In light of semi recent spotlights we’ve shed on the LGBTI community as well as feminism, coupled with troubling comments I’ve often come across on social media from people who purport to be “allies” of these struggles, I thought it necessary to come up with a 101-type listicle on what it means to be an ally to the LGBTI and/or feminist communities.
- Read up on both. Do so voraciously and, as much as you can, do it on your own. It is important to know the histories and current struggles associated with these movements, and it is important to realise that the oppressed should not have to be the custodians of YOUR path to enlightenment. Follow feminist and LGBTI blogs, and find academic research and theories. Not only does it help put your own biases, as implicit as they may be into perspective, it helps you become better equipped to fight for the rights of the people you say you care about.
- Be (mostly) quiet. This is not your struggle. As someone who’s not oppressed because of this particular state of being do not be condescending by constantly centering your opinions or lived experiences. Here, your story does not matter, and trivial instances like these actually contribute to the silencing of oppressed communities.
- Be too legit to quit. Have you confronted close friends/relatives over being misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, etc? These instances, more than any other, are where your voice desperately needs to be heard. It will feel uncomfortable at times, but your discomfort doesn’t come close to the discomfort members of oppressed social groups feel on a daily basis. Support of an oppressed group, from a non oppressed person goes a long way, since the oppressed are often dismissed as illogical, angry, dramatic or just plain wrong.
- This is not a fad; these are the livelihoods of millions of people around the world. Platforms such as Twitter and Tumblr have given oppressed people the chance to mobilise, advocate for their rights, support each other, and learn from each other. You’ve probably come across many such brilliant and dazzling minds. It’s tempting to get “in on it” simply because you want to be part of such an incredibly loving community; hence there being so many dubious claims of allegiance floating around the internet, but if you aren’t going to be one hundred percent genuine in your solidarity, don’t claim it at all; it is incredibly misleading.
- Be alert to your own bigotry and contradictions. By now we all know, or at least should know how social conditioning works. The road to freeing your mind from the patriarchal standards that form the breeding ground of inequity against women and/or the LGBTI community is a never ending one. Perhaps the most (beautifully) taxing aspects of being an ally is the need to constantly check yourself. Your language, your interaction with your allies, the possible tactic support of oppressors, should be under careful scrutiny all the time. For example, till fairly recently I felt anaesthetised against ableist language and the struggles disabled people face. After doing a little reading, I found myself making sure not to use ableist terms like dumb or lame, and I evaluate everything I say in my everyday language, to make sure it isn’t offensive. Although this certainly isn’t the end all and be all of my solidarity, it’s a noble start.
- Make a friend to make a change. Arguably the most important part of being an ally is knowing some of the people you live in solidarity with. There’s often a monolithic perception of them, which in itself tends to become a form of oppression since we interact with these people laden with preconceived notions. These stop us from recognising our allies as regular and multi faceted human beings with lives and interests just as diverse as yours (oftentimes we’ve seen women fetishise the idea of having gay friends informed by stereotypes that exist about gay men being “sassy”, “fashionable” and subordinate to their woman friends) Of course the easiest way to rid yourself with these notions is to make friends with them, as many as you’d like to make, hear about their experiences (although their struggle shouldn’t monopolise every conversation you have) attend any events they organise, and support their professional endeavours whenever you can.
- You are not exempt from erring. Too often people think that being an ally absolves them from being wrong on issues that concern their partners in solidarity. “…But you know I am an ally” is not a pass from any wrongdoing; like I mentioned, it’s a constant process learning the complex and sometimes pervasive systems that create the aggression which you may carry out on oppressed people. If you are accused of being offensive, apologise and take some time to evaluate why someone thinks so, instead of becoming defensive about it.
Ultimately, tips like these can be applied to solidarity with just about any subjugated social group- people of colour grappling with the daily violence of white supremacy, for example, could use the support of people with white privilege in exactly the same way. The battle for equality is far from won, and it often feels impossible. However we are all more than capable of taking a stand, saving a life, making a friend, and experiencing a profound and fulfilling change in our own lives as a result.