I was a shitty queer ally recently. To be fair, I am quite often a bad ally - silence is not my forte - but this involved someone I’d only just met, and the thought that I left them* with a first impression of me as an asshole has been weighing on me. Intersectionality is complicated.
The details don’t matter - they’re just me attempting to justify taking my problems out on others** - so we’ll just leave it at a fiercely binarily-gendered rape-culture rampage in a setting requiring more sensitivity to trans experiences. (Admittedly, most of my life could stand a truckload more nuance and kindness, particularly of late.) I had had a bad day and should have just gone home to look at puppy GIFs and eat cheese. But I didn’t, so here we are.
I’m a proud feminist killjoy. I treasure the overlap between feminism and other social justice movements. But I’m also white, cis, middle class, able-bodied, mostly straight, and while an immigrant, more frequently included than othered in this country. Essentially, I’m drowning in privilege (not to suggest there exists a strict hierarchy of privilege, but to acknowledge that I am an academic observer, albeit a passionately interested one, in most struggles for equality).
It’s a weird place to be, a member of both a marginalised and several dominant identities. It’s why intersectionality matters so much - our experiences are so complex, so varied, that we cannot be summed up in a single label. Being rich and white in the West has brought all manner of opportunity and benefit, but being a woman, particularly abroad, has…not.
In feminism, we spend a lot of time talking about male allies and how to be a good one. The discussion is relevant to all movements. I summed it up in bullet points that also happened to form a haiku:
Be a role model
Call out bad behaviour
Shut up and listen
Is it because gender and sexuality are fluid? Because you can’t always know where someone fits? It’s different in my eyes than, for instance, invisible disability (where I have enough sense to not voice assumptions about someone’s experience), but that’s probably just because sex is such a big part of my feminism too. I got my start in reproductive rights. In campaigning for contraceptive access, abortion rights, and ending rape culture, my sexual behaviour is on display and judged by opponents. Harassment, discrimination, and violence affect us all.
But not equally. We know the stats and we should all be outraged. I hate that we live in a world where coming out is a risk. It shouldn’t be. It’s no one’s business. I don’t like coffee and some people identify as a gender other than the one assigned at birth and some people are afraid of birds and we all love people with different genitals. That’s fine.
Except we live in the real world, and it’s not fine. It’s a big deal to say ‘I’m gay/queer/trans/different,’ especially to a veritable stranger, and that reality matters infinitely more than my idealistic dream that it should not.
Returning to the story - mid-rant, someone came out, quietly and without fanfare. In retrospect, it was a lovely moment and I’m ashamed that I shat all over it. My overeager ‘I’m a good ally’ instinct led me to shrug and move on. But dismissive isn’t supportive, and my assumptions about others’ experiences help no one. My brain caught up later and I’ve been berating myself ever since.