Hint: If You're Not Queer, It's Not For You
In yesterday's post about (Inter)National Coming Out Day (which I will hereafter just call International Coming Out Day–America, it's not all about you), I briefly mentioned that some "allies" choose to "come out" as allies on ICOD. I said that they shouldn't do that because that makes ICOD about them rather than the queer folks for whom the day is meant. I also noted that my social media feeds blew up about a variety of issues connected to ICOD. Unfortunately, I noticed a lot of "allies" not quite getting the message that ICOD is a difficult day for a lot of queer people, and they chose to pick some arguments with me over various claims. That's also a bad idea.
Coming out isn't something one does once and for all, as I wrote in yesterday's post. And that means that coming out often leaves scars and creates baggage that we carry with us. ICOD brings a lot of that into focus on one particular day. I'm a political person, particularly about identity politics, and so I took to Facebook and Twitter to voice some of my thoughts. Unfortunately, people took that as an invitation to pick arguments with me over what I was saying.
I think that academics, and philosophers especially, are particularly insensitive to context. They think that everything, every day, is open for discussion and argument. They don't consider that maybe some days are not good days to engage in discussion. ICOD is one of those days for me. Sure, maybe they don't know that it's a rough emotional day for me, but I think people can be expected to have some sense that days like that are going to be tough for people. But maybe my expectations for people are too high (I've been told that before.)
One thing that set me off was a response to one of my posts about how allies need to just shut up on ICOD and not use it as an opportunity, once again, to make queer issues about themselves. "Allies" shouldn't "come out" on ICOD as allies: that makes it about them rather than the queer folk for whom the day is meant.
But what really set things off was my comment that "allies" can't even really come out at all. I want to take some time to explain what I meant by that. Largely what's operating in the background of that comment are recent thoughts that the concept of "ally" is useless, if not outright damaging. I want to get rid of it. Go read this awesome post from Mia at Blackgirldangerous (which is an amazing blog you should be reading regularly). I'm tired of the term and concept of an ally.
Here are some reasons: being an ally is something you do, it's not something you are. And it's sure as shit not a badge that you get to earn and then wear. Each and every opportunity to be supportive and show support is a test. And if you fail (and fail over and over), you don't get to say, "But I'm an ally!"
The problem with the concept is that that's exactly how it often gets used: it gets used as a defense. I've written at length about how I was mispronouned over a long period of time after my transition (even 10 months afterwards. I suspect it would have gone on longer, but I left). I've also written about how I was gaslit by essentially every ally (in the department) that I went to about it. The most common form of gaslighting was saying that the person doing the mispronouning was "really an ally." They were treating "ally" as something one is, irrespective of one's behaviour and actions that would suggest otherwise.
So not only was this person's "ally" status used as a defense against my claims that they had wronged me, but it was a way to gaslight me. Moreover, this person's status as an "ally" wasn't ever brought into question. All that was questioned was whether my reports of his mispronouning me more often than these people knew were accurate.
No. You don't earn being an "ally" once and for all. It's not something you are or get to become: it's an action. One can act in an ally way, but one is not "an ally." So I'm just going to drop talk of allies entirely. People either behave in a way that's supportive of, for example, trans issues, or they don't. No badges. No labels. No fucking cookies for good behaviour.
So I don't think that being an ally is possible. Therefore, it's not possible to "come out" as an ally. That's what my post was about. But (insensitively) I was challenged on that claim, on ICOD. Not cool.
But let's at least take up the point: the claim was that being a supporter of queer issues can sometimes be hazardous to someone, and so in that sense they can come out as a supporter. First, I think that being a supporter of queer issues is just what decent human beings do as a matter of course. So doing what you're supposed to be doing isn't something you really "come out" as doing: hey look y'all, I'm coming out as *not* a jerk! Seems a little weird, doesn't it?
OK, maybe I'm being uncharitable. It's actually possible in some jurisdictions in the US to get fired merely for putting up something like a Safe Space poster (a doctrine and law called Employment At Will) or for liking My Little Pony. So in, say, a heavily Conservative Christian workplace, where it's a regulation that supporting or promoting queer values and "lifestyles" is a fireable offence, putting up a Safe Space poster "outs" one as a supporter of queer issues. Sure, putting it up is a very brave thing to do, but I just don't think it's fair to appropriate that as "coming out" in the same sense as coming out as queer. They're just not the same.
Sure, coming out as a queer supporter can get one fired, harassed, and maybe physically harmed. But the amount of harm is barely comparable to the harms visited upon those that "come out" as actually queer. It's a little like saying to someone who just got run over by a bus that, well, I just got a paper cut, so we both got hurt today! Seems little insensitive at best, doesn't it?