part of the majority has a lot of influence of the wellbeing of the minority.
I’m all about mental health, and depression disproportionately affects LGBT* people, widely understood to be due to issues such as fear of acceptance, isolation and not belonging.
I consider myself a straight ally, as opposed to just a “be who you want to be” kind of laissez faire accept-ist because I think we should all be doing our part, tiny as it can be, to make people feel safe. I have been an ally ever since two of my close friends came out as bisexual around 15/16. Since then my life has been blessed to the brim with amazing individuals who happen to love or identify differently from me.
At 16 my allyship was little more than “piss off, you twat” to homophobic bullies. However now, with education and experience, I feel more qualified (note: more qualified, not “qualified”) to collate some insight in what makes a good ally, based on the wise voices I follow.
Here we go, I’ve done my best, please be gentle in the comments…
1. Understand, the LGBT* movement and community is not about us.
I know, sometimes it can be hard to be told this.
“No but I’m totally ok with all this stuff”. I’m sorry, but it’s still not about us.
The origins came from an imbalance between straight love and anything else, and cisgender people and anyone else. It is not about lowering or stealing rights, it is about raising theirs to ours.
I recently saw some inane comments on a Metro Facebook post (I don’t know why I did it to myself either) that was about explaining the LGBT+ acronym and introducing some of the other letters than people feel fall under the + or * category. And there were over 100 comments talking about how annoying/selfish/millennial/divisive this acronym is. An acronym has never killed anyone but intolerance has. How the acronym makes YOU feel is not important, if it empowers a minority. It’s that simple.
You can feel your feelings, you can have your opinions, but there is one reason for this movement, and we shouldn’t be picking fault or passing judgement from the outside.
(Note: This is an excellent response to people who advocate straight pride day. Of course, you are entitled to your opinion on that, but if the only time you bring it up is as a response to Gay Pride, then you’re not really about straight rights, you’re more about not letting anyone else improve theirs.)
2. Recognise that we benefit from straight & cisgender privilege.
Regard the following:
Is your husband joining us?
Yes / Actually my wife will be
So do you have a girlfriend?
Yes / Actually I’m gay / I’m in a relationship with someone who doesn’t define as either gender.
Is that Miss, Ms or Mrs?
Miss / I’d prefer not to use any of those titles / Actually it’s Mr
While these are oversimplified examples and obviously not exhaustive, each of these everyday situations is based upon an assumption that everyone is either male or female, and straight. Now I’m not saying that that’s completely unreasonable, as a teacher of maths, probability can come into play here. But we do need to recognise that that plays out as a benefit to us. We need not “come out” three times a day, or wonder which toilet would cause the least upset to passers by. We don’t have to educate others about how convention has to change due to our situation, or explain definitions of gender to people. And again, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t want answers to these questions, respectfully and tactfully, but understand that it can be awkward, private, and time consuming.
And don’t even get me started on the way that gay and trans people are so much more likely to be assaulted, raped and develop mental illness than straight, cis people. That there are huge organisations (religions and countries included) who widely and openly claim things like sexual deviance, and evil, while advocating salvation or change IN ORDER TO BE like us.
So we should understand that we have it easier, in general, and make good use of the extra energy we have left at the end of each day to….
3. Educate ourselves.
A good ally, according to various sources, does their own research, and does not rely on these issues being brought to their attention by the very minority it is supposed to care about. As we have seen, life is already harder in lots of ways, (even if this feels like the norm to them now!) and we should not expect them to do this hard work too. We as the majority should use the vast amount of information, blog posts, editorials, written by LGBT* contributors on various issues to become aware of difficulties, successes and diversity. It’s subtle but there’s a difference between asking someone to define LGBT* to you, and wanting to access this readily available information on your own, even if the source is written by an LGBT* person. There is also a difference between asking someone to justify the existence of pansexuality, and (after having researched pansexuality) asking for more information or clarification, or opinions on the topic. I hope I’m making sense?!
Anyway, there are hundreds of thousands of ways that we can support our LGBT* friends, and there are hundreds of thousands of different views within the LGBT* community on each and every issue.
So in summary:
Show you care, without making it about you.
Use readily accessible LGBT* voices and experiences, without demanding they educate you personally.
Have your opinions, but understand theirs have more weight in their own movement.
No one is perfect, especially me, but we can always aim for best practice, little by little each day.