Being an openly queer, nonbinary film-maker, I am usually surrounded by generally “decent” humans. My professional life choices often make me meet and interact with a lot of straight and cisgender people who mostly identify as “allies” to the LGBTQIA+ community, and will make sure they let you know in the first few minutes (sometimes, just a few hot seconds) of your interaction with them that they are fully supportive of your sexuality, and gender identity. I spend most of my life in situations where I’m usually outnumbered by straight people, so I’d generally prefer they consider themselves to be my “ally”, than be on the “Fuck Homo” brigade. Please excuse my Farsi.
To be honest, it does feel good to know that they are (or want to be) on your side. I’ve had a rough childhood — growing up in the ’90s in India, having studied at an all boys school, being bullied through university and initially at work too, and then to face the heteronormative world. It does feel good to know that now you have folx who are being supportive. However, it’s also not always a great thing. A lot of folx who consider themselves as allies, usually end up engaging in behaviour that can make us queer people feel deeply uncomfortable, unwelcome, and sometimes, unseen. Mostly, it is unintentional — straight and cisgender people would never understand what it’s like to be queer, and vice versa, and that usually creates many blind spots that make even admirable allies act out like total jerks, without realisation. So, if you’re someone who identifies as an ally to the LGBTQIA+ community, thank you. Because tokenism is so exhausting and ain’t nobody got time for that, here are a few ways you can truly be an admirable ally and really mean it.
DON’T MINIMISE OUR QUEERNESS
If I had a Kuwaiti Dinar (1 KWD = 3.25 USD) for every time I heard a “well-meaning” friend say some version of “I don’t even think of you as a gay”, “You as a normal human”, “You will still be gay if you walk straight”, “Can you not wear pink shoes?”, “Can you behave normal?”, I’d be richer than Elton John. Please understand: Every queer person relates and expresses their queerness differently. There are no rule books. Queerness is a spectrum that keeps evolving. For some, it’s a song they don’t want to dance to, but could listen, on loop, as long as it is played on their headphones. For me, it’s full orchestra doing a Freddie Mercury X Madonna X Lady Gaga X Missy Elliot medley at maximum volume in my head at all times. Please don’t make our queerness feel like background noise. Our queerness is a massive part of our identities. Acknowledge our queerness. Give us the space to own it and celebrate it in whatever way we feel most comfortable.
BE AWARE OF THE SPACE YOU TAKE UP
Many of us grew up feeling like absolute outcasts. We had no spaces to be ourselves, without editing or fitting in to the heteronormative understanding that was expected out of us, so it does feel awesome when straight and cisgender people want to visit queer spaces to feel more connected to the community. But, try to imagine what it would be like if, every time you went to a bar, groups of queer people commented on how much they loved straight people; how adorable you all are and how straight bars are such a blast and everyone is so exotic and cute. After a while, you’d get really annoyed. You’d be tired of feeling novel, of feeling different, when you’re just trying to relax, or flirt, or get laid. We feel that way, too. Don’t take up opportunities that are about queer people having a platform to put forward their narratives and experiences. Being openly queer has made me lose out on a lot of work opportunities. Make space for us, not just in your personal worlds, but also professionally.
WE ARE JUST LIKE YOU
Just like every other human being, we are usually flawed, some of us are wounded, a few of us are mean too. We are confused and cranky for no rhyme or reason, some of us suffer from bouts of insecurity and loneliness too. We might not be like your favourite queer characters from your favourite TV shows. It is alright to expect us to be like that, but please don’t be disappointed when we don’t live up to it. Rather, take a moment to understand where and why that expectation stemmed from, and then just Let It Go, like Elsa did in Frozen. While I think it is mighty cool to have such positive representation of queer characters, please know that most of us might not be as impressive or likeable as the queer characters that you adore so much.
BE COMFORTABLE BEING UNCOMFORTABLE
There is no such thing as the perfect ally, just like there are no perfect people. The point is not being perfect, but creating a world where all of us are free. You will make mistakes as you get better acquainted with the queer community, it is only natural to do so. Perhaps the best learning will come from those mistakes, how you deal with them, how to never repeat them, and move forward. Always ask people for their pronouns by letting them know your pronouns and how you would like to be addressed — a very important act to avoid misgendering queer folx. It also helps to let folx know that you are open to guidance and feedback because you are here to grow. Please remember that allyship requires great patience. All you can do is do your best, and that is good enough.
ONLINE ACTIVISM INTO REAL LIFE
While you use social media to open dialogues with potential allies by educating them, building up communities for support and finding ways to uniting marginalised groups that don’t have support systems, find ways to put this into use in real life too. The best way to encourage allyship is to simply open a conversation, that leads to a dialogue for better understanding. If you hear or see something damaging about the queer community, point it out gently, and use this as an opportunity to let them know how very harmful this can be for someone who does not have the same privileges and platforms. Advocacy is an integral part of allyship. However, while doing so, make sure you are not overshadowing or occupying the a queer person’s right to speak up for themselves. Use your privileges to benefit the queer community
There’s tremendous, overwhelming amount of work to do until LGBTQ — especially transgender — people are treated equally, not just under the law, but also in our societies. Some of the most difficult parts of being from the LGBTQIA+ community usually exist outside of the legal system — family rejection, harassment, internalised shame, demeaning media representations and countless other stressors, both social and personal. As an ally, it is crucial to listen to the queer people in your life, to ask them how they’re doing, to be aware that they may have gone through (and might still be going through) some things you don’t understand, and offer support when you can. Don’t be a therapist or counsellor. But listen. Keeping your heart open and an eye out for your queer friends after Pride Month has ended, the queer hashtags aren’t trending anymore, when no one has rainbow flags on their profile pictures or their office desks, matters more than you know. Ultimately, allyship is all about taking tiny, progressive steps that will help us to come together and build a more inclusive world and achieve that elusive dream of equality.
Faraz Ansari is an international award winning film-maker and storyteller. Ansari made Sisak, India’s first silent LGBTQ love story.