Bruce Parker


Filed By Bruce Parker | November 27, 2007 7:50 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: James Baldwin, LGBT community, open thread, social movements, straight allies

I am taking a seminar in my Ph.D. program focused on the work of James Baldwin and reading for my final paper I came across this quote,

In 1963, when speaking to a group of public school teachers in New York City, James Baldwin was asked to talk about the role the white liberal plays in social change. Baldwin responded, “There is no role for the white liberal, he is our affliction.”

This quote, taken out of the context of the rest of Baldwin's work, makes him seem to be less open and nuanced in his approaches to white folks than he was. However it got me thinking about allies.

Considering the complicated recent events around ENDA and transgender inclusion along with the conversations on the Bilerico Project about Transgender Day of Remembrance, it seems like as a project - both as writers and readers - we should engage in a conversation about allies. After the jump are some questions that I have been considering regarding this. Would you be willing to share your thoughts with each other and me about the place of allies in social change projects and movements?

What does it mean to be an ally?

Are there ways that being a white person who is an ally to black communities, being a man who is an ally to women, being straight and ally to lgbt folk and being non-transgender and an ally to transgender people are similar? Different?

As members of oppressed groups what do we look for in non-members who want to be allies?

Are allies helpful or harmful to progress? Is it something in between?

Baldwin talks about the danger of allies with savior complexes. Have any of us had experiences with allies who thought of their role in that way?

If you think of yourself as an ally, what are some of the challenges that you have experienced in doing ally work?

Any other thoughts or questions for each other are welcome.

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What does it mean to be an ally?
allies stand by you both in principal and practice. They don't say will be by your side and then turn around and work against your cause such as many so called allies to the TG/TS communities did when they supported a non inclusive ENDA. Being an allies is like being pregnant, you are are or your not, it's one of the few black and white issues.
As members of oppressed groups what do we look for in non-members who want to be allies?

They have to meet the above criteria.
MCC is an example of a good ally. Now they are in a sense not a political ally, they are a social ally which is equally as important as they can spread the word that TG/TS people are not to be feared or hated they are just like everyone else.
You take any allies you can get as long as they won't stab you in the back like HRC for example.

Are allies helpful or harmful to progress? Is it something in between?
they are helpful when they truly support your cause. when you have two faced people who say they support your cause then turn around and vote for a bill that excludes you, they are harmful and not only should they be outed for their behavior but they should be shunned as soon as possible.

when it comes to allies it is all about quality not quantity.

if you can't stand by your principals and hold true to them you don't deserve any support from anybody.

I know this comes across as being hard nosed however people do judge you by the company you keep and it is as i said all about quality.

Take care
Susan Robins

Remember what Phil Ochs said: "In America there are varying shades of political opinion - and one of the shadiest of these is the liberal."

Hint, hint - Ochs was *not* a conservative.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | November 27, 2007 3:53 PM

Thanks, Bruce. Just when I couldn't feel more atypical as a queer-identified FtM ex-pat who's a mom & who moved to Ireland to avoid paying taxes toward the Iraq war--and a socialist who ended up working at a bank!! But that’s going to end soon--you go and highlight another oddity. ;-) I just don't divide the world into groups the way so many people seem inclined to do.

Sure, I understand I'm a tranny, and you're not. That I'm white and perceived to be male and that gives me huge privilege. I know that I understand certain experiences in a way you don't--but that's reciprocal. I don't understand what it's like to be born in a male body, for example. Or to be born with brown or black skin. Or as a member of a tribe in remote Indonesia.

But I see us as humans first, and all the other identities a far-away second. In fact, the secondary divisions seem so much less important to me than what sort of human we are. Kind? Generous? Honest? Respectful? True to our word? Brave? I care a lot less about whether or not a person is straight or queer than if they're committed to peace and social justice, for instance.

IMO, we live in a fragile biosphere on an out-of-the-ordinary planet and humans should be nothing if not allies to one another. Community, leaving the world a better place than we found it, honesty, courage to be true to ourselves, and other such values are what I believe existence is about.

Labels like LGBT can be shorthand, to help people cut through to what matters. They can help us find a mate, or make life more interesting and sex more fun. Or they can sometimes raise a red flag—like “Republican”—although even then it’s imperative to give every person a chance to reveal what sort of person they really are beneath the label.

All this is a long way of saying, if you want to throw your fate in with our camp, especially by becoming partners with one of us, that's good enough for me. If, as time goes on, you prove yourself to be a total jerk, then I’ll re-evaluate and maybe rescind my offer of an alliance. In the same way, there are some trannies out there whom, despite us sharing an essential identity, I want to stay many miles clear of.

I suspect this is an answer that would have annoyed the hell out of James Baldwin, and may disappoint you, too. But there you go.

Real and useful allies don't need to differentiate themselves as such. In my book, anybody who is going to preference something with, "I'm straight, but" or "I'm white, but" isn't being the most effective ally s/he could be.

... Baldwin responded, “There is no role for the white liberal, he is our affliction.” ... This quote, taken out of the context of the rest of Baldwin's work, makes him seem to be less open and nuanced in his approaches to white folks than he was. However it got me thinking about allies. ...

Bruce, this is a worthy subject for discussion --- I certainly have had my uncertain moments when pondering what I can do to support the wellbeing of African-Americans, and what I have to let them do for themselves --- but if Baldwin's quote was "more open and nuanced" than appears on the surface, then maybe you could let us in on exactly what he was saying? Or at least, could you provide a citation so we can read that quote in the context that Baldwin put it?

I doubt that Baldwin was saying that the votes of the white Congressmembers who voted in favor of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 didn't have any role in history, or in the betterment of the citizen status of African-Americans. This quotation is indeed obscure in meaning, and if it deserves quoting, then it also deserves explaining.

Bruce, this is such an important convo. Thanks for starting the thread.

1. What is an ally?
To me, an ally is someone who supports you even (and especially) when they personally have nothing to gain from the relationship. It's not so much an "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine," kind of thing. It's "I got your back just 'cuz."

2. The question about similarities . . .
I hope that as an anti-racist white person I'm an ally to people of color. For me, this is a relationship where I have to admit my ignorance about what it means to be a person of color. But I'm willing to learn about our cultural differences and I don't expect to ever know what it means to be black, Chicana, etc.

I hope that as a non-trans person, I am an ally to trans people. I have no idea what being trans is like, but I can try to have empathy.

As far as straight folks supporting LGBTQ folks goes, we need allies. We're 10% of the population. Not what I'd call a majority. What would I hope my straight allies would do? I hope more straights can start refusing to get married until everyone who wants to can get married. I hope more straights join the GSA's in high school so that it's not a big deal for kids to rock the rainbow. On face, straight folks don't stand to gain in this relationship. But honestly, homophobia affects straight folks too in the ways it limits people's gender and sexual expression. But an ally should just get your back because it's the right thing to do.

3. What do we want from allies?
I think I addressed this a little bit, but here's what I would like to see from men who want to be allies to the wimmin's movement. Men need to be the ones calling other men out for their sexist behavior. We live in a patriarchy. Ergo, when a man says something, suddenly it has credence. I also think it's important for allies to remember that even though they are needed/wanted, sometimes an oppressed group needs its own space. There's a time and a place for everyone. But my presence isn't always required/desired as an ally. It ain't personal. It's just reality.

4. Challenges I've personally had as an ally?
I had a hard time when I was first confronted by a womyn of color about the long history of white wimmin not supporting wimmin of color in the feminist movement. When I asked, "well, what role should white wimmin play in the feminist movement," this person said, "why do white wimmin need to have a role?" That was harsh. But after thinking about it, I get what she was saying. Why do I feel entitled to have a role? That's white privilege coming through. So my challenge is to look for ways that I'm blind to my privilege.

As far as challenges I've faced being an ally to the trans community, I will be honest. I'm still learning. And I'm bound to keep making mistakes. For instance, I have a feminist book group that is inclusive of wimmin. We had a very lengthy discussion when we formed the group about who was welcome to participate in the group. I think that anyone who identifies as a womyn is welcome to attend. It's not my place to question how anyone self identifies. But some of the other group members feel that the group re-inscribes gender binaries by forcing someone to pick a gender. I guess since I'm comfortable with the label "womyn" I just don't get where they're coming from. So that's my challenge.

Sorry to go off on a soapbox. Thanks for the thought provoking questions, Bruce.

Allies what are they most of the time they are the enemy of my enemy. Now and then a real one will come along so treat them all as you would want them to treat you But to quote from my religion ” Be a friend to all but accept not the word of a stranger folk."

One personal frustration of mine that I know Bruce and I have talked about previously are with the African-American and trans communities. Both communities commonly blame groups I belong to (whites and gays and lesbians) of ignoring their needs and not helping them often enough. Yet these same groups are usually the first ones to say something like "You don't get to experience/discuss/decide/express because you're not one of us."

Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

PFLAG has instituted a new program called "Straight for Equality". Straight for Equality is a national outreach and education project to empower allies in supporting and advocating for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. To learn more about Straight for Equality, log onto: There you can read about PFLAG's efforts to help make changes within our communities.

Bill I think you need to understand
You Are The Exception Not The Rule

Most Gays as seen by any number of polls lately Don't give a Rat's Output Port about TG/TS people.

Take care
Thank YOU for your support.

Susan Robins