As Pride Week 2017 goes into full swing, it has led me to think very long and hard about what it means to be an ally to people who are still marginalized, misunderstood, persecuted and even killed for being something “Other” than the ideal presented by the majority. Being an ally isn’t easy; there’s a damnably fine line between being supportive and speaking out of turn. So, I decided to write this to give my own thoughts and feelings on how I support human rights for everyone, everywhere. I’m curious to hear your thoughts as well!
I am an ally.
But I am not you.
I don’t and can’t understand what it is to wake up in a body that doesn’t feel like my own.
I don’t and can’t understand what it is to not have my external form reflect my inner reality.
I don’t understand and can’t understand what it is to fear seeing a police car simply because of the color of my skin.
I don’t and can’t understand what it is to love someone of my own gender.
I don’t and can’t understand what it is to have a business refuse me service because of who and what I am at the genetic level.
My life experience has not prepared me for these things. As a white, cisgender, hetero male, I am aware I possess a degree of privilege and power which is denied to others for arbitrary reasons. I know when you speak of your life, there are undercurrents and casual microaggressions I cannot even hope to perceive, because those things do not exist in my world.
But let me tell you what I do understand.
I understand what it is to hold out an open heart, trembling, and have someone throw it to the floor because of what I am, or what I am not.
I understand what it is to be isolated, bullied and told the best thing I could possibly do for myself and the world is to drop dead.
I understand what it is to cry myself to sleep at night, despairing I would ever find my niche or a place I felt like I was accepted and wanted.
I understand what it is to be afraid of the law and its representatives, whose actions and mandates are often arbitrary but nevertheless to be followed without question.
I understand what it is to love and be loved by someone who sees, accepts and wants me for everything I am.
It is from this place that I, and many other allies, come. I am not here to judge your struggle or compare scars with you. I’m not here to make light of the very real burdens you carry. I’m here to help you carry them as best I can, and provide a safe place for you to be the best YOU you’re capable of being without fear of being judged or shamed.
But here’s what YOU need to understand:
You’re not my “token” woman, gay, black, Asian or “other” friend. You are my friend, full stop.
I may not always say or do the right things.
I may not always know WHAT to say or do.
I may say something with innocent intent which you hear as a slam, because I don’t know enough of your story and experience to avoid these things.
I’m going to make mistakes. I’m human, just like you.
When I do, tell me I’ve made a mistake and show me how to do better. Please don’t get angry, huffy or withdrawn if I make an honest mistake. Forgive me, as you would want me to forgive you. Teach me to do better, so I won’t repeat those errors in the future. Let me speak from my experience and what I know, as you want me to do. In places where my privilege allows me a louder voice than you have, let me use it on your behalf.
If we all share our own stories, we all become citizens of a better and more enlightened world, people who recognize that love is love, no matter which consenting adult(s) you choose to love, how many of them or what their gender and gender expression are. It’s when we isolate “Us” from “Them” from “The Others” that any hope of making that world a reality dies. I grasp the concept that my own life experiences do not qualify me to speak to yours.
As your allies, we seek the places we are the same, not those where we are different.
But we can’t unite in a single voice when people cherry-pick which tongues are permitted to speak and which should remain silent.
Just something to think about.
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