On Allies

We live in troubled times, and now more than ever it’s important for us to band together in solidarity to protect the most vulnerable people among us. The queer community, specifically trans people, sex workers, immigrants and ethnic minorities are under attack.

If you are someone who has any amount of power – economic power, political power, social power, intellectual power – now is the time for you to wield your power to protect our brothers and sisters whose lives and ability to live life with dignity are at risk.

I’ve written about being an ally before, and while being an ally is incredibly important right now, there is something I would like to say to the allies about how to most effectively be an ally.

I have noticed that often times, allies treat their alliance as a social contract of indebtedness, a benevolent quid pro quo of some sort. For the record: as an ally, you are an ally for the sake of being an ally because it is the right thing to do, and not because you will get something out of it in the long run. What you get out of being an ally is a stronger community that will in turn support you should you be put on society’s chopping block. No one owes you anything because you support a good cause – they don’t owe you loyalty, they don’t owe you money, they don’t owe you inclusion in their social circles. That last one being something I’d like to focus on.

One thing that I’ve noticed about queer allies is that they tend to encroach on queer spaces. As a straight, cis woman who tries to be a queer ally, I admit that this makes me uncomfortable. I see that the queer community has created safe spaces for itself, and straight allies support queer rights and the queer community. However, just because you support the queer community does not give you a free pass to enter into the community and move through it as you see fit. If anything, by being a queer ally, we are, at times, invited to participate in queer events and in queer spaces. That invitation does not translate into implicit inclusion across the board within the queer community.

This is also something that I see happening with allies of the Black Lives Matter movement. Allies speak up against police brutality, and then they show up at black events without really participating in the culture but feeling like they belong there because they have earned a free pass because of the quid pro quo exchange of alliance.

This is not how alliance works. If anything, using your ally status to encroach on safe spaces for groups to which you do not belong without an invitation dilutes that very culture.

As allies, we should understand that by being an ally we are helping promote the interests of a group to which we do not belong and from which we can be excluded. We must understand that these groups have the right to decide whether or not they want to assimilate or separate, and if they choose to separate then we must be allies by respecting their decision to separate. If they want to assimilate, it is our job to welcome them into the power structures to which we have unique access. We do not ask to assimilate into their groups. Those are their groups. We must respect that.

We should take it upon ourselves to understand that as allies we do not have a free pass into their communities. And we should understand the position we are putting these communities in when we encroach upon them: if we leverage our alliance and our power to gain access to groups to which we do not belong, we are continuing the dynamic of power based oppression. These groups are not likely to tell us we do not belong if they are benefiting from our alliance – to ask us to leave would be to risk the fundamentals of the alliance.

It’s frustrating to not belong. As an ally, it can be frustrating to know that we do not belong to the communities to which we offer our alliance because often times in offering our alliance to communities to which we do not belong, we alienate ourselves from the communities from which we came. However, it is not up to these communities to accept us just because that is the position in which we put ourselves. If anything, we also need to focus on building a new community for ourselves which departs from the old values of the communities we left but does not encroach on communities to which we do not belong. This can be a lonely fight. But it is a fight worth fighting.

We do not want to risk being the next Rachel Dolezal. We do not want to risk losing sight of our own identities and stealing someone else’s identity because familiarity through alliance breeds a false sense of belonging or even coming from that other identity. The acceptance that we find from the groups with which we work does not translate into coming from that group or belonging to that group. We have to accept that there might not be any prizes or rewards for being an ally. We have to accept that it can, at times, be lonely.

But if we are to be good allies, if we are to be true allies, then that doesn’t matter. This isn’t why we are allies – we do not support other groups in order to quell our own sense of emotional displacement. We do it because it is right.

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