The queer community has made large-scale systematic and political strides in the last 50 years. We find ourselves with more representation from media to government. We have role models across almost every occupation from celebrities, to athletes, to artists, to professors etc. We have come this far from the tireless work of countless people, and stories, and lives. Seeing those 33 couples across sexuality getting married on the Grammy stage does offer a very affirming work to some of the interests of the queer community. I am proud to live in a world where national stages allow for particular marginalized experiences to shine. Our success, however, can be numbing. I wrote a piece earlier this year about how the striking down of DOMA almost completely erased the gutting of the Voters' Rights Act as a way to highlight the way queer activism should be problematized and pushed for more radical change.
I have no interest in trivializing the strides queer activists have made. I have no interest in shaming or refuting their effectiveness. I do though have a vested interest in pushing these strides for more inclusive and community building action. My fear is that the "we've come such a long way" narrative will make us complacent. Accepting a gay friend doesn't mean one is absolved from reproducing heterosexism: we can still discriminate. As made popular by the "Sh*t Girls Say to Gay Guys" and other iterations of that meme, friends, family, lovers can all reproduce problematic and offensive narratives for their queer counterparts (These interactions can be reproduced across any identity line). People who in their heart of hearts believe in the equality can still perpetuate negative impacts on their marginalized loved ones. Enter the ally.
Self-proclaimed "allies" terrify me. Genuinely scare me. If a part of your claimed identity relies on a struggle you have no or little access to -- I am given pause. However, if you are willing to take on the stigma of being the "other," willing to not be complacent in the reproduction of discrimination, willing to remove yourself from the center of the debate, I can hear you. Too many allies don't see this. It is easy to speak positively about marginalized groups, but as soon as you take credit or praise for it, only your success will be remembered.
Growing up my mother told me, "Sometimes only White people can hear White people about race, and sometimes only Black people can hear Black people about it." This maxim was reiterated my entire life around topics of sexuality, sex, class, politics. And that is not to say we cannot speak or discuss between cultures and identities on these issues, but for some the bodies matter. It all stems from who benefits from the discourse. Macklemore used as juxtaposition of the homophobia in Hip Hop does not work for queer people. It only adds to the discourse of separation between Hip Hop and queerness. He gets all the praise for being different and special, when his voice isn't the first. If we are discussing racial inequalities and appropriation and White voice rises to the top of the conversation being praised their honesty and perspective, how is that any social change? White voices have long been the arbiters of social understanding and norms. If a man's voice becomes "the" feminist voice, the man is still in the place of power and control.
All of our lived experiences come with a variety of privileges and disadvantages. Some, so seriously, more than others. For whatever privilege we find ourselves waking up with, we must do a constant work to negotiate and navigate how we use and rely on them. If we see our privileges taking credit for marginalized struggles, how are we not complicit in the same systems that create the marginalization?
I, on occasion, after research and conversation, speak on feminism yet I am unable to call myself an ally. Raised by a queer woman, surrounded with strong, complex, fearless, dynamic women I see them a powerful and equal. However, who am I to get praise for seeing these things. Allyship, in its best form, is constant work. Where I can align myself with particular struggles, I am never exempt from the work. I refuse to take credit for my feminist knowledge. I refuse to take praise for defending people and stories and experiences that should not have to be defended. The moment I do, my own privilege is reproduced and their marginalization solidified
No work of true allies should require the public acceptance of praise or acclaim. To be an ally is a personal, private, and constant work. We should be praising resistance. We should be praising the narratives and lives and people who despite all of the systems working against them have survived. We must still, however, hold them to the same critical interrogation we hold ourselves. Equality is an ugly, difficult, and endless work. The moment we get hung up on the small victories, we find ourselves sedated and will eventually be left behind anyway. Allyship is not showing the world how good you are being, it showing the world how backwards it is, and constantly producing counter-narratives that promote equality. We don't need screenshots of your texts messages, Macklemore. We need more Marlon Brandos to refuse awardsvin the face of injustice. We do need White people, men, cisgender people, the wealthy, the educated, the able-bodied, but we need them to question the structures that put themselves in places of power. Without interrogation of how you got to where you are? Your allyship, my allyship, our allyship means nothing.
While my intent is not to make any ally feel bad -- your guilt does nothing for me and even less for you -- you should constantly be seeking ways to be a better ally. I want to be a better man to women, a better cisgender male to trans* people, a better able-bodied man to differently abled persons, and I implore you to be better, to see your work as never complete.
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