Monday, February 9, 2015

"Coming Out" as an Ally

Much has been written about what the responsibilities of allies are,¹ and how calling oneself an ally doesn't preclude one from participating in the same oppression as openly bigoted persons.²  In fact, many people discourage themselves and others from using "ally" as a self-appointed label at all.³

GLAAD recently came up with a campaign that we can use as a case study.  They have since changed the wording to remove the problematic language we are responding to, but the Google search results still show the original text.

[Screencapture of Google search results. The page title reads "Come out as an LGBT Ally. Take the pledge" and the page preview reads "[A] is for Ally. Broadening acceptance of LGBT Americans requires the help of allies".]

This is a prime example of appropriation⁴ of trans/queer culture.  I am not asexual, so I encourage you to learn more from the ace community themselves on why the A should stand for "asexual".⁵  Even if you find that inclusion debatable (and I most certainly do not), this case still highlights the problems with trying to include "ally" under the alphabet soup of queer/trans identity.

Ember Assington outlined an incomplete list of reasons why, in the GenderQueer Atheists group on Facebook:

1. Queer people don't need to be saved by cis-het people, they need to be liberated from the oppression imposed by cis-het people.

2. Allies are necessarily coming from a position of privilege, so there's nothing for them to be in the closet about. They are not being oppressed, so there's nothing for them to "come out" about.

3. Calling yourself an "ally" is meaningless. There are plenty of people who declare themselves allies, and then go on to say horrible, bigoted things.

4. "Ally" shouldn't be an identity; it should be a collection of actions that support and raise up oppressed people by centering those people and their liberation rather than speaking for them.

5. Talking about "coming out" as not-a-bigot seems to imply that bigotry is a default position, and simply not being a complete shitbag is worthy of praise, rather than just being what we should expect of all people.

One additional reason I'm so opposed to allies appropriating a letter within LGBTQIA⁶ and the narrative of "coming out", is that once they take this and make it theirs, our own use of those things have lost their significance as descriptors of our own unique experiences navigating cis/straight structures of power as trans/queer people.  What is the significance of explicit Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Questioning⁷ Intersex Asexual solidarity, when our community must now be centered around straight/cis (ally) experience as well?  How can "coming out" be an act of resistance against structural cis/straight oppression, when straight/cis (allies) are "coming out" as cis/straight allies?

It really shouldn't need to be said, but this isn't an anti-ally position.  This isn't something that alienates straight/cis persons who make active efforts to enable queer/trans liberation.

4. It should be pointed out, GLAAD themselves are not the ones doing the appropriation of "coming out", but rather enabling cis/straight persons to do so.  Cultural Appreciation or Cultural Appropriation?
6. As to whether the alphabet soup itself should be perpetuated, that is a whole larger conversation.
7. I identify my sexual orientation as "questioning", so this is not limited to people who are seeking to resolve their questions with an eventual "coming out" as something else.