The term “ally” is a major presence in the world we live in today. Those of us who live with any particular variety of privilege can find innumerable resources that present lists of what is required to fully embody the role of an ally. This is no such list, it is simply the account of an experience I had recently that further evolved my own understanding of the nature of living as an ally.
I am a person of privilege in that I am white, and I recognize fully that even if I don’t ask for them directly, I am granted allowances in my existence not automatically granted to all people. This, to me, is the fundamental realization that leads one to step into the role of an ally.
I don’t believe that anyone can be a perfect ally, as no one can be a perfect person, because the needs of those who require allies are always in flux. Perfection is a fixed state, arguably one that does not exist, and that does not lend itself to true efficacy. I understand the aim of an ally is to be effective. To be an effective ally one must be able to meet those in need on level ground and be prepared to show up, listen, and do the work that is required at any given time. The willingness to evolve, expand, and/or change what you believe to be true is the nature of an ally, it is the alchemy of fluidity and stability.
Months ago, I read a piece of writing that really drove this point home for me. The writer is someone I know who is a self identified Christian and ally to the LGBTQ+ community. This person is very vocal about their inclusivity of those who don’t share their beliefs, stating often that this inclusivity is the cornerstone of their truth as a Christian. It’s a beautiful sentiment that I love to hear, but only fully believe when I see it in practice. It’s the difference between talking the talk and walking the walk. Now, the content of the article I’m referring to wasn’t in reference to same sex marriage specifically, to be honest I don’t remember what it was about overall. What I do remember is at one point the writer drew a parallel between counseling people in a heterosexual marriage and counseling people in a homosexual “marriage.” I put the word marriage in quotations because that is what the writer did. It was done in passing, as I said the subject wasn’t specifically same sex marriage, but to this day that word in quotations remains the only thing I remember clearly about the article.
I also remember the hot flare of anger that ran through me as I read “marriage,” a feeling that stayed with me for months. I understood how I felt, and I thought I had a good handle on why: it’s really shitty to dismiss the validity of someone else’s relationship, especially when your alleged practice of inclusivity has the same root (in this case religious beliefs) as this dismissal. The irritation I felt burrowed deep down in me, calming from its boiling point down to a simmer in the back of my mind. Every now and again, the thought “marriage” would pop up, and I’d remember, be pissed, stew on it some, and then set it down again in the back of my mind. The other day it hit me that the impact of those quotation marks was much broader than I initially realized. From my point of view, those quotation marks were a qualifier of inferiority.
I saw that the writer was making a subtle declaration that from their point of view, a marriage between two men or two women, though legal, is not spiritually valid. They implied that heterosexual marriages are sanctified by the god they worship, and that homosexual marriages are not. If that impression I got is true, then no amount of fellowship between the writer and the LGBTQ+ community can make that person an ally.
Allow me to elaborate.
Considering yourself superior to someone else in any aspect of your life disqualifies you from becoming an effective ally. The old adage “Live and let live” is not enough if you intend to make yourself an ally. Perhaps it makes you tolerant, open minded, even friendly, but if at the same time you hold a core belief that your choices and actions serve god, society, country, duty, etc. better than someone else’s because they don’t exactly mirror your own, that is evidence that you hold yourself superior.
The shape of an alliance is a circle. A circle does not allow for hierarchy. That is what I have learned from this small experience. The very nature of an ally is having the capacity to hold steadfast to the cause of equality for those who need their support, but the humility to know that they’re going to be schooled along the way. Declaring yourself an ally and keeping on keeping on as you always have is not enough. You have to show up expecting to take on hardship and discomfort for the benefit of someone else, not for the sake of patting yourself on the back or getting credit for being one of the good ones. Allowing the space for long held beliefs to change is painful, it is a hardship. As an ally you make that space anyway. You take on any hardship and discomfort with grace because you realize that anything you might endure pales in comparison to that of the person or people you are showing up for.