Columns / Discourse / January 29, 2020

Pillowtalk: Awareness in allyship

Dear Pillowtalk,

 

My friends are all LGBTQ+, and kind of always have been. I mean, most of my middle school friends thought they were straight and cisgender when we met, but by now they’ve almost all come out. I’m really comfortable being in LGBTQ+ spaces, but I sometimes feel like I’m invading spaces by being cisgender and heterosexual. None of my friends make me feel unwelcome, but I still feel something’s off. I know a lot of people who have LGBTQ+ friends end up figuring out they’re LGBTQ+ themselves, and I just wonder if that means something for me. Are people just waiting for me to come out? If I’m just cishet, is it weird to mostly hang out in queer spaces?

 

Well, first of all, you’re friends seem to like you a whole lot! That’s the most important thing when it comes down to it. If LGBTQ+ people choose to include you in our spaces, it’s probably because we’re comfortable with you being there. A lot of the time, in my experience, we recognize a person’s need for community.

You’re right, it’s pretty common to realize you’re queer when you’re surrounded by LGBTQ+ friends. If those are the people you seem to relate to the most, that says something about your own identities and experiences. However, it might not necessarily mean you’re LGBTQ+.

There’s a sense of freedom and solidarity in a lot of queer spaces. There’s an understanding of both pain and celebration, the ease of knowing you don’t have to explain everything. It’s okay if you don’t have a great relationship with your parents, it’s normal to go to therapy, respect and personal experience is prioritized, systemic inequity is recognized and discussed and there’s a feeling of social responsibility that isn’t present in a lot of spaces.

Of course, this is true for most communities of people who have been marginalized. Relating to this and finding comfort in those kinds of norms makes a lot of sense.

Maybe you are LGBTQ+! What better environment is there to ask questions and examine your own identity than with the friends who have all been through that process before? I can almost guarantee that your friends will be supportive of that process, that they’ll keep it to themselves if you ask them to, that they’ll respect you more for critically considering your identity, and that whatever conclusion you come to will be perfectly fine. They’re friends with you now regardless of if you’re cisgender and heterosexual – why would that change?

Even if they’re “holding out hope”, it may just be because they know what it feels like to live inauthentically, and don’t want that fate for you. If living authentically means that you’re cisgender and heterosexual, then there you go!

I’ve had friends who I “held out hope” on. I’d talk with other friends about it sometimes. If you’re around LGBTQ+ people a lot, I’m sure you’ve overheard conversations like those. “So-and-so just seems like they have a weird relationship with masculinity, and I hope they figure that out someday,” and “So-and-so would make such a good lesbian!”

Often, though, those conversations have caveats like, “Eh, he might not even figure it out until he’s, like, 40,” and “Or maybe not, you know? I just want her to be happy.” I think these conversations represent our ideal environment for queerness.

Too often, cisgender and heterosexual is considered the norm; it feels good to create space where no one’s identity is considered to be concrete. It feels blasphemous to assume everyone’s straight and cis when that’s the very assumption that makes coming out so hard.

As for the question of invading space: just be respectful. Be active in your allyship, not just performative. Do your own research, educate yourself, don’t make your friends feel like they have to be teachers all the time.

Be honest about your questions, and take a step back in conversations that don’t seem relevant to your experience. When something is explicitly an LGBTQ+ only space, respect that. But just because everyone there is queer doesn’t mean it’s a queer space. Sometimes, it just means your friends are hanging out – and if they’re really your friends, they want you there. I promise you that.

 

Have a question for Elleri?

Send it to http://bit.ly/2LZTHeY

Elleri Scriver

Tags:  allyship cisgender friendships heterosexual LGBTQ+

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