What Is An Ally?

Allies. They are everywhere! Celebrities proclaim their allyship to Black people, to trans people, to women. What do minorities think of allies?

Ayishat Akanbi recently said that a friend said to her that Akanbi waking up in the morning is a revolutionary act. Akanbi said that some people who have few troubles in life see themselves as being waged in a constant battle for survival. “Ally” is a word from war. Therefore people who see themselves are being locked in a daily struggle for survival will want allies, whereas Akanbi wants friends or acquaintances.

Akanbi also says allies think minorities are weak and fragile and so need the help of allies. Dr Debra Soh tweeted, “Allies pride themselves on treating minorities like we’d be incompetent without them.”

I have watched some youtubes on what it is to be an ally. They push the view that there is one way to be Black or gay etc and all Black people have the same thoughts, life experiences and way of living, the same for gay. It seems to be an ally is to swallow a stereotype of Black or gay people. It also seems to be a virtue signal or what used to be called “shining your halo”.

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I have come across the idea that all LGBT people are the same. The last incident was in February when a new friend said I don’t come across as gay. I said, “Because I’m not shouting ‘You’re denying my existence!'” And he said “Yes.”

Quite a big example of allyship, patronising behaviour and stereotyping came from a heterosexual friend at a music festival. I clearly was crazy for a woman and she appeared to be crazy for me. I think everyone in a 2 mile radius knew about it. I met my friend later that night, and he started telling me I should have a relationship with the woman. He also assumed I was in the closet simply because I had never mentioned being bi to him before. I was 30 years old. He started telling me I should get with her, to not hold back, to put on my facebook profile that I am LGBT.

I know he was coming from a good place. His sister is gay and in a long term relationship and she and her girlfriend have a child. He was coming from a good place but made assumptions about me, he put his sister’s experience of being gay on me instead of respecting me as an individual, he forgot anything else he knew about me from our previous two years of friendship, and he thought he needed to teach me how to be gay.

He was the good guy, trying to help me be liberated. He didn’t stop to let me speak, he didn’t ask me any questions about how I see the world, he just made assumptions that I must be in the closet and he was going to help me throw open the doors and come out.

The truth is I have never been in the closet. Being bi is as natural to me and as interesting as having dark hair. I was fully a part of a religious group for LGBT Christians, yet my friend assumed that my religion hindered my gayness.

I really did not need to hear the story of his toe dipping into the pool of gay. “It’s Ok, I’ve blown a guy.” Me and my other friend went, “Arrrrghhhhh!” and covered our ears. The ally then went on to say, “It’s OK, it was at an orgy!” Again, me and the other guy shouted, “Aarrrrghhhh!” Mind bleach was in order.

I do differ a lot from the mainstream view of LGBT people. I am Orthodox religious, meaning I am OK with same sex marriage for legal reasons, but not spiritually. I am not a leftist. I’m politically and socially a centrist. I worked for 20 years in hospitals and homeless people’s accommodations. I have done street patrols alongside the police, giving emergency first aid and saving lives. Like many LGBT people of my age, I have actually helped people and saved lives, unlike the social justice warriors who claim to help people and save lives by waving a placard and harassing people on twitter. I do believe in the need for LGBT spaces. I believe in the need to be real about the reasons why LGBT people have sky high levels of mental illness and emotional fragility and I am honest about the need for LGBT people to make themselves anti-fragile.

I do believe there is a need for LGBT spaces. Yes, there is a lot of acceptance in society now, but I was lucky to have had counselling by a gay woman at a gay centre. The counsellor totally respected my religion and my different choices, but she specialised in counselling LGBT people, so she was far more able to help me at that point in my life than a heterosexual counsellor because of the issues I faced at the time. The LGBT centres had homework rooms for any school pupil or college student who lived in a noisy environment at home, they had therapy sessions and groups for issues that are prevalent among LGBT people, activities groups and a library. There was always a member of staff who was a trained counsellor on shift if anyone walked in off the street and needed a chat. LGBT centres can be great places, and they have been important places when I have needed mental health or emotional health help and support, and legal advice when facing yet more homophobia in the workplace.

However, LGBT centres have disappeared and LGBT bars and clubs have reduced in numbers. Going to a supposed LGBT venue on Teesside three times over a period of ten years was a negative experience every time. Heterosexuals who were bullies and homophobic came into the venue and made fun of the LGBT people there, behaved aggressively, one couple were on the floor doing BDSM things which really freaked me out and another time I was there, I was the only gay person there. Everyone else was heterosexual. I was upset because at the time I had no contact with other LGBT people, so I had gone out to have a gay night, I had looked forward to it, only to find myself surrounded by people who were not gay.

Another thing about allies is that we don’t vote them in. Anyone can declare themselves an ally and we just have to suck it up. In a previous post, I have said how shocked I was to hear about one famous UK TV personalitywas now my ally. I was shocked that a person who behaved in ways I certainly do not support was my spokesperson to the world. I did not want her to be! But I have no choice.

During Pride month, we have a barrage of corporations and companies backing Pride but giving zero help to LGBT people. One recruitment agency was celebrating Pride month by offering discounts on work related courses. Great! LGBT people in the UK, despite our nice sounding laws, face open discrimination in the workplace. Cut price courses for LGBT people to help us is a great way to celebrate Pride month. Only the cut price courses were for everyone, not just LGBT people. So a company was capitalising on LGBT people and our struggles without actually going any extra mile to help us. But this company can declare themselves an ally.

As Akanbi said, I don’t want allies. I want friends. I want genuine compassion, not pity. I want genuine connections with other people. I do not want to be patronised or stereotyped. I want to be seen as the unique human being I am; flawed, imperfect and special, different and equal.

I stretch out the hand of friendship.

About catherinehume

Catherine Hume: Writer, social care worker and a liver of a life less ordinary.
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