Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Allies' Conundrum: You Can Walk Away

About a year and a half ago, well before I came out, I was advocating LGBTQ rights and calling myself an ally. I was in full support of marriage equality, nondiscrimination laws, etc. as a voter and in conversation. The reason I was an ally wasn't just because I believed in equality: it was because I understood.

This was back when I thought there were only two options for sexuality: gay or straight. I believed that after years of flopping back and forth, I had married a man and thus landed ultimately on the straight side, with only a few remaining symptoms--noticing attractive women, having book-crushes on female characters, and dreaming about women*--from my "lesbian days." This was before I knew about bisexuality.

The fact that I understood what it's like to fall in love with someone of your own sex, to be afraid of those feelings, to feel ashamed, and to try to hide your feelings from everyone--that's what made me an advocate. It was personal for me.

The realization that it isn't personal for everyone is what led me to dig deeper and search further. I discovered that my sexuality hadn't changed because I got married but rather I simply didn't have a word to describe myself. I discovered there's a whole category of us who are neither gay nor straight, but both at once. I began the process of coming out bi, starting with coming out to myself.

And then, of course, I wasn't an ally anymore: the letter "B" in LGBTQ applied to me. That's why these issues were so personal. That's why I couldn't have walked away from advocacy.

For allies who are truly straight, the fight for LGBTQ rights will never be the same level of personal. They don't experience fear about themselves, shame over who they are, confusion about their place in the world, or the stab to the heart from a homophobic or biphobic comment. That doesn't mean they can't be allies. It just means it isn't personal to them.

Self-Portrait, Walking Away by Stuart Heath.

At any time, a cisstraight ally can walk away.

If you need a break from the struggle or just can't take the heat, you can back off. You can go live the rest of your life and breathe, without being hindered by a lack of rights or by people discriminating against you or by people calling you names. That's okay. Don't feel guilty that you have rights. It's a good and awesome thing that you are protected!

And I get it, too: sometimes you need a break. Sometimes the fight is wearing you down and you have to recharge so you can come back stronger. Also, not all issues are all things to all people. Sometimes you have to prioritize where you're going to put your energy and what you're going to spend time educating people on, and LGBTQ activism might not take first place.

Maybe you're someone who would never walk away. Maybe this issue is still personal because even though it's not you, it's a family member or a best friend who is queer and facing the discrimination of our day. Maybe you're an ally because you believe in justice and would never walk away from fighting any kind of inequality and prejudice.

I know many allies who are good, devoted, wonderful allies and all of them care very deeply about the issues faced by LGBTQ individuals. They wouldn't walk away from their allyship, and when they make mistakes, they apologize and ask how they can do better.

But I also know people who are still figuring out how much all this matters to them: marriage equality, non-discrimination laws, inclusion in the church, representation in the media, proper education in schools. They haven't decided all their views or what they're going to advocate and what not.

It's okay to be confused, but be careful about calling yourself queer-inclusive if you haven't fully decided yet. I know people who wanted to be allies, got into the thick of things, and decided this isn't actually what they signed up for. They aren't totally sure they believe in this, so they need to go think it over, or there's simply too much hostility and animosity and they need out.

Allies can stop being allies, and sometimes they do. Sometimes, in the midst of the struggle, you realize you just don't want to be here.

Whether you're a devoted ally or are still figuring out your views, I want you to remember that you can walk away. LGBTQ individuals cannot. We may hide ourselves or pretend it doesn't matter, but the prejudice will always hurt. Straight, cis individuals have a lot of power: to choose to join in advocating for LGBTQ rights, inclusion, and education, or not. It's a choice for you.

You have the power to walk away if you want. You get the honor of choosing not to.

Word count: 819.

* Believe it or not, getting married doesn't mean you only dream about your spouse for the rest of your life. When there's romantic or sexual content to a dream, most people's brains create random, made-up people to fill the part, no matter how many years you've been sleeping next to someone. That's biology, folks, not something to be ashamed of.