Friday, November 7, 2014

Let's talk about ally behavior, straight people edition

Dear people who say you're allies:  When you act like you know more about the reality of the lives of oppressed people than oppressed people do, and when you disbelieve our lived experience, that is NOT ally behavior and it's not helpful. 

I experience and witness this all the time, both in person and on line. 

In today's example, we're talking about: straight allies; lesbian, bisexual, gay, and queer people in same-sex relationships; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people whom straight people are likely to read as some version of queer.  

I was part of a conversation on social media recently that went something like this:

Original Poster (OP):
Re-posting for some friends: looking for safety tips for a lesbian couple traveling abroad, etc. 

Peanut Gallery (PG):
Examples from personal experience; on-line travel and legal resources, etc.  

Straight Person (SP): (Not their exact words)
This is so interesting; someone said traveling without displaying much PDA is safer, and I agree; whose business is it anyway what you do behind closed doors?; I usually travel with my husband, but it's not like people know he's my husband, he could be my brother, right?; I mean, it's not like we're making love in the street; of course gay couples don't want to have to hide that they're gay, and of course I respect that, but why prove you're a romantic couple instead of regular friends?; I traveled with an opposite-sex person I wasn't married to and someone asked us if we were married, and we said no, but if I was a lesbian should I have said that I was a lesbian?; people of the same sex travel together all the time; I traveled with a lesbian friend and shared a bed without having sex and I felt totally safe in terms of what other people thought; I'm just trying to figure all this out; I guess I'm just a little confused by all of this...

Here's what I did say, with link to a NY Times article about the Langbehn-Pond family's experience:
That's b/c you don't have to worry about things like being able to make decisions for each other should one of you become ill or be in an accident, that sort of thing. Or being prevented from seeing each other in the hospital b/c legally you're not kin. Or your kids not being allowed to see you in the hospital when you're dying b/c the hospital staff have decided you aren't really their mother. These are the kinds of things people in same-sex relationships have to worry about all the time, even within the US.

There are also some places where women traveling without a man are harassed b/c they are perceived as not being under a man's protection and therefore fair to harass.

I didn't even get into the more 'ordinary' forms of anti-queer harassment.  LIKE GETTING BEAT UP JUST BECAUSE SOMEONE PEGS YOU AS SOME VERSION OF QUEER. 

SP's response (again, not their exact words):
We are talking about going on a trip, and I don't understand how that needs to include all these life issues; you're telling me that if you are an American in Europe and something happens to you they will not let your travel companion come into the hospital room with you; I find that hard to believe; I'm not talking about all the other issues that are part of this; JUST THE PART ABOUT TRAVELING ABROAD; that's what we're talking about.

Ummm, riiiiiight.

Things I did not say:

YOU'RE RIGHT!  We're MAKING THIS SHIT UP!  For FUN!  And OF COURSE you know so much more about this than all the queer people in this conversation!

Also, hello, "I'm a straight person let me make this conversation all about me and my experience and how unfathomable queer people's experience is."

Also, hello: a straight person turning this conversation from "What do I as an LGBTQ person need to do to stay safe when I travel?" to "I'm a straight person and I'm going to talk about my experience and how unbelievable your experience is" is not ally behavior.

What I did say:
Yeah. We're talking about going on a trip. Yeah, queer people have to worry about this shit. [Name], why would it even occur to you not to believe this is an issue queer people have to deal with? It seems hard to believe to you? I'm sorry your straight privilege makes the daily reality of our lives hard for you to believe. We don't have that luxury.

Let me just say right now that when OP came back to the conversation, they stated really clearly that disbelieving LGBTQ people about our experience was not okay with them. 

In a separate conversation about this in my space, people pointed out:
  • Has SP ever held hands with her husband in public while traveling?  Ever kissed him in public? 
  • Has she ever worried about someone bashing her upside the head for doing so?  Or simply because they thought she was straight?
  • Has she ever had to choose between safety and invisibility? 
  • Is kissing her husband or holding his hand where other people can see it "proving" they're a romantic couple instead of "regular" friends? 
  •  "I'm just trying to figure all this out" is a convenient line, but this person was displaying behavior that indicated she really didn't want to know: she wasn't listening to the lived experience of queer people, and she didn't believe what queer people told her.  What's more, she was insisting her thoughts, feelings, experience, and disbelief take center stage. Not the experience of LGBTQ people, hers.  This is derailing.  So is insisting members of a minority educate her.

Also, EXCUSE me?  The only queer people who get beaten when traveling are the ones who have sex in the street??  It's a very short step from the belief that people won't beat you for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer unless you're having sex and they witness it, to the belief that if someone beat you for being queer, you did something to provoke it and it's your fault

That is victim-blaming bullshit.  Victim-blaming bullshit is not ally behavior. 

SP talked about being in a same-sex romantic relationship vs being in a "regular" friendship, thus reinforcing the notion that same-sex romances and partnerships are not regular, are not normal, are deviant.

That is not ally behavior.

SP talked about her experience as a straight person in a heterosexual marriage and as a straight person traveling with another person of the same gender as if it were equivalent to queer people's experience.  As if it gave her the same understanding of queer people's experience in same-gender relationships, and as if it gave her the same understanding of being a queer person whom straight people read as queer.  SP made it clear she considered her experience as a straight person to be more valid in assessing LGBTQ safety than the experience of not just one LGBTQ person, but several, in the conversation.  (WTF?)

That is not ally behavior.

It's also derailing. 

Derailing is not ally behavior.

SP, who is straight, took over a conversation among LGBTQ people about their experience as LGBTQ people to talk about her experience as a straight person and to demand LGBTQ people educate her. 

That is derailing.  Derailing is not ally behavior. 

All of these behaviors are heterosexist.  Heterosexist behavior is not ally behavior.

For more information on derailing, I suggest these excellent resources listed here:

I want to talk about some of the aspects of this kind of behavior that bother me the most.  

1)  There are straight people who think of themselves as LGBTQ allies, but who have no clue about the lived experience of LGBTQ people.   

Who think it's all about same-sex marriage.  Who think same-sex marriage is nice, but have no idea why it's important -- know nothing about the additional tax burden of being in a same-sex relationship, know nothing about the legal threats to our families, know nothing about the spreadsheets we keep to track how many times laws in different states have required us to dissolve our legal relationships and then re-form them, know nothing about the health care threats, know nothing about second-parent adoption.  Who expect us to look and act like cis straight people.  Who chastise us when we look too masculine or too feminine, or kiss our partners in public.  Who have no clue that we can still be fired for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer, or just never hired in the first place; denied a mortgage; stopped by the cops for walking down the street and arrested for prostitution if we have condoms in our possession; refused medical treatment, including in life-threatening emergencies; refused rental housing.

These things I mention?  They are the tip of the iceberg.  There is much, much more.   

If these surprise you, you're not paying attention, and you're not behaving like an ally.  If you think of yourself as an LGBTQ ally, you need to educate yourself about the lived reality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and genderqueer people.

And DON'T ask us to educate you.  It is your job as an ally to educate yourself.  There is plenty of good material out there by LGBTQ people for you to find.  Go find it. 

2)  There are straight people who like to think of themselves as LGBTQ allies, but who refuse to listen to that experience when we share it. 

When we tell you about our experience, believe it.  Don't tell us it's hard to for you to believe.  We live it.  Every day.  Our other LGBTQ siblings live it every day. 

When we tell you about our experience, don't change the focus back to you.  Don't talk about your experience as a straight person.  Don't tell us how your experience with something as a straight person means you understand our experience as a queer person. 

Believe what we tell you, however we tell you -- in person, in writing, in documentaries, in music, in theatre, etc.  We have all sorts of ways we talk about our experience.  Seek them out.  Believe them.

Dear people trying to be allies:  

Do you want to be an ally?  Ally is a set of behaviors.  It's not a title.  If you want to behave like an ally, some of the very basic things you can do are:

  • Educate yourself about what the people who are part of the minority you are trying to ally with go through.  Educate yourself about their / our lived experience.  
  • Respect that we know more about the truth of our own lived experience than you do.  
  • Listen when we tell you about our experience.  
  • Believe us when we tell you about our experience, and believe us when we tell you about prejudice, bigotry, and the -isms we face every day. 
There's lots more you can do.  Start with educating yourself, listening, and believing, and you'll find out what behaviors we really need from you.

Hoo-rah-I-think-everyone-should-be-able-to-get-married is not enough.

An Oppressed Person Who's Tired of This Shit

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