Welcome to the Sidebar’s advice column, where cads, Chads, and dads alike sit down for a chat with our very own Muffle. Her advice might be bad, but hey, at least someone’s listening. Today we’re talking about how to be an ally.
I had a really upsetting interaction recently, and I need some guidance as to whether I’m totally out of my mind.
I’m straight, but I support the LGBT community; many of my dear friends are gay or queer, and I think we should all have the right to love and be loved, however we do that. In short, I’m an ally, and that’s never been something I felt weird about until now.
Last weekend was Pride, and I was excited about going into the city to celebrate: view the parade, maybe do some bar-hopping, just have a fun day out! I posted a status on Facebook about it (“So excited for Pride!!!”), and one of my friends (more an acquaintance — I’m not even sure how I met this person) went off on me, posting a long comment about how Pride isn’t for straight people and that she was sick and tired of having her identity turned into a spectacle for people who don’t share it. I had no idea how to respond, so I just deleted my original post and said nothing. I ended up not going to Pride because of how weird the whole thing made me feel.
I haven’t been able to stop think about this, Muffle, and I can’t decide if she was right or not. Isn’t it a good thing to be vocal about being an ally? Aren’t we supposed to “show up” for disadvantaged communities? I’m just so confused by her reaction, I don’t know how to feel.
Thanks for listening.
Sometimes, it feels like part of being an ally is screwing it up. I cringe when I look back on some of the mistakes I’ve made, like expecting a black friend to explain a certain kind of racism to me, or asking a newly out trans friend about the state of his genitals. These errors didn’t come from a bad place; I just didn’t know not to. By educating myself, and with the help of some incredibly patient teachers, I’ve gotten better, but I’m not perfect. And I have plenty of time to make more mistakes!
That said, I’m not so sure that you made a mistake, Rainbowless. Pride is a giant party, a celebration! And I’ve never been attracted to the kind of party that has an “exclusive” guest list. I think there’s absolutely a place for allies at Pride, and your acquaintance isn’t speaking for all LGBTQ+ folks when she says you’re not welcome.
But it’s important to understand where her frustration is coming from, too: It’s been an uphill battle for this community spanning the vast majority of our shared history. In English-speaking countries alone, it wasn’t so long ago that being discovered as gay could result in your legally mandated castration. And in the U.S., twelve trans people have been murdered this year so far. All you have to do is stumble on a YouTube comments section to realize that slurs against LGBTQ+ people are still very much in vogue, and discrimination against people just trying to live their lives is dismayingly pervasive. It can be easy to forget that the struggle goes on, if we’re lucky enough to live in particularly progressive and welcoming communities, but queer and trans folks are still facing this every single day.
So it can be really, deeply upsetting when it seems like purported “allies” are fair-weather friends, there for the party but suddenly nowhere to be found during dark and dangerous times. And hegemonic groups have a distressing tendency to co-opt the fads of outsider groups without welcoming those outsiders in, and of overwhelming the voices that are actually affected by the issues being discussed. So, if your friend saw your post as just another straight woman using her identity as an excuse to wear rainbows and drink in public… I can get why she was so pissed. She was still wrong to go off on you in a public forum (Facebook rants are rarely the way to engage in constructive discourse), but, like you, the sentiment behind her actions was reasonable.
I’m sad you missed Pride, because I think there was a great opportunity for you to attend and build your ally skills. In the interim, if your support of the LGBTQ+ community is genuine, you should consider looking into local resources specifically geared toward lifting that community up. Perhaps your city has an AIDS clinic, or provides services for gay youth; if you have the appropriate skill sets, there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer to provide free legal or counseling services for queer people in need. Or you could just reach out to your local homeless shelter: estimates indicate that somewhere between 11 and 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ+. Engaging in activities like this will connect you with your identity as an ally, and by the time next Pride rolls around, you’ll be as welcome at the party as anybody.
Snark and tipples,
Got a question for Muffle? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.