Recently GLAAD, a media force that seeks to provoke dialogue and promote LGBT equality, posted about a campaign called “Got Your Back,” a pledge to “Be an Ally. Build Acceptance.” I’m sure most people would look at this and think it’s fine. I mean, who doesn’t want support or to know that people will stand up against the oppression you face? It’s nice to know you’re not alone. However the headline of the page did the opposite of what they intended, instead of making people feel accepted, they completely alienated a portion of the queer community.
Their page’s headline announced, “[A] is for Ally.” This is an extremely harmful slogan that erases the existence of a-spectrum (aromantic, asexual) and agender people. This group of people often experiences erasure and marginalization from both the queer and straight communities. To hear from a mainstream pro-queer group that a-spectrum and agender people matter less than cisgendered heterosexual allies is extremely hurtful and oppressive. This is part of a larger practice of completely ignoring and invalidating “non-mainstream” queers, i.e. anyone that’s not gay or lesbian.
GLAAD is not the only culprit; I see this all the time. I see it when I’m told that my identity doesn’t exist or when I’m told that I’m giving a bad name to queers. Erasure becomes visible when you look at how little discussion of a-spectrum and agender people exists in queer spaces. When you see the A excluded from versions of the acronym, or seeing it stand for allies. Labels matter to a lot of people. It’s easy to say that they’re useless, that they only serve to divide us, but people can’t ignore the sense of community and overwhelming “right-ness” felt when you find a word that describes who you are. Representation is vital. Without representation agender and a-spectrum people will continue to think they’re defective, broken, or wrong.
The second big issue with GLAAD giving the letter A to allies is that they don’t get to be part of our acronym or community. That may sound harsh, I understand that, but please hear me out. You do not get to call yourself an ally; it is not you who decides that you have “done enough” to claim that term. It’s the marginalized people that get to give you that designation. I know this sucks to hear, because privilege makes people uncomfortable. I recently went to a talk about police and state violence and spent the whole time feeling uncomfortable because I was getting called out on my whiteness. But it’s so vital in unlearning our harmful thoughts and practices. The LGBTQA+ acronym is for queer people, not for cisgendered heterosexual people that support us. If you are a white person who supports people of color you don’t get to ask that the term people of color gets changed to include allies. There is no term POCA, it’s POC. The reason you don’t do this is because you are not a person of color. Allies are not queer; they do not get a place in our acronym. It’s as simple as that.
In a display of awesome anger people took to Twitter to call out GLAAD and the gravity of their statement. Using the hash tag “GiveItBack” twitter users explained that the A stands for a-spectrum and agender people as well as articulating why GLAAD’s actions were so problematic. GLAAD ended up making a statement saying, “A is for Asexual, Agender, Aromantic”, admitting their fault and articulating their support of a-spectrum and agender people.
I still take issue with their edited version of “Got Your Back” because of the use of coming out language. Before taking the pledge to be an ally you are given the opportunity to “Tell us your story. Who are you coming out as an ally to support?” The problem with this is that it’s making it seem okay for straight people to co-opt our language and appropriate it for things other than coming out as queer. Coming out is scary, it’s stressful, it’s relieving, it’s an adrenaline rush, and it’s dangerous. Coming out often puts people in positions of danger, making their home environment unsafe, opening the door for being kicked out of home, school, or work; being bullied, sexually assaulted, or murdered. This language is something that holds a lot of weight, and deciding that straight people can use it to “come out” as allies is not okay. This is our language, this is a process we go through that cis heterosexuals don’t have to go through. They have the privilege to not have to constantly inform people that they are different than the “norm”.
Now don’t get me wrong, supporting people is important. I wouldn’t be here today without the amazing support of my family and friends. Support is not what I am angry about. I am angry about the erasure of valid queer identities from the queer community and its acronym in favor of including cis heterosexual allies. It is always important to be as inclusive as possible and remember that not all queer identities fit in the label of gay, bisexual, and lesbian.
If you want to be a good ally, and not the kind I have been complaining about, be sure to first and foremost listen to queer people’s voices. Listen to what we have to say, listen to us call out your behavior and do not police our anger. What you need to do is show that you care. If you listen instead of speaking over us we’ll know you care, if you speak to fellow cisgendered heterosexuals about our concerns and call them out on their behavior, we will know you care. Your actions matter, not the label “ally.”
[Featured Image: An edited version of GLAAD’s “Got Your Back” campaign logo, the words are changed to “Give It Back”. Picture credit: Tweet from the account @FYeahAsexual]