vikki: (omg WRYYY)
[personal profile] vikki
I am literally posting this to DW because posting this to tumblr would be the worst POSSIBLE plan.

(I talk a little bit about white guilt problems under the cut for analogous reasons, so proceed knowing that.)

Okay, so Ally Week is October 21st-25th this year, and as I understand it, its purpose is to help educate allies of LG(bt) communities better understand being an ally. However, judging from popular reaction, I'm getting the sense that it's much more of a 'we're straight but we think gay people are great, do we get a cookie now?' week than an educational week.

I have three big problems with Ally Week being what it is:

1) The organization running it, GSLEN, is focused on homosexual youth over bisexual and transgender youth. Now the focus of ally week according to their website is on bringing the whole LGBT community together, specifically mentioning lesbian and gay students allying with trans* people on their front page, but I'm leery of an organization that specifically aims to teach kids about homosexuality running a week about being an ally to the rest of the acronym - shouldn't the people teaching others to be an ally be the people who are experiencing that oppression in the first place? Which brings me to:

2) It just so happens that GSLEN picked the same week as Asexual Awareness Week (October 20th-26th). Which just speaks volumes for the awareness that GSLEN has about the rest of the acronym they want people to be good allies to - which includes B(isexual) T(rans*sexual) Q(ueer) I(ntersex) A(SEXUAL). Now it's important to mention that there are a number of those in the LGBT*+ community that would like to drop the 'A' off that entirely, as asexuality is seen as a threat to the community message by some and dismissed as a nonexistent orientation by others - but if that's not a reason to make sure that Ally Week and Asexuality Week don't overlap one another, I don't know what is. Asexuality is functionally invisible, and it needs the recognition.

3) Most importantly, the fact that many LGBT*QIA+-identified folks are screamingly mad about Ally Week is not a good indicator for the appropriateness of the celebration. If the people you are trying to ally with are not happy about how you are allying with them, then maybe - just maybe - you should step back and reconsider the agenda here. Being a good ally starts with listening to the voices of those you are trying to support. Ally week - supposedly about being good allies - has already violated that basic precept, which renders the whole thing very privileged and obnoxious in appearance.

But many people who consider themselves allies feel that they deserve a little thanks. After all, without them where would the LGBT movement be? Some of them are in the Gay-Straight Alliances at their school. Some of them participate in rallies. Some of them speak up when someone says something homophobic. Some of them simply have a a rainbow on their tumblr dashboard. But many allies feel that as people that don't have a personal stake in the LGBT fight, they have done a personal favor for those who do have a stake in it, and as LGBT people gain basic rights to live the way more privileged people do, they should get a cookie for helping.

This really mystifies me. (If you can't tell by my marginally facetious paragraph above). Do I think allies who go above and beyond - that is, participating in rallies, helping educate other privileged people (so that disenfranchised groups don't have to), organizing awareness campaigns - deserve thanks? Absolutely! And I am sure that allies who do these things respectfully are thanked personally for these efforts, by people around them who appreciate them. But - and here's something to seriously think about - if nobody has personally thanked you for your efforts on their behalf, are you sure your efforts are something worth being thanked for? Maybe your gestures aren't quite the grand thing you believe them to be.

But I think a lot of people who consider themselves allies have a whole other psychological need to be recognized and thanked for their efforts to be decent human beings, and I think that need is rooted in guilt.


((White guilt warning!)) A while back I finally educated myself on white privilege - and as a white person, I had my hair blown back by what an ignorant asshole I had been, by how much the world benefited me just because of my skin color, and how much I took for granted. And I felt terrible about it. It took me a couple of days to come to terms with the fact that I had almost certainly hurt friends of mine and countless strangers with careless remarks, that I was prejudiced without realizing it, and that I could do nothing to mitigate the inherent privilege of my life other than fight to see that it would be less of a thing in the future.

There is no comparison of how bad I felt versus how that oppression hurt other POC, but even though I knew that it was a 'dumb' thing in the grand scale of life, I still personally had to process my guilt. My first instinct was to be ultra-super-careful around POC, or to apologize profusely, or to somehow externally purge my guilty feelings - but all of them involved getting validation from POC. I wanted desperately to be forgiven by the people that I had hurt because that would assuage MY feelings.

But in the grand scheme, that attitude was hurtful, demanding that people I've hurt tell me that I'M okay (like wow what the fuck dude). I took some quiet time and came to terms with my guilt, and reevaluated my attitude towards POC, and realized that I would forever be learning how to be a better person and that was okay. And it was only after I had done that self-forgiveness, that processing and understanding, that I could look at the amount of oppression and privilege and suckiness POC have to deal with and not flinch, but say 'this is a mountain I want to help destroy. What do you guys need me to do??' I had to get over my white guilt. ((/White guilt warning))

I think that many people who consider themselves allies with the LGBT movement have never looked their straight, cis*, sexual privilege dead on and said 'this is a thing that I benefit from. It is all around me, and I have participated in it, and I feel bad about it despite the fact I didn't even know it was a thing.' And I think that means they feel guilty for having that privilege. And when you feel guilty for something, all you want is for someone to tell you 'it's okay, you can stop feeling guilty now'. And the person(people) who you really want to tell you that is the person(people) that you've hurt - in this case, LGBT people.

So it's no longer enough to simply reverse positions - to put a rainbow on your blog, or attend a GSA meeting, or write angry tumblr posts about homophobic people; it's now necessary to be recognized for doing it, too. You need to be recognized for it by the people whose forgiveness you desperately need. Because the reason you're doing these things isn't because being in support of LGBT rights is the basic humanitarian thing to, it's about making yourself feel less guilty about benefiting from privilege and maybe making a homophobic joke or two yourself before you knew this was a thing.


This post has gotten really long, but for my final word on the subject: if you're an ally and you need a cookie for being an ally, maybe you should consider why you're an ally in the first place. Is it because you want/need LGBT people to tell you you're a good person? Or is it because you really think supporting LGBT*QIA+ people is the decent thing to do?

Date: 2013-10-02 08:07 pm (UTC)
myaibou: (Stand Together)
From: [personal profile] myaibou
I agree with your comments about allies, but in defense of GLSEN (because my daughter is one of their ambassadors) they focus quite extensively on bisexuals and transgenders. A huge chunk of the kids chosen for the ambassador program were trans and/or bi, and the education program they went through focused a LOT on trans and bi issues.

Notsomuch asexuality, that's true, although I'd have to ask my daughter about that to be certain. Of course, that's lacking in education *everywhere.*

My kids' GSA is very VERY conscious of the problems with Ally Week (and that consciousness comes from my daughter's connection with GLSEN -- they were the ones who educated her on the exact ally issues you discuss. She was the only cis/straight ambassador both years she served.)

But yeah, it should definitely not be a rah-rah allies week.

Date: 2013-10-04 12:05 am (UTC)
ollie: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ollie
It's not that hard to be a decent human being. Seriously, all it takes is thinking about how somebody else probably wants the same basic things you do, and feels the same basic things that you do. Honestly, most if not all the problems you mention seem to be rooted in people focusing on differences rather than similarities.


vikki: (Default)

October 2013


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