“But I’m an Ally!”
CFI Ontario recently announced plans to don drag at Toronto Pride. Initially, this was meant to be in support of the trans community. Zinnia Jones has a wonderful post up explaining the problem with the initial intention as well as with CFI Ontario’s response. Since she did such a great job addressing those issues, I want to talk about something a little different on this post.
I’ve recently had some unsettling encounters with people that claim to be allies to different groups of people. The commenter Bridgette on this guest post over at Skepchick is a good example of what I’m talking about. Bridgette is indicative of the exact wrong way to be an ally.
Her comments completely derailed the comments and made the majority of the discussion about cis men’s feelings when that was not the issue. And she did it with faulty reasoning to boot. She repeatedly used words common to feminist conversations, but she was misusing them. When called out on it, she kept doing it. Derailing is a common tactic used by MRAs and other bigots who don’t like being called out. It’s unnerving to have someone who claims to be an ally using the same tactics as the oppressors.
She also claimed that she stopped being friends with people who were against gay marriage because she’s an LGBT ally. As I replied to her there, not being friends with people doesn’t really do much for us queer folks. In fact, all it really does is make it so she doesn’t have to deal with them anymore. Unfortunately, we still do. And this is a function of her privilege that she is not recognizing.
Sadly, this type of thing is not uncommon. I’ve often had discussions with people who claim to be queer allies but have not at all examined their own privilege. And inevitably people who claim to be allies get offended when their good intentions don’t manifest in unending thanks from the marginalized people they claim to be allies with.
If you are an ally of any kind or you want to be an ally, here are a couple of tips to make sure you’re actually being an ally and not just a self-absorbed privileged schmuck:
- Listening is fundamental! Shut the hell up and listen. When the people you claim to be an ally with tell you you’re doing it wrong, the response is not “no I’m not.” It’s “okay I will try to do better.” And then you have to figure out how to fix what you’re doing wrong—do not expect them to teach you.
- Intention is not fucking magic. When you accidentally bump into someone and knock them down, the proper response is not “why were you in my way?!” but “I’m sorry.” Intention is irrelevant because the outcome is the same. The same is true of being an ally. Even if you have the best of intentions, the outcome could range from mildly offensive to actually reproducing oppression. Don’t get defensive about things—it happens. Just admit it, apologize, and try not to do it again.
- Acknowledge your privilege and use it to subvert oppression. This means that if you’re a cis man and you’re in a group made up of other cis men and they start talking shit about women or queer people or another marginalized group, you fucking speak up about it. When you see oppression happening, do something about it. In order to see it, though, you have to be aware of your own privilege and be paying attention.
Finally, you don’t get to decide if you’re a good ally or not. It’s not up to you, and it never will be. It’s not about you. It will never be about you. If that offends you, imagine living in a society that tells you that on a constant basis.
Featured image from GLSEN.