Let’s talk about allies, and ‘allies’

My entry for the September 2014 Carnival of Aces: Asexuals, Advocacy, and Allies.

What makes a good ally in general, is amplifying the voices of the community they support. They must take care not to speak over the voices of those in the community, because on a systemic level, the voices of the marginalized are silenced, and a good ally must avoid perpetuating this themselves. They’re not in it for the spotlight; allies are meant to have a supporting role in which community(ies) they’re involved in, and acknowledge this. While allies provide a lot of support, it’s disrespectful to the people actually in that community to say that allies made possible the social movements, and the advances they made, as if the people in that community (for whom those social movements are for), didn’t start it on their own initiative!

What distinguishes good, or real allies, from ‘allies’, is (pardon the cliches, and overuse of air quotes), is whether they will put their money where their mouth is. They talk the talk, but will they walk the walk?

The posts I’ve seen on blogs, of people allegedly hating on allies, are those venting about ‘allies’ who are clearly in it for themselves, identifying as allies without any meaningful actions to back it up. Some of these ‘allies’ think their ally label makes what they say above criticism, and believe that they can’t possibly perpetuate the same rhetoric that marginalizes that group. Or perhaps, they’re the ‘allies’ who only support a subset of the community, and it’s usually the subset closest to mainstream society.

Some examples of this problem for the asexual community, would be an ‘ally’ who supports only indifferent and/or favorable asexuals, while saying problematic things about the repulsed and averse, or another are those who support alloromantic asexuals, while saying problematic things about aromantic asexuals. Exclusion of sub-groups could be unintentional, when an ally was trying to debunk misconceptions about asexuality, but didn’t quite know how to word it right. A good ally is willing to learn from their mistakes, and in this case, work towards using more inclusive language.

If an ally constantly gets defensive, they can become unwilling to learn from their mistakes. This is bad, because they care more about simply having the ally label, and not the work involved in the process of being an ally.

Another issue with ‘allies’, are those who refuse to acknowledge how race, ability, gender, or other aspects of a person’s identity play into their experiences, and silence anyone who tries to talk about those. In general, across communities, I’ve seen these discussions dismissed as being unrelated, or someone trying to be divisive. There isn’t, and can’t be a ‘universal experience’ when it comes to any group, because different aspects of a person’s identity, and their experiences are related. To ignore this is really what’s being divisive.

Then there are the kind of ‘allies’ whose support of the community they claim to support is conditional, making them the equivalent of fair-weather friends. I’ve heard accounts of ‘allies’ who said things like “If you don’t stop calling me out (on the problematic rhetoric I’ve said), then I’m not supporting you anymore!” I haven’t dealt with ‘allies’ like this first-hand, but I’ve had fair-weather friends, including one who said that she’d stop being friends with me if I didn’t give in to her demands. She was only ‘friends’ with me when it was convenient for her. Fair-weather friends can’t be counted on to actually support a person in their time of need.

What does being a good ally entail for someone who wants to be an ally to the asexual community, whether inside, or outside of it? (Feel free to add more suggestions in the comments)

  • Unlearning internalized assumptions about sexuality, romance, and relationships.
  • Supporting all sub-groups, especially taking the time to understand those that are less familiar to you, and those that are more marginalized.
  • Working towards using more inclusive language in visibility and education materials.
  • Listening to what we have to say about our experiences/listening to others’ experiences within the community.
  • Acknowledging the diversity of the asexual community. There isn’t, or shouldn’t be a single ‘model asexual’. We can face invalidation for just about anything. For reference, look at the August 2014 Carnival of Aces submissions.
  • Acknowledging, and addressing that different forms of marginalization are inter-related.
  • (I’ve seen non-asexual allies guilty of this) Don’t put others on a pedestal; asexuality doesn’t mean being free from relationship problems, or always having more free time! Those statements, although well-intentioned, gloss over the issues that we actually face.

Grace of Diamonds, in their description of this Carnival of Aces, makes an interesting point about how allies can be people within the community. While I’ve only seen the ally label refer to people outside the community, those of us within the asexual community need to support each other too, listen to each other’s experiences, and learn from them. If we don’t, then we risk perpetuating rhetoric, and exclusionary language that marginalizes others within our own community, particularly those who are already more marginalized.

The recent, and ongoing discussions about treatment of repulsed/averse, as well as sex-favorable asexuals, are an example. The marginalization that sex-repulsed/averse and sex-favorable asexuals in the asexual community face aren’t equivalent, but it’s a problem that so many asexuals have a hard time feeling like they can talk about their experiences for one reason or another.

An ally, within, or outside of the community also needs to be willing to learn from their mistakes, and continue to keep reading, to stay informed. When I created a resource about mixed relationships, I realized I made some mistakes. While the explicit acknowledgement of non-asexuals who are happy to not have sex was a step in the right direction, I know now that one of the underlying mistakes I made is that it didn’t really, or didn’t clearly enough, account for how more marginalized sub-groups are impacted by the concept of ‘compromise’, even though I fall under some of those sub-groups. Wanting to learn from those mistakes is one of the things that prompted me to participate in the asexual blogging community.

 

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