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Saturday, April 18, 2009

An Ally Analogy

So. (This is all true)

Bluejay plays rugby. I have lots of rugby playing friends. I love all my rugby playing friends and Bluejay very much. But, I've never gone to a game, I don't actually know the rules, I've heard of a couple of the terms (apparently there are hookers and props involved, oh and scrums) but generally I just sort of don't really involve myself all that much with it. I don't have anything against rugby players, (geez folks, I'm dating one!), and I certainly think they're all great people (or at least, if they aren't, it has nothing to do with their rugby playing ways). I don't try to stop people from playing rugby, but I am aware that twisted ankles, and concussions can happen, so I'm sometimes nervous for Bluejay's health and safety on the field (oh, it's called a "pitch"? cool, I'm down with that), and when she comes home injured I try to help her out.

As a person who never goes to games, and doesn't actually know anything about the sport, am I a fan? Am I supporter of rugby?


Do I nevertheless treat rugby players with respect, and would be shocked if other people thought they were less than human? Do I support my partner's decision to be a rugby player?

You Betcha!

Now, imagine that rugby players were a highly stigmatized group. That lots of people actively thought they were less than human.

I (in this imaginary world) still support their right to play rugby (and consider my lover and friends real people). Does this continued belief in their humanity and their rights magically turn me into a fan or a supporter? (I'm confident in "No")

Now, let's replace "fan" and "supporter" with "ally".

How does this change anything?

If I don't go to the games, if I don't know the rules, I'm not a fan of rugby! Pretty dern simple. I'm still a good person, a nice person, a good friend, but I'm simply not a rugby supporter.

If I say you aren't an "ally" that doesn't mean I think you're evil. Just like I'm not evil for not being an active supporter/fan of Bluejay's rugby.

The difference is though, that rugby isn't hugely stigmatized, that coming home from games my friends don't get beat up or called names. If they did, I'd like to think that I'd go to games and walk back with them, to help protect them from a world and society that did this to them. And I'd like to think that by being at the games, by putting myself as a presence there, I'd learn the rules, and the terms. I would, in fact, become a supporter and a fan.

So. You aren't evil if you aren't an ally. But, with a little work, why not become one?


  1. This makes things clearer, but I'm still upset by the strict definitions. Isn't it possible to be an ally in your own way? Or would you consider the definition of ally to be purely functional?

    I have a feeling you're going to say the following situation is different, but I guess we'll see...

    I think strict definitions/functional definitions are among the most important reasons I don't identify as queer. Although I am attracted to people from pretty much every category you can think of in the gender spectrum, I have only ever had relationships with cisgendered men. And because of this, I have been made to feel like I can't identify as queer...

    One time I was in a group of people and they were trying to name whether or not different people were straight. They (of course) said I was straight; I spoke up, telling them I wasn't straight. And they (basically) made fun of me. They said things like, "Oh, what? Did you have a relationship with a women before we met you?" And basically, now, I feel like I'm not "allowed" to call myself queer...

    So, I guess you could argue that these two situations are different. Maybe ally should have a functional definition while queer should be defined more loosely. Or maybe you think that queer should also have a functional definition (ie. I can't be considered queer). Or maybe it's possible for someone to be an ally in different ways than the ways you've suggested. I don't think that having all the right knowledge is the only way to support someone/a group of people.

    But that's just my opinion.

    - SE

  2. I really like your analogy and argument. I think it's spot on. This is where I usually say something witty, but I don't got anything and it ain't for lack of trying.

  3. ...But you *can* be a rugby fan by going to your local games, learning the rules, cheering for your team, telling rugby-haters you meet how wrong they are, helping to heal and protect your rugby-playing friends, etc...even if you don't know the names of even the most famous international rugby players, even if you can't (in your imaginary rugby-hating world) rattle off the names of all the rugby players who have been attacked recently.

    If I do all those things--learn trans terminology and use it correctly and respectfully, hang out with and support my trans friends, tell transphobic people exactly where they can stick it, participate in local trans activism, help heal and protect my trans friends when they get hurt, etc.--I don't think you can tell me I'm not a trans ally just because I didn't know who Angie Zapata was. I believe that the most important work of being an ally happens on the ground, locally. Knowing about tragic trans icons can be useful in large-scale activism, but it is also a simplistic gesture and, ultimately, need not be relevant to the real work of a sincere ally.


  4. Yay. I'm glad that you support your trans friends so well BF. And I think that whoever shamed you about identifying as queer SE can stick it in the same place that BF mentioned.

    My original post was specifically a response to psuedo-allies, those who don't interact with the culture at all, yet try to tell me how to live my life. And I definitely reserve the right to tell them they aren't allies.

    I don't know (if I know) you, BF, in real life. There's a whole lot that is obviously missed online, and doubly-so in a one off comment. So when someone says: "I don't know about this thing you mentioned that seems important to you, but I'm still an ally, and don't tell me I'm not" I'm liable to bristle. If I have no other interactions with a person, hir telling me "I am and ally, no matter what you say" seems like a statement of privilege, not ally-hood.

    If, however, we have a long-term, ongoing relationship, I may be able to more firmly place hir comments in context. I hope that you (no longer a hypothetical person) will stick around, and perhaps in that way I can get a better context for who you are as a thinking person. :-)

    (Genuinely, not passive-aggressively)

  5. I really think that this metaphor is nonsense. Rugby like most (if not all) sports has a relatively small set of rules and terms. You can learn all that in a day or so if you put some effort into it. You can also always go to see the game. Moreover you can even try to play the game. Like my friend a big figure skating fan. She tried and wasn't good at it, but gained some experience of how it feels to jump or to fall.

    But so what if know what the difference between transvestite, transsexual or transgender is? Even if dress up as the other gender it would be just a costume, just a fun thing. Or maybe some thought like: how awfully uncomfortable this is. One can't try to be queer or trans to see how it feels. You either are or you're not. I will never know or understand how my friend has felt all his life. How he felt his body is not in accord with his identity. The doubt he faced, the fear. I've never felt that way and never will. I try to support him in his hormonal therapy right now and i'll do it during and after the operation, and with all the legal mess that he will have to face later. But I would never pretend I understand what he is going through. I see it is tough, still I don't know why. Although I had hormonal therapy for health reasons it never affected my character and behaviour in such a radical way. I don't feel the things he feels and don't perceive the world the way he does.

    The only time I made mistakes addressing him was on the eve of his coming out. I've made the effort never to do that again and I've managed that. Because I care about him. Plus I think people have the right to be called the way they want. Those people you write about probably just don't care about you and I think it may be a personal thing. You are very aggressive and judgemental. They may just think “whatever, we will be criticised for sth anyway”. If I met you in real life (and I hope I don't) I would still make an effort to address you properly, but not because I care about you or respect you or due to my general belief i expressed above, I would just want to avoid your rudeness.


  6. Hayley,

    I was beginning to think you had a valid point until the last paragraph, where you're just being nasty. Let's not stoop to the level of name-calling. Reaching the level of character attacks signals to me that you've given up on logical/reasonable arguments. I think disagreeing is one thing, but it would be nice if we could try to avoid this type of attack. It prevents us from having a real discussion.

    - SE

  7. Dear SE

    preventing us from a real discussion? not us, because you get answers that aren't filled with vulgar words and ridicule. you agree with the author more than i do, so you deserve discussion. I don't agree with the author so my point of view isn't tolerated and i'm not treated with respect.


    ps. you chose to discard everything I wrote above even though i made the effort to divide my comment into 3 clearly separate arguments, only the last one being a personal attack, which btw DeviantE worked real hard to earn from me.


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