The Problems With the Ally “Identity”

Ally-final

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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Author:

Also known as The Dancing Writer, she is currently working on The Stars Trilogy, among other works.

3 thoughts on “The Problems With the Ally “Identity”

  1. Maybe this is just me, but it seems like you’re a tad harsh towards Allies when, really, straight people accepting gay people is the whole thing the LGTB community is striving for. As for the “unnecessary” paraphernalia, I’m not sure why that’s even an issue. They’re trying to show their support. Good on them. It doesn’t mean they think they’re more sophisticated or nobler than your average Joe. They want to be proud of their social decency? Let them be. I also think that comparing asexuality to homosexuality isn’t fair. Yes, being marginalized is tough. Ok. I won’t pretend to understand what goes through an asexual’s head – or a homosexual’s, for that matter – but asexuals clearly have it good in comparison. As a straight asexual, you get to date a man and nobody will bat an eye. Maybe you might have sex less, or maybe not at all. That’s the equivalent of a decreased libido and nobody is going to condemn you for that. Or if they do, then certainly not to the extent a gay person gets condemned. Have you heard of the blue eye/brown eye experiment? Jane Elliot basically says that being black is harder than being gay because if you’re gay then you change your ornamentation, your attitude, and the way you behave so that nobody treats you differently. Black people don’t have that option. I actually disagree with that in that I think a lot of gay people don’t have a choice in how they are perceived by others. By the same token, I think asexuals have it easier because there is no obvious gap between them and “normal” people. If somebody asks you what your sexual orientation is, you tell them, and if they’re bigoted then they might act differently towards you. At the end of the day, you’re a woman dating a man. You can go out to a restaurant together and people won’t stare or whisper or ask you leave.
    I’m not trying to deprive you of your shiny ‘I’m Oppressed’ badge, but I really don’t think you can afford to be so harsh towards others when they have good intentions.

    1. They can be proud of their social decency all they want, but at the end of the day, it is the community that determines whether or not they are Allies. And, regardless, it is my opinion that such paraphernalia is insulting, and while I won’t speak for the entire community, a lot of people in the community tend to feel the same way, too. But you’re not in the community, so you can’t know that. In fact, after I wrote this post, I got a bunch of messages on Tumblr from people in the community who feel roughly the same way I do. (My WordPress is linked to my Tumblr.) You can find all sorts of posts from people who feel insulted by this kind of stuff. Even a straight person wrote about the Allies flag.

      Also, I don’t see anywhere in my post where I was comparing asexuality to homosexuality. I was pointing out something on Tumblr that actually pissed off other asexuals, too, when that person messaged me telling me it was insulting to even say that asexuals can experience oppression. This gay person was telling me asexuals faced no oppression at all, when, in fact, we do, and I had to do the research to back up my words. And after I wrote that post, I got a lot of messages from asexuals thanking me for having done so, because they consider themselves a part of the community but are always asked ‘So how are you oppressed,’ as if being part of the community is about playing the Oppression Olympics. Because, apparently, anecdotal evidence from other Asexuals I met on AVEN (even those who are heteroromantic) doesn’t matter. Other sexual orientations don’t have to prove anything, but asexuals still have to because we’re recently just coming out of the wood work. In fact, if you yourself had bothered to do any research, you would realize how ignorant it is of you to say “asexuals clearly have it good in comparison.” Why do you assume this? Hm? Because our sexual orientation is pretty much invisible? Because 1 out of 100 people are asexual? Because we are a variety of romantic orientations? There are homoromantic asexuals, you know. They are not homosexual. They are asexual with a romantic attraction to the same sex, so that is EXTREMELY ignorant of you to say that asexuals clearly have it good in comparison to homosexuals, when there are homoromantics, biromantics, panromantics, aromantics, and heteroromantics. Just because you haven’t heard of it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Again, asexuals are just coming out with their stories, but even David Jay, the founder of AVEN, says that the more asexuals are coming out, the more stories of discrimination come to light. So, again, you assume this because you haven’t heard of it. It’s like saying gravity didn’t exist before it was discovered.

      And so what if I’m with a guy? I live in an environment that isn’t hostile to anyone of any sexual orientation where I live. I have gay friends, and the worst they’ve come across is slurs that fit their sexual orientation. The worst I’ve come across is someone telling me asexuality doesn’t exist, and that only plants can be asexual–in real life. Or that I’m just trying to be a special little snowflake. But there are asexuals who live in hostile environments, where they’ve lost friends because of it, where there partners have left them because of it, where they’re bullied or raped because of it. Again, I said asexuals are not institutionally oppressed like homosexuals are, because our identities are so easy to hide and not much is historically known about us because we are 1% of the population. So that’s about 3 million of us in America, 1/3rd of the population of the state I live in. But what you don’t understand is that a person’s orientation has nothing to do with sexual activity or lack thereof. It has everything to do with the fact that they identify with a label that people don’t understand, and people can be unbelievably cruel to things they don’t understand. Or things that are a minority. ALL minorities throughout the history of history have experienced some sort of discrimination. ALL. OF. THEM.

      Yeah, asexuals romantically attracted to the opposite sex have it a little bit easier because we can hold our significant other’s hand in public and not be assaulted for it. But that doesn’t mean we’re exempt from corrective rape or bullying if we come out asexual to our partners or peers. In fact, you can say the same thing about bisexual people who are dating someone of the opposite sex, because they experience just as much erasure as homosexuals do. Yet, I doubt you’re going to deny their experiences like you’re denying the experiences of asexuals. In fact, some heteroromantic asexuals have been raped by their partners for coming out asexual! Or have been raped by people they just met and want to come out so they do not deceive these people! Oh, our orientations are easy to hide if we’re willing to have as much sex as a sexual person does. But most of us aren’t, so, no, it’s really not something most should be hiding when they enter a relationship, because that’s being deceptive.

      My fiance doesn’t know I’m asexual. I’ve been dropping hints here and there, but I don’t even know if he knows the orientation exists. However, I would hope that if I ever told him, he wouldn’t say, ‘So, wait? You don’t love me?’ For some hetero-asexuals, this happens, and it escalates from there. And others of differing romantic orientations, too. Do you know how horrible it would be if I dropped that one word and it undid seven years of what I’ve built with my fiance? Because that has happened with some aces–no, many, because aces in general have a difficult time finding romantic partners that are willing to compromise. Just because that’s not institutionalized doesn’t make the experience less valid, because it’s not something heterosexuals have to worry about. Heterosexuals don’t have to worry about a lot of things because of their identities, so it’s absolutely baffling that you, as a straight person, would assume that I as a hetero-asexual would have nothing to worry about, just because I’m in a relationship. I got lucky. Plain and simple. I’m lucky to be with a guy who is cognizant sex is no big deal to me, even though he doesn’t know I’m asexual. My romantic orientation has nothing to do with how easy I have it. It has everything to do with how lucky I am. But just because I, as a hetero-asexual, have it easy, doesn’t mean that other hetero-asexuals do. In fact, asexual is asexual is asexual. You can be a hetero-asexual not in a relationship, but if you were to come out as asexual (because most of us don’t attach our romantic orientations to our sexuality–or lack thereof), you might just come across the same bigotry as other sexualities do.

      And you already made a lot of what you said invalid by saying you can’t claim to know what goes on through our heads. So you can’t claim to know anything about asexuality as compared to homosexuality. Because, again, same-sex romantic attraction exists within the asexual community, but they would still identify as asexual.

      Also, how rude of you to claim I’m wearing some shiny badge of oppression. If a homosexual were to talk to you about the oppression homosexuals face, you probably wouldn’t make such a condescending statement. Yet, I as an asexual, trying to educate others about asexuality and some of the issues we face, am wearing a shiny badge of oppression? Am being upset by what the ace community faces? Upset that I had to write that post because that person jumped to conclusions without having done any research? You want me to stay quiet? To shut up? To never speak about asexuality again so that way people continually believe we don’t exist, so it doesn’t matter what they say about us? So that way it doesn’t seem like I’m wearing some shiny oppression badge? Did I ever specifically say that I was oppressed? No. I was talking about asexuals in the ‘we’ context, because I am asexual and therefore cannot exclude myself from the equation. The worst I’ve come across when I came out asexual, even mentioning I was in a relationship with a man, was some guy telling me that I am a “formally abused broken woman who hides within herself and wears a mental chastity belt as a means of emotional siege.” I laughed at the ignorance of this comment, but a man, who was homosexual, was absolutely appalled by what this guy had said to me, because he does know some people who are asexual who experience some crappy things. I laughed, because it wasn’t the first time I’ve come across such ignorance. But just because I laughed, doesn’t mean another person who is asexual would.

      Last, I felt I was quite fair in this post. It’s true that an Ally’s opinion doesn’t matter as much as a marginalized person’s opinion. But I did say an Ally can correct internalized -phobia with someone who is asexual but completely ignorant about his/her orientation–or any sexual orientation, for that matter. Some people in the community won’t even grant you that. I also said that people within the community can be unbelievably ignorant as well. For example, it’s not just straight people erasing bisexuals, pansexuals, or asexuals. It’s homosexuals, too, or bisexuals erasing pansexuals, or pansexuals erasing asexuals. So on and so forth. Asexuals sometimes erase each other–like demisexuals or graysexuals.

      Also, can’t afford to be harsh to others when they have good intentions? What can’t I afford? To lose Allies who THINK they have good intentions, but when we inform them why their intentions actually are not good, they get mad? Just because you think you have good intentions, doesn’t mean you actually do. Sometimes it takes being a little harsh to get the truth across to somebody. I know some Allies do feel attacked. It’s understandable. But they also have to understand that most who claim to be Allies, actually are not. So if they are Allies who don’t do the stuff the community accuses some Allies of doing, great. We’re not talking about them then. If you’re an Ally, you have to be open to criticism on what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong. We all have our different opinions, but there is one singular thing: It’s not something you can just label yourself. It’s like getting a job and coming in calling yourself the manager. You can do that all day, but that doesn’t mean you actually are the manager. Your manager runs the place you’re working at, just as the community runs the community, and we get to decide what “Allies” are toxic and what Allies are actually doing some good.

      And it’s a little insulting that you imply Allies are the only way the community is going to get its rights. Their help will, but they themselves will not be the sole reason. This is like telling women that the only reason we got our rights was because of men. No. We got our rights because we finally decided to start demanding them. Men were just there to help us, but they didn’t wake up one day and go, ‘Hm…women should have rights.’ Women had to wake up to that reality and start demanding it for ourselves. Or else we probably never would have gotten them.

      1. It’s actually not ignorant of me to say that. I think it’s awful that some people don’t take you seriously – purely because if I were to call myself gay, then bisexual, then asexual, then that must be taken as fact because only I know what I’m feeling and nobody can try and invalidate my experience by insisting that I can only stick to one.

        That said, I think I was just in saying – as a heavy generalization, maybe I should’ve added that – that asexuals have it easier. In the cases I’ve witnessed? Oh, yes, they certainly do. I know this because I have an asexual friend who is largely left alone by others, and a gay friend who is bullied relentlessly. I understand that some or a lot of cases may differ, but like it or not, in many parts of the world, being gay is the worst thing you can be right now. Maybe being less understood and less widely known about is a blessing in that regard for asexuals.

        Also, if you had read my comment properly without going off on a tangent of righteous indignation, you would know that I did NOT imply Allies are the only way the LGTB community is going to get its rights. Don’t put words in my mouth. I merely meant that instead of alienating people who call themselves Allies because they support gay rights, maybe give some pointers for how they can improve their stance, or justify their position, or something. Because by robbing them of their ‘Ally’ status because YOU think they don’t deserve it, that makes you a bigot and a hypocrite. And where I’m from, precious few people are willing to stand up for gay people. I always do, but that doesn’t mean everybody else does.

        So, as far as I’m concerned (and don’t tell me my opinion matters less because I’m not gay – that’s another example of bigotry) you want to call yourself an Ally? Done. You’re an Ally. Come wave a rainbow flag.

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