I’ve been getting emails lately asking what people can do to be better allies. I’ve also been observing behaviour online in various circles from people claiming to be allies. I also spend time with other queer folks talking about what we need and want from people who are working in solidarity with us and so I thought I would share some suggestions here. I’m not gonna lie; some of this is gonna be tough love. But we’re all adults here and if you want to be in solidarity with me then I’m hoping you care enough to take some criticism. Here we go:
* First, can we please stop using the term “ally”? It’s messed up for several reasons. The best and clearest response I’ve seen as to why we should stop using the word is in this post. But I’ve also seen a lot of people claiming this term for themselves who are not at all working in solidarity with me. In fact, some of them still think I’m a “sinner” for being queer. Here’s the thing: You don’t get to call yourself an ally. The community with which you are trying to be in solidarity gets to call you an ally. They get to decide if the work you are doing is helpful or harmful.
* Listen. I need you to listen. Listen when I tell you that what you’re doing isn’t helpful. Listen when I tell you what I actually need. Listen when someone gets upset with you. I know it can be tough, but this is the best thing you can do as an ally.
* This work is not about you. So stop trying to make it about you. Being in solidarity with people can be hard work, I get that. But the thing is, you have a choice at any time to walk away.
* Get involved in work that is being led by queer people. Work alongside us. This way you can be sure that the work you are doing is something that will actually benefit queer people.
* Stop expecting queer people to educate you. Do some research and reading. I even set up a page to get you started.
* Stop apologizing. Stop raising money to make tshirts that apologize to queer people. Stop showing up at OUR pride events to apologize. We don’t need your apology. We need you to be working with us to enact change. Apologies are cheap unless they are backed by concrete action. Also, your apology makes it all about you and again, this work is not about you. (And raising money off of the oppression of queer folks without giving that money back to organizations that aid the most vulnerable like queer youth homeless shelters is really shady.)
* Having queer people on your board or having a queer friend or two doesn’t give you a pass to do whatever you want so long as that person signs off on it. There is a multiplicity of understandings in the queer community. What might be helpful to one person is not helpful to another. Don’t discount criticism just because one or two people have signed off on your actions.
* Stop feeling sorry for me. While there is oppression in the world and while we need to name oppression, that doesn’t mean that I am a victim. Yes, I face challenges because I’m trans* but I also have a fierce life. I have amazing friends. I have been blessed by my queerness in ways that are too manifold to count. But even if I hadn’t been, feeling sorry for me doesn’t help to change the structures that cause oppression.
* When someone calls you out for something, take it to heart and move on. You will make mistakes. It’s okay. It happens. So take the criticism, change your behaviour, and get back to work.
I am thankful for people who truly want to be in solidarity with me. But I am getting tired of having people who claim they are on my side do work that harms my community, work that disempowers queer folks, and then getting bent out of shape when queer people call them out on it.
Privilege is tricky. Different privileges overlap with one another and interplay with each other. One can be privileged in one area and oppressed in another. Privilege is something that needs to be examined every day throughout the day. For instance, since I transitioned I have gained privilege. I get male privilege. I get white privilege. But at the same time as a trans* person there is oppression that I face. These things live in tension and I need to be aware of them. I need to be aware of the ways in which I am oppressing other people even as I am oppressed. I need to be aware of how the privilege I hold just by virtue of being a white man plays into systems of oppression. By being aware of these things I can work to change the systems. It does me no good to feel bad about my privilege. Instead I need to use that privilege in healthy ways and change the systems.
There is a lot of work to be done. I want us to be working with one another to get it done.