Ally Superpower: Not Talking About It
My various queer statuses are pretty dull. Important, but life is bigger than my queer. Life is my mental illnesses, my relationship, my various jobs, my recent Gary Numan obsession, and the final admission that I do quite like being in the cybergoth end of the fashion spectrum (still not a fan of wearing black though). All of this stuff can be queer; all of it can be dominated by my statuses. Or not. What’s important is I’ve got the space to allow the queer to occupy whatever space it needs. Friends that let me set the level of queer in the exchange are the ones I’ve come to value most.
The headline is somewhat deceiving because queer people need to be able to make that space for people too. One huge shove away from meet ups and support spaces was the constant talking about the queer; the lack of space for much else. Naturally people end up chatting about Star Wars or whatever they did the past week; the only class of person that is so one dimensional in their conversation is someone in crisis. I’ve been there; I get it. Sometimes, the queer is all we want or need to talk about. Sometimes, it’s the most important part of everything we are.
Defining what we are is always slippery. It’s like my being female. Sometimes, it’s the dominant thing. I was talking to some customers about the pubs around town and brought up one particular location’s ‘no phones at the bar’ policy as threatening for a woman, particularly a woman that doesn’t want to be talked to. Women in pubs often use their phones to bow out of unwanted attention. They often keep their phones out so they can call someone for help. Phones are part of our safety net. The no phones at the bar policy threatens women, specifically, for that reason.
In this instance, me being female is the most important factor in the situation. Men don’t think about this stuff because they aren’t threatened with unwanted attention by blokes in pubs. When men have an unwanted conversation, they are more able to pull away. Men don’t usually worry about a man’s idle conversation becoming a threat. Talking to the customers about it, I had to make my womanhood my dominant trait. What was particularly interesting was how the lady in the group reacted to my story: she locked eyes with me and nodded intently. She knew. The men were thoughtful about what I said and, because they were decent guys, conceded they hadn’t thought of that. The men were good allies: they created space and heard my voice.
My womanhood didn’t endure as a topic. The conversation wandered on to the next pub on the crawl, what beer we’re up for, different brewers and upcoming local beer festivals. It was dominant in the moment it needed to be, then went away again.
"THAT’S WHAT I CRAVE IN MY QUEER LIFE: THE ABILITY TO ASSERT WHAT I AM WHEN I NEED TO WITHOUT IT BECOMING A TOPIC OF CONVERSATION."
That’s what I crave in my queer life: the ability to assert what I am when I need to without it becoming a topic of conversation. This is a thing I want from everyone, but allies in particular. Allies have a habit of ‘hanging on’ when the queer is raised as a factor of a topic. Queer people have the excuse of needing to make their own queer more dominant in the moment. With allies, it often seems as though they see my raising the topic of my status as an invitation to raise whatever queer thing is on their mind. Sometimes that’s OK, but I need to be free to dismiss the topic and I don’t always feel I can.
What it boils down to is whether I have the mental bandwidth to stop whatever we’re talking about to educate someone. I’m loathe to liken queerness to mental illnesses, but it’s a similar situation: sometimes I can talk to someone about whatever horrible thing my brain is doing, sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I can sit down and go over the basics of identity and how we love whomever it is, sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I’d rather have a catch up. Sometimes I’d rather geek out over a game or beer or language (yeah, it’s a writer thing). Is the queer there? Yes. Does it always matter? No.
Saying all this, I understand that conversations are dynamic things that I don’t have total control over. It’s a shared experience and that means I won’t get to avoid topics I’m not keen on all the time. Sometimes the guys in the bar really need to be told how things are for women so the conversation can continue. But the conversation needs to continue once things are made clear.
"MY QUEER BECAME MORE DOMINANT, BUT THEN WE MOVED ON AND IT WENT AWAY AGAIN."
“It’s nice to see you settled, given all the changes you’ve had,” a friend said to me as we were catching up. We hadn’t had a proper chat in just over a year; she was one of the few people that knew me well before I got away and started living my life my way. She was right; I am settled. There were a lot of changes. It was the acknowledgement I needed: an invitation to get into those specific changes, but not a redirection. Later in the afternoon, I brought up my writing and my feelings about communities and how they function, including the LGBTQ+ community. My queer became more dominant, but then we moved on and it went away again.
We need people who allow the space to let our traits out without demanding we do so. Normalising their traits, letting the person set their levels, keeping the trait-specific chatter to what one needs to understand what’s said: that is the stuff of equality. The best allies, to my mind, are the ones that don’t talk about it.