10 Rules for being a Good Ally at Pride: A Guide for Cishet Dudes
For many people, this is Pride week. If your town is like mine, it will be decked out in rainbow flags and will feature a veritable smorgasbord of fun events, parades, drink specials, and drag karaoke. If you’re a twenty-first century cishet dude who believes himself to be “woke,” you may want to participate in these awesome events. Good for you; I’m glad you’re unbigoted enough to want to attend a fun party with fun people. However, if you do attend, here are some rules that will allow you to enjoy the celebration without being a dick.
1. This is not about you. If you’re like me (a white, cishet dude), most things are about you. Think about the annoying kids who asks on Mother’s Day when “Kid’s Day” is. The mother rightly tells them that “every day is kid’s day” and she’s right. Every day is cishet day. This is an important time for celebrating the LGBTQ+ community. Don’t make this about you.
2. You Occupy a Privileged Position: If I want to see representations of myself in popular media, I have a wide variety of choices. If I want to see people like myself playing sports, engaging in politics, running Fortune 500 companies, or throwing parades and parties, there are plenty of places where I can go. Further, if I want to walk down the street without getting harassed, assaulted, raped, or even killed, I can pretty much do that any time I want. We live privileged lives and it’s good to recognize that in an environment when most people do not occupy the same position.
3. Do your Homework. It’s not the responsibility of the LGBTQ+ community to educate you about what different types of identities exist, what different flags mean, why Pride is usually in June, or why it’s important to refer to someone as a “transgender person” and not “transgendered.” Look it up. Read a book. Watch a Ted Talk. Take a course. Pride is not the time for you to learn about these things. Do it in advance. If you looked at the title and wondered what a cishet person was, you probably haven’t done enough homework and (surprise!) you’re probably one yourself.
4. Don’t assume anyone’s identity by the way they look. Many people at Pride will “look gay” or present as queer, but because gender and sexuality are complicated things with a wide array of performances, you can’t make assumptions based on the way someone looks or acts. Bisexuals, questioning folks, and people in the ace community may look like traditional cishet couples; however, don’t assume you know how their desire is structured. Some trans folks are able to “pass” as cis, and you might never know their identity. If they volunteer information, that’s great. If not, no need to ask. You’re there to support the wide range of identities that come together to celebrate Pride.
5. Don’t “Act Gay.” I don’t even know exactly what that means, but you shouldn’t try to adjust your performance of gender or sexuality to fit into the crowd. If you wear unitards and boas to express your identity when it’s not Pride, that’s great. Even if you’re questioning and want to dip your toe in the water, that’s cool too. But if you’re solidly in the cishet camp, there’s no need to don dayglow hot pants and drop a few “yas queens.” I, for one, will be wearing the uniform of the basic middle-aged cishet — cargo shorts, a t-shirt and Merrell’s. Try to contain yourselves.
6. Don’t Call the Cops. Pride commemorates a confrontation between a violent police force and members of the LGBTQ+ community in 1969. (You’d know if you learned your history as I told you to do in Bullet-Point 2). Unless someone has a knife to your throat or a gun to your head, there’s no need to bring law enforcement into the mix. If you feel scared or uncomfortable, you can go home.
7. Defer to members of the community: I live in a neighborhood with a high population of middle-aged and older lesbians. As part of Pride, they threw a wet t-shirt contest that was for “woman only.” Now is not the time for you to feel hurt because you weren’t invited to the party. Just say “cool, y’all have fun” and find something else to do. If you think that wet t-shirt contests are sexist and demeaning, that’s fine, but now is not the time to voice your opinion. In writing this column, I consulted several people who identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community to make sure I got everything right and wasn’t forgetting anything. It’s about other people, so defer to others rather than correcting them.
8. No body policing or body shaming. I mean, this is probably good advice all the time. But at Pride you might encounter people of all different shapes, sizes, bodily presentations, and ages in various stages of dress and undress. Here in Florida, not many clothes get worn because it’s hot AF. Nevertheless, don’t judge, don’t gawk, don’t mumble that “he/she/ze/they shouldn’t be wearing that.” Again, it’s not about you. You’re there as a guest, not as a judge or as the body police. If you’re uncomfortable, go home and really think about what made you uncomfortable. That’s a “you” problem, not a “them” problem.
9. Do ask about pronouns. Don’t ask about orientation, identity, or genitals. I know that pronouns can be confusing, so if you’re unsure, it’s ok to ask politely. Some folks might even be wearing an “ask me about my pronoun” sticker. However, unless you’re looking to start a sexual relationship with someone, there’s no need to ask about their gender identity, their sexual orientation, or especially their genitals. For some reason, cishets are fixated on the genitals of other people. This is weird and creepy, regardless of whether the person is cis, trans, or intersex. Unless you are likely going to come into contact with those genitals in a sexy way, they’re really none of your business.
10. Support your LGBTQ+ Community all year round. Pride comes around once a year, but you can be an ally all year round. Shame your friends who use homophobic language. Support LGBTQ+ candidates for office. Support businesses and NGOs who are LGBTQ+ friendly. Join a community organization. Watch a Ryan Murphy show. (Pose is currently one of the best shows on TV). Do whatever it takes. In general, try to make yourself a better ally and a better person. As one of my students once astutely noted: most of ethics comes down to not being a dick. That’s sage advice: don’t be a dick.