Yes, this is the Love & Sex issue, but we’re not just here to talk about romantic love. In fact, right now is one of the most important times in history to be an ally for everyone you love, platonic or not. Hell, it’s an important time to be a decent person, and Lord knows that I’ve been trying to work out how to become a better ally to the people in my life.
We've all got a lot to learn, and yet as I look around the world, both online and not, it seems fairly obvious that tons of people are trying harder to get active. But if we're going to do this, we must do so without expectation. There will be no parades and there will be no back-patting—we will fight for the women we love, the trans people we love, the queers and people of color we love, the non-conforming people we love and the not-just-white-people we love. And we will do so not out of some misguided savior complex, but because we love them and because there are systems of oppression in place and because it is, frankly, right.
For the purpose of this piece, and though I am basically talking directly to them, I will not focus on how to ally with cis white males. Now, this is absolutely not to say that such men don't also face hardships or abuse, nor is it to say that movements such as feminism don't also benefit them, but rather that we (myself included) have historically been pretty OK. Powerful, at least. Furthermore, this is not to claim that considering these particular issues is the only way to make a difference, nor should you assume that I mean to imply a lack of importance of other arenas. Still, it should seem obvious to cis men that there are terrifying happenings afoot. As author bell hooks posits in her 2000 book, Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, "Even though they cling to patriarchy, they are beginning to intuit that it is part of the problem."
There are countless ways to affect change and countless issues to tackle, but this can be tricky. Where does one start? And how does one become a good ally without falling victim to certain conditioned behaviors?
Allow us to break it down in easy-to-follow suggestions from the very people with whom we should seek to align ourselves. As you read, remember that your contributions might be small or even go unnoticed altogether; they may even be more about rewiring how you think. But that doesn't mean they aren't actions worth taking.
We must first consider our language usage. It seems small, but words and intent are important. In fact, even the term "ally" has become more loaded than you might think, and "accomplice" might be the more apt descriptor according to artist Anastasio Wrobel, whose Non-Binary Coloring Book was featured recently in SFR. Wrobel believes the most prudent and doable steps begin there.
"Language is infinitely important in the trans community," they say, "specifically for the reason that language is used as legislation to dehumanize us." Wrobel further notes that they'd rather not get into a whole thing when it comes to explaining their identity, and that terms like "preferred pronouns" are more hurtful than they seem as they imply trans people don't exist as they are and would rather "prefer" to be something they are not. It simply doesn't work that way.
"I think we need all kinds of folks, but instead of overreaching for a hip and trending identifier … have read-ins or think-ins and 101s about communities whom are a target: Muslim communities, sex workers, disability justice, intersex communities, trans women and men and non-binary/non-conforming peoples, homeless youth, the elderly, our veterans, our Indigenous people and many more that I've not listed."
If it sounds like a lot to consider, it damn well is, and there are no easy or obvious answers. Wrobel advises that doing one's research is a good place to start, as well as caution and understanding. "If someone says they are unable to do that emotional labor any longer—teaching and demonstrating neutral language usage in public interactions—do not berate them into a dialogue centered on what they owe the movement or community," they say. "Bodies get exhausted, especially those under attack."
The lesson? Think about how your words carry weight and be open to new information. Trans people sometimes have to practically be politics professors just to explain their basic right to exist, and that is sad.
While you're examining yourself, consider what some of these people face in professional scenarios. "I've been thinking a lot about the foundational sexism that keeps women out of leadership and high-level roles," Kate Noble, a newly elected member of the Santa Fe School Board who previously worked in local government, says. "I actually think in my mother's generation women became accepted as professionals, and in my generation we need to make sure women get accepted as leaders, which is not really currently the case. So I would say men can look to promote, encourage and ask that women be elevated into senior and leadership positions more and more."
Noble says this is particularly important for women around 40 years of age which, she says, "is when men generally ascend and when, I have seen for myself and many others, [women] really hit the glass ceiling. … I believe even some well-meaning men don't realize their own deep-rooted bias, and instead something feels 'off' about promoting a woman."
The lesson? Women often have to work much harder than men just to be taken seriously. Should someone’s gender play a role in what we believe they’re capable of?
And it's often more deep-seated than simple sexism. Some of the root issue is that men tend to assume they've got the power at all times. According to After Hours Alliance founder Shannon Murphy, "I think one of the challenges men struggle with is how to support women versus take over a situation, which can be difficult. You see these problems that you want to work on, but you also need to leave the right amount of space for a woman to fight for herself. … It can be a real balancing act."
And it goes even further, sometimes translating into a male assumption that power can mean no rules. "I was sexually harassed in an educational setting by a person in a position of power who, I quickly learned, made a habit of harassing many women," Murphy continues. "In the dialogues that followed, I proposed to a particular group of leaders within the institution that they should institute a policy wherein anytime someone saw harassment, they would immediately call the harasser out. But another of this man's victims told me she would personally find that humiliating—that as the harassment was taking place she would be struggling to find a way to fight back, and to have another person swoop in and save her would reinforce her fears [or] that she wasn't strong enough to save herself. … That situation taught me that being an ally sometimes is about really tuning in to what the person who is struggling needs in terms of support."
The lesson? Think about asking, “What do you need?” before charging into a situation in an attempt to fix it in a way you’d consider “right.”
Let's take it even further and consider what it must be like for a queer person of color like Cease Martinez. "I've never felt unsafe [in Santa Fe], but I think the most aggression I've felt is in having to explain myself, which I think is about privilege and people feeling like they can have an opinion on something they know nothing about," she says. "I think awareness can be hard for white people because privilege is so embedded in them from generations and generations. How do you deconstruct all that?"
For Martinez, the most helpful way to be an accomplice comes down to a willingness to listen, and to actually be there when needed. "I think, if shit really goes down, are you going to be there, or will you keep doing these little, trendy things like showing up to a march and nothing else?" she asks. "If you have privilege, use it, and that means you stand up if you see someone is being harassed because they're queer or trans; and that might mean getting arrested or being a loudmouth. But get involved and get organized."
The lesson? Be there. We saw a good example of that with lawyers descending upon airports across the nation to help detainees during the recent attempt at a Muslim travel ban. That was awesome, and we can exact similar actions on a local level, too.
For Santa Fe University of Art and Design student Julian Williams, who has a white mother and a black father and is gay, it comes down to the perception of the term "ally."
"Ally isn't a noun," he says, "it's a verb." Williams cites the recent trend of attaching a safety pin to one's clothing as too passive a form of ally-hood. "Even with that, it was like them saying, 'Oh, I'm a safe space, come to me!' which means the other person has to take most of the action," Williams says, noting also that he considers the best allies the ones who listen but also take action.
Furthermore, Williams says that Santa Fe, while ultimately safer than many other cities, isn't perfect. "This is the first place I was called the 'N' word," he says. "And my fiancé, who is from Mexico City, and I were talking the other night about how we walk around in Mexico holding hands but don't feel so comfortable with that in Santa Fe."
Indeed, it's a mixed bag here. And while Williams says he places great faith in younger generations' ability to be accepting and be allies, he says there is still work to be done. "I think after gay marriage was legalized in 2015, people kind of dropped the ball and figured that gay people have everything now," he says. "What gives me confidence in trusting people, though, is knowing that the majority of people I know who are around my age know that it's common sense that people in the LGBTQ+ community face trouble, and so far that trust hasn't steered me wrong."
The Lesson? Accept that these marginalized communities have to operate in very specific ways to justify themselves, which is absurd, and then work out how you can embody the term “ally” as a verb.