Why I Don’t Call Myself an Ally
It’s Pride Month, which you’ve probably noticed because of the deluge of little rainbow flags on Facebook if nothing else. Here in June we celebrate the long struggle of LGBT people towards something similar to equality if you squint really hard at it after a few drinks. Lots of ways to go, but it’s been a nice lurch forward since DOMA and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell landed in their appropriate recycling bins of history.
Did I say LGBT people? I meant LGBTQ so that those who identify as queer feel included. Well, really it should be LGBTQI to include the intersex, though I think we call all agree at this point the term is getting a bit ponderous. Then again, LGBTQIA is really needed to be more inclusive.
That’s A for Asexual, by the way. Not “Ally,” and Jesus Christ and all His Baby Groot tie-in merchandise am I sick of that bloody term.
The fact that some cis-straight people feel the need to even question whether the A at the end of the term I pronounce “lig-bit-kwee-aye” is about them is one of the main reasons I disavow the label of ally. I don’t make a big deal if someone calls me one, any more than I care if someone pronounces my last name ROOner anymore. It’s not a hill to die on, but I’m not going to pin it to myself as some sort of badge of honor. Because it isn’t.
Look, I’m not going to say that being a long-time supporter of LGBTQIA issues and someone who covers those issues positively in print doesn’t come with its fair share of headaches. I’ve gotten death threats and rape threats and creative bodily harm threats for talking about, say, medical discrimination in the trans community, or the weird limbo married gay couples lived in here in Texas before the Obergefell decision, or the endless ridiculousness that is bathroom laws. Those things happen, but I get them when I say mean things about God of War or those yokels that all gathered around trying to protect the statue of Sam Houston. Heck, I had someone once threaten to beat me up because I said long-dead classical pianist Arthur Rubinstein was a playa for running off at the age of 90 with a 33-year-old woman. If you’re going to speak in public, dinguses will find and annoy you.
That aside, being an ally isn’t a skill or a virtue. It really isn’t. There is nothing inherently admirable about thinking that LGBTQIA people deserve the same rights as everyone else. That is, in fact, the bare minimum of human decency. When you hear that gay people can still be fired just for being gay in 28 of these United States, the correct response should always be, “that is messed up, and I will never vote for someone who thinks that’s okay.” When you hear that trans people have a suicide rate between 41 and 46 percent of their population, I hope you gag in horror. I most sincerely hope your response isn’t to weigh whether this is an “identity politics” question. I’d bring up discrimination against asexuals, but most people don’t even know it’s a thing, honestly.
I expect people to support LGBTQIA people. Always. Not because it’s cool, and not because it gets you some mythical brownie points you can cash in on Tumblr or something. Certainly not so it can be an excuse when we mess up. And mess up we most certainly will. When you are not part of a marginalized group, and you are interacting with that marginalized group, mistakes, no matter how innocent, will occur. It is inevitable, and it leaves that group with the choice to correct you or let it slide hoping you won’t do it again.
In the early part of my career a lot of those groups let my mess ups slide… because I was an “ally.” I was a voice that commanded an audience, and I could be counted on to use that voice in order to further the cause of equality. As such, I did things like ask trans people about bottom surgery on first meeting, or participate in bi-erasure, or probe non-binary people about “which they were more of.”
Those things were not cool, and thinking back on a lot of them, I am mortified. My friends and sources and acquaintances forgave me my trespasses because I was an ally.
The term can become a cudgel. How many times have you seen on social media an LGBTQIA person correct a cis-het straight person on an issue, and the correctee become defensive about their ally cred? Happens all the time, because when ally becomes an identity, it becomes territory, and territory is something we defend when threatened. You can apply this principle easily to racism and sexism and religious discrimination. When you decide that you are the hero, or at least in the hero’s party, any criticism of that role makes you feel like the villain.
I can’t count how many people who call themselves allies, when confronted with an error, resort to social blackmail. They insist that if they are not treated gently, then they may just take their allyship elsewhere. If your beliefs are dependent on whether every single person is nice to you, even when you offend them or fuck up, then your beliefs were never really all that sincere to begin with.
It’s really important for us to realize that no matter how supportive, how understanding, how passionate we are about the rights of LGBTQIA people, this is not about us. This is a game where we are at best helpful NPCs rewarding brave quests with loot, health and experience points. That’s not glamorous, but it is the truth. Whenever someone insists they are an ally, or worse, try to claim the “aye” in “lig-bit-kwee-aye” at the expense of the people who rightfully belong there, they’re jumping someone else’s train.
Be supportive. Be active. Write your congressman. Go to gay rights events. Write articles and blogs. Donate to LGBTQIA causes. Don’t vote for people who are willing to trade the rights of LGBTQIA people for the comforts of everyone else. Don’t tolerate bigotry in your life. These are good things, and right things, and just things.
But they don’t make you an ally. They make you what should be the default of the human race. Just because others are below sea level, it doesn’t make you a mountain.
by Jef Rouner