Another unarmed black man is shot by a white cop, and as the situation explodes, plenty of right-thinking white folks are exhorting each of us blanquitos to become an ally. It's also what straight folks are supposed to become when another fag gets beaten, another transwoman mutilated and killed. Or a dyke gets raped.
I hate that word, ally. It is so patronizing. So besides the point. As if Michael Brown's death has no consequences for white lives. As if the murder of Bryan Higgins, radical faerie, this week in San Francisco won't touch hets. As if we could make our lives bubbles. No, not even bubbles which explode pretty easily. But pods maybe. Metal space ships exploring a different galaxy which we can leave whenever we want a change of scenery.
Sure, plenty of people are sheltered. Random attributes give us privileges, and we enjoy them as much as we can. I suppose it's even remarkable that anybody bothers to wring their hands at the latest horror. But the links are still there. We drag around our shared histories like toilet paper stuck to our shoes. Like that extra forty pounds we don't really notice anymore. Haven't for years. Doesn't mean that sodden, shitty thing isn't there. In the houses we can buy, the jobs we get. That bloody smudge on the sidewalk.
But as long as my passport says American, what happens in Ferguson, or Detroit, or Chicago is my business, too. As long as I am human, really. Seeing each other as separate and irrelevant is part of what got us into this mess to begin with. The inability to look each other in the eyes and recognize, "Okay, a person. Like me." Dogs are smarter than us. One sniff and they know what's what. Cat. Dog. Tree. Homos not so sapiens get distracted by all the superficial stuff, skin, hair, gestures, cars. Language. Act like they are mountain ranges with no clear path over. Are often glad that the barrier's there. And work to build higher ones.
In fact, differences really only exist in the painful middle distance. At the cellular level we are pretty much indistinguishable. And the further away you move the microscope, the more you can see how our futures are bound together, like the misery of our past. It's in our own interest to pay attention, and think about how we fit together. And then plunge in.
Which is why I wish we'd retire that word, ally. It implies that we don't really have to do much but have nice thoughts and maybe make a donation. Send some tents to the war zone. Sandwiches. Not go there yourself in the flesh. Risk getting hurt. Maybe physically, maybe just your feelings. I mean, you should try not to be a complete asshole, you're not the center of attention and maybe should listen more than you talk, but missteps are inevitable if you leave your space ship.
The thing we have to keep in mind is that we are not "allies". Not acting on anybody else's behalf. We don't deserve gold stars for getting involved in the society we belong to. We don't even have to pretend to understand somebody else's experience. We just have to believe we are more deeply connected than we admit. And if we fuck up sometimes, so what? If practice doesn't make perfect, it does make better. At least we aren't still deluded into believing we're somehow outside the problem, and that it won't bite us in the ass one day. Hasn't already infected our lives.
I thought about this a lot when I was out there on the frontlines as a Lesbian Avenger. I always figured that if dykes finally got treated with respect, had the room to make choices about sex and romance, weren't subjected to violence, it would stretch the possibilities for straight females like my bigoted hateful mom. Don't want to get married? Fine. Resent kids? Don't have to have any. And no problem if you don't want to put on the panty-hose, make nice, suck-up to the boss. If I can walk the streets unafraid as a lesbian, then you can, too.
It's pretty obvious how militarized, and bigoted policing affect the LGBT community. Fags of all races still get arrested in adult bookstores, get stung in illegal sex operations. Trans people, too, get profiled and harassed as prostitutes. Instead of getting help, many queers get harassed after assaults.
Even on a sheer tactical level, it's clear one segment of the population can't be assured justice while another goes without. It is a habit. We can't address violence against queers, or against people of color, without going after it in American society at large. We may have to address our problems in small ways, one law at a time, but our thinking has to be big enough to hold us all.
Kelly Cogswell is the author of Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger (U Minn Press, 2014).