The Problem with the Title “Straight Allies”

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Language is everything. In its absence, expressions and body language, along with audible expressive sounds, assist us in understanding context within a framework of communicating with others. I hope to shape our understanding of words we choose, as well as labels, to which we attach ourselves. When I first heard the word “Straight Allies” my head went into a spin. I understood the good intentions behind the group who stand up for gay and lesbian rights, but I struggled with this title. Why? I struggled because it refers to sexual orientation rather than having the moral courage to state clearly the “who” or the “what”. I am not saying that anyone who is a Straight Ally is not morally courageous. In fact, I think this is the reason why some of us who have wondered about the title, do struggle with it. I know some of the Straight Allies and I know they are courageous and do wonderful things for the LGBT community, however, their title implies that they are allies to themselves rather than allies to the LGBT community. This was a safe and full proof marketing strategy and not risky. Advocates and activists take many risks in calling out the wrong and in naming the cause.

I had a discussion not that long ago with a friend of mine who is Trans – like me – and we talked about the frustration of how we consistently are overlooked and overshadowed by those who only think of LGBT in the context of “straight” versus “gay”.

We both had a rather misfortunate experience participating as part of a coalition and just in everyday life, in coming up against individuals who have a poor understanding and generally are ignorant when it comes to gender identity. It was disappointing to realize that the Straight Allies didn’t really comprehend the significance of this label and that it was misleading to the public. If I lived in a cartoon world – which we know doesn’t really exist and I replaced the words with LGBT – then, pulled out my remote control and selected “rewind”, the group may not have been as successful. It would have been wonderful if they could have, as individuals, chosen to make more profound statements such as “I stand up for Transgender individuals because …” or “I stand up for Gays and Lesbians because of…”. Perhaps some have done this while others definitely have not named for whom they stand, which brings me around to another point, that it is imperative we continue to educate on the subject of transgender identities.

We do not live in a cartoon world. I do get it. I think the intention behind this label was for a group of straight individuals to name themselves as a collective group who stand up for the LGBT as a way to show solidarity. The problem with this label is that it comes across divisive; “Straight versus Gay” and in reality some of the transgender individuals are straight. So where do they fit in?

It is too late to really do much about it since the title has already been embraced. I am shedding light on the title and hoping to effect changes in attitudes when those of us who express differences and to educate on the distinction between sexual orientation and gender identity. The correlation between sexual orientation and gender identity is individual and very separate from each another.

I recently had met over coffee with a Urologist, Dr. Judy Herring, who gives TedX talks about Gender. Her Ted Talks are insightful and she leaves us holding one thought “Do we really need labels based on our genitalia?”

Check her out. Judy Herring “Gender Bound: Lessons from the World Between”. In the meantime, I appreciate any efforts put forward by anyone who stands up for my rights, my trans identity and simply for being a decent human being in helping in ways they are comfortable and with the willingness to learn about LGBTQIA along the way. Oh … the “A” in this acronym stands for asexual; another type of sexual orientation and not ally.

©An Goldbauer

Judy Herring “Gender Bound: Lessons from the World Between.”

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