Folks, we (per usual) have a nuanced problem that needs to be addressed. People seem to be under the impression that as long as they view themselves as an ally/supporter/advocate of another, typically more oppressed demographic than one’s own, the self-placed label is sufficient to excuse them from all accountability and criticism. “What are you talking about?!”, you might be thinking, “Of course just trying your best is what ally-ship is all about, especially since we could never put ourselves in the shoes of another!” Yes, my good people, trying your best to be educated, persistent advocates is the mark of a good ally, but the real question is “are y’all actually even trying?!” Please allow me to use a recent incident to elaborate. Actress Rose McGowan, who is typically heralded for her unbridled independence and (supposedly) adamant feminism, is now in the spotlight for striking down the same spirit in a trans person who attended a book event which McGowan was hosting. When asked “what have you done for [trans people]” as a response to previous comments concerning trans people made by McGowan on another program, McGowan refused to directly respond to the question. When the individual who dared to question McGowan yelled “white cis feminism!” as they were being ejected by security, McGowan responded by stating:
“Don’t label me, sister. Don’t put your labels on me. Don’t you f****** do that. Do not put your labels on me. I don’t come from your planet. Leave me alone. I do not subscribe to your rules. I do not subscribe to your language. You will not put labels on me or anybody. Step the f*** back. What I do for the f****** world and you should be f****** grateful. Shut the f*** up. Get off my back. What have you done? I know what I’ve done, Goddammit.”
This is but one of a few problematic statements issued by McGowan that day, but let’s focus on deconstructing this statement with regards to the issue I’ve presented. First, McGowan chastises this critical individual for supposedly “putting labels on her,” and insists that since she is not of this world she does not have to subscribe to the rules of it. In case you don’t understand the absurdity of this, let me break it down for you. First, yes, McGowan is 110% from planet Earth. This isn’t the X-files; we are all human here and we all have instincts to categorize ourselves and the other beings we come into contact with. McGowan is indeed white: she is of European descent with no obvious or acknowledged racial, ethnic, or national identifiers that would signify otherwise. As we all (hopefully!) know, Europeans and their descendants enjoy privileges and statuses that are denied to most non-Europeans just because their skin is lighter. Third, McGowan is a cis woman- meaning that her gender identity (woman) is the social norm for her birth sex (female), and her feminist platform is built off of her acceptance of this fact. She is a woman through and through. Women who were born female and perform femininity do not face the same difficulties for women of which this is not true. Lastly, McGowan is a self-labeled feminist (whatever that apparently means for her). No further explanation needed on that one.
So, long story short, McGowan is indeed a member of every group that she was “labelled” as by this trans individual. For her to deny being a part of these groups is problematic because a productive conversation about one’s own positioning in the world and how one should operate in relation to others based on their positions can never happen if one is unaware of their own positioning in the first place. McGowan should know this already. As a “feminist,” she has called out many men (particularly Harvey Weinstein) for refusing to acknowledge the fact that their social positioning has afforded them the opportunity to take advantage of others who are in positions where they are at risk for exploitation. I think we can all agree that Harvey Weinstein is no ally of the female community, specifically for the aforementioned reasons, so how is it that Ms. McGowan can do the same thing and consider herself an ally of the trans community? How is it that someone can aggressively tell a trans person to “shut the f*** up,” that they “should be f****** grateful” for the kind and wonderful things the supposed ally may or may not do, and question what a member of that community has done for their own people (aside from just existing as a member of that group), and still, some-f***ing-how, consider themselves a good ally of that community?! Confusion about how ally-ship works, that’s how.
To understand how ally-ship actually works, let’s consider the term in it’s more literal application: war. A country cannot simply “sign up” to be an ally of another. When Britain and the U.S. joined forces in WWII, one country did not say to another “hey, I’m on your side, and you’d better shut the f*** up and be happy that I’m helping you fight these Nazis or I’ll kick your a** too.” No, an ally-ship is formed when a nation that needs assistance can look at another and say “I trust you and will allow you to fight for and alongside me in good faith that you will not betray or take advantage of me.” This too is the basis for human ally-ship, and for the one needing to maneuver out of an oppressive situation (trans folks, POC, non-Christians, undocumented peoples, etc.), it is a risky game. In centered-marginalized relationships, the marginalized person is always the one taking the biggest risk and putting more on the line by trusting a member of a more socially accepted demographic. Trusting that a person will stand up for you, and then realizing that they are just using your cause for personal gain (be it in the form of money, attention, or whatever else) is infuriating, hurtful, and results an emotional scar that will forever make it difficult for them to make themselves vulnerable once again. Should any nation ever turn and attack its ally in war, the ally-ship would almost immediately be terminated and the relationship between the nations would be strained for all of the foreseeable future. This is why I think I must make this point perfectly clear:
For an individual to be a true ally of any demographic, they must be respected and trusted by members of that demographic.
That is, that an ally must be considered so not only by their self, but by those who are most impacted by their words and actions. To say it again differently, you’re not a f***ing ally of a community if the members of that community do not believe (especially with evidence!) that you do not support or care about them!!! White people, if several POC think you’re a racist, you’re not an ally to POC. Straight people, if non-hetero people say that you don’t make them feel safe or accepted in their sexuality, you aren’t an ally to the queer community. Rose McGowan, if a trans woman stands up and questions your dedication to trans issues because you said some transphobic sh** on another program, and your response is to tell her to shut up and be grateful that you exist, YOU AIN’T A DAMN ALLY TO THE TRANS COMMUNITY!
I’m sure some of you are reading this and by this point are thinking “Yeah, that’s right- you tell it!,” but I’m sure some of y’all are snakes too. I needed to write this because there are millions of Rose McGowans out there- thinking they’re so damn woke because they read half an article once, but will shut down and dismiss their shortcomings as someone not realizing that “we are all the same” (as McGowan “explained” to this trans individual). I fell out with someone I wrongfully thought was my friend/ally a while ago because she initially appeared to be so, but after confronting her about several racist things she did/said, she had a very McGowan-esque breakdown, physically assaulting me, weeping, and me and telling me that she “couldn’t be friends with someone who would tell [her] that [she] is a bad person,” and that by calling her out I had sent her into “the worst depression of [her] life”. Imagine that- honestly believing that being called out for racism is more depression-inducing than being on the receiving end of a racist act. She also, less directly than McGowan, suggested that I was being ungrateful of the fact that she, a white woman, had taken time out of her life to care about little ‘ole me and my struggle. Wasn’t her mere interest in not being racist sufficient to consider her not racist??… Yet this woman is still out there, and she very much considers herself an ally of my community. She, without changing her mentality or actions after our encounters, still believes that who she is and the things she does are beneficial to my community despite the fact that our relationship and falling out left me emotionally scarred and less immediately trusting of people of her demographic. This, my good people, is not an example of an ally-ship, but of an exploitative dynamic. The already socially accepted person becomes more socially accepted/centered as they receive praise for supposedly being a great person, while the marginalized person becomes further marginalized as they are blamed for their own oppression and socio-cultural trauma because they ungratefully dared to decline “help” from the oh-so-charitable oppressor disguised as an ally. I am sick of this happening, I’m not here for it one bit, and I’m calling y’all out. If you really want to be my ally- get your sh** together and start putting in work. You want me to view you as a legit, dedicated, and trust-worthy peer?-here’s an idea: BE A LEGIT, DEDICATED, AND TRUST-WORTHY PEER!! Crazy concept I know, but I think I’ll start making people actually earn back-pats and “thank-you’s” in 2018; let’s see how this goes…