Have you ever heard someone who purports to be an ally but makes a mistake state “I’m so sorry, but I didn’t know X”?
It happens to me every day. Literally. When you fit the category of “person people don’t quite get”, there are many, many mistakes. So where do we draw the line between what is an acceptable level of “Well, I guess this is new for many people”, and negligent ignorance?
Many people I’ve met seem content to apply a very strict rule to determine if their behavior is maliciously motivated. They clearly believe that mistakes are to be expected, and should be tolerated. Every new concept, every phrase, every word must first be used incorrectly, cause pain, and then be called; only then can it ever be worthwhile to amend behavior. This attitude places full responsibility for endurance and correction on the victim.
Imagine a large crowd at some sort of public venue. If you were to walk in and suddenly begin firing indiscriminately, you would be fully responsible for the lives taken, even if you had no “intent” to cause harm. Perhaps you weren’t aiming at anyone directly–are you excused from liability?
This argument is the same. The fact is, your words matter. Your actions matter. Your tongue is a weapon, and can inflict tremendous pain and suffering on those around you. And until you have taken the steps necessary to practice true allyship, you are wandering around randomly popping bullets off into crowds.
Sadly, your ability to cause harm is not something you can simply leave by the wayside. So many of my self-proclaimed “ally” friends seem to believe this is the case. Because they know the word “transgender”, or because voted for one party or another, they feel that they are now excused from possibly causing harm. Sadly, knowing that you hold this weapon in your hands does not make you less likely to use it. You might know it’s there. You might know that shooting people is wrong. But until you actually learn, until you actually listen, and until you begin to practice, you are simply wandering around blindly shooting.
Do you want to help people less fortunate than yourself? Start by learning and listening. You need to learn what you do that causes harm before you can ever stop the violence. Learning about WHY things are as they are, rather than WHAT things are, will help. Trying to act proactively rather than reactively means moving to a place where you don’t need to shoot someone to know the effect of a trigger pull.
I hope to see allies who learn to practice allyship, whether they be straight, queer, trans, cis, or of any other identity, orientation and expression. We all win when we protect one another.