Although the “A” in LGBTQIA+ doesn’t stand for “ally,” (it stands for “asexual”) there is a constant discussion regarding allyship within and around the queer community.
Allies often de-escalate in-person homophobic conflict, join queer folks in solidarity by protesting discriminatory government policy, and are, frankly, just genuine friends with queer people the same way they are with straight people. However, there are some common pitfalls allies fall into.
Here’s a number of these pitfalls and suggestions on how to remedy them, from queer folks who have lived in Mt. Pleasant for at least three years.
Pitfall 1: Trying to understand LGBTQIA+ identity through a heterosexual perspective
Lauren Nowosatka, 23, is bisexual and from Saginaw, Michigan.
Lauren Nowosatka, 22, a bisexual woman from Saginaw, says there are other ways to make sense of a lesbian relationship than by asking male-centered questions.
“Like, ‘Who’s the man in the relationship?’ It’s a lack of understanding in the sense of needing to understand it through straight terms,” she says.
She also recalls a time she came out to a man she had a mutual interest in and his response was, “That’s hot.”
Jordan McGee, 23, a non-binary lesbian from Berkley, says they have had similar responses after coming out to some men.
“It’s weird. I’ve been out for eight years and I still get people saying I don’t know if I’m really gay,” says McGee.
The fix: Meet people where they’re at
“Anything along the spectrum of an LGBTQIA+ relationship doesn’t have to be compared to a heterosexual relationship,” says Nowosatka. “It should be celebrated as it stands.”
She says she was raised in an environment where “lesbian” was an insult and that moving to Mt. Pleasant and attending Central Michigan University
helped her both discover her sexuality and become a better ally to others in the community.
“Depending on how willing a person is to educate themselves, that growth can happen anywhere,” says Nowosatka.
Pitfall 2: Over-apologizing when you use the wrong pronouns
Quinn Kirby, 23, is a non-binary pansexual from Grand Rapids, Michigan.
As a non-binary person, the author of this piece also has a hand in the pot when it comes to having an opinion on allyship. Quinn Kirby, 23, from Grand Rapids, uses they/them pronouns.
In Kirby’s experience, when a person slips and uses the wrong pronouns, it’s often followed by many sincere apologies and a commitment to be better in the future. However, this pulls attention to the fact the person is different and can make the feeling worse.
Mason Merlin, 22, a queer person from Shepherd, shares this sentiment.
“You don’t need to apologize and make it a big deal. We don’t want you to,” says Merlin.
The fix: Acknowledge the slip and keep the conversation moving
“When you do misgender somebody, all you need to do is correct yourself and move on,” Merlin explains.
Pitfall 3: Centering yourself
Jordan McGee, 23, is a non-binary lesbian from Berkley, Michigan.
This pitfall may be something that people who consider themselves allies may not easily pick up on. Centering yourself can look like taking selfies at protests, bringing queer friends around people you know are transphobic or homophobic, and focusing on the personal effort you are making to be a good ally, like McGee explains.
“One person in particular [after I started using they/them pronouns] has been like ‘I’m really trying, I’m going to do my best,’ and it just makes me feel weird,” says McGee. “It’s important to me, but you’re acting as if it’s community service for you to call me by what I want to be called.”
They say it happens a lot where people who aren’t in the community are trying to help but says it feels like they’re saying, “Look what I’m doing, I deserve recognition for doing the bare minimum.”
The fix: Perspective-taking
McGee says understanding the history of the queer community is important to being an ally, especially understanding the context of the Stonewall Riot
, who its leaders were, and how it developed into the Pride we know today.
“It’s our fight,” they say. “[Pride] is not a party. Remind yourself you’re here as an ally and you need to take a step back.”
Pitfall 4: No boundaries
Mason Merlin, 22, is queer and from Shepherd, Michigan.
Merlin mentions he has had experiences where, once he’s come out to someone, that person has asked invasive, inappropriate questions.
Kirby also remembers moments like this; specifically, the time a person who refused to use their pronouns asked what was, “in [their] pants.”
“When someone learns you’re queer, they often lose that wall [blocking] questions you shouldn’t ask anybody,” says Merlin. “For some reason it eliminates that wall in their brain and makes them go “Oh you’re different. That means I can ask you these really personal questions that I wouldn’t ask a cisgender or heterosexual person.”
The fix: Step back
Merlin says his siblings took his coming out very casually.
“They were like, ‘Okay sounds good,’ but they did have some clarifying questions, like, ‘Do you want to be referred to as “brother,” or “sibling?”’ says Merlin.
He explains those sorts of clarifying questions are great and show you’re paying attention.
“If you just do the pronouns and don’t ask about the things that go with it, depending on the person’s preference, you’re missing out on a lot of support for that person,” says Merlin.
These four pitfalls aren’t a comprehensive list of what it takes to be a safe person for people in the LGBTQIA+ community. However, continuing to educate yourself and expose yourself to the community is ultimately something everyone can make an effort to do. Remember, just like cisgender, heterosexual folks, each queer person has different experiences and stories to tell. Similarly, there are many different ways to be an effective ally, and growth is a journey.