Saturday, June 11, 2011

Chat Excerpt: The Problem with "Ally"


Kyrie: OMG, that's so cute.

Jess: I know!

I object to putting "genderqueer" under "allies."

But otherwise, rock on.

Kyrie: Yeah, that seems just wrong.

Jess: It IS wrong.

Maybe they'll revise it.

I kind of want the coloring book. I shall put it on my Christmas list.

Kyrie: I'm loving the "old school" segment.

Yay for reappropriation.

Jess: yyyyyyup

Oooh. They sell buttons.

Kyrie: Can you get a button for your element of choice?

(Looks like most of the allies section is wrong.)

Jess: yeah

I don't know how I feel about the word "allies" anyway.

Kyrie: But I do like that the abbreviation for genderqueer is "GQ."

So, I have my own issues with "ally." But what are your concerns?

Jess: It seems to normalize homophobia, maybe?

Like, we need a word for "ally" because the normative assumption is that you are somehow anti-gay.

Kyrie: Yup, I agree.

Jess: My friend says the "A" in LGBTQIA stands for "ally."

But it stands for "asexual," as far as I understand it?

Kyrie: That's what I thought.

But I've seen LGBTA, where A supposedly stands for ally.

Jess: Barf

Kyrie: Right.

Not being a homophobe doesn't make you a member of the queer community.

Jess: Sorry.

I shouldn't barf.

But here's the thing: Gay-Straight Alliances in schools have been taken over by straight white girls.

Kyrie: Hmm.

Jess: Gay bars have been taken over by straight people, too, in a lot of places.

Can we have our fucking acronym, please?

Without straight people getting all up on it?

Kyrie: Yeah, it smacks of cookie-ism to me.

Also, and I think I've told you about this before, I don't like wearing "ally" stuff, because it feels kind of like "no homo" to me.

I'd rather just wear stuff to promote queer rights/groups and not comment on my own sexuality in the process.

Does that make sense?

Jess: It absolutely makes sense

Kyrie: Ok, good.

Jess: What do you mean by cookie-ism?

Kyrie: Oh, it's this thing on feminist blogs where a dude commenter will be like "feminist comment, and I'm a guy," and the ladies will be like "what, do you want a cookie or something"

Jess: Ahhhhh.

Rock on.

Kyrie: It's like they expect a reward, in the form of accolades or acceptance, for not being a douche.

That's what the ally thing reminds me of.

But I invented "cookie-ism," which is probably why it didn't make sense, heh.

Jess: I really like it. Coin that shit!


  1. Do you think "ally" still has a place in an environment where people might feel threatened and without allies? For instance, in a high school environment in the rural south, where there is a reasonable expectation that an arbitrary person might have homophobic feelings and there's not a clear peer group for an LGBT youth?

    Also, I'm now craving cookies.

  2. Reading this post was educational because I had to look up what 'Ally' and 'Genderqueer' mean on wikipedia. I also read the link 'Gay bars have been taken over by straight people, too, in a lot of places.' It seemed like it was suggested in this post that the fact that straight white girls are making up a large percentage of Gay-Straight alliances is negative. I feel like after reading that, I need more clarification about why that is.

  3. @OrnaVerum: I always crave cookies. Always. Anyway, yes, I think there is probably a place for the word "ally," and I feel even better about it if the person using it is putting some action behind it. For example, if that ally is actively standing up for the gay kid in school and making her feel safer, I don't care if that person calls herself Big Bird. You know? Whatever the fuck it takes. It's more when people call themselves "ally" and act as though that's good enough that I have a problem. You're not an ally or whatever JUST for not being homophobic. Make sense?

    Megan: Oh, there are SOOO many terms out there to define, and much of the time, the queer community can't even settle on a definition, or the appropriate time to use a word, or whatever. I was in a room with two of my queer friends and a bunch of straight people recently - this was a classroom setting - and one of the straight people asked for a definition of queer. We each gave her a different one. So that's why I like the queeriodic table as a concept.

    As to the problem with GSAs being taken over by straight white girls, it kind of stops being a GAY-straight alliance and starts being a "place for the straight white girls to hang out," from what I've heard. What a lot of queer kids need is to be in a space with just, or mostly, other queer kids. When straight girls take over, it feels less like a queer space. I can tell you that having a queer space is incredibly important to a gay person's well-being, at least for a lot of us. I'm not saying that the straight girls have any bad intentions or anything, but the teachers I know who have observed this phenomenon say that the GSAs become places for kids to gossip, basically, and are less about any kind of action or activism, because most of the kids aren't invested. And, furthermore, the queer kids who feel alienated or weird around the straight girls are going to avoid the space that's there for them. I'm writing all this in kind of a rush, so if it doesn't make sense, let me know.

  4. I totally think that makes sense. But I think that it is a problem to call it a Gay-*Straight* alliance if the expectation is for LGBT's to be the only people involved. The name implies a spay for gay and straight people coming together. One personal example of a parallel circumstance that I experienced when I was an undergrad, was participating in a conference called "Undergraduate Women in Physics" at USC. It was an enlightening conference. But a major issue I had with the conference is that there were no men there. I personally think that it is important to promote awareness to the entire population, not just the population who are effected by the issue. But then again, you could postulate all kinds of issue with this: "the men would only want to be there to hit on chics blah blah blah" and things like that might happen, just like how it was suggested that straight people were taking advantage of the welcoming-ness of the Gay bar discussed in the article above. But I think that overall, bringing awareness to the entire population is the ultimate goal of a lot of these movements and could override any of the "bugs" that might arise from working towards that.

  5. I hear you, and I certainly don't object to straight members of GSAs. It's pragmatism, at the very least, because the chances that a school will have a) enough queer kids who b) are willing to be outed enough to be in the GSA (many will avoid joining at all for fear of being found out, and others will join under the guise of straightness - the S in this acronym provides some people with a shield in an unsafe environment) to form a club are low. And having straight students demonstrably willing to hang out with the gays is a good thing, clearly. And, some of the straight members are people whose parents or siblings are gay. So it's not the very presence of straight people that I have a problem with. If you could call it a "problem," at all.

    I see it more as a concern: First, if the straight girls are joining the GSA because it's the only place THEY feel comfortable, we need to address that at its root. What can we do for them to help them feel more comfortable in general? Second, if, as I have heard, the presence of straight girls IS causing a drop in queer attendance of the club, then that is a major problem and needs to be addressed somehow. The GSA needs to be providing a safe space for queer kids. I have all the sympathy in the world for high school students of any stripe who feel oppressed by their environment, but when GSAs become straight girl hang-out spots, what I hear is that they become less politically active and have fewer gay members. That bugs me.

    Now, for gay bars. Bringing awareness is not the only goal of GSAs and gay bars - especially the latter. Gay bars are supposed to be a safe space, a queer space. Sometimes the presence of straight people doesn't detract from that, but if the community feels that it does, then that's a problem. It's not for us to tell a community of people that their sacred hang-out place should be more open to straight people because that "raises awareness." They aren't necessarily trying to raise awareness, they're trying to hang out with their folks. The importance of queer space for many people cannot be overstated. It's about restoration, and kinship networks, and safety.

    At the end of the day, it is never for a more privileged group to tell a marginalized group how to operate, or who they can hang out with, or what the politics of their spaces should be. You know? So if the queers in a certain place want a queer-only establishment, straight people don't get to tell them otherwise, because straight people have everything. All the bars. And they need to be putting in the work to make their bars places where women feel safe, not taking over gay bars all the time. Drag bars are a little different, but that's a story for another day.