OPINION: True allyship is knowing when to step back

Graphic by Meghan Joyce

The evening of Feb. 23, I met up with some friends in my room. I complimented one on his bright eyeshadow, the other on his awesome highlighter.

Another friend and I traded gleeful comments about lesbian sex. We had a good time, and then we left to go to the Queer Apron party, an event outside the McConnell Center that was intended to celebrate queer people.

But by the time midnight rolled around, the mood had clearly changed. The music had shifted from LGBT artists to generic party songs, and when Janelle Monáe finally came back on, I watched certain partygoers shake their heads, look irritated and stop dancing.

I couldn’t help but be amused at the thought of showing up to a queer-centric party and then being upset at the queer-centric music. I guess “Make Me Feel” isn’t a crowd-pleaser.

I saw some of the queer people I had been dancing with earlier glancing around, disappointment clearly written on their faces. A few looked openly disgusted. Some left.

The Queer Apron party isn’t the first queer party I’ve attended at the 5Cs that didn’t have its LGBT-centered atmosphere respected.

In fact, it happens an upsetting amount. That’s worth discussing. When a marginalized group lays out, as clearly as they can, that they would like a space to themselves, and the dominant group invades that space anyway, it’s worth discussing.

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I have suffered for being queer. I’ve been followed and catcalled while out with my partner. I’ve listened to people joke about raping me. People have groped me, spit on me and hissed slurs at me under their breath.

Despite all of this, my gayness is something I love about myself. I love everything about being really, really lesbian. I have often been asked to tone down my gayness, to stop being so flamboyant, to not shove it in everyone’s face all the time.

Queer parties are my outlet to give all that heteronormativity the biggest middle finger imaginable. When I go to a queer party, I expect there to be a celebration of queer identity, because my queerness is something I have rarely been able to celebrate.

So, when I go to one, and the non-queer people aren’t respecting that goal, it hurts.

I am not going to stand at the door of a party and police the sexualities of people who are there. However, I want queer parties to be about appreciating queer people and all that we experience and love and struggle with. If a queer party is dominated by a heteronormative vibe, that upsets me.

That being said, it’s possible for straight people to attend queer parties respectfully. Plenty of allies went to the party “Halloween Is Gay” in October and upheld the mood of the space.

They danced and laughed along with us as we raised up people who were breaking gender stereotypes and just enjoying what it means to be a queer young person right now.

Some people who went to the Queer Apron party two weeks ago didn’t know it was intended to be centered around queer people. Some did but didn’t realize the way they engaged with the party was damaging.

I’m glad they didn’t intend to cause pain, but it changes nothing. The reality is, by entering that space, the people who attended the party and didn’t respect its atmosphere did harm the queer attendees.

The discontent expressed by multiple queer people I know is evidence enough. I made a meme about the Apron party and posted it online, and it has more than 100 likes. That’s more than 100 people who care.

Screenshot courtesy of Elyse Endlich

The experiences of non-white people and queer people are different. But the basic principles of honoring identity are shared.

I’m white and have friends who are people of color, but I don’t invite myself to their events, and I’m not offended when they tell me they don’t want me to come to a party. If I am invited to a party centered around people of color, I do everything I can to respect that the point of that space is to celebrate their life and culture.

Similarly, it’s cruel to take over the spaces queer people use to feel pride and joy about themselves and to express their queerness in a safer and less judgmental space than what they might find at a normal party.

To any non-queer readers: I’m not going to tell you not to attend queer events. All I ask is that if you do, respect their spirit. If you don’t like the way the queer people there are expressing themselves, then leave. They aren’t holding that celebration to please you.

Further, be mindful of your behavior. You shouldn’t be commanding attention, and you should be noticing how the people at the party are responding to you. If you get the sense that they aren’t enjoying your behavior, then consider finding another party. There is strength in admitting when you’ve outstayed your welcome.

Strong allyship necessitates deference. Respect the marginalized voices around you when they say you need to step back. Own your mistakes and challenge yourself to do better. It costs nothing to apologize, and it costs nothing to listen.

Elyse Endlich PZ ’22 is from Needham, Massachusetts. She says she’s from Boston because no one knows or cares about where Needham is. She would like to thank the Rainbow People Collaborative for their thoughtful comments and suggestions on this piece.

This article was last updated March 6 at 10:21 p.m. to add a screenshot of a meme.

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