I’ve been thinking more than usual about LGBTQ+ issues for a while now, probably as a result of seeing more people on Twitter and YouTube opening up about their experiences, as well as an increase in the mainstream media covering it. Riyadh from YouTube created a mini-series on BBC3 called Queer Britain; the news is covering the Turkish ban on Pride… It is becoming a more prominent topic in every day conversation, and rightly so.
This week, I went to a few book signings at Waterstones, one of which was for Juno Dawson’s new book, The Gender Games. (Rapid review: I’m only a few chapters in but I am already in love with this memoir. Also, Juno is one of the most hilarious, articulate and friendly authors I have ever met.)
— Siobhan (@fuller_siobhan) June 23, 2017
The tagline on the cover is “The problem with men and women, from someone who has been both.” Juno touches on something important with this: she is able to talk about both perspectives because she has lived them both. She knows rather than presumes about what it is like to experience society when she is seen as a man and then when she transitions to a female body. It’s about telling the story she has experienced herself rather than letting anyone else speak for her, or speaking on behalf of anyone else.
What I’ve been thinking about more specifically is where I fit into the LGBTQ+ conversation. I’ll warn you now, this post is definitely going to be more of a thought-dump than a structured argument or a response to anything in particular.
I guess I personally identify as bisexual because I am attracted to both men and women, but I definitely sway more towards guys than girls. I’m sure there is another label I could put on this but bisexual seems to be the best way to communicate it.
So technically I am part of this community but I feel a bit like I’m on the margins of some of the discussions about struggling with sexuality, coming out or discrimination. I have been lucky, very lucky. No one has ever bullied me, I didn’t have to “come out” and it hasn’t affected any of my relationships with friends or family.
I have had the privilege of discovering my sexuality and then just continuing on with my life. It’s just a small part of who I am and no one really cares, because it doesn’t define me. In essence, I have been allowed to exist as myself in a way that most people who identify as LGBTQ+ aren’t, and my god, am I thankful for that.
As a result, I think I see my role in the community as an ally more than a participant because it will never be my place to talk about the hardships that other people have to face in society regarding their gender and sexuality. I’ve been trying to work out what it means to be an ally – should I be promoting marginalised voices, speaking out, supporting campaigns, vocalising my anger when I see news stories such as the exposure of the detention and torture of gay men in Chechnya?
In short, yes. Prejudice and hate will continue to fester if we stay quiet; in fact, I believe that silence can sometimes advocate it (another topic, another time).
However, my voice should be part of the chorus rather than taking centre stage as a soloist. I should show my support, I should bring attention to issues, I should celebrate the community’s victories.
I should not speak for them. It would be pure egotism and ignorance to believe that my opinion is stronger and more articulate, and that it has a greater significance than the experiences of the people I’m supposed to be supporting. To speak on someone’s behalf and tell their story for them is presuming that their voice is less important and holds less weight.
For me, an LGBTQ+ ally’s first job is to listen. Listen to the voices that have never had an ear before, who are muffled by hate and are accustomed to being silenced. Give people the platform and the safe space to discuss their problems, to open up about their worries, and to celebrate their victories.
It all comes down to the fact that I cannot speak on anyone’s behalf but my own. The only experience I can fully know is my own. The only story I can tell is my own.