‘Ally‘ is not just a term reserved for straight people.
Queer Linguistics 101.
Many LGBTQ+ folk, when discussing labels in our community, by default assume that the term ‘ally’ is reserved for those who are cisgender and straight.
Doing so is actually quite reductive because that assumption then, inadvertently, either erases someone’s queer identity, or purges their accomplishments and contributions as an ally to others.
While our commonality and shared experience is ultimately being queer, we also each have a responsibility to uplift and champion the different identities that make our diverse and intersectional community whole.
It sounds obvious, but in practice, and in daily life, many LGBTQ+ folk fail to see allyship as their responsibility. When actually, it is something we should all be active in, just as much if not more so than straight folk.
In former years, the whole “you must be gay/ trans is you support gay/ trans rights” assertion created a barrier to progress for LGBT+ people historically, because often it created feelings of shame in allegiance and prevented many straight people from offering public shows of support.
Which is part of the reason we now iconise allies such as Madonna, Cher and those who championed gay/ queer rights long before it was ever ‘fashionable’ or even the norm to do so.
Similarly, the assertion that ‘you have to be straight to meet the criteria of an ally’ way of thinking is also a barrier to progress in current times, because it sends a message that LGBTQ+ folk don’t need to be an ally. We do.
Let’s break it down with another pop music icon who represents the duality of allyship/queerness working together.
A good example of the queer/ ally dynamic in working action would be Gaga, one of the more prolific LGBTQ+ allies in 10s and 20s pop culture.
In a 2009 interview with Barbara Walters, Gaga came out as bisexual, revealing her attraction to women inspired hit song Poker Face.
“I do like women. I’ve only been in love with men, I’ve never been in love with a woman”,
“That’s really what the song [‘Poker Face’] was all about. Why when I was with my boyfriend was I fantasising about women?” she said, shortly after then confirming that she has had “sexual relationships with women”.
After that, Gaga was plagued with the kind of hideous erasure that bisexual and pansexual folk particularly regularly face in daily life. All while continuing to be a committed and proud ally.
lady gaga speaking about gay rights at her show in moscow after russian authorities told her she would be arrested if she spoke about it: pic.twitter.com/HPPvVrQQSe
— B 〄 (@brxdygaga) June 1, 2021
In 2013, she addressed her identity once again: “I am bisexual, I’ve said it before I’ll say it again, I don’t need to – I’m sorry if this is a bit vulgar – I don’t need to eat p*ssy in front of people for the whole world to take me seriously.”
However, Gaga is also extremely proud of her accomplishments as an ally and has, on numerous occasions, expressed her gratitude for being held with such regard.
In 2017, during a rally for the victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre, LG delivered a powerful proclamation to LGBTs mourning the tragedy, where she said: “I hope you know that myself and so many are your allies”
Then, in 2021, while promoting House of Gucci, Gaga said she does not represent or “speak” on behalf of the community.
When asked about the need for greater LGBTQ+ representation in movies, she said:
“I feel that it is right and true to say this: I am a supporter of the LGBTQ+ community but I do not speak for them. They do not need me to speak for them.”
“I am here to cheer on radical love and a radical joy that I had the privilege of witnessing since I was a very young girl. And without the LGBTQ+ community, I would not be who I am,” she said.
“What I will say is, I’m not here to represent that community because they do not need me to. But I am here to always speak out about what is right and true for all of humanity. That people be loved,” Gaga elaborated. “That oppression and hatred be a thing of the past. But that requires all of us, and also to know our place.”
So… does that make Gaga not bisexual because she takes pride in being an ally? Or does it make her not an ally because she is bisexual?
No, of course, is the answer to both.
Just as we are all free to self-identify when it comes to our sexual orientation, so too are we free to identify with any commonly-known term we feel best fits our sense of self.
Being LGBTQ+ and being an ally is not mutually exclusive. But it is important that queer folk do both.
Ultimately, labels can be such powerful things when applied correctly – they can uplift and breathe life into certain senses of being where the possibilities are limitless.
Or they can be harmful, damaging and have negative consequences.
The key here is understanding that every L G B T Q + person (obvs) is exactly how they self-identify.
And NOT every L G B T Q + person is an ally.
But we should be.
Allyship is unquestionably one of the core foundations with which LGBTQ+ people (you, probably, reading this) have any of the hard-won rights and freedoms we each enjoy today.
Allyship and unity is how we will create more rights and freedoms for those who come after us.
We, as a community, simply cannot expect people who aren’t queer to be good allies to us, if we are not showing them how it’s done in the way we treat and uplift each other.
Celebrate your own L G B T Q + identity/identities fiercely during Pride.
And don’t forget to be the ally you want to see yourself.