How To Deal With Allies: A lesson for the perpetually pissed.

I will never be a black lesbian.  Just won’t; and damn it, I’ve tried.  I just don’t look good in dreadlocks or white tank tops.  Since I’m not a black lesbian I can never fully understand what it’s like to be one.  Crazy how that works right?  Now that doesn’t mean I’m not the ally of black lesbians.  We still have enough of the LGBT thing to have some stuff in common…mostly amusement that every drag king ever seems to REALLY like hip hop music.  Seriously, where’s the Michael Bublé impersonators at?  Oh, and drag queens, that Beyoncé horse has been whipped into a fine glue paste, might I suggest maybe some Natalie Merchant or something?

Sorry, back on topic…

Yeah, I’m not a black lesbian, or a gay Latino man, I’m a white bisexual transwoman.  But we are after the same thing, equality for all of us.  Because of that, I’m their ally.  We’re on the same team.  You know like community and PLUR.  Wait, did I really use PLUR?  Holy crap, I haven’t said that since Electric Daisy Carnival 2002.  You get my point though, right?  I’m an ally to them.  I’m an ally about racial issues, I’m an ally about the rights of the poor, an ally about reproductive rights.  I’m an ally of a lot of things while at the same time having people be my allies about things.  That’s the way it works.

Now, being an ally means that I’m not actually one of them, but I’m on their side.  That means I’ll never perfectly know what it’s like to be one of them.  Just like most of you will never know what it’s like to be a trans woman.  Because of that, I know that quite frankly some of you who are my allies are going to say some absolutely stupid things to me.  You see, because I’m not black, I’ll never know what the whole experience is like.  I can read all the books, blogs, tweets, telegrams, semaphore flags, and smoke signals about the topic I want and I still won’t know.  I can have forty thousand black friends and hang out with them all day long, nope, still won’t know.  Now, because black culture and experience is changing all the time, I’m inevitably going to think or say something that is dated, out of touch, clueless, and well, let’s be honest, possibly offensive.  There, I said it.  Sometimes I can be offensive about race issues.  It’s not like I’m a member of the KKK, I’m just a clueless idiot.  Bold statement I know.

But that’s something we need to remember sometimes.  We never know perfectly what it’s like to be the person who is not part of our little group.  Straight people don’t know everything about being gay.  Men don’t know everything about women.  Cisgender (seriously, it’s not a slur, stop it) don’t know about transgender.  Hell, there are even differences within these groups like Second Wave and Third Wave feminists for example.  Things change over time as well, like remember when queer was an insult?  Seriously kiddos.  Back in the days of brick sized cell phones and hand crank car windows, queer was a dirty insult.  Now we add it to the LGBT to get LGBTQ.  That’s the opposite of what’s happened to the word tranny.  Used to be a term of affection for many, but now days a lot of transpeople consider it a slur.

That’s why when someone calls me a tranny, but is saying it like, “Yeah, Amanda is a tranny who is a comedian,” I don’t flip out.  They don’t mean it as a slur, they’re just out of touch.  Now if they were saying, “Get that tranny freak!  Let’s beat its ass!” I’m probably not going to have a polite conversation about proper pronoun usage and microaggressions with that fella; I’m going to be tasering the crap out of them.  When someone is clueless about what is and is not offensive, or they’re trying to be nice and learn, or meant well but still screwed up, I don’t treat them like they’re committing a hate crime, I treat them like an ally who meant well.  You see, ally doesn’t mean suck-up.

I know this, because even though I’m an ally of black people for example, I sometimes say or think something dated, stupid, or misinformed.  I’m not an evil racist, I’m just an ignorant ass.  I’ll gladly cop to that and apologize when I screw up when I’m told I’m being a one, too.  Because of that, I know that people who are still on my side for being a member of the LGBT community, but say something dated, stereotypical, misinformed, and quite frankly stupid, I don’t toss them into the same category as Westboro Baptist Church.

Don’t always think the worst of people when they do something stupid.  There’s a world of difference between the well intentioned idiot and the bigot, and we need to start remembering that.  When we attack those people who are on our side, no matter what that side is, we begin to turn them into real enemies, and not friends who will stand next to us on the firing line when it matters most.

I usually end these with a joke, but I got nothing this time.

 

A version of this article origionally appeared in the January issue of The Gayly

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