Allies Overboard?

So, on a hopefully-not-too-tired-out subject of rambling, what exactly is the role of allies in a Queer movement (or a queered, more progressive LGBTQ movement)? This is by no means a new question, in social movements or on Below the Belt. I am exploring this question now both because of my own continuing personal frustration with the issue, and because I think that it is a question that becomes more complicated when applied to a Queer movement rather than an LGBT one.

When it comes to a mainstream LGBT movement, the mark of an ally is rather simple: a person who does not identify as LGBT but supports (or attempts to support) LGBT individuals and movements. But as anyone within marginalized communities quickly learns, allies can be a wonderful asset and a crippling weakness. They often have much more sway in mainstream spaces than people of actual marginalized identities do, and so when you have an ally who is forceful and vigilant in those spaces and eager to listen in alternative spaces, the results can be quite rewarding.

On the other hand, there are many allies who have some sort of connection to the community and therefore have developed a sense of loyalty to it without any level of self-examination whatsoever, and who spend more time fighting the marginalized for a proper space within the marginalized community than they do fighting the mainstream members of society who would like to stamp us out. One marker of these kinds of allies that has always irked me is the obsession with emphasizing straightness (of course everyone forgets about trans people too much to bother obsessively emphasizing being cisgender, though this little aside could prompt a whole other discussion about “straight-acting” amongst LGBs). It is this obsession which I think best demonstrates why I think the role of “ally” needs to be redefined in a Queer movement.

Queer theory fundamentally challenges the societal reification of straight norms. So, in a Queer movement, there isn't really a space for people who cling obsessively to straightness as an identity. To do so would run quite counter to what I perceive as a goal of liberating sexual and emotional relationships from the confines of socially constructed boundaries. I have carefully used the phrase “cling obsessively” because, though some may disagree, I do not think that a Queer movement erases heterosexuality. Rather, heterosexuality becomes more or less irrelevant...a way of perceiving one's own pattern of behavior perhaps, but a term completely stripped of its behavior-controlling influence. Aqueertheory does a wonderful job of reconciling heterosexuality and queerness in his post “Queer Heterosexuality.”

The significant conclusion that I am hoping my musings point to is that allies don't exist within a Queer movement because if a person is too hung up on who they like to sleep with and when and where and how and why to actually be a part of a Queer movement, then they really aren't deconstructing anything. Of course, a mainstream LGBT movement is going to coexist with a Queer movement inevitably (however peacefully or not) and so could THEY be considered allies to the Queer movement? I say naw...they are just a movement with a much more limited agenda that queers can also (probably) usually somewhat support. Minus the racism, often internalized homophobia, sexism, xenophobia, all that. So in my humble opinion, when it comes to a truly Queer, truly progressive movement, the term "ally" needs to be traded in for "person with whom we work on the issues about which we are mutually concerned."

I often try to throw "progressive" in there with Queer, because I honestly envision a movement which brings the marginalized together under a banner of demolishing the walls we have constructed around our differences, and even "Queer" doesn't have a connotation of addressing everything.

Ok, all-inclusive group diversity hug!

Ok now step back...why doesn't this Queer movement look nearly enough like what I imagine when reading Patricia Hill Collins' Black Feminist Thought? (coming soon?)

P.S. Stop boycotting Target and protest that teensy weensy little Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to support political candidates.

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