Once upon a time, I swore to someone that I love quite dearly that I would never get married until she could marry whomever she wanted. It’s a promise that I intended to keep—and now, very fortunately in my home state, I can actually fulfill that promise.
Solidarity has always been very important to me. I grew up in a blue collar family, which is an environment that prizes collectively shouldering heavy burdens over independence. This was never a political statement. While I cared deeply about LGBTQ issues, it never became a political cause for me until very recently. My expressions of solidarity were declarations of love and friendship. If an institution was going to exclude someone very close to me, I wasn’t going to participate in it. I simply would not get married because I loved my friend very much.
This “once upon a time” was several years ago, when advocates and allies were a little farther and fewer in between—or, at the very least, were less vocal in the LGBTQ community than they are now. I was much younger and only beginning to understand the political landscape of truly being an ally.
Ultimately, I hadn’t quite learned how to answer the question, “Why are you an ally,” or “Why do you care about LGBTQ issues?” My answer usually had to do with someone else. And that was the problem. You do not become an ally simply because you “have a gay friend” or “care about gay people.” In order to truly take on the ally form, the answer has to be about you. You love the people in your life. You expect more from your government, from your family and from your straight and allied friends. You care.
The last statement is the most important. You have to care. You have to care enough to learn more about your LGBTQ friends and family.
In my perfect allied dream world, it would be easy to support and cherish my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. But here in my reality, learning to appropriately express your allied beliefs is nuanced and takes quite a bit of trial and error.
My first time at Outfest was with a close girlfriend of mine and several of her friends. It was an absolutely unparalleled good time. We took selfies with drag queens and I fawned over them, half cat-calling, “YOU’RE SO BEAUTIFUL!” We hooped and hollered for all of the speeches, visited the screening trucks, grabbed a few drinks at Sisters and walked around the streets without a care in the world.
At one point, we spotted an older woman standing near a breast cancer kiosk with rainbow ribbons in her hair and a sign that read, “My daughter is gay and I love her.”
For a lot of really personal reasons, this choked my friend and I up. We walked over to the Mother and asked her if we could take a picture with her. She enthusiastically agreed and we asked a passer-by to capture the moment.
Upon reviewing the photo, my friend and I were elated. It was a beautiful picture. Something that we could share and cherish together, a small token of our journey together.
“I love it! Can you email that to me? Just don’t post it online,” she said.
This was a teaching moment for me. Here, at Outfest, I thought we were all guns ablazing. I was so caught up in all the excitement that I forgot that this wasn’t about me and how I thought people should come out. (You’re out and beautiful and I love you so everyone else should, too.)
Coming out is a long and complicated process now and back then. Out is a relative term. It’s important to understand and respect the private choices your friends and family make in regards to whom and where they chose to be out.
This moment taught me that her coming out process doesn't belong to anyone else—not even thousands of smiling, cheering, motivational speakers and attendees.
Truth vs. Understanding
I’ve always taken a certain (excuse the pun) pride in being an ally. In high school and college, I became very involved in LGBTQ issues and local GSAs (Gay-Straight Alliance). I independently studied gay history and social science. I was cool. I got it.
About a year after college, I was sitting in a diner with a few of my friends (my boyfriend, a friend and his boyfriend). It was late at night and this particular diner usually fills up with the after-bar crowd. It was loud and exciting. I leaned over and kissed my boyfriend, chastely, on the neck and resumed drinking my coffee but before I could pick up the where our collective conversation I caught the tail end of my friend’s private conversation.
“... because that [points to me] is easy and this [point to each other] is much harder,” he whispered. My friend’s boyfriend was not comfortable being out in public. It was something my friend had told to me in confidence but despite having this knowledge, I was offended.
Why would he group me, of all people, in with the ever oppressive collective them? I don’t perpetuate hate culture. I can’t just be summed up as some privileged straight person. Why was he so upset? What did I ever do to him?
The truth is that I did not recognize the anonymous privilege I was enjoying. I can kiss my boyfriend on the cheek in a diner any time I want. No one is going to notice me. I wouldn’t be potentially endangered by a fleeting kiss. It was nothing to me.
There are a lot of things that I could still say about this situation. There is still a certain lingering rudeness to my friend’s comment but I’m only now starting to disassemble its true parts and intentions.
It’s one thing to empathize with the hardships of coming out and another to be confronted by the less poetic faces of it. There is real aggression and sadness in feeling oppressed and it doesn't just happen to someone else. It happens to people who eat dinner at your table and share your secrets.
Sure, I attended Pride. Sure, I joined the GSA. Sure, I donated money. But, in that moment, the cause that I cared about looked me in the face and said, so what are you gonna do about it?
My Allied Voice
I can tell you a million stories about facing my own straight misconceptions of what is means to identify as LGBTQ or what is means to be a true ally but most of them are not worth telling.
I discovered that my own allied voice is less political and, quite frankly, probably pretty boring. I’m a nurturer. I like to cook and take care of my friends and family. I’m a good person to call at three in the morning when you’re in a pickle. I’ll reserve all of my judgments, make you a bed and quietly leave you to it. I’m not interested in presuming that I understand a person’s orientation anymore. I also don’t presume to understand what it’s like to be anything but myself and that’s my allied voice.
Let me just say this: while it’s a totally amazing to have enthusiastic, vocal allied friends, most of your LGBTQ friends and family are looking for you to be you—to be there with ice cream after a tough break up, to listen to them vent about their bosses, to celebrate big and little victories, to fire up the grill on a summer afternoon.
My own allied voice sounds more like, “You want to grab brunch this weekend?”
But that sounds like an omission of much larger issues. Our perfect allied world isn’t here yet. We still have a lot of work to do and I hope to do whatever I can to get there. However, I still believe that being an ally is more than just a political movement.
It’s acceptance in all of its silly, stupidly normal ways, too.
I love my friends and family. Seems like such an obvious thing to say, right? I care about what happens to them. I care about who can and cannot get married in my own country. I care about the pain of my loved ones. Their pain is my pain. Their happiness is my happiness. That’s what love is, right? That’s friendship, right?
So when people ask me why I support LGBTQ issues now, I have a response that I know is true...
Because it affects me, too.