What Does it Really Mean to be an Ally?

by Phil Hill
Trans Visibility Day

If being queer has taught me one thing about cis people (OK, it’s taught me many things), it’s that the perfect ally doesn’t exist, or if they do, I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting them!

Unfortunately, not everyone will always remember your pronouns. Not everyone will be able to afford, or want, to donate to LGBTQ+ charities. Not everyone will want to openly talk about trans issues on their social media and sadly, not everyone will care about being an ally in the first place. However, allyship itself is alive and well and the positive impact it can have on the lives of queer people is not only unimaginably affirming but can also save lives. 

With that in mind, I felt it was time to highlight some of the moments of allyship I’ve personally witnessed and benefited from, not only to thank those individuals but to inspire others who wish to do better by queer and trans folk. 

Of course, the work will never be complete when it comes to standing up for oppressed groups as each and every one of us can always do more (please do more), but to those I have mentioned in this piece, I thank you. Your actions helped more than you know. 

To provide some context – I was assigned female at birth but now identify as genderqueer, present as masc and regularly get misgendered as both male and female.

Loren – co-worker

One day I arrived at work and heard that a new manager had joined our team. As he walked in and approached me for the first time he gave me a firm handshake and said “Hello Sir”. 

Although being misgendered is an occurrence I’m fairly used to by now on this particular occasion it hit a nerve. I turned to Loren who had witnessed our introduction and said “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry?”, yet within seconds I found myself walking out the back of the restaurant we work in, sitting on the stairs, beginning to shed a tear.

Loren not only followed me to make sure I was OK, but she asked if I wanted her to explain to him about how I identify and what pronouns I use. 

Instead of feeling anxious in anticipation of an awkward and tiresome conversation with my new manager, she took that weight off my shoulders and enabled me to focus on gathering myself together. 

Needless to say, I took her up on her offer.  

Chris – friend 

One day Chris and I were at a service station where we both needed the toilet. The only gender-neutral one I could find was the disabled one yet like most disabled toilets it was locked. The only way I could see myself getting in there was to line up in the queue at the nearby McDonalds and ask one of the members of staff if they had a key for it, but knowing it may have been a wasted effort met with some uncomfortable questions and misgendering filled me with enough despair and anxiety to put me off the idea, so I decided to hold it in. 

When Chris came out from the gents he asked if I’d been to the bathroom and when I said no and explained why he asked if I would like to use the men’s instead where he would accompany me. 

Although I declined, to provide me with an alternative option and effectively offer to protect me in an unfamiliar space where I could be susceptible to confrontation from strangers was an incredibly sweet gesture.

*Note – this is one of the reasons us queer folk want gender-neutral toilets – having to suppress our need for the bathroom simply because of our identity and fear for our safety is  dehumanising.* 

Customer 

As stated before, day to day I work in a restaurant where on my uniform I wear a “they/them” pronoun badge. One day I noticed a customer staring at it before he proceeded to ask me what it meant. As I began to give a basic explanation he pointed out that he was with his son and wished to make the most of the opportunity by having me explain it to him as well. 

In that moment, not only did he choose to educate himself instead of sitting on any questions he may have had or making any assumptions about me, but he used our interaction as an opportunity to help teach his son about diversity within our society. 

Parenting done right.  

Chris – friend

On a recent visit to an antique shop, Chris and I were welcomed with a friendly “Hello gents!” by the shopkeeper as we walked in. Luckily it was one of those rare occasions where I was able to laugh at the situation, but despite Chris seeing my more positive reaction he didn’t try to take advantage. Instead, he turned to me and asked if I would like to leave, as although it was him who wanted to go there, at that moment it was more important to him that I felt comfortable. 

I politely declined his offer as in that moment it was more important to me that he got to look at some old tat! But I appreciated that he didn’t try to brush what had happened under the rug or pretend that he hadn’t heard; he acknowledged it which meant he acknowledged my identity. 

Axel – ex-coworker 

Something I was struggling with at work after I “came out” was seeing how the men would shake the hands of each other yet never shake mine. It made me sad and jealous that I wasn’t part of that club and therefore hugs started to make me feel emasculated; like they were something you only gave to women.

Once I explained this to Axel (OK, I completely snapped at him. Sorry bro!), he respected this unequivocally and went from hugging me, to shaking my hand at the start and end of every shift we had together. He could tell how important it was for me to have my masculinity validated and not only that, but he is the only person to have never misgendered me since I changed my pronouns!

Georgina – an employee at TFL 

One day on my way to see Chris I got off the train needing the bathroom. I tried entering the disabled toilet but it was locked (told ya), so I asked a member of staff if I could have the key. I had seen this particular member of staff a number of times and often said hello. I don’t know how, but I had just always had this feeling she could tell I was queer. (You start to notice different looks off people when you present as gender non-conforming; ones of confusion, ones of disgust and ones of “I see you”. Hers was the latter).

As I asked for the key she didn’t have one so instead turned to her colleague and said, “Do you have the key for the disabled toilet? This person needs to use it”. In that moment my suspicions were proved right. The simple use of the word “person” over “man” or “woman” gave me a boost of validation that us queer folk are always hoping for but rarely receive.

A few seconds later her colleague came over and walked me to the disabled toilet letting me return the key when I was done. At no point was I questioned despite being able-bodied, looked up and down, or misgendered.  

Allyship cannot be achieved simply by purchasing a t-shirt from a Pride collection. It cannot be achieved by incorporating a rainbow coloured flag into a company’s logo throughout June and it cannot be achieved by a person adding their pronouns to their Instagram bio despite being cis. It is about continually doing these little acts of solidarity, along with using ones cis privilege to stand up for queer people on the front line during the difficult and unpredictable moments of hardship that they face on a day-to-day basis. After all, allyship is a verb, not a noun.

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