Ways to be a su­per queer ally

But in try­ing to be sup­port­ive, al­lies some­times get it all wrong

Mail & Guardian - - Comment & Analysis - Kagure Mugo

Ally­ship has been de­fined by the Cana­dian PeerNetBC as “an ac­tive, con­sis­tent and ar­du­ous prac­tice of un­learn­ing and re-eval­u­at­ing, in which a per­son in a po­si­tion of priv­i­lege and power seeks to op­er­ate in sol­i­dar­ity with a marginalised group”.

The term “ally” is used in the les­bian gay bi­sex­ual trans­gen­der (LGBT) com­mu­nity to de­scribe some­one who is sup­port­ive of its peo­ple. This term in­cludes non-LGBT al­lies as well as those in the LGBT com­mu­nity who sup­port each other; for ex­am­ple, a les­bian who is an ally of the bi­sex­ual com­mu­nity.

In the age of so­cial me­dia and dig­i­tal ac­tivism, ally­ship comes un­der fire for be­ing lack­lus­tre at best and prob­lem­atic at worst. There are a lot of ways it looks good on so­cial me­dia — In­sta­gram pho­tos at Pride, woke tweets dur­ing #BiVis­bil­ity week or Face­book fil­ters sup­port­ing le­gal­i­sa­tion about ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity in In­dia, but there is more that goes into it than a con­trived selfie. There are some lessons to learn about how to be a good ally to the queer com­mu­nity.

Lis­ten and learn

Know­ing queer peo­ple does not make you an ex­pert. Hav­ing some in­sight into queer lives some­times means that peo­ple think they can speak on be­half of oth­ers and that they can ig­nore their own prej­u­dices and bi­ases.

Be open to learn­ing about the unique and di­verse ex­pe­ri­ences that make up the lives of the queer com­mu­nity, and re­mem­ber peo­ple vary from coun­try to coun­try and from con­text to con­text. Lis­ten­ing to your queer friends/fam­ily/ac­quain­tances mat­ters.

In ea­ger­ness to be an ally, the first in­stinct may be to jump in and ask a whole bunch of ques­tions (some of which can be in­tru­sive) or to make ob­ser­va­tions. But lis­ten­ing to what they want and need to tell you should be top of mind. Queer peo­ple are the ones who know about their lives, so it’s best to let them lead the con­ver­sa­tion.

Sup­port in the way they want

Each queer per­son will need sup­port in dif­fer­ent ways.

For some it could mean help to come out in dif­fi­cult spa­ces, such as with fam­ily and friends, for oth­ers it could be the need for a sound­ing board while they fig­ure out their sex­u­al­ity. It could sim­ply mean recog­nis­ing their queer­ness and not be­ing weird about it or it could mean help­ing them find some­one to sit on their face on Fri­day night.

The ex­pe­ri­ences of peo­ple are di­verse, and their needs will vary. Try to find out about the in­tri­ca­cies of a per­son’s life, be it the ac­tivism they are pas­sion­ate about, the per­sonal is­sues they face or whether they are in­ter­ested in be­ing a “su­per gay”.

Un­der­stand that their en­tire life is not their sex­u­al­ity. Of­ten when peo­ple come out to oth­ers, their en­tire iden­tity sud­denly ro­tates around them not be­ing straight. They are no longer a doc­tor but a “les­bian doc­tor”, no longer some­one’s favourite bar­ber, but now a “pan­sex­ual hair cut­ter”. No one thinks of a het­ero­sex­ual lawyer as “the straight lawyer”.

Although it can be dif­fi­cult not to zero in on this part of their iden­tity, try to be cog­nisant of the fact that you are do­ing it. Be­ing queer is not the only as­pect of their lives. They are still ev­ery­thing else you knew them to be.

Stay out of their sex life

Queer sex can seem strange and ex­cit­ing. Hav­ing ac­cess to this in­for­ma­tion might lead you to mis­use it. The hy­per-sex­u­al­i­sa­tion of queer peo­ple means that of­ten straight peo­ple have few to no bound­aries about ask­ing what they do when they are butt-naked.

It is in­cor­rect to think that be­ing gay is all about sex, all day ev­ery day. It is also in­tru­sive to ask per­sonal ques­tions about it. Queer lives are not a whacky, kinky Wikipedia page for you to scroll through. Chat­ting coitus over some chardon­nay in a so­cial set­ting where ev­ery­one is shar­ing and learn­ing is fine, but do not turn some­one into a spec­ta­cle be­cause they have sex that is dif­fer­ent from yours. How­ever, on that note, it is okay to (re­spect­fully) get tips. Queers know things.

Do your own re­search

Some­times the ques­tions can get a bit much. You may be burst­ing to find out ev­ery­thing from your friend or loved one, it may be best to use the bless­ing that is Google. The in­ter­net’s trove of in­for­ma­tion can al­le­vi­ate some of the bur­den of ask­ing your loved one a whole host of awk­ward, and some­times tax­ing, ques­tions. Your own re­search can also be a start­ing point to have con­ver­sa­tions.

A process of un­learn­ing

Re­alise that your queer friend/ loved one is not a prop to add to your “woke” starter kit, but a whole hu­man be­ing liv­ing a life. They do not ex­ist to give your life a dash of glit­ter. Also re­mem­ber, you do not get a cookie for be­ing an ally — it is just the de­cent thing to do.

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