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July 22, 2013 | by  | in Features |
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How to Be a Straight Ally

So you’re straight. Well I’m not, and that difference affects the way we interact. I’m sure nearly all of you don’t think of yourselves as homophobes, and I’m not here to accuse you of being so, but there will almost inevitably be things that you do or say which make a queer person feel uncomfortable, or make it harder for a friend to come out, or have some other negative effect on queer people.

I’m assuming that you want to mitigate that, that you’re someone who doesn’t want to be causing harm to others, but isn’t sure what you need to change in order to do that, and how you’d go about changing it. If you genuinely don’t care about how your actions can hurt queer people, well, you’re reading the wrong issue of Salient. For the rest of you…

 

Welcome to Straight Ally 101

Listen. That’s the number-one most important thing about being a straight ally. You have to know completely that no part of your experience prepares you to be an expert on being queer, and that every queer person is an expert on their own experiences. If you try to counter someone’s experience with your own, then rather than adding voice to theirs you’re erasing it and replacing it with your own words. Likewise, if a queer person shares a way in which life has been harder for them because of their sexual or gender identity, you are causing more harm than good if you try to offer an experience from your own life that you believe to be comparable. This is their time to talk, not yours. Quieten down. Listen. Learn.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but think about why you’re asking them, and how they might affect the person you’re asking them of. It’s valuable to understand someone’s experience with coming out, for instance, but it may not have been a great experience for them, so don’t push too hard if it’s making them uncomfortable.

Recognise that it’s not a duty of a queer person to educate you – go out and learn on your own! You won’t be the first person a queer person has had to educate, and it’s exhausting educating person after person. There is such a wealth of information online, and, if you look in the right places, a lot of good-quality discussion you can learn from. Try to make sure that you’re learning from people who are queer themselves, though!

Being an ally isn’t a part-time occupation. The whole deal is that you use your straight privilege properly and call out people on queerphobic language and actions, because the sad truth is that your voice has more power because of your sexuality, and a straight person calling out homophobia is a more powerful action than a queer person doing so.

No matter how good an ally you are, you’ll eventually do or say something that’s a bit problematic. And that’s okay, we don’t blame you – these slip-ups are a learning opportunity, and it’s important to recognise that we’ve all grown up in a very heteronormative society, and fighting against that is not easy work. What matters is how you respond when someone calls you out – remember, if a queer person is offended by something you said, it’s not your place to defend it. It doesn’t really matter if you meant something to sound queerphobic or not, because it’s not the intent of words that wound, it’s the words themselves. A good ally acknowledges their mistakes and graciously learns from them. A bad ally denies they are being queerphobic.

Accept that some spaces aren’t for you. We know that you’re not responsible for all the ills wrought on the queer community by straight people, we know you’re one of the good ones, but there are times when queers need other queers, and a straight person, no matter how well-meaning, won’t fit into that space. A huge part of being a good ally is recognising that, because you can make people uncomfortable by inserting yourself in a space that’s not yours. This doesn’t mean you’re not ever welcome in queer spaces, but tread with caution, and check in with the people around you.

You may need a thick skin at times, to be an ally, and you’ll likely encounter people who say they hate straight people. Try not to take it personally – it’s a reaction to growing up in a straight society that hates us and shits on us in sometimes overt and sometimes subtle ways, and it’s natural to hate that!

Lastly, thank you. Thank you for being an ally, and for making the effort. I know it’s not always easy, but believe me, it’s easier than being queer. Being an ally is totally worth it – you’ll make so many fantastic new friends and meet so many great people by getting right into it!

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  1. Anne R says:

    I also think that labeling oneself An Ally is a good starting point, but can be ditched once you learn the ropes of queer politics and have incorporated them into your personal ethical framework. Cos this isn’t about social justice points, it’s about not being a jerk to people no matter what their sexuality/gender identity is. The best ‘allies’ I’ve come across are those who behave in a [oppressed group]-positive way not so much because it’s enjoyable, but because the alternative is intolerable for them.

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