Community + Activism / Being An Ally

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"I'm a cisgender white girl, and have been struggling with best practices as an attempting-to-be, admittedly imperfect ally. Since I haven't experienced the same oppression that people of other races and gender identities have, I’ve encountered situations in which I said something that I had no idea would cause someone pain or alienation, but did. It breaks my heart that I did this. How can I protect others from my ignorance, if I can't anticipate it in myself?"

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Aisha Says:

Okay, first, let me say good for you for 1) Admitting that you are an imperfect ally and 2) Being willing and eager to become a better one. It’s not easy to accept that you have privileges you never knew about, and it’s even harder to begin the work of unlearning prejudices or misconceptions.

Let me also begin by saying: you are not alone. Sometimes we say the wrong things. Sometimes we mean to say one thing and it comes out completely wrong—Cady Heron put that best in Mean Girls when she called it “word vomit.” Of course, there’s a difference between saying something embarrassing to your crush and possibly saying something offensive to your friend. (So not grool.)

This may sound too simple, but you know what they say – the simplest solution is usually the right one. I would suggest asking questions. Approach your friends of color and your nonbinary friends and be honest! Tell them that you are scared of saying something hurtful, and ask them what they’re comfortable talking about with you. Ask about their experiences with oppression, or the right pronouns to use when someone is transitioning. This might sound easier said than done, but trust me: your friends want you to be a better ally, too. I definitely want my friends to be!

For example, there’s a kid who sits at my table at lunch—let’s call him Tim—and from time to time he says ignorant things. Once, he admitted he was afraid of and intimidated by muscular black men. I know what you’re thinking: OH MY GOD HOW DO YOU EVEN EAT NEAR SOMEBODY WHO SAYS THINGS LIKE THAT? 

Believe it or not, like you, Tim genuinely didn’t know that he was being offensive. It was so ingrained that he thought that my friend and I—who are also black—would agree with him! My friend and I could have gotten angry, but instead we decided to use the situation as a learning opportunity. We talked Tim through it and asked him why he felt that way, and by the end of it, he realized that he was being influenced by the media and by prejudices in his family. He walked away with a heightened awareness about his misconceptions.

You seem like you are already pretty socially aware, so—and I know this sounds super simple again—just try to be mindful about what you’re saying and thinking. Ask yourself, If the roles were reversed, would I be comfortable if somebody said what I’m about to say? Usually, you have your answer right there. I have another friend who, like you, was frustrated about saying potentially racist things without meaning to. I told him he could text me with questions, and now from time to time we end up having really cool conversations about how he can be a better ally!

Of course, it’s not always easy to find friends who are open to talking about their experiences with you. Remember, it is not the responsibility of people of color or nonbinary people to educate you on how to be an ally – that’s something you have to navigate for yourself. One thing you can do is online research. Diversify your media consumption by reading Out, Essence, or Latina magazines; this will help you to familiarize yourself with the experiences of people of other races and gender identities. There are so many awesome online resources now, too: This Everyday Feminism article and this list of LGBTQ+ identities are great places to start. I wish you all the best, and remember—don’t feel so guilty! Don’t be afraid to ask for help or guidance, and realize that you will make mistakes, but that doesn’t make you a bad ally. It makes you human!

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“My friend has recently begun the process of transitioning from male to female. She hasn’t told many people (including family) and still dresses male for work etc. She is really struggling with still having to pretend, but knows she isn’t really to be fully out yet. I’m 100% supportive, but I don’t know what words I can say to help her. I can keep saying I’m here for her, but is there any other way I can help make life a little easier for her???”

- Question asked by Anonymous and answered by Red Davidson as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions

Red Says:

I want to preface my answer by saying: I am not a trans woman. I can only answer this question from my own experience of being nonbinary and having trans friends (most of whom are men given where I currently am). My advice is also informed by the things I look for/want from allies. However, in order to be an effective ally to your friend you’re going to have to do a lot of your own reading and thinking. You also need to be prepared to know that you’re going to mess up sometimes, and that when you do you will need to take that as an opportunity to learn, whether it be from your friend or someone else, instead of getting defensive. We live in a very transmisogynistic society, so everyone who is not a trans woman, including myself, need to understand that we are culpable in benefiting from and upholding (despite our best intentions) transmisogyny.

One of the easiest things you can do to support someone who has come out to you, especially if they’re still in the closet to most other people, is to listen and to be a source of validation. What works as validation may vary from person to person, but for me sometimes validation is something as small as people using my name (i.e. not my birth name). Or hearing myself be referred to by the correct pronouns. But validation also includes not belittling negative feelings and emotions she might express.  If your friend experiences dysphoria and talks about it with you, even if it might be tempting to try to comfort her by making the problem seem less intense than it is, that might actually make your friend feel worse, or like she can’t trust you. If she needs/wants help getting clothing that she feels more comfortable in, you can offer to give her some clothes that you’re not using anymore (if she’s close to your size) or offer to go shopping with her. There are also clothing exchanges online specifically for trans people.

I think that one of the biggest things you can do to support someone is to read and learn more.  Don’t just be a “friend,” work to be an ally.  Allyship doesn’t exist in stasis, you can’t “achieve” allyship—it’s a constant process of unlearning and learning. Read! Read things written by trans women. Read things written by trans women of color. Janet Mock and Laverne Cox are both pretty high profile people right now, and it’s fairly easy to find videos of both of them speaking about transmisogyny. But there’s also a lot of history of trans women’s writing and theory. Read things about and by Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. Read things you can find written by trans women bloggers who aren’t famous. Learn the right language to use—especially because it can change pretty frequently. For example, most trans people don’t like the phrases “male to female” or “female to male” because it implies that they were once “actually” the gender they were assigned at birth. And question your assumptions. Learn to recognize the thoughts and preconceptions you have that are oppressive/transmisogynistic.  There is no perfect process of doing this work, and there’s no easy way to answer this question.

Here is a (short) list of books by black trans women. I would also recommend reading things written by trans women at Autostraddle. And you can always Google things and look around Tumblr for things written by trans women about allyship.

Unlearning oppression is very difficult, and trying to learn how to support a friend without accidentally hurting them in the process—especially if you don’t have any other people to talk to about it—can be scary. Coming out for the first time is also a really scary and vulnerable experience. While you might be feeling uncertain about the best ways to support your friend, your friend is probably feeling a lot more scared and unsure about how they feel being out, and how they feel about still being in the closet to people. So, again, one of the easiest things you can do is talk, listen, love, and remember that sometimes you might mess up, but that it doesn’t have to be the end of the world.


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"What are your opinions on the inclusion/exclusion of "ally" in the LGBTQ+ acronym?"

- Question submitted by Anonymous

Dannielle Says:

THIS IS SO INTERESTING. I think a lot of people are like “wait… then if Ally is included.. why is there an acronym… bc then it’s just everyone???” Which makes a lot of sense to me, bc you’re either in the community or a supporter of the community (or just mean, in which case GOOD RIDDANCE). IT’S LIKE, we all want an identifier, we want to be able to say, “yo I identify with THIS community, that is how you can connect me with diff groups of people, interests, and political beliefs” or w/e. It’s also a quick way to know whether or not you are safe in an environment. If the acronym is brought up, you see a safe space sticker, you read that all members of the community are protected, you see that there is an inclusive diversity alliance on your campus OR at your workplace, etc., these are all reasons that the acronym is totally necessary.

ALSO THO, those reason make me feel like Ally should be included?? IDK It’s like, if an ally has a sticker, I know I’m safe. If an ally creates an inclusive group at my workplace, I’m stoked and I feel protected. If an ally is like ‘hey, most of what I dedicate my time to is LGBTQ stuff bc that’s what I care about and that’s who I am” then like… they should be allowed as a part of the acronym??

I don’t know what’s right, but I’ve just started referring to us as ‘the acronym community’ because that way NO ONE is left out. The acronym is what you make it. Everyone is allowed in, because the whole point is that we are equal and safe and in it together.

Kristin Says:

Okay. Here we go. To start, the most commonly used acronym – LGBTQ – isn’t complete. There’s no “I” for Intersex, there’s no “A” for asexual, and there are many, many (manymanymany) other identities that don’t have a letter in that line-up (and maybe you agree with some of those letters and not others… I don’t know you!). Maybe you add a “+” symbol to the end to signify that there are more. Maybe your acronym has the”I” and “the “A” and a million more letters. A few people I know have abandoned the LGBTQ+ entirely in favor of GSD, which stands for Gender & Sexual Diversities.

SIDEBAR: I just googled “GSD” to make sure that was correct, and the first thing that comes up is The German Shepard Dog Community.


My point is: we are all trying to do something with all these goddamn letters, and that is to unite as a community. What does “community” mean? Well, that’s different for everyone. Some people feel that what makes us a community is the fact that, at the end of the day, we walk with less privilege than others because of our sexuality or gender identity. They appreciate the presence of allies, but they draw the line on community at the fact that allies don’t share that same, exact experience. Fair. Fine. I get it. Other people base community off of a mutual understanding of a different nature. Those people say, “If you believe in human equality and you are going to stand arm in arm with me through this fight, you are my ally and you are a part of my community.” Fair. Fine. I get it.

I understand both sentiments. You want to know how I feel, personally?Personally, I am of the “you link your fucking arm with mine and you are in this fight, you belong to my community” variety. You may be a person who disagrees. That is OKAY. It is okay for you and I to be fighting for the same rights and to disagree on letters in an acronym, so long as that disagreement does not hinder or dismantle our fight, or our ability to stand together to fight for equality.

So, now you know where I stand… but you also know that I respect you no matter where you stand, so long as we can all work together and be respectful of each other’s opinions. Allies are critical to our fight. You don’t want to use the letter? That’s okay. You exclude allies or make them feel like they don’t belong here with us in this fight? That’s not fucking okay.

Russo, out.


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"I wholeheartedly support LGTB as a straight girl, and everyone who knows me knows that. However, my family has begun making subtle (and at times rude) remarks that lead me to believe that they think I am actually gay. In all honesty I don’t care what they believe, but is there some way for me to explain to my semi-homophobic uber religious family that I can support equality as a straight ally so that they can keep their comments to themselves?"

- Question submitted by Anonymous

Dannielle Says:

I think this is one of the most important conversations IN THE WORLD. We all have to be comfortable standing up for human equality, regardless of how we identify. It only separates us further to sit back simply because we don’t “fit” into a “community.” If my family were making racist comments, I would 100% say something and I am not a person of color. In fact, I HAVE been in that situation and though I felt a little off-base because it is not my personal experience, I still believe that we all deserve the same respect and that lack of respect makes me uncomfortable.

I think it’s amazing and wonderful and so perfect that you want to stand up for human equality. I beg you to do so without giving a reason or excuse. Simply asking your family to be respectful should be enough. It doesn’t have to be because you are gay, or you have a gay friend, or you have gay coworkers. You should NOT have to explain yourself.

If they ask you why, be real. You think all humans deserve the same respect / opportunities / rights and it makes you uncomfortable / upset when ANYone makes ANY comment that devalues ANY human.


Kristin Says:

Amen. Fighting for equality should never, ever hinge on your own, personal identity and the rights you are afforded in this very moment in history.

I think the simplest way to communicate that with your family is by saying, “Would you like to have your rights taken away from you?” When they say no, of course not, and then start to explain why their rights are different than the rights of LGBTQ people, politely stop them and explain further. Say, “Well, Aunt Lisa, I understand that right now you think those rights are different… but what if someday someone thinks your rights are different, and their argument is the exact same as yours… but instead of others being affected, it is your own rights being taken away?” Use an example of something that Aunt Lisa is — maybe she is Christian or Japanese or a woman (HINT HINT) — and maybe there is a way to run a parallel to those parts of her that might run a risk of being discriminated against (or a parallel to those parts that have been blatantly treated as a lesser in many parts of our history).

Remember when women couldn’t vote? Remember when being Japanese ran you a risk of being put into an internment camp? Remember when Christians were being burned at the stake? OKAY COOL.

Should we have to pull on personal factors to get others to want equality for all? No… we shouldn’t. However, sometimes facing the fact that when any single one of us is being treated unfairly, we then all run the risk of being treated unfairly, is the best way to get a deeper understanding for the situation you are in.

This fight isn’t about being gay or trans or bisexual or anything else. This fight is about being a human being, and fighting so that any and all human beings regardless of sexuality, gender identity, race, religion, ability, and the list goes on, are treated with the same respect and given the same rights as anyone else. Period.

Thank you for fighting with us, and for working to help those around you understand why that fight is so vital. The more people behave the way you are behaving, the closer we are to achieving equality.