‘Ally’ Is Not An Identity

better ally

A series of interactions on Facebook and Twitter have left me a bit jaded and cynical when it comes to people who call themselves “allies.” It seems as though these people have missed some very important memos about what that word really means, so I am here to clear the air.

  1. You are not above reproach. Just because you’ve volunteered a few times or occasionally speak out against discrimination does not mean you can do no wrong. I’ve grown tired of telling so-called allies that something they did or said was problematic, only for them to say “I’m not being cissexist! I LOVE THE TRANNIES!” or “I’m totally not homophobic. I speak out against homophobia all the time.” You may speak out against discrimination, but having been socialized with privilege you are still bound to have some discriminatory ways. Own up to it and correct it. As a Twitter follower (@TheFireNexTime) said, “If you can’t take the criticism of your privilege, get out the movement.” Also, if you turn your back on the community because you were critiqued, you are not an ally.
  2. Having marginalized friends does not make you an ally. You have a gay best friend and sister-in-law who uses a wheelchair? Wonderful. I have one sock on as I write this. All jokes aside (though, I really am wearing one sock…), with the different types of diversity that exists in the world you are bound to know some marginalized people. Simply being nice to them is not enough to call yourself an ally. That is barely enough to call yourself a decent human being.
  3. You cannot appoint yourself an ally. In order to be an ally, people in a specific community must feel that you are one. Sometimes it happens that a few people in a community see you as an ally while others do not. This does not mean you ignore those who do not. It means you shut up and listen in order to become a stronger ally. You may get conflicting information. For example, one woman may say it is acceptable to call them “a lady” while another woman may find it demeaning. Doing one or the other in the presence of certain people does necessarily mean you are a bad ally. Remember that each person may view an issue differently. Monolithic (human) societies do not exist. As an ally, act accordingly.
  4. You are not a part of the community. This mainly applies to LGBTQ+ supporters who think adding an “A” for allies is a good idea. You may march arm-in-arm in the streets and even be accused of being LGBTQ+ because of your support, but at the end of the day, you do not share our problems and thus are not one of them. Even though you may lie down in the trenches with a community, at the end of the day you still have the rights they are fighting for.
  5. Your opinion is not and will never be more valid than a person from that community. While yes, it is true that at times allies can teach the community a thing or two, such instances are rare. Taking a Queer Studies course, or even majoring in it, will not make your thoughts on more homophobia or transphobia more important or valid than a queer person’s. Why? Because you read books and they have experience. I read an article on what it is like to perform open-heart surgery once. Would you let me work my magic on you?
  6. Marginalized people do not owe you an explanation.  As an ally, you may strive to understand everything about the community you support. This is good. Demanding that that community breaks itself down for you to understand, however, is bad. Google exists. Utilize it.
  7. Remember: intersectionality. A White man who uses a wheelchair is waiting at a bus stop. A Mexican man walks up and waits with him. Who is more privileged? When the bus comes, the driver tells the Mexican man that “illegals” are not allowed on his bus and asks the Mexican man to move so that the White man may board. The Mexican man walks away. As the White man tries roll his wheelchair onto the bus, he gets stuck in the gap between the curb and bus platform. Realizing that he will be unable to board the bus, the White man rolls away*. Who is more privileged? Trick question. White people have race privilege over Latin@ people. Someone who is able to walk has able-bodied privilege over someone who uses a wheelchair. Although one person may hold privilege over others in one way, they may be oppressed by those same others in different ways. It is important to remember that intersectionality exists and plays a pivotal role in the experience of marginalization. Do not assume that a Black woman and White woman experience sexism in the same way and for the same reasons.

If you have ever broken one of these “rules”—and I’m sure you have—it does not mean you are a bad person. It just means you need work! No one is perfect. When born into privilege it can be difficult to see the world from another view. Part of being an ally, however, is consciously dedicating energy into doing just that.

Being an ally does not mean you have to march down the streets with “I’m an ally” pamphlets and paraphernalia. Many marginalized people would prefer that you didn’t, honestly. It’s obnoxious.

Being an ally means not only standing up for a community even when they’re not around, but:

  1. Checking your privilege at all times
  2. Understanding that knowing marginalized people ≠ being inclusive
  3. Not being upset when critiqued despite your attempts
  4. Acknowledging that “ally” is not an identity
  5. Knowing that your opinion takes a backseat to those with experience
  6. Self-educating
  7. Remembering the intricacies of oppression

Being an ally is tough, but not nearly as tough as being marginalized. If you really want to use your privilege for good, memorize these seven simple concepts and prepare to learn a million more. I promise you’ll be thanked for it.

Just so we’re all clear, the Mexican man and White man who uses a wheelchair both find a new bus stop, where a wheelchair-accessible bus with a non-racist driver arrives and happily takes them closer to their destination. If only the world  were so simple, eh?

Sarah Jackson of wanderinglove offers four more tips on being an ally in her piece entitled “On Being An Ally.” Remember that self-educating thing I mentioned…?

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48 thoughts on “‘Ally’ Is Not An Identity

  1. I think many of these are good points for society not just GLBT allies. I know my responses below will get a lot of back lash and disagreement but I really feel this should be a discussion with multiple voices heard.

    Point 1- NEITHER ARE YOU. Just because you are GLBT doesn’t mean you can do no wrong. That’s a human thing not a GLBT activist thing. We all need to learn to take criticism and work on it both in life and in the “equality movement” (not sure what to call it because I really look at ending discrimination not just of GLBT but all marginalized persons).

    Point 2- Way to cut people out and exclude them (isn’t that what you’re fighting against?). Not all people are activists. Not all people are extraverts. Not all people have it in them to stand up to every injustice in every situation. I believe that is okay. By saying that those that accept others regardless of what differences and who believe in equal rights for all are non-allies you are cutting your base of supporters. Wouldn’t it be better to have a large base of allies even if only some allies are super active and supportive?

    Point 3- Who the fuck appoints you an ally then. Really, I have to wait for a GLBT person to tell me I’m an ally. Once again this seems to cut the support the community could have. This makes it sound like there is so knighting ceremony to become an ally or something. It also suggests that straight people need someone who is GLBT to be an active supporter. Why can’t someone who know no one that is GLBT be an ally simply because they believe in equal rights of all and urge others to do so?

    Point 4- Wow, not part of the community. What would you say if I said you weren’t part of the community? Bet you would call me homophobic or prejudice, something bad. That’s exactly what you are doing. If you aren’t going to let others into the community how can anyone ever be an ally. It’s like saying “we have a secret club I can’t tell you about but if you don’t support it you’re a bad person.” Why the hell can’t we all just be a community. Why do we have to divide communities. This once again cuts out a group of base supporters for equality because you can’t be inclusive (despite that fact that most of what you do is preach about inclusion).

    Point 5- “Your opinion is not and will never be more valid than a person from that community.” Wow, another super bold statement. I have heard GLBT people state that it’s ok to be gay but you can’t have sex. Or that gay marriage and child rearing is wrong. So, just because I’m not GLBT and the person who said them was I’m wrong and those opinions are right? (One could argue a distinction between GLBT community and one just being GLBT but the article didn’t say any thing so I’m going with it how it was written and it gets my point across either way. There is no way I’d believe that Jay is always right on GLBT issues just because z’s Trans).

    Point 6- Goggle it, really? You rather have people who want to know real answers rely on Google. I think it would be much more advantageous to have open discussion rather than online put down sessions (this post) on these issues. Google can give a lot of wrong info as well. What if I Google info on gay parenting. I might find research on how a whole loving family is more important than the parents genders. I may also find information on how detrimental it is to society and kids. Do you think it’s better for me to Google it or talk to some gay parents and see how great their family and kids are and ask few point questions?

    Point 7- I actually agree with this. I think everyone should take notice of intersctionalities not just allies even the GLBT community. I know a few GLBT minorities that would argue the GLBT community does not recognize their intersectionality at all. This is something the human race could work on for a better society in general even if GLBT isn’t involved.

    Rules-

    “Checking your privilege at all times”- Good to recognize you’re privilege and be mindful but always check it? Keep in mind that privilege can be used for good as well as bad, lets focus on the former. A lot of white people have used their privilege in ways that have helped other communities. We need to keep in mind that AIDS was not a public issue until a white female republican politician began speaking out and using her privilege to get a point many had been making across to a wider base. She didn’t check her privilege, she used it and increased public awareness and AIDS research funding by doing so.
    “Understanding that knowing marginalized people ≠ being inclusive”- Sure makes sense but it doesn’t mean that can’t be true in some cases. It’s just not true in all cases. And I believe that understanding and knowing marginalized people is often a step towards being inclusive so it should not be ignored or put down.
    “Not being upset when critiqued despite your attempts”- Once again this has some truth but often I feel like if I don’t use the right pronoun I’m suddenly shamed. The only effect that has on me is it makes me less active with and for that community because “I can’t get it right.” If I’m going to be put down in my attempts on be inclusive I will stop trying to be inclusive.
    “Acknowledging that “ally” is not an identity”- Everything is a fucking identity. That’s all up to the individual. If I want to make my damn socks part of my identity I can. Sure for most people it isn’t really an identity as much as label but think about it in a political sense, is being republican an label or identity? What does it matter if their actions are the same? Wouldn’t an idenity be better for the cause as well? More people would be vocal about their inclusionary practices showing others it’s okay.
    “Knowing that your opinion takes a backseat to those with experience”- Do our experiences also take a back seat? I think that statement is true in most cases but then my experiences also trump GLBT community experience.
    “Self-educating”- Totally agree here but once again this in not GLBT ally exclusive.
    “Remembering the intricacies of oppression”- Read comment on #6

    I also just want to point out at the end she talks about her five simple concepts but there are 7.
    I feel like the GLBT community is one of the least inclusive marginalized communities. Have you ever been to a MLK celebration, Juneteenth, Deaf community event…? At all of these I have felt more included than when I go to a GLBT event with a guy (note: I am female). It’s even worse in activist settings.

    Sorry, I know this is quiet a rant which, honestly, could have been longer. I just can’t get over all the exclusion coming from a group who claims to be fighting for inclusion. This is a much deeper issue to me because though I wrote the above as a straight ally (wait I can’t be an ally, see above, just straight) I’m really not that. As you know I’m bi. But I also know that in the GLBT community there really is no “B” unless you are actively in a relationship with someone of the same sex and even then it’s iffy (maybe you need to be knighted into the community like straight allies). For years I considered myself part of the GLBT community but not anymore. Even though I fit into GLBT acronym I feel like similar to the thoughts posted above anyone who wasn’t openly Gay or Trans is pushed out or told they aren’t equal because they aren’t marginalized enough. I fully understand that there is an institutional biased that will probably never allow all to be equal but should we really further segregate our community by having marginalized communities reject others as well?

    • I feel ya. I’m bi and being with a guy rather than a girl, I feel like I don’t always fit. My boyfriend has made many of the points you have, and the more I hear them, the more I agree. It makes me sad though. This shouldn’t be happening….so much for unity.

  2. Point 1: I totally agree with you. Even members of the community can say shitty things or behave in shitty ways and it is no better or worse than when done by someone outside the community. Recognizing one’s privilege and acknowledging it and actively working to unlearn shitty behaviours is something everyone has to take part in.

    Point 2: I think you may have misinterpreted this point. What the original post meant was that just associating with someone from the community or being nice to them does not qualify you to be an ally. It requires genuine acceptance of difference and an attempt at understanding people’s differential social locations. For example, if your bff tells you their queer and your response is “cool, it doesn’t make a difference to me” then your not an ally. However, if your response was to make some attempt at educating yourself as to what queer means, perhaps asking your friend what it means to them, then you are actively showing support and attempting to mitigate your privilege and that person may consider you an ally. Your right that not everyone has the capacity, for whatever reason, to be an activist and that is totally fair.

    Point 3: I can’t believe you didn’t know about the knighting ceremony!!! clearly your not an ally. Just kidding. There is definitely no such thing, but as the original post stated, it is up to individual members of the community to decide whether or not they consider you an ally. So John might say your an awesome ally and Suzy might say your not. This does not make you a bad person, but if you are aware that Suzy doesn’t consider you an ally, you might take it upon yourself to ask why. Perhaps you said or did something problematic without knowing. That’s ok. I think we all do problematic stuff at some point. The difference is that a true ally would continuously work at unlearning shitty behaviour and act appropriately in different settings. It is up to members of the community to determine what is appropriate and therefore, it is also up to those same community members to determine who is an ally. You cannot just assume that title without working for it and earning it.

    Point 4: Allies are not part of the community because they cannot, no matter how hard they try, understand the experiences of GLBTQ+ individuals. Allies have their own communities. In fact, the whole rest of the world considers the sexuality and gender identities of allies to be “normal” and does not question them about their identities. Thus, the whole rest of the world, meaning outside the GLBTQ+ community is the community of allies. Allies do not need to be part of GLBTQ+ communities to be recognized and validated. Thus, they are not part of the community. Though their support and advocacy efforts are no less appreciated or necessary, they just are not part of the community. They can stop by and hang whenever, but still….not part of the community.

    Point 5: I think this point was largely addressed in the first point where we agreed that even members of the GLBTQ+ community can make mistakes and abuse their privilege. What the original post is referring to, however, is the fact that when it comes to GLBTQ+ experiences no one’s opinion is more valid than a member of that community. This is because that person has lived that experience, as opposed to simply having read about or heard about. Therefore, (Because I identify as trans*) if you and I are speaking about the trans* experience, my opinions are automatically more right because they are the result of actual lived experience. Another trans* person may totally disagree with me. They may think my opinions are rediculous because they do not share my experiences. That’s fine. An ally, cannot disagree because they have no experience in which to root their disagreement. Ergo, they just don’t know what they are talking about, because they CAN”T know!

    Point 6: This simply means educate yourself! If you are an actual ally, you will take the time to read as many articles as is necessary. And if it turns out you read the wrong ones, then you’d be open to criticism and to unlearning and relearning about the community and different identities. Google is an easy tool that many people have at their disposal, thus it is a good suggestion as a way for people to get started if they are knew to this type of research. They will quickly discover the plethora of books and other resources at their disposal, but google is a good place to start. It is never the responsibility of the marginalized person to teach more privileged people about their identities. NEVER!!

    Point 7: I LOVE ME SOME INTERSECTIONALITY!!! Your absolutely right, there are many members of the GLBTQ+ community that do not recognize their privilege and this is not ok. However, the more privilege you have the more important it is to be aware of that. If you are an ally, you have privilege. It is that much more important for you to understand where you stand in relation to the people you are trying to support. Pointing fingers and saying, “well they don’t recognize intersectionality, why should I” is an example of cis, het privilege because you already failed to differentiate between your social location as an ally and theirs as a member of the community, effectively erasing their experiences as marginalized individuals.

    I am sorry to hear that you do not feel like you can be a part of the community because of bisexual exclusion/biphobia. There is a huge tendency in the mainstream community to revolve around issues of binary sexuality and gender. I can only say that I hope you find a more inclusive community that seeks to validate your identity even when your partner is not the same sex. You deserve a place where you are validated and accepted.

    Good luck and I hope my contribution to this discussion is helpful 🙂

  3. This is a really great post. My thoughts:

    1. As an ally, you’re not entitled to marginalized spaces or their narratives. For example, I find it highly problematic when allies try to take on QPOC issues as their own and use those narratives to further their agenda as an ally. The problem with this is that no amount of empathy (the ability to feel what other people feel) or compassion (giving people the space to experience their life as Human and not punish them for their mistakes) can put you in that EXACT position as the person who is being oppressed. This is because oppression is both personal (ie: day to day) but also INSANELY systemic and systematic. The combination of these issues means that there’s a lot going on under the surface that can’t be seen, felt or otherwise experienced by allies.

    The job of an ally is simple and straight forward: give privileged people the platform to speak out about their experiences, feelings and ideas and don’t make it about you. Which leads to my second point.

    2. Many allies want recognition for their efforts in social justice. They want [marginalized] people to know that they’re “doing the work”. The core of social justice is creating a world in which people’s differences aren’t used as tools for their oppression while allowing people to be their authentic selves. Allies who try to position themselves as the center of social justice not only silence marginalized people but they completely derail any effectiveness in the work. Allies must be altruistic in their approach, which is why privilege checking is so integral. You need to know that social justice isn’t about YOU, it’s about the bigger picture in how we relate to other humans (and non-humans alike). By trying to take a myopic view (ie: “I’m doing the work. Therefore I’m entitled to all sorts of extra privileges of being an ally”) it completely ignores the heart of [social] justice.

    3. Point 5 is a very astute observation. When I was in 12th grade, we were talking about Judaism (I forget why and in what context) and one girl, who was Jewish, started to talk about her experiences. Another girl – an intellectual – who wasn’t Jewish then BEGAN TO CORRECT [the Jewish girl] ABOUT HER OWN EXPERIENCES. I will never forget this – it was BEYOND awful. While many communities are fragmented and have differing opinions and issues – the fundamental issue is still there: you have absolutely no right, or any business, telling people about their lives and whether their experiences are valid or not (this also goes back to co-opting people’s narratives and using them in an arsenal to prove your ally-ness).

    4. While people hate being told to use google, it IS your best friend. I learned A LOT just from following activists and feminists on twitter and then creating my own theories and ideas afterward. Books are helpful too – I hear Bell Hooks is awesome. The point is – there’s information OUT THERE for you to consume. There are so many blogs, it’s disorienting, and if you follow the right people (ie: people who tweet a lot or retweet others a lot), you’ll have access to so much awesome-ness. So yes, google information you want and just keep absorbing. NEVER stop learning and refining how you do your work.

    The core of my comment is pretty much this: if you want brownie points or cookies for being an ally, you have a fundamental problem that needs addressing. Like I said, justice is about creating a world in which people can safely and freely express their authentic selves. It’s about working toward a future where people aren’t afraid to walk down the street, go into a store or even just be out past 9pm. It’s about co-existence, cooperation, understanding and Love. It’s NOT about the myriad of ways you try to brag about how you’re a great ally, or how you’re doing all this “great” work or how you know oodles of oppressed people (which TOTALLY gives you this comprehensive view into how ALL marginalized people live and experience life). That is a complete disservice to justice work.

    Being an ally is hard because you probably want recognition – but you’re probably not going to get it. Living in a society where you constantly fear for your life or the lives of your friends, family and children is significantly worse than someone not patting you on a back and telling you “Thanks for being a decent person!”.

    So get off of your high horse and do the damn work.

  4. I really liked this article, thank you for it! This is a great and useful list. However, point 5 scares me. The groups of oppressed people do not have monolithic opinions on the best way to affect change. If I try to be an ally, I must use my own reasoning (which was formed by my experiences) when in deciding what strategy to use – aligning with some of the people of the group, disagreeing with others. If I silently agree with something a [Black/Latino/gay/female/etc] person says even though it reinforces the racism/sexism/other systematic oppression , I become a weaker ally. Rational opinions can be formed despite the lack of personal understanding; likewise, one can go through oppression and be oblivious of it. For example, I know women who have to be housewives and are in abusive relationships; they think that women shouldn’t try to succeed in men’t fields and that politics should remain male-dominated and is not woman’s business. The same goes for any other groups. If I happen to be around anti-feminist females a lot, does it mean that I should take their side (even by remaining silent)? Internalized oppression is real!

    • Glad you enjoyed it! I appreciate your insight. However, I find myself confused on how it connects to the statement that the opinion of an ally is rarely more ‘valid’ than that of an oppressed community.

      When I say “ally,” I mean someone supporting the “liberation” of an oppressed community. An ally need not always agree with the oppressed party in order to have an alliance. As an ally, their job is to support the right for that community to have the freedom of choice just as dominant cultures do. In other words, when it comes to the ‘feminist’ movement it is not a fight for matriarchy per se. It is a fight for the freedom of choice without backlash, so that women may choose to be promiscuous or monogamous, scantily clad or fully covered, etc. With your example involving the housewives, you do not have to agree with those women in order to be an ally. However, you do have to support their beliefs as it pertains to them because they have the right to choose what is best for them…even if you think it is self-oppressive and destructive. One woman’s heaven is another woman’s hell!

      With this in mind, it is possible—albeit tricky—to open the minds of the self-oppressive in a manner that does not make it seem as though you, a member of the dominant culture, are telling them what to do (which is oppressive and the very issue at hand).

      • Alright, how about this. If all marginalized people’s opinions are automatically more valid… let’s pretend for a moment I am a straight cis man (I am not IRL). I am having a conversation with a gay man and he is saying some profoundly homophobic stuff. Is his internalized homophobic viewpoint more valid? Do I, the theoretical straight cis man, need to sit down and shut up? As an actual member of the LGBTQ community in real life, I have to say that I do not think that internalized homophobia is a “valid opinion” and that I would not have a problem with an ally speaking out against someone who was saying that kind of thing.

  5. Been thinking about this post a lot lately and what stands out to me is how much time marginalized groups often seem to spend on figuring out how to educate people who are already the closest to them in this fight, and then alienating those very people in the process. We need more power, not more division. This post is nothing, if not alienating. You are drawing very specific lines that people fall on one side or the other of. And you’re drawing them right down the middle of our power. It’s fine, and actually really really necessary, to point out that not everyone has the same experiences or knowledge of oppression. But pretty much anyone reading this could feel like they were outside of the “community” in one way or another.

  6. While I do support social acceptance of homosexuality, it’s hard to take your cause seriously. Try being a little less militant, hateful, self-righteous, and (ironically) elitist. You change your acronym so frequently to be “inclusive”, but it’s just a way of being exclusive. I’m tired of being corrected with the latest acronym so I just call it LMNOP. My experience is that nobody in the community worth listening to has been mad at me for it.

    • “this is cool and all but as a straight perrson i have a list of demands on how a movement that has nothing to fucking do with me should run. take notes, as my opinion on your movement is more important than yours!”

      eat shit, guy.

  7. While I partially agree with the root of your message, I strongly disagree with the arguments you have made to get there. One definition of identity is: “the individual characteristics by which a person or thing is recognized.” This means that a person’s identity is basically a composition of all of their beliefs, traits, and characteristics that make them who they are. So being an ally can definitely be a part of someone’s identity.

    The problem arises when people feel that their identity is defined by one major trait— which causes them to repress their individuality, and essentially take on all the stereotypical or well-known traits of a single identity. We can see this in every single community known to man— from militant racial groups, to religious sects, to the gay community itself.

    Members of the gay community are frequently guilty of still harboring “anti-gay” sentiments— such as those who do not associate with feminine men, to those who do not accept transgenders as part of their community.

    Many people are guilty of using one particular part of their identity to justify intolerant actions— for example: “I’m gay, so I’m allowed to call certain gay members that I do not like ‘faggots.'” If you think this does not exist, you are kidding yourself.

    Getting to my main point, being an ally can be a part of someone’s identity. It isn’t someone’s entire identity, but it can be a part of it. Just as being gay is a part of someone’s identity, but so is that individual’s race, income level, hobbies, hair color, whatever.

    And someone who is an ally can actually be more open and accepting than some members of the LGBTQ community itself— as hard as that may be to believe. Have they gone through the same shit we have? It’s possible. Homophobia doesn’t just hurt the gay community— it hurts anyone who doesn’t fall into our societies rigid adherence to masculine and feminine rolls. So yeah, they may have actually experienced some of the bullying and mistreatment that the gay community receives. Just because they can get married doesn’t mean they can’t have been personally victimized by people who hate LGBTQ people.

    We are all part of the same society, and if someone wants to call themselves my ally, well I am A-OKAY with that. They simply have to follow the basic rules that we all have to follow— some of which you mentioned in your article, even though I disagree with some of it. Basically, don’t overstate your validity as a member of the group, and know when to let others speak when they have something important to say. That’s something we all have to follow— every one of us.— not just allies.

    EDIT: After writing this, I read some of the other comments, which made similar points (points that were then addressed). But, like that person, I want to contribute to the discussion so people can understand the implications of what they say— and how something you say can be interpreted differently than you intended if you’re not careful. And I’m certainly not going to delete it now. Haha.

  8. I am glad I am not an ‘ally’ of your cause, you seem to treat your ‘allies’ like shit! Maybe you should be a little more grateful as a minority community of any support you get. I don’t have a problem with any sexuality, gender, etc. but this article makes me think its not worth offering any kind of support as it is unlikely to be good enough. I’ll keep my ‘privilege’ thanks 🙂

    • But somehow it’s perfectly okay to vilify an entire community based on one person’s opinion? There are plenty of LGBT people who have voiced contrasting opinions to this article. So please don’t let those people down.

  9. Hmmm…I understand the point that you are trying to make. I take issue with your use of community. As a long standing ally, I do consider myself part of the community but I would not consider myself “classified” as LGBTQ+. Communities can be comprised of many different races, religions, genders. Maybe it is my way of thinking and I am open to hear others thoughts on this. Thank you for writing a thought provoking post. Discussion leads to change.

  10. Wow, uhm. Couple thoughts here, not so much negative/criticisms, but I just really need someone/people to dialogue this out with.

    Let me preface by saying that I do identify as your typical cis/straight/(half) white male (we should really think of a term to shorten that) and I’ve been doing volunteer work at my college’s LGBT Center for 2 years, and now that I’m a recent grad, I’ve started getting involved in local centers back home. What drew me to it wasn’t so much the political activist side, but wanting to be support for people who had none. I got tired of hearing stories of middle schoolers half my aged being bullied to the point of harming themselves, or of teenagers who got kicked out of their household for coming out, and I wanted to do something about it.

    I totally get what this article is trying to say, and to some extent I agree with it. Maybe it’s the people I follow on the various blogging sites, but this similar sentiment seems to be becoming more visible, albeit in much, much harsher language. I would argue that with some of the posts I’ve seen, it’s not even really critiquing unchecked privilege, just “allies need to get the hell out”. And then my thoughts go all over.

    1) I live in the South. Friends have grown distant and job interviews have ended abruptly just from me mentioning my volunteer work. I’m not one of the people that thinks that the A in the alphabet soup is Ally, or that it should be added, but for me, it has gotten to the point where I feel more “at home” with the LGBT community, for lack of a better phrase. If my self-education doesn’t really allow me to fit in socially in my old circle, but this new one says I’m not allowed, where do I belong then?

    2) My knowledge is trumped by someone else’s experience. Totally understandable, but some people take it so far as to say I shouldn’t speak at all. There was a photo that wound up on my tumblr feed a couple weeks ago of Macklemore with the lyrics to “Same Love” off to the side, then across the entire thing was “Shut Up” in giant red letters and a little parody of the No H8 logo that said No Str8 instead. This upset me waaaaay more than it should have. I thought my role as an ally (and now I’m paranoid to even call myself that), was to be an extension that could reach out to people who otherwise would never have thought about their privilege or struggles in the LGBT community. But now it seems I’m in the wrong for even using my own voice (not to mention that when I do see people who post similar sentiments, the responses are usually along the lines of “your privilege makes your feelings null and void, cry more”).

    So I guess what I’m trying to say is lately I’ve been suffering a really bad identity crisis. Not because “ally isn’t an identity”, but because I’ve changed a lot in the past two years (I like to think for the better) since I started volunteering my time and energy to support people. But it feels like it’s not wanted. So what about all that past time? Is there any point in giving up so much of my time if it’s not wanted? I really would like to talk to someone about this.

    • It sounds like you are doing good things and are doing them for the right reason. Being, you recognize that there are people suffering and you want to help in whatever way you can. That is admirable. However, the fact that you have a choice to “opt in” or “opt out” of participating in the queer community gives you a privilege that those in the queer community do not have. That is what makes the experience that queer people have fundamentally different from people who do not have queer identities. There is no opting out, no matter how uncomfortable or challenging the experience may become. No matter how many triggering tumblr posts we see that makes us doubt/question/feel icky about ourselves or our place in the world.

      You have had very real experiences that have changed your way of thinking and being in the world. And those changes have caused you to experience discomfort and alienation from people in your former life. Those are real feelings and experience that are totally valid and should be recognized. However, those feelings are not unique to someone associating themselves with the queer community or queer activism. Your recognition of prejudice and willingness to take a stand for something you believe in – even at the expense of personal relationships – hopefully would happen whether or not you were participating in the community. The rejection you experienced over your changing life and beliefs is not the same kind of rejection that members of the queer community experience as a consequence of their very existence – regardless of their beliefs. Often regardless of their desire to share in the lives and views of their families and friends.

      As to you having a right to your voice. You do have a right to your voice. The key here is that you have the right to YOUR voice. You have every right to speak as a straight man who has experienced the struggle of developing a political and moral belief structure differently than he was raised. You have the right to speak about the experiences you’ve had with the individuals you have know and maybe helped. These are important stories to tell. And your experiences as a person with no inborn skin in the game being affected by what you have seen and how it has changed you would likely resonate with other people like yourself who may find it easier to related to “someone like them” talking about these things. However, you do not have the right to speak about what its like to be a queer person. You do not have the authority to relay your experiences with rejection and negativity as though they are in the same category as stories of queer people. It is a fundamentally different story. No less valid. But different. And it is understand that difference that makes you either come off as an elegant advocate for a cause you believe in versus a carpetbagging jerk asserting his views where they don’t belong.

      Also, there is a certain amount of gallows humor in the queer community at the expense of straight people (like your upsetting tumblr experience). I would recommend trying to figure out where the sentiment is coming from rather than reacting to the face value “fuck straight people” message that is sometimes on the surface. Macklemore is a different conversation, but if you see him as an example of straight ally-ship, you should listen to that song more carefully and ask some queer people about it.

      I can see by your post that this is deeply concerning to you and I hope that you can find something useful/helpful in my thoughts on the topic.

  11. This was difficult to read- not because of the solid ideas that were present but the tone of anger and resentment. I am a parent and I guess there are those who would call me an ally. I see myself as one. I thought it was a compliment. The abuse that activists take can be heart wrenching. I have no problem being told I will burn in hell. I have learned how to stand up to those who scream that about my beloved child. Of course, the pain is different. Both deserve respect. There must be a lot of story here for this writer. We all bring our stories to our lives as we work for justice as best we can. Cutting people slack might come later after we screw up enough to be humble. If someone is on the street with me working for a better tomorrow, I try to remember we are on the same side. The worst burn-out comes not from the opposition but from those we think support us. Paul Loeb does some great writing about that.

  12. I know LGBTQ+ people of privilege who don’t do squat for the community and straight allies who do tons.I found the tone of this article to be pretty strident and disagreeable. At no point should people who are trying to help a cause be made to feel slammed solely because they aren’t members of that cause. Everyone of us is undoubtedly a member of some groups that are majority and some that are minority. I am a white gay cisgender non-disabled English speaking Pagan American male. I don’t claim to speak for minorities that I will stick up for, and I don’t try to sit in judgement of those good-hearted souls who stick up for minorities that I belong to. There are no hard and fast rules you can make as a blanket statement about everyone. Seriously, why slam people who are on our side? Are we so far ahead that we can just start alienating folks for not being pure? A little humility and graciousness can go a long way.

  13. While I understand some of the emotion, I cannot help but feel that this was written in anger rather than being thought out.

    No, non LGBT people cannot possibly know exactly what it is like to be part of the community. Some as you point out, still stumble over what terms to use, how to express their support without sounding like part of the problem.

    Nevertheless, at the end of the day, these people you are so angry at, are in fact our friends. They DO support us as appose the many in the non-LGBT world who would prefer that we all just fade away.

    DON”T LOOK A GIFT IN THE MOUTH!

    I would prefer to have such support and wiorry about correcting their misconceptions after the battle is over, rather than swing my gun around and shoot the person who at least wants to stand behind my line, simply because he or she is having trouble with the uniform. 😦

  14. I guess the community has so many supporters that they are willing and able to tell some that they aren’t supporting them enough so they can stfu and gtfo.

    Must be pretty great to be LBTG+ if your community is sending would be allies packing.

    Congrats on achieving acceptance at that level. I sure am glad that we got over the whole gay thing in America just like we got over the whole black thing in 2008.

  15. What I’m getting from this post is that, as a supporter of gender and sexual minorities, I should change who I am so that those I support can be who they are.

  16. Good points.
    Why do you so often hear (well, read): I was totally going to support your fight to be accepted as human beings, but then that one time you weren’t nice enough to me, so I won’t…

    The link to Sarah Jackson seems to be broken.

  17. I don’t understand the people who say “you should just be grateful to have an ally.” That’s kinda like a doctor performing an unnecessary and non consensual appendectomy while you’re sleeping. When you express your outrage that this operation was totally inappropriate for your health needs (cat allergies) and was performed without anyone asking what your health needs are, the doctor says “Be grateful that I operated at all! I’m on your side!”

    That is to say, why should I be grateful for an offensive/unnecessary action, supposedly done for my benefit, that was performed *without* consulting me or otherwise knowing what my needs are? Shouldn’t the ally just learn how to actually, um, be a helpful ally?

  18. I just wanted to point out that the A in LGBTQIA does not stand for Allies! It stands for Asexual. Please don’t ignore the Asexual community!

  19. So, because I happened to be born a heterosexual, my opinions, views, and contributions will never be valid, I’m too stupid to ever even TRY to understand, and no matter what I do “for the cause”, it is unwelcome and unappreciated? Hmmmm…glad I don’t feel the same way about the people who advocate for people with my disabilities…if I did, there wouldn’t be any. Excuse me for giving a crap about your suffering and issues. I may not be gay, but I still think pain is pain, no matter who is inflicting it.

  20. Pingback: The experiences of a radical social worker

  21. There are certainly a number of commenters and ‘allies’ that are angry that they are not being sufficiently recognised for their efforts. It’s pretty hilarious to have a highly privileged response to an article discussing privilege – “you should be grateful as a minority for any support you get”.

    Anyway, some good food for thought on here.

    ‘Your opinion is not and will never be more valid than a person from that community. ‘

    I would dissect that further. I certainly believe that people are the authority on their own experiences, but rational, well informed opinions that have been reflected upon will always hold more weight for me. And anyone, even members of a community can lack understanding of it’s dynamics, can internalise harmful behaviours and attitudes and act against their best interests.

  22. This was an awesome article. People who benefit from many societal forms of privilege would benefit from reading this:) What a breath of fresh air:)

  23. Pingback: ‘Shame on US:’ White Rappers, Allyship, and the Macklemore Problem | Feminist Studio

  24. Pingback: The Problems With the Ally “Identity” |

  25. Pingback: Ally is not an identity? | Julie's WGS.110 Blog

  26. Pingback: LGBTQ+ vs. GSM | GSM Advice

  27. I’m confused about the function of the word “community” ihere. Allies are definitely part of my “gay community”. In my view, a community is not some abstract collection of elements bearing the same label, but a group of people who live/work/exist together in a common setting and share resources.

  28. Pingback: On Being an Ally (The Beginning) | contagiousqueer

  29. I feel the need to point out that while a lot f people seem to think that the A in LGBTQIA stands for “ally”, it actually stands for “Asexual”. I am asexual myself, and I hear this everywhere. Sometimes I just wanna stand up and scream “It is ASEXUAL, dammit!” since it’s so frustrating that we are always forgotten and our orientation “doesn’t exist”, apparently… -.-

  30. Pingback: Axis of Allies | The Rationality Unleashed Project

  31. Pingback: Axis of Allies | Next Age Feminism

  32. Well this radical discussion is refreshingly devoid of mentioning literally any economic of political issues larger than petty college club identity politics. “Communities” are rigidly defined by skin color or sex or sexual orientation. And it’s the goal of “allies” and social justice warriors to defend those walls. Your not entitled to marginalizes spaces, your privileged, you get privileged spaces! May it stay that way forever?

  33. Pingback: Tips On Being An Ally. | contagiousqueer

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