I have a girlfriend. We were close friends at some point, but later our life paths took us different directions. We tried to stay in touch, chatted every so often and checked on each other. Not that long ago we were exchanging the news when she told me that she has found out that she is gay. Turned out that she understood that part of her identity a few years ago.
I don’t think I had much of a reaction. I was definitely happy that she found herself and it seemed that she was quite happy. And I was grateful that she shared it with me. But I also had a few inner thoughts and questions in my head.
First, this situation once again reminded me that, on the one hand, our sexuality is not as static as we often tend to believe. Unless we educate ourselves and feel safe enough to question our identity, we may not be fully aware of what is going on inside. And when we prefer to remain blindsided and not see the other sides, we may not know all the different nuances of who we are and probably would try to suppress any doubts.
On the other hand, the topic of sexual and gender diversity has been closeted for so long, that when the conversation finally starts happening it feels that it’s some 20th century invention. As if the diversity in our world and in our species haven’t existed throughout the times. People have been identifying themselves in countless ways. Diversity has always been here. The safety wasn’t.
These thoughts have brought me back to the situation with my friend. I started wondering what made her feel unsafe with me so she didn’t talk about her discovery for a few years.
I never called myself an ally. (A person of one identity group who stands up and supports another group. Usually, ally is a member of a dominant or privileged group who supports those who belong to the oppressed group, discriminated against or treated unjustly). And I’ve never owned an A-pin (maybe because I belong to different groups depending on the situation). But I tried to act as an ally when I could. Or I thought that I tried. I guess I failed to a point with my friend, but it made me do more research, try to understand the concept deeper and become more conscious of what I say and what I do.
So what it means at all to be an ally? Well, I guess the briefest description of being an ally is to be able to shut up and to speak up. Might be a bit frustrating, but that’s what it is. Let’s break it up.
Being an ally means to catch the moment when you stop talking and listen, trying to hear people’s perspective when they are talking about how you or others hurt them (even if it was not an intention). Being an ally means understanding your privilege (a multilayered word that often causes a lot of irritation and is hard to deal with, especially when your own life isn’t quite milk and honey. But that probably will be the topic for a different column).
Being an ally means watching the language you use and not only jokes you tell, but jokes you laugh at. To be an ally one needs to understand the history and how and why the system of oppression was built. And as a result to understand how you benefit from the system at the expense of others. So if you feel that you are trying to justify the situation in which someone else is hurting, just try to keep quiet for a moment and try to see that oppressive colonial monster.
And when you see and understand that system, you need to speak up. It doesn’t mean to report back. Don’t tell a person sharing with you about your friends telling homophobic jokes, that’s reporting back.
To speak up doesn’t mean to speak over and use your authority, it means to use your voice as an avenue. It means to use the knowledge you received while listening to help others see and understand why inequality hurts everyone.
When someone says something racist, culturally inappropriate or homophobic, you question that person where it comes from. Just open the discussion. That will help all of us move forward.
Being an ally is not only about the LGBTQ2S community. It’s about any inequality. Once you understand the system of oppression, you see how ugly it is and how life can be more beneficial for everybody without it. And it’s everybody’s job to educate, question, talk…
I don’t identify myself with political parties or streams. And even though such terms as oppression, privilege, ally and others received a lot of political connotation (since they are quite popular in political discourse, especially when we talk liberals or progressive), but in reality, they are not about politics. They are about us being humans, making mistakes, realizing mistakes, sharing, caring and moving forward. They are about people learning again how to be and to build an inclusive community, a safe space where everyone matters and people support each other.
So to be an ally is to act, be conscious and create change.