The Problems With the Ally “Identity”
Out of boredom at work, I decided to peruse AVEN (Asexuality Visibility Education Network) to see what musings or rantings the asexual community had recently posted. I stumbled across a thread about the A in LGBTQIA. Many people are confused about the A in LGBTQIA. Some thinks that it means Allies. Other thinks it means Asexuals. However, since asexuality has recently been accepted, or is still being accepted, into the LGBTQ+ club, the ‘A’ in LGBTQIA historically meant Allies.
However, this does not mean the A should continue to stand for Allies. In fact, Allies shouldn’t even be considered in the equation at all, because Ally is neither a sexual nor gender identity.
It’s a label.
Am I perhaps making a mountain out of a molehill? Does one letter even matter?
To me it does, because I feel like those in the asexual community should be allowed to claim that ‘A.’ Some in the asexual community feel like we don’t belong in the LGBTQ+ group because they don’t understand that, in fact, asexuals do face some of the same issues that other sexual identities do. Erasure and corrective rape are just the tip of of the iceberg for the ace community. I had one follower on Tumblr message me to say that they had a friend who was beaten up for coming out asexual. Others would have the gall to argue this person might have been beaten up for other reasons, but what people don’t understand is that people have the capacity to hate what they don’t understand. Even worse, we asexuals are forced to be the ones to have other people understand, and that sucks. In fact, the post I linked above was written by me in response to a gay person on Tumblr who dared to tell me I was insulting said gay person by claiming asexuals experience oppression because of erasure. Erasure IS a part of oppression. And at the time, erasure and corrective rape were the only two issues I knew the ace community faced.
I also had another follower message me, saying they wanted to commit suicide because of their asexuality.
I feel that we do belong in the LGBTQ+ community because we are an ‘othered’ orientation. I suppose the alphabet soup doesn’t matter, because if we tack on A as something official, then we’ll have to tack on everything else that is non-heteronormative or non-cisgender, which is why many people are moving to GSM (gender sexual minorities). Still, that isn’t the point.
Shann Michael wrote a strongly worded post about people out there thinking that the A should be included for Allies. Now while the post seems to attack Allies, it makes a lot of good points. Frankly, only those who are the Allies Michael dismisses are going to be the ones to take offense to it. And believe me, there are a greater portion of Allies who aren’t really Allies than there are people who are actually Allies.
- Not just anyone can claim the title ‘Ally.’ Michael argues that “you cannot appoint yourself an ally,” and I agree. It’s not enough to say you support equality. You have to be active for the LGBTQ+ community to even deserve the title ‘Ally.’ Allies are continuously educating themselves about those in the LGBTQ+ community. They are educating others about those in the LGBTQ+ community. Whether they are writing blog posts educating others about us, attending pride events, petitioning for marriage equality or whatever, they HAVE to be doing something. They can’t just walk around telling others they support marriage equality and that’s it–or arguing on Facebook to someone who does not support marriage equality or what have you. As the above picture shows, only a few people actually do anything for those in the LGBTQ+ community.
- Ally should not be an identity because you are not part of the community. Your efforts are appreciated, but you cannot be part of the community because you do not face the struggles that those in the LGBTQ+ community do. Yes, I do recognize that Allies can be outed and be called debasing slurs, but Allies are still straight, still cisgendered. While bigots may question your identity, you still cannot, no matter how hard you try, know the struggles those in the LGBTQ+ community face. You cannot know how frustrating it is for Asexuals to be one of the most erased identities–and, as a Psychology Today article pointed out (linked in my Tumblr post), most dehumanized. In fact, I’m now just starting to feel the weight of having to hide my sexual orientation because I’m afraid of what others might think. I was going to do an informative speech on asexuality for my speech class, until I realized that I would be presenting this speech in front of actual people–two who are immediate family members. I kept going back and forth between doing this speech, and this whole struggle with doing it or not actually sunk me into a mild depression, because I really wanted to; the thought of doing it in front of immediate family members and strangers and how they would react to it made me sick. And it sucks, because that doesn’t help with erasure, which is why I think it’s far more important for Allies to educate themselves than for us to have to do it for them. Thus, I think Allies are very, very important for education purposes, but don’t think for a second you deserve to claim that ‘A’ in our acronym for being a decent human being. It’s enough to be accepted as an Ally to begin with, because those in the community are in charge of assessing whether or not you actually are an Ally–and being an Ally takes work, constant work.
- Your voices is not as important as the voice of a marginalized person. Just because you’ve read books, articles, attended classes on queer identities, pride parades, or speeches, does not mean that you suddenly understand what it’s like to be someone in the LGBTQ+ community, because you don’t. You never will, because you are not in that person’s shoes. As an asexual person, I cannot know the homsexual, bisexual, or pansexual experience. I only know the asexual experience. If you’re speaking about the asexual experience, my opinions on asexuality are more right than yours because I am asexual. Even if another asexual person disagrees with me, they disagree with me because they don’t have my experience. But if you are not asexual, your opinion isn’t as valid because you have no experience to back your opinion with. However, just because someone is asexual doesn’t mean they can’t be aphobic. Some have internalized aphobia. In this case, I think it is perfectly acceptable for you to step in and stop this aphobia in its tracks.
- Those in the LGBTQ+ community aren’t in charge of educating you–and those within the community are not in charge of educating each other. We are in charge of sharing our stories, not answering how do we know if we’re gay, bisexual, asexual, whatever. I HATE that I had to write that Tumblr post on how Asexuals Can Experience Oppression. I am STILL upset that I had to write it, because the ignorance I received in my Ask Box forced me to write it. The gay person who claimed I was insulting them because I said asexuals can experience oppression forced me to do research to back up my assertion. And that is ridiculous. I shouldn’t have had to do that. That gay person (and, yes, the sexual orientation does matter, because even those within the community can be unbelievably ignorant) should have done the research themselves instead of just assuming that asexuals face no oppression. They probably assumed this because aces are about 1% of the population, so there isn’t much known about us. However, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence on AVEN to show that we do face real problems. If this person had bothered to do any research, they would have known how insulting it was to tell me that asexuals do not face any oppression. I do not believe we face institutionalized oppression, but we still face it. If you want to know about us, listen to us and keep educating yourself about our issues. Don’t come up to me and ask ‘So how are asexuals oppressed?’ You wrongly assume in the first place that it is we asexuals crying oppression, when, in fact, others are forcing words into our mouths that we aren’t even saying. Do your research so that way we don’t have to do it for you. All we want to do is tell you our stories, not cite research papers to back up our experiences with asexuality.
- Don’t call attention to yourself. I cringe when I see paraphernalia for Allies. There are shirts for the Allies flag (the flag itself also makes me cringe). There are shirts that say ‘Ally’ on them. Pins that say ‘Ally LGBT.’ And shirts that say ‘Proud to be an Ally.’ There’s also a lot of other stuff Allies can boast to show their allyness, and all of it makes me cringe. Ally as an identity has become so pervasive that what it actually means to be an Ally has been diminished to t-shirts and buttons and flags. But, as I’ve stated above, you have to be accepted as an Ally by the LGBTQ+ community. If being an Ally means wearing a shirt that says ‘Proud to be an Ally,’ you’re calling attention to yourself, trying to put focus on your “identity,” instead of putting the focus on the marginalized sexualities and gender identities that need it. I mean, really, why would you feel the need to wear a shirt other than to boast about your allyness? Why do you need to boast you are proud to be one? Proud for reaching step one of what it means to be a decent person? People in the LGBTQ+ community wear paraphernalia that relates to us because we have to talk about our identities so people can understand us. The louder we are, through our voices, flags, clothing, and whatever else, the more people will have to pay attention to us so they can understand we exist, that we have real problems that need fixing, and that we aren’t going away. You don’t need to validate yourself as an Ally, because, at the end of the day, it’s not important that people know you’re an Ally. What’s important is that you do the work that it takes to be an Ally, which is way more than just screaming that you’re for equality.
Overall, Ally as an “identity” is problematic because claiming such a title, even when you don’t deserve it, and calling it an identity is suggesting that you want recognition for your work–or just your simple thoughts. It’s bragging. Plain and simple. You don’t deserve recognition, because the movement isn’t about you. Your recognition comes in knowing that the harder you work for us, the better things are going to be for us.