Hearing straight men identify as allies to the LGBT community always makes my heart melt a little. So when one of my new straight-male friends asked if he could sit in on a QSA meeting, I immediately said yes and took him to a panel on LGBT dating, hoping to show him how cool the queer community is. The discussion was mostly civil, until my fledgling ally worked up the courage to ask one simple question on a topic he was genuinely interested in: "In gay dating, who's the girl?" This question did not go over well.
Within milliseconds the P.C. police had descended on him, vehemently demanding that he check his straight-cis-male privilege as well as his narrow-minded assumptions about dating and gender roles. He should be ashamed, they said.
On our awkward walk home, my friend pointed out two things. First, he was surprised by how unwelcoming they were for such a supposedly inclusive community. Second, he had no intention of returning. While both these statements broke my heart, they made me think about the less convivial side of the LGBT community. For a group that prides itself in its inclusivity, continually adding letters to the alphabet soup of queer identities, we can be rather intimidating to newcomers.
I understand that my friend did not pose his question in the most politically correct light; however, the QSA gays did not grant him the benefit of the doubt. They jumped on him as though he were an aggressor in their safe space, not a potential ally who might be new to the discourse and dialogue but seeking to learn more about a community he was hoping to support.
I also understand that this QSA is not necessarily a representative sample of all gay people; however, I worry that much of the queer discourse has become too "politically correct," with members of the queer community perpetually calling people out, demanding that people check their privilege, correcting microaggressions, and highlighting each and every heteronormative assumption, that it may be scaring away some of our most powerful and important supporters: our fledgling straight allies.
And the bottom line is that we need our allies.
We need them not only as friends who can offer love and support but as critical community members to further our cause. As much as we wish to fight our own battles, it is often our allies in the majority who have chosen to fight for the minority cause who can have the greatest impact. They can serve as intermediaries, given the time and space to say and be heard saying the same things that the minority group has been preaching for years. And it is only through changing hearts and minds in the majority that we can reshape the hegemonic views that we spend hours debating in queer circles. So here I suggest five ways to be better to our allies, particularly the new ones.
1. View allyship as a continuum.
So often allyship is painted as all-or-nothing: If you don't support all our beliefs, you're not an ally. We must remember that, like any self-identity, allyship is an ongoing process, made up of small, gradual steps. It is a "becoming" process that grows and develops over time, and not always following a linear trajectory.
2. Leave room for political incorrectness.
While checking our privilege and engaging in conscientious discourse are great ways to practice thoughtful and inclusive speech and action, we must leave room for political incorrectness. We have to give people, particularly newcomers to the cause, the benefit of the doubt whenever possible and consider making room for political incorrectness in everyday life. There is a difference between fighting homophobia and scrutinizing every microaggression that comes your way. While the two are not mutually exclusive, the latter can be tiring and lead you further from what you are actually fighting for.
3. Remember the big picture.
Pick your battles and keep the bigger picture in mind. When discussing difficult or touchy topics, give people room to voice their opinions. Let them say their piece, and rather than formulating a retort for every problematic assertion and microaggression, step back and listen for the bigger picture. What is the most important part of this discussion?
4. Take pride in small victories.
Minds are not typically changed overnight or through one impassioned debate. Remember that everyone is on his or her own learning curve, and that small steps in the right direction are still steps.
5. Be an ally to your allies.
Standing up for a community that you are not inherently a part of can be scary and leave a potential ally feeling vulnerable. Welcome newcomers, make room for them in your circles, and remember that allyship goes both ways. Support your supporters.
With these steps in mind, I believe the LGBTQQIAA+ community can become much stronger by supporting and embracing the final letter in our alphabet-soup mix: the "A," which actually stands for "ally."