The “I’m an ally, so” trope, redux

[content note for discussion and use of transphobic language]

Hello kittens,

Every time I think I’m done writing/talking/vlogging about this issue, the world reminds me that I will never, ever be done writing about it.

It thought I was done with it a couple of days ago when I made this video. No such luck.

The “I’m an ally, so” trope won’t die. That’s probably why it’s a trope. (*Ting.*)

[Note: the next six paragraphs are taken from this post.]

The “I’m an ally, so” (or IAAS) trope relies on your knowledge that the person with whom you are interacting is an ally of such and such a group, allowing them, in their minds, to act in any way they see fit. This trope is used to justify some very un-ally-like behavior. Because, hey, you know we’re cool, right?

The IAAS is closely related to “some of my best friends are.” “Some of my best friends are” is used to show that, because you have (alleged) friends among the group you are maligning, your words or actions are somehow acceptable. For instance: “I think gay people are a dangerous menace to society and they don’t have the same rights as us normal folk, because God said homosexuality is an abomination. But hey, some of my best friends are gay, so you can’t call me homophobic.” A similar trope is “you know I’m not racist/sexist/homophobic, but…”, which is always used to contradict itself.

The difference between “I’m an ally, so” and “some of my best friends are” is that a person employing IAAS has committed hirself as an ally to a community, but wants to share prejudiced, biased or hateful views about that community which ze thinks should be covered by hir ally status. Let’s take a look:

“I love gay people, and I fully support their rights, but like, okay. Why are lesbians so grumpy? And why do flamey gay guys act like that? Like, just be yourself! But you know, like, I really love gay people, so don’t get mad.”

You can see the danger this trope represents. The ally in this situation thinks ze can wrap all hir beliefs up in a bundle, making anything ze says ally-worthy.

It’s just not true.

When someone – or thousands of someones – tell you you’re being a bad ally, “but I’m an ally” is not a legitimate or even cogent response.

As others have written about at length, being an ally is not an identity. It’s a series of actions, and it is incumbent upon you to maintain those actions to continue to be an ally. (Or to work in concert with people, etc.)

One of the reasons this post is getting a redux is because I fell into a Twitter rabbit hole. It started (for me) with a tweet from Pandora Boxx thanking Kate Bornstein for her response to the current incarnation of the RuPaul’s transphobia clusterwhoops, and from there I spiraled down.

Kate Bornstein is standing behind RuPaul on this one. That’s her choice. Kate Bornstein has also stood behind, for instance, Dan Savage when people call him on his transphobic behavior. That is also her choice.

My initial reaction to *ahem* stuff like this is to be scquicked out by how gross it is that so-called allies run and hide behind their friends in the maligned community and use them like human shields.

I don’t begrudge Kate Bornstein the right to defend her friends. But I’m also pretty sure she’s far, far too smart to be used as a human shield. So she either doesn’t know or doesn’t care what people are getting away with in her name.

That is her choice.

I think it’s shitty beyond compare when we solicit harbor from our friends to avoid being called out. It’s gross to do that to a friend. And it’s gross to suborn in-fighting to deflect the fact that you’re (being) a shitty ally.

When a famous/prominent/wealthy/etc. member of a community says they agree with the person being called out, the person being called out uses that as an excuse to silence other people. “I can’t possibly be transphobic because this prominent trans person I’m friends with says I’m not!”

Woopty. Damn. Doo.

Last night someone was trying to tell me what RuPaul had in his “heart of hearts” like I was just too stupid to understand why RuPaul is above common decency. I’m not stupid. I disagree with you, mmk?

Some people seem to genuinely feel that “allies” should be able to get away with whatever they want because they say they’re allies. This so-called ally will say “how dare you come at me after everything I’ve done? You have much bigger fish to fry!”

Here’s the thing: if I can’t tell the difference between an ally and a bigot, then how the hell am I supposed to trust that you’re an ally? There are no ally laurels, so stop acting like you have something to rest on.

RuPaul says that he has been called a tranny, so he gets to use that word.

Ok: if, on his own time for his own self, RuPaul wanted to use that word? None of my business.

But time and again in my own life, I’ve seen people who have had hate speech “misdirected” at them turn against the oppressed instead of the oppressors. Straight men who experience homophobic taunts often grow up to be at least a little homophobic, because hating queers is easier than fighting the heteropatriarchy, at least in this society at present.

Ugh, blerg, TLDR: communities don’t have hive minds and don’t just follow whatever your friend who’s a prominent member of that community says. If people disagree with you about the extent to which you’re an ally, you can “pay them no mind” all you want, but your ally status is getting downgraded.

Please, GAWD, let me stop having to talk about this shit.

~Big Mama Schlomo

fatness & the notion of taking up space

[TW for fatphobia and frank discussion of eating disorders]

Hello kittens,

I want to have a little chat-adoodle tonight about fatness and the oft-discussed but in many ways under-analyzed notion of “taking up space.”

This thought was sparked in me again for, I don’t know, about the billionth time tonight when I saw a graphic about how to be a good ally. I’m not going to share the graphic, as I personally found it a little triggering.

But what I can say is that the notion of ‘taking up as little space as possible’ was represented by a person hugging their own shoulders in an effort to make their body even smaller than it is.

My whole life as a fat, then anorexic/bulimic, then fat again gender-variant queer, I’ve felt the notion of ‘taking up space’ weighing down on me – pun very much intended – even before I knew there was a name for it.

My fat body was bad and ugly, and I should be less selfish, take up less space, disappear, if you will.

And I tried very hard to do just that.

Already at my full adult height of over six feet as a teenager, I remember buying women’s extra-small T-shirts that fit. I remember being praised by a healthcare worker for eating dry toast and consuming no liquid calories. I remember when I replaced the one cube of cheese with no cube of cheese. I remember working out up to eight hours a day.

I remember people saying I looked great! And no one was ever concerned that you could feel the back side of my collarbone. Because I was thin! Because I was so wonderfully thin!

My teenage mind had already very much so fully assimilated the notion that my little genderqueer ass needed to be just that – little.

There’s the thin privilege of androgyny. The androgynous body as depicted in both popular and alternative media is supposed to be unreadable, and curves, and fat, make a body much more readable.

And my fat teenage mind was already full of taunts. From peers, and family, and TV. Thinness was associated not just with beauty – no! But also with intelligence, achievement, desirability, and, perhaps most damagingly, with the very right to respect and love yourself.

Even my tall teenage mind told me I needed to shrink! My shoulders are stooped and my head lolls forward on my neck. If only I could shrink even further! All the way into myself!

I had already started to put weight back on by the time I entered university and became aware of concepts like ‘taking up space.’

Now, look. I get that it’s a metaphor. But it is a shitty metaphor, especially given the way that society treats people whose bodies literally take up more space than other people’s bodies.

And even in noble queer academic America (gag), let me assure you, people are still more than ready to make stupid assumptions about fat people. Like that we’re stupid. Or are just there for the free pizza. (An almost lifelong fear of people seeing me eat meant that I was never there for the free pizza.) Like we’re lazy and ineffectual. Like we won’t be good team members. And – GASP – might not like the tiny little chairs.

And then someone says something about someone taking up too much space and you just seize up inside.

Now please, don’t get me wrong. This is a metaphor I’ve used. Because it describes a real phenomenon that needs to be addressed.

But have you ever noticed how many people in a community meeting will be hugging themselves, pulling their legs up, doing anything they can to appear to be disappearing?

The last thing in the world you want to do is be perceived as taking up too much space.

But instead of talking about taking up as much space as you literally take up, we privilege the notion of taking up as little space as possible.

Repeatedly having this drilled at you is damaging to fat people. It is damaging to tall people. How do I know? Because it happened to me.

And, frankly, this repetition of the horrors of taking up too much space doesn’t stop at damaging people who literally take up space – which, for the record, all corporeal beings do.

The damage extends to those people with their legs up, hugging themselves, shrinking away. They try desperately not to talk because someone other than them gets too decided how many words they use and if they absolutely must speak, they hedge their statements, and speak very softly, trailing off, refusing to take the palpable risk of being heard.

I know this isn’t very post-modern post-structuralist post-post of me, but maybe saying something like “hey, you’re talking a lot/too much and it’s taking away from others’ ability to share” would be a hell of a lot better way to put this.

Describing oppressive behavior shouldn’t also require oppressive behavior.

Marginalized people are already told all the time that they’re taking up too much space, or taking up the wrong space, or just taking up space in the wrong way. And this metaphor fuels the privilege of being diminutive. Is that really something we need more of?

It’s a garbage metaphor, and I hereby pledge not to use it anymore.

~Big Mama Schlomo

don’t like gay marriage? don’t get gay married.

and yes, I’m talking to you, queers.

Hello kittens:

Today seems like as good a time as any to state/reiterate my frustration with pretty much all leftist responses to gay marriage.

I don’t like marriage or something. Assimilation bad! Can I have my cookie now?

As I watch my little corner or the intertubes today, I’m struck that most of the people with that red HRC logo as their profile pic are straight allies – not all, mind you, but most.

My queer friends are far more likely to be linking to Against Equality’s website or posting that “progressive” alternative to the HRC logo.

This is admittedly because the people I associate with are more likely to be straight allies or radical queers than the friends group of your average American.

As I’ve hashed and rehashed so many times on this site that now I think you can order it at The Fleetwood, I used to be proud to call myself a radical queer – until I realized that radical queerness, in so far as I could see, was beset by the same racism and classism that it was nominally fighting.

No, I’m sorry; I will not support an ideology that hinges on perpetuating the myth that only rich white gay people will benefit from gay marriage/adoption. This is demonstrably false.

Rich white queers with access to lawyers and accountants figured out workarounds for marriage years ago. Their self-interest now lies only in avoiding that hassle and expense.

Radical queers do the worst kind of disservice to their argument by choosing to attack the message instead of the methods of the HRC set.

Gay marriage will actually most benefit poor queers who do not have access to legal/economic workarounds for marriage.

Not that this fits in with the anxious, hand-wringing worldview of radical queers, who insist that all queers live in exactly the same fashion – some Raspberry Reich fourth-wave utopia where queer culture can’t possibly survive without a narcissistic fascination with its own difference.

And the only comfort on offer from radical queers is the sleek, sexy possibility of not assimilating.

Because while radical queers (rightly!) point out that there are other more pressing needs, almost none have offered anything in the way of a plan to divest marriage of its privilege.

We’re all supposed to be dreaming so big, but no one has a vision of how to divest marriage of its privilege?

You have to hand it to rad queers, it’s a pretty good paradox – not giving you a way forward, but labeling you an assimilationist traitor if you’re willing to take the existing way.

Doesn’t choosing not to participate mean so much more when you’re allowed to participate? You’d think radical queers would be so damn jolly about not getting gay married even if they could.

And I know this will fall on deaf ears, but radical queers: I am not anymore interested in forced dis-assimilation than I am in assimilation. My life will not be dictated by anyone – be they beacons of traditional society or white queers with PhDs.

Was radical queer activism derailed by DOMA and the contemporary reorganization of the HRC? Yes.

Is there a long list of other things we could have spent the last 17 years talking about and working on? Yes.

But instead of responding to the racism and classism that allowed the HRC set to organize so fiercely behind gay marriage – because they could understand how it affected them, because it didn’t ipso facto make them need to think about us icky poor people – radical queers chose to fight what the HRC wants, not how it’s getting it.

The rejection of incremental change – and boldly lying to and about the people it will help – creates a self-fulfilling self-satisfaction with stagnation, matched only by deeply wounded shock and offense when the revolution doesn’t take the shape it has in the radical mind’s eye.

Here’s a shocker: the revolution doesn’t look the same to everyone.

I would have thrown in the towel 10 years ago if I thought my job were total and complete social revolution by the end of working hours today.

Everyone has a part to play in dismantling systems of oppression, and the time is nigh to stop attacking realistic progress.

The time is nigh to stop lying about marriage. The time is nigh to stop attacking those who live a different queer life than you do.

The time is nigh to build coaliti0ns to smash all of our oppressions. The time is nigh to foster a new generation of progressive allies. The time is nigh to build each other up instead of tearing ourselves apart.

Big Mama Schlomo

You stand convicted of assholism

On behalf of all my fellow bearded brown men living in America post-9/11,

I’m really glad you feel comfortable yelling “Saddam Hussein!” at me and my boyfriend (another bearded brown man) at the bar, and that you also felt totally entitled to stage whisper about whether or not we were in fact the deposed and LONG-DEAD leader of Iraq. You know what we’re entitled to? Being strip-searched at the airport.

And I’m also really happy for you that leaning out the car window at me to scream “terrorist!” gives you a thrill. Lest I forget that *most* people who irrationally hate and fear me hate and fear me because I’m gay, thank you for reminding me that the fact that none of my ancestors are from Great Britain or Northern Europe is also totes a chill reason to irrationally hate and fear me.

It doesn’t even matter that neither my boyfriend or I are Iraqi, because whether or not we are, you are still being a racist, xenophobic fuckwit. You’re just the kind of racist xenophobic fuckwit who lumps all bearded brown men into the same folder in your hate-filled brain. Besides which, correcting you relies on the assumption that you could point to more than one country on the globe.

In conclusion, please eat shit, but don’t become famous for it like Divine.

Big Mama Schlomo