Yesterday, I hosted a stand-up comedy open mic and after each rape joke or joke about abusing women, I made it clear on stage that I was uncomfortable and didn't feel safe with the situation. After the show, a few people cornered me and told me that by voicing this concern at the open mic (my open mic that I host every week), I was censoring free speech. One person even called me a "bitch." I left crying and struggled with whether or not I should continue going to open mics if this was how unsafe I felt.
I love stand-up comedy, but in order to perform sometimes I have to sit through hours of painfully long open mics, watching comedians do rape jokes, jokes about having sex with dead women, jokes from the perspective of the oppressor "punching down" on women and minorities and anyone socially more vulnerable. I know this happens in art forms and businesses all across the spectrum, but I'm just using comedy as an example because that's my background. Being a woman often involves having to sit through jokes about sexual harassment and feeling unsafe.
Many of my friends say I should stay away from open mics and only do booked shows or open mics at safe space venues, but if I did that, I would only get to perform maybe once or twice a week. I don't think anyone should feel punished for feeling unsafe.
Last night when I was crying, my roommate asked, "What could I have done to have helped more?" I've had a few people ask me ways that they can be better allies to me when I'm struggling. An ally is a person trying to support a marginalized group that they're not a part of. A lot of my friends are trying to be allies, and that's wonderful and I'm so grateful for that. I also am trying to be an ally. You might notice I said "trying," because I believe being an ally is an ongoing process and not just an identity I can put on and then allow myself to stop worrying. I understand that because I'm white and cisgendered, I have a lot of privilege that others don't. I try to learn as much as I can about racism, transphobia and other issues. I recognize and do everything I can to correct the misalignment of power and I believe it is in my best interest to address social injustices and call out those who oppress others.
After the open mic, I had so many amazing friends text me and offer kind words. I am so grateful that I live and work in a community where so many of my friends express empathy very readily to others. One way that I am trying to actively be an ally in addition to empathy is striving to speak up more about social injustice. I'm trying to call out people more for saying oppressive things. Much of my stand-up is about feminist issues, and because of that, I've been called "man-hating," but I believe when a man talks about feminist issues, people listen more, as disheartening as that is. It really helps when a man says something on stage reinforcing, or at least not detracting from feminist issues. When I call out a man for doing a rape joke at the open mic I host, comics say I'm overreacting, but when a man calls out someone for doing a rape joke, people seem to listen more.
Similarly, I'm attempting to call people out for saying transphobic things. However, I'm apprehensively trying not to overshadow anyone who has actually experienced this type of harassment. I know that I can't possibly understand the struggle trans people have to go through, so I'm constantly trying to be better and learn more and admit that I don't know everything, while still fighting for social justice.
When something sexist happens, some of my friends will tell me to ignore it, to stick to shows where I feel safe and comfortable, but I don't think that's what I want for myself or for anyone who feels vulnerable in social situations. I really want to learn to be a better ally, and I hope you do too.