The Ally Issue

Illustration: Eben Ejdne

I remember feeling irritated when I saw an Ally sticker plastered on a wall. I tore most of it off without putting much thought into why it annoyed me. It was probably a stupid idea in hindsight, as someone could’ve seen the ripped edge of a rainbow rectangle and thought that it was some low-blow homophobic attack. I tried to rationalise it to myself – is someone who shows their support to the queer* community by only ever parading branded rainbow merch with the word ALLY emblazoned across a real supporter? Are you trying to avoid an uncomfortable prod at your sexuality if you don’t identify as ‘just’ a supporter?

A few thoughts like these crossed my mind, as accusatory as they may seem. But – call me ungrateful – I just seemed to have an issue with the ways in which some allies present their support.

That sticker represented everything I hated about the problematic queer* ally – a person with good intentions, but also a sense of ignorance regarding their approach to advocacy. The frequency of pride flag Facebook filters I saw, with cringe-worthy captions like ‘Allies for Equality’, around every major landmark decision relating to queer* rights was annoyingly high. If being queer* isn’t the ‘big deal’ that you say it is, why disassociate yourself from the people you’re campaigning for, just to make a point that you’re not queer*? Again, your intentions may be pure, but presentation matters.

The ally is an interesting role. Over the years, the position of the ally has been changing­, with queer* acceptance finding its way into most social and cultural circles. My Anglican school had chapel services about accepting The Gays. It was awkward at points, and they did attempt to push a sentiment of acceptance. But, due to it being a Christian school, there was always that sense of ‘us versus them’ – there was an air of caution when discussing people who you’d traditionally accuse of sin. A girl that I’d met for the first time was talking about an amazing Tinder date she had, followed by: ‘So, do you have a … partner, or anything?’ Again – caution when they brought my sexuality into the light. Even though people try to accommodate for ‘correctness’, the act of treading lightly around me felt alienating, to say the least.

The ‘ally’ is everywhere, but their cluelessness that is displayed borders on ignorance. I still felt a sense of distance between my life and the complaints my straight friends had about their relationship problems – I could barely even meet someone in the regional town I grew up in. As a gay guy who wasn’t ever really a ‘part of the community’ and hadn’t  had any queer* friends before university, I always saw the role of the ally as support from the outside. Like a zoo keeper advocating to save an endangered species to people looking at the poor animal through a glass enclosure, if you will. The persistent declarations by the queer* ally that they’re not queer* themselves just adds another enclosure wall and is another step backwards from eradicating stigma against queer* people.

Through no fault of their own, the inability of cis/straight people to actually imagine what it’s like to be part of a sexual minority has made their plight to assimilate us into their acceptable social norms redundant. They can remove their rainbow face paint and glitter at the end of the day and move on to their ‘normal’ issues. They don’t have to live with it. A gay couple provokes stares in the street. A trans woman spurs heads to turn as she goes on with her day. We do not have the privilege of acceptance that society automatically grants to cis or hetero people.

Being queer* is undesirable. The isolating feeling of being unchangeably and inherently different from your peers is difficult on its own and, for many, the added bonus of verbal or physical abuse is a reality that seems inescapable. Don’t insist that we’re all the same – we’re not. To me, the general public often seems more comfortable with some famous queer* ally deliver some Tumblr-worthy quote at a campaign than listen to the uncomfortable truths of queer* existence. Is our struggle somehow more palatable when it is presented by the voice of someone who is straight or cisgender?

If you consider yourself an ally, know that the queer* community doesn’t ignore your efforts. But you don’t get to decide when your support is sufficient. You don’t just slap on a sticker on your MacBook, and then, suddenly, equality has been achieved. You can only refer to yourself as an ‘ally’ when you’re willing to talk to your queer* friends and colleagues and consider what they have to say. The less you listen to the people you want to support, the further you push them away. And the more you separate yourselves – the way I see many of you do – the more I understand why the small social ticks stemming from outdated mindsets still exist. That separation is why I still feel uncomfortable watching two men kiss in a movie.

But, you know, #nohomo.