A fair number of people have recently come out to me as queer. Ever since I began owning my queer identity in a more outspoken manner (especially since I started blogging), many people have reached out to disclose their identities and to ask questions or share concerns. Coming out can be terrifying – even if it’s to other queer people – so I’ve come to stress the importance of queer allyship to other people in the queer community.
The core philosophy is that everyone experiences queerness differently simply by the fact that we are different people. Being queer myself doesn’t give me a free pass to make assumptions about other queer people’s experiences; I still have to work to be a good ally.
So, what does this allyship look like when someone comes out to me as queer? I have a few basic dos and don’ts (or wills and won’ts) that I try to remain cognizant of always.
- I will listen actively and I won’t dominate the conversation. I get really freaking excited when someone comes out to me and there’s sometimes an urge to word vomit all of my thoughts and emotions onto the poor person who just came out. However, the conversation is about them, not me. I will absolutely express gratitude toward someone’s decision to tell me and will let them know that they can ask questions, but I no longer dive into a monologue. Coming out is a significant experience for many people and it’s not fair to overshadow someone else’s coming out with my own feelings and words. My role as an ally is to meet other people where they are, listen, and provide support as needed.
- I won’t tell you how to be queer. Ever. When I first started coming out, I was met with a lot of responses along the lines of “I’ll teach you how to be gay,” from other queer people. There’s no single way to be queer. In fact, there are as many ways to be queer as there are queer people because everyone approaches life a little differently. Queer people are just as varied and diverse as straight people, but I honestly didn’t know that as a newly out queer person. While I didn’t have the language to describe it at the time, I felt like other people were trying to take control of my personal journey and it was incredibly invalidating. I believed I had to rush to fit other people’s “queer” molds and prove that I was truly one of them.
I may offer (or decide) to teach people about queer culture, if they seem interested, but I will never suggest that someone should partake in any parts of the culture that they aren’t entirely comfortable with. I think it’s good for queer women to know about flannel and U-Hauls for social purposes (ya know, to get the jokes), but I’m not about to take someone shopping for rainbow flannel in a U-Haul…unless of course, they ask. Queerness isn’t contingent upon appearance, interests, hobbies, religion, or outness and I will not tell someone to do any of these things differently just because they’re queer.
One other deviation from this promise is if someone asks or – seems to express interest in – learning more about a particular “queer” thing. Example: If you’re an AFAB trans person and want clothing brand or sizing recommendations for menswear, I’ll happily provide them. If you need to borrow a binder for a day to test it out, I’ll lend out one of mine. If you want a buddy to accompany you to Pride or to a queer organization meeting, I’ll do my best to be that buddy. However, I will never force (or even coerce) anyone into doing queer things that they don’t want to do.
- I will share my personal experiences. When people have questions, I do my best to answer them openly and honestly from my personal experiences, or from the experiences of friends who are comfortable with me sharing. I will never make my or someone else’s experience out to be the end-all-be-all or even the “standard” queer experience…because there isn’t one.
When sharing, I won’t sugarcoat stuff. For me, being queer hasn’t always been easy and I won’t try to make it out to be. However, I will make it clear that there are infinite queer experiences and that mine is only one of them. I’m also happy to point people toward other individuals and resources that may be helpful in answering their questions.
- I will respect the validity your identity. Biphobia, panphobia, and all the other phobias run rampant within the lesbian and gay communities. There’s this odd idea that queer people who don’t identify exclusively as gay or lesbian are not 100% queer. Again, you’re either queer or you’re not. While sexuality exists on a spectrum, a bisexual person is no less queer than a gay person.
- I will use whatever terms you want me to use in reference to your identity. The way that you choose to label your experience is your own and I am in no position to judge or decide otherwise. If you’re a woman who is exclusively attracted to other women, but prefers to be called “gay” over “lesbian,” then I will always refer to you as gay. I know people who identify as pan, but refer to themselves as bi for the sake of not having to explain pansexuality to people who haven’t heard of it. Some people simply use terms like “queer” or “not straight” and that is okay, too. Of course, you don’t need my approval to be called whatever you want to be called, but it’s important to let people know that I’ll respect that. Your identity is your own and I am not here to tell you what or what not to say in reference to yourself.
- I will not out you. Period. I’ve been on both ends of the equation: I’ve been outed and I’ve outed people and neither one feels good. I still regret all of the times I disclosed people’s identities in the past without their express permission and refraining from doing so is now my top priority when someone comes out to me. Of all of the things that could go wrong in disclosing your identity to another person, being outed is pretty terrible. Some people really don’t mind, but for others, the consequences can be devastating. You deserve to be in total control of when, where, and to whom you talk about your queerness.
These are just some of the ways I work to be an ally to other queer people, but this model isn’t one-size-fits-all. Allyship looks different for everybody, so these are really just ideas or prompts to get the wheels turning. Additionally, what everyone needs from an ally differs from person to person, so it’s important to pay attention to each individual you act as an ally toward (hint: it doesn’t have to be guesswork; you can ask upfront, “What do you need from me as an ally?” and you should get some pretty informative answers). Regardless, I firmly believe it’s necessary for queer people to be allies to other queer people. While we don’t share a single story, we’re all in this together.