Not pointed at me, not a problem

statue-sculpture-male-roman-marbleKatie Seibert’s friend (mine now as well, I hope!!), Chris Fawkes, instinctively apologized to his lesbian entourage for the ubiquitous penises around the bar. Specifically, he indicated the ones in a revolving slideshow on the main TVs, though many more peckered peppered our surroundings in graphic statuettes, wall paintings, additional cathode-ray tube televisions mounted face down at us from the rafters and showing man-on-man porn videos, and a line of greco-roman orgy murals across a steel beam that I had missed on my survey of the room.

Katie dismissed the apology. “I really don’t have an issue with them if they’re not pointed at me.”

“Not pointed at me, not a problem;” Fawkes made the catchphrase.

I agreed, as did Katie’s girlfriend. I’ve had a rant developing for some time now on the shaming of genitals that occurs in the gay community. I don’t often miss an opportunity to express my dismay for the way we insult the bodies of the opposite sex.

Gay men, for example, sure seem to love the “C-word” and talk about vaginas like they’re steaming snot pockets.

From a post of mine in 2014:  I hear the most misogynistic crap come out of the mouths of gay men.

Part of me wants to give them a break. If the world has been trying to force-feed you women on a platter like they’re juicy delicious burgers (every Carl’s Jr ad, ever) and you finally want to express your right to want something different in life by proclaiming, “ewwww vaginas,” who can blame you, right?

Gay women tend to pair the adjective of “gross” with many aspects of men, penises not excluded of course. Considering the great lengths to which I am forced to fend-off presumptuous men (e.g. with dicks), I don’t begrudge a lady her need to generate an electric fence of penis-hatred to keep out her foes. Our (reality-based) fears of sexual harassment and assault give us negative reactions to the male body, sometimes if not always.

Side note: I wonder what it feels like to have a part of your body, e.g. the naked and aroused penis, inherently seen as aggressive? (Powerful too, to be true.) It makes me a little sad for the gentle, consent-loving, yet desire-having men out there who have to live with this perception which is largely out of their control.

There’s also another aspect to our squeamishness that is more personal, more complex, and related to the force-feeding I mentioned before. Despite my diatribes of body positivity, I very recently squicked out beyond self-censorship when I touched an (extra-soft) “packer” for the first time. A packer, or a facsimile flaccid male member that is meant to be worn inside clothing, can be found at many LGBT-friendly sex toy shops, which is where I was. “Eww eww ew,” I whispered loudly to my compadres, my eyes squeezed shut and my hands wringing.

When the prevailing narrative expects you to enjoy the bodies of the opposite gender, and you do not, you will feel the pressure in the moment of now and you feel the pressure from all your memories through childhood and beyond. You might feel or have felt a vague discomfort, a dissonance, you might have tried to entertain the idea for some time, or you may even have had sexual encounters or long term relationships. For me, my revulsion is the remnants of having to renounce this original heterosexual programing. It’s like growing up and remembering you used to eat boogers. Eww eww ew.

Still, I find it off-putting when I go on a date with a woman and she over-emphasizes her distaste for dick like it’s a guaranteed fact that I’m going to agree with her. First thing that comes to mind — I date a lot of bisexual women. I imagine them listening to my overzealous date ramble on like penises are pestilence which infect everything they touch. Insulting men’s bodies can transgress into insulting the women who love them. Next, we have the problem of we’re now talking about men on our date. If our lesbian date fails the Bechdel test, I’m out. But, most importantly, I am bummed out on body shaming.

We are talking about people’s bodies, here. Their parts which they carry with them, which are used in daily life, which they use to love others. I think of the hate we have for our own bodies, and imagine someone else hearing mine for theirs on top of that. Okay, sure, many of us will be able to shrug it off, thinking, ha, that lesbian thinks penises are gross how subversive and yet obvious. At the same time, I’d rather we see each other with more humanity. I’d rather we didn’t resort to pinning a slew of complicated personal and societal issues onto the type of genitalia or sex characteristics a person happens to have.

So, please, think about the language you use. Are all beards universally gross, or are you just reaffirming your own sexuality after years of being told the wrong thing as a child? Are vaginas inherently disgusting and scary, or are you disgusted by the way the hyper-sexualization of women is pushed onto you and scared by the intensity of this pressure? And dicks — are dicks a problem if they’re not pointing at you?

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Rain to Rainbows

Pride 2014.

I ate frozen yogurt with gummy bears, and my day was brightly colored and cold. We cheered a truck with an 8-foot pink sign: “Queer Community, NOT Gay Capitalism.” The SDCC credit union tipped its great big blue inflated ship to fit under the traffic lights at University and Richmond.   I walked a lot, in heavy combat boots, and I drank a lot, mostly Alesmith’s Horny Devil.

In Balboa Park, I sat in a swing and twisted the chain, over and over, so I could spin in circles. So I could grope for the delight in momentum. I did so much spinning. My friends devised a high-five chain and we rotated like gears, teeth meeting or hands slapping. I remained with just one friend; the rest fell away dizzy. I could discern just his hand as the only interruption in the horizontal lines. No matter how much I spun, I could not gather enough centrifugal force to spin my malaise out of my ears. No matter where I followed my friends and which delights I encountered, I could not stop leaning on the wall that held back tears.

So much walking made my feet blister. Mostly, I focused on not complaining about my feet hurting. Maybe my face was full of pain. Are you okay, Sami? “I don’t know. I don’t know.” When we got back to our friend’s house, I snuck away to the courtyard by myself and put my forehead down on a table.

I cried slow tears into my hands. Neighbors interrupted me. “I’m just sad.” Who broke your heart? “I’m just sad.” My friends found me. Are you okay, Sami? “I’ve been better.” Do you want to talk about it? “I don’t know. I don’t know.” I started really sobbing. Do you want to go lie down? “Yes.” So I was taken to a bed and spooned.  I sobbed, and I said, “I don’t want to be this person right now.”

Pride 2015.

I grinned and gripped my friend’s torso as I ducked in closer under our shared umbrella. The rain was warm, like the air. I walked a lot, in borrowed galoshes over thick fuzzy socks, and I drank a lot, mostly mimosas and tequila. We watched the Bears San Diego truck drive past. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, in full-face makeup, seemed unfazed by the wet weather. When thunder boomed, the crowd screamed in fright and excitement.

It always mattered to me, to be granted the symbol by my society that is marriage equality. Yet it did not land heavy on my shoulders like the honor of a sacred mantle — no it burst with scattered feathers to the big sky. I had been living in unwilling rebellion, a part of me deemed “illegal” by my country, like I were a fugitive. Now, I feel weightless, and I know that this July, San Diego has seen its biggest summer rainbow.

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Why do Straight People Pretend to Be Gay?

First of all…. WHOAHHHH GUYS!! I AM LEGAL NOW!!! I JUST WANT TO YELL THIS AT EVERYONE I SEE!  I AM SO HAPPY AAAAAAAAHHHH RAINBOWS POURING OUT OF MY EYES LIKE TEARS.
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Anyway.

Now, I don’t mean straight men and women are committing to a daily lived performance of “being gay” in the way that I survived my own closet for countless years (and sometimes re-enter in certain professional and public contexts). I’ve never met a real-life “Lisa” (of the L Word) and anytime a man has told me he’s “actually a lesbian” I know he’s not confessing that he’s trans and he’s definitely being annoying.

Instead, I see straight men and women momentarily pretending to be gay, often on Facebook. Sometimes it’s a one-time comment in the context of an argument or a joke, other times it’s as elaborate as a fake relationship, maintained for several days or even months. Lately, I’ve seen a lot of responses by my straight “allies” to the Supreme Court marriage equality decision that are more or less, “Now I need to find someone to get gay married!!”

Photo courtesy of Katie Seibert

Photo courtesy of Katie Seibert

I didn’t know right away how I felt about this, but I knew something was wrong. First of all, these folks are making the distinction by calling it “gay marriage” so I’m not sure they’re imagining something significantly different than just “marriage” — maybe something with extra rainbows — but that much is immediately off-putting. So is the idea that “gay marriage” is something you just off-and do on a whim and not a right that was hard won after years of violence and oppression.

My friends and loved ones who attended SF Pride this year are reporting the sense that there were a lot more straight people in attendance than years prior. An article about this is unsettling in its flippant headline, When, Exactly, Did Pride Become A Party For Straight Teens?, despite touching on the recent and possibly related violence. That’s right, shots were fired at SF Pride.

So, I find myself wondering with increasing urgency why exactly do straight people pretend to be gay and how exactly should I respond to that?

With no initial judgement either way, I present the cases I most often see:

  1. Because women are objectified as sexual objects, lesbians are seen as less threatening and often sexually desirable to straight men. Some straight women borrow this objectification and perpetuate fake encounters or even entire relationships in order to enjoy the attention and to feel desirable. Because they are straight, however, they maintain control over this interaction, unlike me — I can’t choose to retreat from this objectification and it permeates my life.
  2. Some straight women may or may not do the above while also perpetuating a loving “advanced” friendship, calling a woman “wifey,” and elevating a particular best friend. These women may also or merely be enjoying the intimate and affectionate closeness possible between two women that is less possible between men due to male homophobia, without trying to overtly attract men. They may be filling a void due to inability to find the relationship with a man they desire, or they may actually be avoiding relationships with men by appearing “taken.” It can be a placeholder or a replacement for romantic relationships. Facebook posts might avoid any sexual implications, but there is certainly enough PDA in the form of “loving” wall messages to suggest there are external social motivations.
  3. Straight men and straight women will momentarily pretend to be gay in the context of a joke. If it’s supposed to be funny because it’s so improbable, I’m not amused. If it’s supposed to be funny because two people of the same gender have an uncommonly close friendship and love each other a lot, I might think it’s cute, or I might think it’s shitty for people to think it’s not normal to love your friends. Daniel Tosh is funny because he might actually be gay or bi, but he’s toying with the fact that it is not actually any of our business and we may never know.
  4. Straight men and straight women will momentarily pretend to be gay in the context of an argument. If my dad was dealing with a bigot he might feel like pretending to be gay to personalize the argument and hope to make the bigot feel like an asshole. He feels an enormous amount of pride for me as a human being, but he also enjoys laughing in the face of people who think their “ideological” arguments are so important but can’t do more than sputter when it comes to actually applying these arguments to me, a real (and adorable) person. Straight men and straight women leverage their relative safety in order to “borrow” a gay perspective in arguments and force their opponents to recognize their targets as people.
  5. Straight celebrities will pretend to be gay for notoriety and attention (Tosh not excluded). Writers will pretend their characters are gay for the same reason. It’s called queerbaiting and we hate to love it and love to hate it. Seriously though, Hollywood, can you just put homoerotic tension in everything (or how about just homoerotic)?

…You might have picked up my preference for the even numbers in this list.

I can’t say definitively that it’s never appropriate to “pretend” to be gay. Sometimes it even seems to help push along the conversation. I only caution my friends who are used to making the “I need to get gay married” joke (and any similar faux-homage, or should I say homoge?) to reconsider making it in the upcoming months. There is already a dangerous and hateful backlash to the Supreme Court decision and it will probably continue to worsen. It is hurtful for anyone not affected to make light of something that is so serious for the people who are affected. Even if we don’t want to get married, there is something legitimizing about knowing we are recognized by the Supreme Court of the United States. Most of the time, I feel ready to dare anyone to defy me because I can tell them love has won.

But sometimes I feel less safe in my “acceptance,” because I see so-called-allies using this acceptance to entitle themselves. I see a guy at Brass Rail last night videotaping a female go-go dancer on his phone, and returning to videotape her even after another patron told him to stop, and resisting my efforts to also make him stop. Someone I care about sees a straight guy actually fucking ask where he could “see some boobies” at her pride parade in SF last weekend. I see straight men lurking at gay clubs for the straight women who have always tried to find a safe place to party (and have been welcome for years), straight men waiting for the end of the night when women are drunk and tired and trying to get home. I see people who earlier this month insisted calling Caitlyn Jenner “Bruce” now “celebrating” this “LGBT” victory. And then I have to see straight people on Facebook with a rainbow filter say they’re going to get “gay married.”

Forgive me if I don’t think that’s hilarious.

How to be a Lesbian in San Diego

We’ve got Hillcrest. We’ve got Gossip Grill. (Ok we lost Bourbon St.) It’s not too difficult to be a lady lovin’ lady in San Diego. Yet the girls are shyer, here. They are more difficult to spot amidst so many straights sportin’ hot-weather-ready short hair and music-scene-festive side-cuts & undercuts. Maybe it’s because I’m decidedly femme, but the issue I most struggle with is invisibility. I’m fighting the pervasive assumption from the old rich yuppies that run this city & its media (thx Fox news) that I don’t even exist, and then I have to go ahead and love long hair and girly clothes and ridiculous shoes.

1. The Easy Way

The simplest way to be gay here is to cut off your hair and wear plaid.

how-to-be-a-lesbian-haircut-plaid

2. SD Lesbian Uniform

Of course, plenty of us don’t want to do that. That is why we have an alternative uniform, the Basic SD Femme. Carefully select clothes that you could wear to the gym (but probably don’t because they’re your going out clothes), wring your hair into a messy but tight bun (do not use those tutorials you saw back when you used to read Seventeen mags; this bun needs to look like something a man would try to make), and then add all the makeup you want.

Oh, and flip flops. San Diegans always wear flip flops to the bar. Which I hate. Please stop. Bar floors have puke residue, and cigarette ash, and spilled drinks. Protect your toes. Wear a cute and ever-so-butchy pair of slip-on deck shoes instead.

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Thing is, I don’t want to wear this uniform. I don’t go to the gym (so why fake it), I don’t want to wear flip flops if I’m not at the beach, and I don’t want to restrain my glorious mane. Yes I have donned this uniform and yes it probably got me girls’ numbers, but that is beside the point.

3. Lipstick

To survive being a (femme) lesbian in SD, I had to get proactive. I had to learn x-ray vision. I brushed up on all the signs I learned from Effing Dykes; the asymmetry, the chin nod, smirking, gettin’ vibes. I don’t remember if this was an Effing-D thing, but one of my favorite “rainbow” flags is lipstick.

gay-femme-lesbian-lipstick-drawing

  1. Even straight women don’t really wear lipstick for men. They wear it because it’s hot. Lipstick is armor. Lipstick is alpha performance of femininity. Lipstick is “I know the secret and precious world of Barbies.” Lipstick is “I could be famous.” Lipstick is “so what if my boyfriend doesn’t like it because it means he can’t kiss me? I’m sexy af.”
  2. Queer women take that attitude one step further and pick a color that is just a little off-putting. Garish, even. Orange-red that ever-so-slightly clashes with her skin tone. Bluish pop-pink. Neon fuchsia.

If a woman is wearing lipstick, especially if it’s nothing but lipstick (no foundation, little-to-no eye makeup) and it could be described as “bold,” your gaydar should go *ping.*

4. Gay Eye Contact

Gaydar isn’t just sitting on your figurative instrument deck, passively scanning all that surrounds you and emitting a soothing bell noise whenever it finds a match. Gaydar is something you do. The best way to use it is to try some prolonged eye contact. Just look her in the eyes, and try to send her the telepathic message, “I know you’re gay.” She’ll then know you know she is gay and will telepathically respond, “I am super gay.” Here’s me, initiating eye contact with you:

note the upturned chin and smirk

note the upturned chin and smirk

A straight woman’s reaction will look something like this:

gay-eye-contact-comic-straight-1

gay-eye-contact-comic-straight-2

 

She doesn’t understand why you’re kinda staring at her awkwardly, so she looks away almost immediately.

A queer woman, however, keeps on looking back:

gay-eye-contact-comic-1

gay-eye-contact-comic-2

gay-eye-contact-comic-3

 

Or, for the extreme version:

 

Flirty Followup: Should I tell my lesbian friend I think she’s sexy?

…If you’re a gal, the answer is: Well hello, there.

So, you think your lezfriend is smoldering hot. I’m guessing since you called her “lesbian friend” and not just “friend,” you’re either straight or bi/queer.

Straight girls:

First off, there’s really only one thing you can do wrong here, and that is force yourself on us. Please, don’t assume I want to make out with you. Don’t accuse me of being so desperate by getting drunk on 4 shots of Fireball and falling down my throat with your sloppy tongue. I’m not flattered if I think you’re just doing it because you’re wasted, or because you want to impress the boys. I’d much rather kiss you privately in a dark hallway or in the back bedroom wink wink.

If, however, you’ve been crushing on your gay lady friend for awhile and just want to tell her, please do. We are going to enjoy your compliment (really enjoy it, mmmf), but you do have to do it right. Help us answer our nervous, secret questions. How far does this attraction go? Flirting, occasional make-outs, a night of experimenting? Don’t lead us on to a broken heart. Use the power of your platonic certainty and let us know exactly what you want. “I think you’re extremely attractive, which is unexpected for me because I’m straightI don’t actually want to kiss you or hook-up, but would you be cool if I flirt with you sometimes?” Then tilt your head, bite your finger, and giggle because you know what you do to her, and it is so not fair.

Bi friends:

I am sad to see you hesitate, but I know how it is. Some gay women want nothing to do with you. They are bigots. They are terrible people who don’t understand the way the world works. To the women out there who try to say it hurts more when she leaves you for a man: Shut Up. You’re full of yourself. If it feels like her new dude invalidates your relationship, then maybe it was never real in the first place. She should have broken up with you.

I suppose I’d tell a bisexual woman to issue a challenge. “Hey, I want to date you, but I’m bi. Is that a problem?” Say it from the chin, smirking. If she starts to object, to explain her hesitation, cut her off and say, “Your loss.” The only right response is, “What? Why would that ever be a problem? Also yes, you’re gorgeous and brilliant, omfg I can’t believe you’re into me. I’m so lucky!”

Don’t wait. Tell her. Make her day <3

Should I tell my lesbian friend I think she’s sexy?

…If you’re a guy, the answer is: NO.

I have two guy friends who will probably think this blog post is about them, given things they have told me in the last 2-3 weeks. To them, I shrug my shoulders and say, “You inspire me…?” (Also, you know we talked about it and we’re cool.)

Anyway, I often get some variation of, “If you weren’t gay, I would totally have tried to date you.” Half of the time, this is preceded by something like, “I don’t know if I should say this, but…” or some other sign that the guy knows HE SHOULD NOT SAY THIS. And then, there he goes.

Ok, yes, my life is so hard because people think I’m attractive. I know, I’m supposed to take it as a compliment. Yay, I’m hot! “Thank you?” The thing is, it’s unsettling on so many levels to hear something like this.

1. What am I supposed to do with this information? Really? You know me well enough to know my ego doesn’t need boosting. And that I’m categorically not-interested in men. Are you committing emotional seppuku in front of me because you’re actually a masochist? Do you expect a cookie? Do you feel all better now?

2. It makes me question EVERYTHING about our past interactions. Before: Wow, cool, someone wants to talk to me about life and they think I’m interesting! What a great friendship. After: Oh, was he only being nice to me because he has a broken, one-sided crush? How often did he fantasize about me? This is awkward.

2. I talked to you about girls, dude. I told you the way seeing the back of her neck makes me feel in my crotch parts. I told you things I wouldn’t have told you otherwise, just because it seemed fucking obvious that you and I would never date. I thought we were bros. Now I don’t even know how to act around you any more.

3. Maybe because these guy friends know rejection is guaranteed, they feel free to be painfully honest. I often get more than just a passing, “Not saying I have a crush on you, but I have a crush on you.” I get confessions just short of the guy telling me he’s in love with me. How am I supposed to respond? I don’t secretly think about whether my guy friends are dateable. I cannot honestly say, “Yeah totally, I feel the same way.” I really do not.

4. It just reminds me that men are trained to think their sexual/romantic interest is something that can “validate” a woman. I mean, half of them can guess that I don’t want to hear it. But the other half tell me I make them swoon-stupid without a disclaimer. “I know what will make my friend feel awesome! Knowing that they are totally up to my dating standards! Never mind that I (should) know she doesn’t want to date me — Girl, I checked you against my rubric and you got a 9 out of 10.” Boy, I really didn’t want to be reminded that all your girl friends are categorized into “Would fuck” and “Wouldn’t.”

5. In case this point is not already clear: your sexual attraction to me is *not* a compliment. These are compliments: “You’re funny.” “You’re clever.” “You have amazing hair.” Telling me that in an alternate universe, you would have tried to bang me…? Not. A. Compliment. By virtue of being the opposite of the gender I find attractive, you’re just not that hot. It’s like hearing someone’s kid brother has heart eyes for me. Kind of adorable at first, creepy the more I think about how often I had let him sit in my lap.

You Are Not My Boyfriend (Being a Better Ally)

I’m no improv expert, but it’s my understanding that the key (perhaps) ingredient to a good scene is to Say Yes. Don’t immediately shut someone down when they say something crazy, try to welcome and grow their suggestions, etc. My gut reaction to an untruth is to correct it, so in a party atmosphere I try to put on my “improv” hat and encourage, as much as possible, delusional thinking. This means pretending to have the same astrological sign as anyone who asks, and getting excited about their birthdate-based analysis of my personality. This means catching when the ball is thrown, and dancing when my hand is asked. It’s not always easy for me, but when I get it right, it’s fun.

I was surprised, then, when one guy was “bothering” me and another called me his girlfriend, that I immediately rejected the idea. “Don’t pretend to be my boyfriend,” I said. “It doesn’t help me.”

Hi, the weather is great today in San Diego and also I am not your girlfriend.

Hi, the weather is great today in San Diego and also you are not my boyfriend.

Was I being a little harsh? Would I have allowed the play-act with a more conventionally attractive guy, or one with more social leverage? This acquaintance-friend was just trying to help me.

No, I was not offended simply because this particular person claimed me as his girlfriend. I was offended because stepping in as a woman’s pretend-boyfriend in order to protect her from other men is bad feminism and poor allyship.

Had *I* made the improvisational statement (“He’s my boyfriend”) and, seeing my aggravation, he allowed it, then that is fine. Of course, no one is obligated to accept lies about themselves or participate in a boyfriend-girlfriend role play (which could be really uncomfortable). A good ally response to a woman trying to pretend to be your girlfriend could also be: “Hey man, she’s not actually my girlfriend but the fact that she’s pretending to be is a pretty clear sign that she’s not interested in you and she wants you to give her space. Please respect her attempt to reject you in a nice way.”

Had I been more on my toes, I might have said something similar, “Oh, he’s not my boyfriend but it’s obvious he offered to pretend since he can see that you’re bothering me. I was trying to think of a non-confrontational way to tell you to please give me some space, but I think it’s time I just say so.” Instead, I was startled.

Somehow, it did not work when he made the improv-move. By telling another man that he was my boyfriend, he put me in the awkward position of needing to defend my space from not one, but two fronts. If I accepted the role, I would then need to negotiate, such that the other man wouldn’t catch on, the terms of our “relationship.” Would he try to hold my hand (which would make me uncomfortable)? Would he use pet names (this also would be weird for me). Kiss me? He did motion like he was going to put his arm around me, which is why I barked at him. Don’t pretend to be my boyfriend.

Telling someone that you are a woman’s boyfriend to “protect” her also has several, more nuanced problems:

1. It assumes that she “needs” your help.

First, people generally do not like attention drawn to their vulnerabilities or weaknesses. In the case of people with systemic disadvantages due to racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, etc., there are webs of social risks attached to having their vulnerabilities revealed. I know, as a gay woman, I feel a lot of pressure to protect the “problems” in my relationship(s). Marriage is a legal privilege I have only recently been granted in my state, and socially I sometimes feel pressure to “prove” that I “deserve” it. I might avoid talking about my more complex, unconventional, or really any relationship problems, and I might avoid getting help for them, because I often am made to feel I have to be an “example” for all gay women. I don’t want to give fuel to homophobes to criticize gay women.

A woman who is not interested in a persistent man (lesbian or not) faces a fire hose of insults. If she shows or admits that she is unsure, oftentimes a man will use that to assume he has a chance or that she can be persuaded. If she is too dismissive too fast, often he will assume her evaluation of their match potential is wrong because how could she know so quickly, she barely knows me? Any crack is seen as a way for the offending man to blast her defenses and get what he wants, or even feels he deserves. Many women know what they are up against and have their strategies for coping with this, and not all interruptions in their strategies are welcome or even effective.

It is not helpful for someone to focus on and draw attention to my weaknesses when they could instead help me in my goal to represent myself as strong and independent. Even if it seems obvious (to you) that I’m hanging for dear life off the edge of a cliff. I may be perfectly capable of saving myself, or I might just resent the way you made me look weak in front of the other lemmings.

2. Whether or not she can use your help, it does not allow her a graceful way to accept it.

Second, to be a good ally you must offer help in a way that can be accepted or rejected gracefully and, as much as possible, invisibly. Ana Mardoll gives a good example about a co-worker who used his presence and a plausible excuse to diffuse a common uncomfortable situation at a bookstore. The boyfriend play-act is my bad example because it makes too many assumptions, and too obviously, such that if I accept I can’t appear to be independent and able to help myself. It’s either: I have a boyfriend and I accept him interjecting in my conversations with other guys (ew), or I reject the role play and I’m back to finding another way to deter my persister.

Yet, assuming that someone needs help is something that we have to do when we are in situations where we see how our privilege could be leveraged to protect another person, with less privilege, from discomfort or harm. It is a socially risky and necessary part of attempting to be an ally.

I use the word “assuming” because that is exactly what you do. Any time you identify a situation to inject your help, you are making an educated guess that it is needed. The risk comes in for you because you could be wrong, whether or not you are wrong you could be rejected, and whether or not you are rejected you open yourself to the conflict in which you tried to intervene. I say it is necessary to “assume” because 1. People will often not ask for help (vulnerability), 2. People with less privilege than you often do need the help of allies, directly or indirectly, and 3. You must assume that you are even able to give this help. Please always remember that you are making assumptions when you offer help, and use this mindfulness to be gracious and modest.

Many people try to reward themselves at this step by claiming hero-ship or some other gain (getting a super amazing pretend-girlfriend such as myself), perhaps because they unconsciously know the effort it takes to help a person and want to reward themselves. Occasionally, the reward is a by-product of another goal and can be permissible, e.g. posting your efforts to facebook to encourage other people to do the same (awareness) and getting compliments and attention (reward). However, as difficult as it is to stick out your hand for someone, you are not the person who is hanging off the edge of a cliff. Please consider the awkwardness (now everyone knows there’s a problem, great), discomfort (do I have to hold your hand, now?), or danger (did you make him angry at me?) you might put them in by making yourself out to be a hero.

 3. It perpetuates the idea that women should “belong” to men and that other men should respect men’s spaces, not women’s.

Third, using the boyfriend game to attempt to help a woman perpetuates sexism in the long run. It displays to the “predator” that what should really deter him from “bothering” her is that she “belongs” to another man. Resorting to the boyfriend excuse nullifies all of her other attempts to signal to the predator that he should go away. Her comfort, desires, and needs don’t really matter, but what does are those of her imaginary boyfriend.

In a world where, “I’m a lesbian,” works less than half as well as, “I have a boyfriend,” we need more people who are willing to make it obvious that it is simply valid for a girl to reject a man because she says so. No explanation needed. Women are told that they are not inherently sexual creatures, that they are wishy-washy about what they want (and sometimes we are, everyone can be), and if the guy persists long enough he will wear down her defenses and she will realize/admit she likes him. Excuse me, assholes of the universe, you are not an advertising campaign, women are not your consumers, and no matter how obnoxious your commercials are, I will not buy your penis (I swear a lot of commercials these days just try to be as awful/weird/disturbing as possible so we remember that you can get insurance from a talking box with an eyebrow problem, ugh, fuck CGI talking things).

Progressive box guy I hate you and you give me nightmares.

About Being an “Ally” in General

A final note, remember that the final arbiter of whether or not you are an ally is the group of people or person you are trying to support. Oftentimes it is beneficial to publicly name yourself an ally (e.g. raise awareness) but it does not make you 1. an Expert, 2. inscrutable, 3. a hero. While calling yourself an ally could expose you to criticism and even hate, it does not magically erase your privilege. Yes, a business which labels itself an ally to a cause could be a target of vandalism, which is just dreadful. But, a person who has a black friend is not “practically black” by association and does not get to use the n-word (in good taste), for example.

Just think of it this way, a true ally knows that supporting [insert group here] is the right thing to do and everyone should feel the same way. It shouldn’t be special or heroic to support people; society should just change such that we are all allies to each other.

Goodwill to all who made it this far (jeez, what an essay),

Sami

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Comments Policy

This is new for me…. But I like the idea of having post-specific comment policies.

  • As the owner of this website, I reserve the right to delete any comment, for any reason, of course.
  • But, to generate trust with my commenters, it is very unlikely I will delete your comment
  • If I do delete your comment it is because you are not writing in the spirit of the post, as detailed below.

This post is intended for people who are interested in being good allies, promoting good allyship, or deconstructing allyship. It is not intended for people to debate whether feminism is “valid” or privilege is “real.” There are other places on the internet for that! Enjoy.

P.S. Anyone can comment, you don’t need to make some sort of account or “sign up.”

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