I have a dear friend who is a lesbian. Although she is probably cringing reading this, since she hates that label. But since she is the one that termed me an “ally”, I think we are all fair now.
Perhaps I need to make an aside comment defining the meaning of the term “ally”. (Pandora: It depends on your audience. I assume all my friends know that word, but maybe some Christians don’t, couldn’t hurt.) An ally is someone who confronts heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, heterosexual and genderstraight privilege in themselves and others; a concern for the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex people; and a belief that heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are social justice issues. (Borrowed from http://www.lgbt.ucla.edu/documents/LGBTTerminology.pdf)
There are two issues here: one is being labeled, the other is the label itself. Skinny. Fatso. Nerd. Jock. Weirdo. Hottie. Gay. Straight. (Pandora: Asian. I spend my first 10 years of school being called Asian. Kind of weird because there were no other Asians in my school and I don’t know why kids thought that was an insult. P.S. I’m a little bit Native American.) They are all little boxes. And good or bad, it kind of sucks to be stuck in a box. We all want to be our own person, and known and loved for that, not some definition someone hands us. At some point we have all been put in a box. What was your box? (Pandora: It was my own box. How’s that for deep? Emily: ha!!) How did people treat you? Not fun, was it?
What about being called an ally made me so mad? (Pandora: The problem is not the label, the problem is the need for this type of label.) In my mind, an ally is someone who lobbies, and protests, and basically, is very active in the fight for social equality. I don’t do that. An ally should be someone who belongs to LGBTQ organizations. I don’t do that. I don’t do anything. All I do is be a friend. When my friend is sad, it makes me cry. When my friend is happy, I’m happy. When someone hurts my friend, I’m angry. When my friend wants to talk, I listen. When I want to talk, my friend listens. I. Don’t. Do. ANYTHING. And yet, being a friend makes me an ally. I hate that. I hate that there is a need for allies. I hate that being a friend means that I am an anomaly that needs a label. (Pandora: I have so much to say about this, it could be its own post! When I hear the word “ally,” I think of war. The LGBTQ struggle is a war for equality and love. When you, a straight person, from a hetero-normative, conservative, evangelical, privileged background openly befriend a lesbian, you are entering a battleground. It is sad and horrible that something so simple as love has been turned into something so dramatic. But I guess love is never really simple. We just wish it was.)
In our conversation, my fun, outgoing, personable friend who has thousands – possibly millions – of friends, could only list two or three people (I was one of those 2-3) who she would term an ally. She chose that label because she said she knew her other friends loved her and cared about her, but there were so many parts of her life she could never talk about. She knew that at some level, the other friends would judge her, and condemn her. Excuse me?? How is that the definition of a friend? That sounds more like my Greek mother-in-law. Folks, you are not being a friend if you are offering that friendship conditionally. (Pandora: Wow. But how many of our “friendships” are actually conditional? A lot.) If someone has to measure up, and attain your ideal moral, social, sexual, ethical and political standards, you have set your self as judge and jury. That’s not friendship.
Jesus sums it all up rather nicely in The Message: “If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. In a word, what I’m saying is, GROW UP. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” Matthew 5:46-48 (Pandora: Thus the answer to your “ally” problem. Many people think LGBTQ people are unlovable, but you love nonetheless. Nobody would call me unlovable, thus your friendship with me does not achieve ally status. Emily: Nope. I’m not your ally! Just your friend.)
Beneath our skin, we all are people. We all have heartache, and loneliness, and fear. We all have joys, and triumphs, and dreams. And sometimes, we are all selfish, despicable, nasty people. But we all just want to be loved, or even just liked. If someone loves you, if someone gives you the gift of friendship, congratulations. Now, go give that gift to someone else. Your friendship could make a world of difference to someone who needs an ally. (Pandora: Calling myself an ally is how I announce to others that I recognize the struggle of the LGBTQ experience and I will speak up for anyone whose voice is oppressed, even if that means something as simple as calling them my friend.)
I hate to be called an ally. Because I’m just a friend.