How to be a good queer & trans ally

Jun 15, 2012 @ 9:21 am | By TheFeministGriote | 29 Comments

June is officially LGBTQ month b/k/a pride month. As a feminist and queer advocate this month is important to me. I dedicate much space on my blog pointing out the egregious acts of hate and the issues that plague members of the LGBTQ community. In essence, I use my energy to lobby heterosexuals on behalf of the LGBTQ community in hopes that heterosexual folks will use their privilege for good!

I have been noticing in my online life and real life that many people who call themselves “allies,” are not really informed on LGBTQ issues. Nor do they a good job policing their privileges and biases. Therefore this blog post is dedicated to sharing tips that on how to become a better queer and trans ally.

The most important thing is to brush up on your queer language.

Lesbian-a woman who is sexually/mentally/emotionally attracted to women and sleeps with women exclusively

Gay-a man who is sexually/mentally/emotionally attracted to men and who sleeps exclusively with men. Gay is often used to describe lesbian women as well. For e.g. the same way the word mankind denotes all human beings

Bisexual-a man or woman who can derive sexual/mental/emotional fulfillment and attachment to both sexes.

Transgender-a man or woman who does not feel their biological gender is congruent with there gender expression; who sincerely feels that they’re a member of the opposite sex.

Queer-a sociopolitical term that is less sexualized. This term is adopted by many within the gay community as well as its allies; It is a more political way of identifying oneself; it is not limited by sexual orientation or gender expression.

Questioning-someone who is currently sorting out their sexual identity and coming to terms with their own inner beliefs about their queerness or internal homophobia

Intersex-“is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male” (intersex society of North America)

Cis-gendered-a person whose biological gender is congruent with their gender role/gender expression

Ally- a heterosexual man or woman who sees themselves as part of the LGBTQ community and is dedicated to interrupting negative discourse about the LGTBQ community; supports the LGBTQ community in whatever sociopolitical capacity that they can

Genderqueer– a person who does not identify with being either male or female; a person who is gender non-conforming and whose gender identity is fluid

Now that the language has been made clear let us discuss what makes a good ally. A good ally is one that is aware of their biases and prejudices and does something about it. There are many white people who will admit that there is white privilege, but admitting your privilege does nothing to lessen the oppression of another. You must actively work towards recognizing how you benefit from your privilege, and what can you do differently with your privilege to advocate on behalf of another.

For example it is not enough to have gay friends, but politically you don’t vote in favor of gay rights. That is not being a true ally. You are tokenizing your gay friend(s), but not humanizing them politically.

Another way to keep your heterosexism in check is by understanding that being gay is not an identity that needs to be co-signed by heterosexuals, in order for it to be real!  So when you find out your co-worker or distant cousin is gay don’t say things like, “I didn’t know you were gay.” Gay people just like heterosexuals are not required by law to wear their sexuality on their sleeve or make it front page news. Do not assume that all queer people are “out” in the traditional sense. Contrary to popular belief gay man and women who are private about their love life it doesn’t mean they’re a self-loathing closet case.For instance, when Beyonce and Jay-Z initially were painstakingly quiet about their relationship we accepted that. Although the silence drove many crazy we accepted their right to remain silent. But on the flip side we won’t apply that same respect to someone like Queen Latifah, whom we assume and perceive to be a lesbian. Heterosexism for the win.

Also please do not use the word “homosexual” it is a pejorative. The term homosexual is first and foremost archaic. White people don’t go around referring to Black people as colored or negro for very specific reasons. Same rules apply to the term homosexual. In 1973 when the American Psychological Association declassified “homosexuality” as a pathology and mental illness, we buried that term. I know some of you may think, but gay people call us straight folks heterosexuals (gasp). Please remember there has never ever been a time when being called a heterosexual caused you to lose your job, your housing, your family, or your life. Big difference!

A true ally sees themselves as part of the gay community. If you make a point when combating a homophobic person or statement to start your comment off with the following, “I am not gay but…” Then you’re buying into the notion that there is something inherently “bad” with being gay. Although you may not take umbrage with gay folks, you still want to assert and entrench yourself in your heterosupremacy.

Being an ally means you’re part of the community and the cause. You’re not co-opting the movement, but you recognize your sameness and highlight that instead of your differences.

A true gay and trans ally understands that fundamentally acceptance is still a form of homophobia. Yes I know, I can hear the collective deep sigh. I have the privilege of interning at an organization that works exclusively with LGBTQ youth, and my supervisor has taught me that acceptance is still rooted in homophobia follow me on this logic, I am going somewhere.

To say you accept something means that you recognize that the thing which you accept is less superior or it deviates from the norm. One of the definitions for the word acceptance in the Oxford dictionary says, “willingness to tolerate.” Well to me, that doesn’t sound affirming. But as an ally you should be seeking to support your trans and gay kin folk.

The word support means “bear all or part of the weight of; hold up, give comfort or emotional help to or approve or encourage.” That is the essence of an ally to affirm someone’s gay, lesbian, or trans identity.

The most important thing an ally can do is understand that you will never be an expert on all things gay, and that you will always have to police your biases, and fight against your socialization.

As a feminist there isn’t a month that goes by, that I am not confronted with the ways in which I still subconsciously buy into patriarchy. 

I am a cis-gendered woman. When I look in the mirror, I am happy with what I see. I do have some body image issues that I seriously need to work on, but beside that I love being female. I love my breast, I love my vagina, and I love my hips. I am in love with being a woman.

I can’t imagine looking in the mirror and feeling like I was born the wrong gender. All the empathy in the world will never allow me to understand that feeling organically. Therefore, as a cis-gendered woman, I must be cognizant of my privilege.

As an ally I can’t assume that all gay men and women subscribe to the same idealogies. I understand that the intersections of race/class/gender/socioeconomics complicates peoples personal narratives.

As an ally own the fact that you’re flawed, privileged, and was socialized into a heterosexist patriarchal society. People are too complex to be broken down into neat binary categories. As an ally dedicate yourself to understanding and supporting those in our society who live in the perpetual gray.

If you fail to do this than you’re simply an upgraded version of a homophic and transphobic bigot.



Categories: Mind Over Chatter

29 Responses to “ How to be a good queer & trans ally ”

  1. Thank you for this beautiful post. Rich, deep, valuable, critical, beautiful. I shall share it widely.

    Happy Pride!

  2. Thank you for sharing, Lutze.
    P.S. I found you through your feature on the For Harriet blog.

  3. I enjoy your thoughtful definition of ally. When I came out to my mother as bi, her first response was: “Well, so now I’m supposed to join a support group or something?” The word ally does have weight, it has courage too. Being an ally is not easy work, it is not a bumpersticker position that releases one of the integrity required to back-up a convenient catch phrase. Allies listen. Allies act. Allies call out that which does not benefit them to do so, particularly when it’s awkward, inconvenient, or illegal. And an ally’s work is never, ever, done.

  4. Before I read this I was all, “Pfft, I know how to advocate for gay people.” lol big mistake. I learned a few new terms here. Thanks =)

  5. […] We all have some type of privilege be it white privilege, male privilege, heterosexual privilege, cis-gendered privilege, able-bodied privilege, American privilege, Christian privilege and the list goes on. Use your […]

  6. Reading this a year after it was posted…Have to point out, though, that there are some big problems about how gender is talked about in this article. Gender is different from sex. There are no biological genders (and biological sex is also problematic because it insists on placing people in a binary). I’m genderqueer and think its important to point out that its not about sexuality (if someone identifies as male or female) but about gender (whether someone identifies as man, woman, or neither).

    The conflation of sex and gender is part of cis-privilege. There’s a BIG difference.

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