Allies are not meant to be leaders

LuigiAllyWeek Colby Patterson
Luigi Ghersi

Luigi Ghersi

Allies perform a tremendous role for people in marginalized communities, standing with us, speaking for us in places that we do not have access to and learning from us. Aside from all of the good allies do, I want to interrogate and critique the mainstream model of allyship as it currently exists. This week the U will celebrate Ally Week. The Gay and Lesbian Student Education Network describes Ally Week as “a whole week where we can engage in a national dialogue about how everyone in and out of school can work to become better allies to LGBT youth.” Keeping with this idea of dialogues of growth and improvement, it is imperative that the ways in which allies have begun to form a static identity, often standing for, and not with, marginalized communities, are critiqued.

Mia McKenzie, the author of the blog Black Girl Dangerous, writes, “It’s not supposed to be about you. It’s not supposed to be about your feelings. It’s not supposed to be a way of glorifying yourself at the expense of the folks you claim to be an ally to. It’s not supposed to be a performance. It’s supposed to be a way of living your life that doesn’t reinforce the same oppressive behaviors you’re claiming to be against.” Being an ally has nothing to do with the individual being the ally. Being an ally is a process in which one is constantly working to unlearn, relearn and unlearn all over again. It means understanding that terminology changes, that one individual cannot speak for an entire community, and that you are working towards minimizing microaggressions and ridding yourself of prejudices.

It is not easy to be targeted for your race, gender identity, sex, sexuality, (dis)ability or for any other reason. It is not easy for someone to figure out their sexual orientation, and even when they do, it may change. I have gone from identifying as bisexual to straight to gay to queer to gay to queer. My gender identity has changed from boy to wanting to be a girl to boy to non-normative man, to genderqueer.

Equally, as an ally, it is one’s duty to be patient with this process. It is also important to know that it is not your job to speak for a community you are not a part of. You do not understand those experiences and never will, no matter how hard you try. As a critical race theorist, Julie A. Su says, “We must encourage those who have lived the experiences to tell them (my emphasis).” When an ally goes to a protest or marches in a rally, it is not their job to lead. It is their job to stand in solidarity with others, to walk alongside them, to echo their voices and to work to constantly remain an ally to them.

I love allies. People need allies. It would be impossible to make people understand that queer* and trans* people are not the spawn of Satan without them. However, an ally, as the dictionary defines it is meant “to join with another person, group, etc., in order to get or give support,” key word being support. As this week continues, let’s celebrate the allies in our lives, and let’s work to be better allies ourselves. The moment we begin to identify ourselves as an ally, rather than being identified as one, and the moment that we begin to speak for another community is the moment we fail to support others and begin to disempower them all over again.