In all my time on this earth, I’ve “outed” myself as being queer plenty of times; but the times I specify the kind of queer, I can count on one hand. It’s not great when a good “coming out story” ends with the other person just badgering you to go to the doctor, because they saw that one episode of House. (Pro Tip: No, I don’t have a tumor in my head, and I’m not more depressed than the average person in this year of our Lord 2018). Allies quiz you about your sex life in a way that would be unacceptable with other LGBTQI+ people. If you’re unlucky enough, the questioning will segue into sexual coercion, because “how would you know if you don’t try it” and “I can fix you”.
Why do I say this? Because there’s nothing quite like outing yourself as ace to highlight the difference between true allies, and those who just wear the rainbow flag as an accessory. In fact, if I could sum up what it means to be an ally, in one sentence, it would be this:
It is not about you!
It is not about satisfying your curiosity. It is not about answering your questions. It is not about you becoming a confidante, about rescuing us, about vanquishing some unseen enemy. It’s not about assimilating us or forgetting that we are queer. Your being an ally isn’t the prelude to some story where you will become the hero, the savior of the underdog, the white knight.
I know you didn’t click on this article for me to yell at you, and I promise, I will get to some practical advice. But honestly – the easiest way for you to be an ally is to suck it up and accept that allyship is not about your vanity. You need to make yourself a safe person, and that’s not about how you outfit yourself – it’s a matter of character.
Here is how an ally shows their character: They make space for people with less privilege than themselves. They learn active listening. They let compassion lead the way.
That doesn’t mean to never ask questions, or to completely switch off your critical thinking – by all means, do so. But allies punch up – they enquire the people who are in a position of power, not the ones who are powerless. They ask questions about the ways in which oppression works, not about how the oppressed can stop their own victimhood. Allies don’t spend time waxing eloquent about how the underprivileged should take control – they let the underprivileged have the space to express themselves, and support them. Allies buy the books, and then they read the books. They don’t expect the people who they ally themselves with to educate them, to explain why something is “homophobia” and not just “ignorance”. Allies know that the onus is on them to do the work.
And allies are not afraid to do the work.
No matter how uncomfortable, or strange it feels. No matter how little there is in it for them. (You know… besides being a decent human being.) Allies make safe spaces. Allies leverage their privilege for the sake of those who have little. Allies push back against abuse, and allies get the results. Allies don’t get to choose who to support, or support people only when it’s convenient for them to do so.
Being an ally is about humility and hard work. It’s showing up when it counts. Everything else is just window-dressing – albeit a rainbow-colored one.