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Active Allyship As Consistent Action Not Identity

Last week, I posted about my pet peeve, the "ally" flag. Today, I want to talk about active allyship as consistent action rather than "ally" as an identity to claim. Allyship can take many forms and it is a complicated path in part because it might look like correcting someone who misgenders a trans person but, it also might look like not correcting a third party when a trans person is misgendered if that trans person isn't out, or has asked you not to correct others who misgender them. Allyship might be asking "are there LGBTQ+ people in the room?" or asking "what do we as a community need to do to help LGBTQ+ people feel affirmed in this space?"

After last week's post a dear friend asked me "how do I behave as an ally without virtue signaling?" This is an excellent question, one someone who is pursuing active allyship would ask. Virtue signaling is calling attention to one's good deeds to seem like a good or virtuous person. It is the expression of a moral viewpoint with the intention of seeming like a good person. Regarding LGBTQ+ allyship virtue signaling might look like: "I have friends who are gay." or it might look like someone posting a long ranting social media post about all the harms actively being done to the LGBTQIA+ community, stating they are against these harms, but then doing nothing to change them. It might even look like wearing the "ally" flag but not intervening when witnessing violence done to the LGBTQIA+ community.

Imagine you're an ally who joins a pride committee for your town and then find yourself sitting quietly much of the time because you do not want to overstep your role as an ally because you've been chastised for seemingly virtue signaling before. What can you do? Active allyship requires you to look for opportunities to behave as an ally without necessarily calling attention to what you are doing. If you've joined a pride committee, maybe it looks like spreading awareness about an event across your social media or fielding questions about the LGBTQIA+ community to the best of your knowledge so that members of the LGBTQIA+ community don't have to do that emotional labor. In another context, it might look like volunteering to stand between LGBTQIA+ people attending a pride event and those who showed up to protest pride with bigotry and hate.

One way I have seen active allyship in action is asking everyone regardless of if they are trans their pronouns. Or, asking someone who is just starting to come out as trans "Are there any people you don't want me to use these pronouns with?" Or simply asking "What support do you need?" and then following through where you're able to provide what has been asked for.

Active allyship is complicated, every person in the LGBTQIA+ community might have a different understanding of what it means for someone to be their ally. I know LGBTQIA+ people who see allies wearing an LGBTQIA+ pride flag as culturally appropriative, but I know far more who agree with me that it is virtue signaling and draws a distinction of "I support, but I am definitely not one of them." Again, see last week's post linked a the top of this post. A relatively safe generalization that I feel comfortable making is that behaving as an ally requires listening to the marginalized or minoritized group you claim to ally with whether on an individual (micro) level or on a the macro level that comes from worldwide organizations putting out calls to action to protect LGBTQIA+ people's everyday human rights like bodily autonomy, or just not being killed for being who we are and loving who we love.

Below are some tips I have to behaving as an active ally.

  • Educate yourself through the internet and creators in the community who have chosen to do the emotional labor of educating others.

  • Ask questions when you don't know something, even if you're only asking google for the answers.

  • Be ready to accept that different people understand the same identities differently and that not everyone is ready to be Out and Proud.

  • Stand alongside the LGBTQIA+ community not only during Pride but all year, including when we are mourning incidents of violence like on Trans Day Of Remembrance.

  • Interrupt ignorance, hate, and violence. Be willing to call attention to violence and to stand against it--even if you have to be creative in how you do so to protect your own physical safety.

There are hundreds of thousands of ways to be an active ally to the LGBTQIA+ community, and to other marginalized and minoritized communities. Asking yourself "what am I able to do?" followed by the question "what am I willing to do?" is a great starting point. You can also google/search "How to be an ally to the LGBTQIA+ community?" and see what comes up. As always, I am more than happy to answer questions through any of my social media accounts (listed above).

Note from the Author:

Image of Casey Anne Brimmer, a fat, white person with dark blonde hair in an undercut with rainbow glasses and a grey cowl necked sweater in front of foliage.
Image of Casey Anne Brimmer.

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