The Toe Rule for Allies

I’ve been working on trans issues as a non-trans person for long, long time, and there’s really one rule that I find the most useful. Not that I’ve always managed it, but still.

Here’s the deal: when you step on someone’s toe and they say “OW, damn, you stepped on my toe!”, your response is not:

“Why was your toe there?”

“I hardly stepped on it!”

“But I didn’t mean to!”

or even

“Why are you using that tone with me?”

No, when you step on someone’s toe you say “I’m sorry.”

So when you’re called out for being a dick in whatever way – and believe me, I’ve been called out a gazillion times – you check with the toe rule. If you’re responding initially with anything but “I’m sorry, what did I do?” then you’re not responding right.

That doesn’t mean the charge is always just. It doesn’t mean you meant to step on that person’s toe, or that you did it maliciously, or that you make a habit of stepping on people’s toes. You just did, and it’s better to say sorry and sort out the rest later.

How (Not) To Be An Ally

My patience for snark is really, really low these days, but I still found some of the gems in “8 Ways Not To Be An “Ally”: A Non-Comprehensive List” pretty useful.

But I’m still going to re-articulate them for those who don’t understand irony. I’ve put her comments in italics, and tried to articulate in my earnest, non-snarky way, why this list is so vital. I’ve also added one of my own.

1. Assume one act of solidarity makes you an ally forever means fighting oppression is an ongoing, day to day struggle that doesn’t come with much resolution if any. One day the world is not going to just be better. Which means that you, as an ally, need to keep doing whatever work you do to minimize racism, sexism, homphobia, etc.

2. Make everything about your feelings, or, it’s not about you. The best way to go about this is to shut up and listen. That’s all. Stop talking so much. Listen. Pretend you don’t have an opinion and that other people’s lived experiences are actually as valid as your own. It’s a nutty idea, I know, but it’s true. People who live with marginalization are often – shocker! – at least as smart as you, if not smarter.

3.  Date ’em all will not, in any way, make you an ally automatically. In fact, it could instead mean that you’re a fetishizing, exploitive, clueless jerk. (Trans admirers take special note here, please.)

4. Don’t see race/gender/disability/etc. is a good way of eliminating someone’s identity and specifically an identity which – because of the sexist, racist, transphobic, ablesist culture we live in, tends to essentialize a person due to that marginalization. Not seeing that aspect of them is belittling and really only lets you off the hook, free from your white liberal guilt. That is, it does nothing for people who are marginalized, but everything for people who aren’t.

5. Don’t try any harder, or, try until you succeed, not just until your white liberal guilt is assuaged. See above. Continue reading “How (Not) To Be An Ally”

Me, Trans Ally

Our Lives magazine came to the awards ceremony when I received my Activist award from Fair Wisconsin, and asked me to write a little something based on my remarks that night. So I did, and it’s in this month’s issue.

This is the fourth year and the fourth time I’ve taught a Transgender Lives course at Lawrence University in Appleton. We always spend a week of the course specifically on violence against trans people—the kind of transphobia and gender panic that cause people to be so brutal. And every year, the week before we start that section, I tell my students that we only have to wait a little while before a new case of trans violence is reported. I can say that on Thursday, and by the time we’re beginning the section the following Tuesday, I’ve been proven right. There is always one. Last year Chanel Larkin was murdered right here in Milwaukee. I want to see a year where it’s not true, and another and another, and hopefully, eventually, I will only teach that section of Trans Lives as history.

Go read the whole thing. It’s a cool magazine.

How To Be An Ally

I really like this short list of how to be an ally, although I would add an 11th: you will fuck up, so surround yourself with people who both expect and can accept apologies when you do. And obviously, be willing to admit when you have.

1. Don’t derail a discussion.
2. Do read links/books referenced in discussions.
3. Don’t expect your feelings to be a priority in a discussion about X issue.
4. Do shut up and listen.
5. Don’t play Oppression Olympics.
6. Do check your privilege. It’s hard and often unpleasant, but it’s really necessary.
7. Don’t expect a pass into safe spaces because you call yourself an ally.
8. Do be willing to stand up to bigots.
9. Don’t treat people like accessories or game tokens.
10. Do keep trying.

Do check out the whole list for the clarifications and explanations.