Or at least, most self-proclaimed allies…from a trans* perspective.
Ally is not a title you claim. Being an ally is an action. Being an ally is something you do, always. It is not a label, as much as it is an action of supporting a community. You do not simply get to make a statement and leave it at that. Being an ally is something that is given to you by the group that you are claiming allyship with. It is not a badge. It is not a get out free card. It does not prevent you from being problematic, incorrect, or an issue. An LGBT ally can still be homophobic, biphobic, or trans*phobic. An ally’s place is to listen and learn, while amplifying the voices of the group they are aligned with. An ally is to never speak for, above, or against, the group they are an ally for.
Being an ally is not something you should expect praise for. Being an ally is about working towards the greater good for all involved and helping a group of people be heard with their struggles. This is an action. Being an ally, once again, is not a badge to be worn and flashed about. Being an ally should be a thankless job, because being an ally means being a decent human being. While being an ally is not seen as the norm, this is how it should be treated. Allyship should be seen as the norm, since being an ally is about respecting humans and granting basic human rights, privileges, and dignities. Being an ally is a collaborative effort between the ally and the group they ally is allied with.
One should not expect to come into this expecting praise. An ally should be humble. An ally should be steadfast. This means that if an ally is called out for problematic behavior, they listen and learn. They do not become defensive because becoming defensive means you believe your words to be correct. Allyship is not meant to be a token to be given and taken either due to personal issues within the community. If there is an issue, the threat should not be that you are an ally and thus, “on our side”. There should be an apology and a learning experience. Humans, by nature, are imperfect beings and even the most supportive ally is prone to problematic behavior. Allies, by their very nature, are not part of the community they are supporting and thus, will never truly understand the experiences of the people they are supposed to be supporting.
For a recent example of how not to be an ally, check out Piers Morgan. He had Janet Mock on his show to help promote her recent transition memoir. On the show, he repeatedly referred to her as “used to be a man” and “was a boy until 18”, thus repeatedly misgendering her. She brought this up on twitter, sending exactly three tweets about her dismay with the handling of the situation. Piers Morgan reacted violently and in a storm. He made claims about how he was an ally and how Janet should be thankful he even had her on the show. He said that we should appreciate all allies, no matter the forms they come in and had her on the show for a second night. The second night was much, much, worse. Piers repeatedly screamed over Janet about an article that Janet did not write and used the words “used to be a boy”. These were not Janet’s words, yet these words of another were constantly used to assert that her identity was not hers. Piers then had a panel of three other cis people to discuss how Janet really, really, REALLY, used to be a boy.
This right here, is textbook poor allyship. However, there was a trend. Cis queer people flocked to Piers, commending his allyship. He was praised because he proclaimed to be an ally. His proclamation was apparently more important than his actual transmisogynistic actions. Cis queer people began to speak for not only the trans* community, but over the woman who the interview was about. Janet’s own feelings and issues with the interview were erased and drowned out as cis allies flocked to Piers to commend his attempt to even cover trans* issues. There were articles and tweets about how Piers did a wonderful job and how Janet was overreacting. These were from people who the interview did not even affect. Cis people’s lives were not questioned or threatened by the interview. The legitimacy of their identities were not on the line, the fraud of which perpetuated by “used to be”s and “once was”s. These people were ignoring the complaints from the woman herself, Janet Mock, in favor of trying to appease allies. Allies must remember that you are not the Lorax. We are not trees. We have our own voices to be raised. We can tell our own stories. We can write our own stories. Say our own words. We can speak about our lives with authority because we are the only ones who know, who truly understand. We are all unique. We are not a monolith. Varying identities and stories do not discredit or invalidate another’s. Our identities are our own. We are the ones who have to spend a lifetime in these bodies, not you. We do not need you to speak for us. We do not need you to spread our lives. We are not helpless.
This is not allyship on both Piers and the cis queers. Both parties spoke over and for the trans* community, especially the only person whose voice mattered in this exchange, Janet Mock’s. They also over spoke the community they proclaimed to be allies for. As a trans* person, we have our own voices. We are the only authorities on our identities and lives. This means that there should never be any question of discussion about our identities and how valid or true they are. This is exactly what happened with the panel that Piers created (of cis people) to discuss a trans woman’s identity. This is not only a gross overstepping of boundaries, it is gross in the fact that a person was not allowed to be the authority and voice for their own lives. This is not something an ally does, ever. We do not need you to validate us. We do not need you to talk about or discuss them. Our identities are not up for debate. They are ours. You have absolutely no authority to talk about our lives. When Piers Morgan gets a panel of cis people to talk about whether or not Janet Mock has always been and is a woman, you are attacking us. You are asserting that someone else, someone who has never spent more than a few minutes of their time with us, knows us better than we do. You are asserting that these people know our stories and identities from simply knowing we are trans*. Once again, we are not a monolith. Our stories are as varied as our identities, experiences, and lives.
Cis people also chipped in with their own personal experiences with trans* people. It does not matter if you have friends, family, or anything else from the oppressed group that you are supporting. This does not mean you can speak for them. Our experiences are our own. There was a cis gay author who proclaimed because LGBT is the umbrella term, cis queer (in sexuality) people were free to talk about trans* issues. This is not the case. This is something that people have no personal experience with and often say and repeat harmful stereotypes. Once again, Piers Morgan is a prime example. In an attempt to be an ally, Piers caused more harm than he did good, furthering the idea that trans* people are deceitful and not actually the identity they identify as. Piers also went as far as to objectify Janet’s womanhood down to her getting genital reconstruction surgery. This is why there is often outcry when cis people talk or portray trans* people. They rely on harmful stereotypes and lack the personal experiences of navigating the world as a trans* person.
Not only did they talk over, but they policed how the trans* community should act in terms of this offense. They told the trans* community who was outraged at this, including Janet, that they should not react in anger. An ally is not someone to be angered at, no matter how much they hurt us while they are trying to help. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, is it not? Both communities also cherry picked the dissenting opinions from within the community as ‘proof’ that this was not problematic. Once again, Janet’s own voice about how she was portrayed was ignored in favor of trans* tokens. These tokens were paid forward as proof that those ‘other’ trans* people were overreacting.
People are not a monolith. Just because there may be disagreement among the group about what may be trans*phobic, transmisogynistic, cissexist, and offensive. This does not mean that the issue brought up is not problematic, it just means that people view the world differently and have different experiences that may lead to different outcomes. However, this does not mean that something is not whatever is being brought up. The issue at hand should be listened to by those who created the issue and the minority that pointed it out. This means that as an ally, the place is to listen and learn and to no disagree, especially in an oppression that does affect you. If a person of color points out something is racist, the place of a white person is to not question this, it is to accept it, look into the problem and learn. An ally, a true ally, would not disagree, especially with a proclamation of “well, I don’t find it offensive”. They should also not turn to their friends and ask their opinions, especially if the person is of the hurt minority. This tokenizes the friend as well as placing a schism in the community, because the opinions become conflicted, the one siding with the oppressive majority taking more credit than the one from the minority.
Being an ally is about action. It is about listening. Action. Listening. Learning. Yearning (to grow). The job of an ally is like that of a stool at a podium. Your job is to quietly support, helping the speaker be amplified, helping their voice be exposed. Does this mean that an ally should never speak up about injustices face by a community? Absolutely not. Action. An ally is an action. Sometimes this requires an ally be outspoken. If there is trans*phobia, call it out. If there is racism, call it out, and so on. Of course, if there are others of the affected community around, you listen. If you mess up, you listen. Through listening, you learn. A yearning to grow means self-education and a willingness and a want to listen to the groups you are not a part of. This does not mean you can demand to be educated. There is no obligation to be educated. That is up to the person and if they do not want to, then it is up to you to put the education in your own hands. Remember, you are an outsider. You are not an expert. This is their lived experience, not yours. Action. Listen. Learn. Yearn (to grow).