There are a lot of them. Everyone has a lot of opinions, and there are a lot of people who identify as straight and/or cisgender (identifying with the gender they were assigned at birth). For the most part, these opinions are things like “I don’t like eggs,” or “Summer is the best season” or “My car is the best.” These opinions are fine. They are an important part of people’s self-identity and they don’t really hurt anyone.
The trouble is that sometimes these opinions are, “I don’t think your gender is what you say it is,” or “You should die because you like women.” These opinions, as most can agree, are directly and presently harmful to many people. Not only do they create an atmosphere in which it is acceptable to further harass LGBTQ+ people, but they can also lead to physical or verbal violence. In fairness, these opinions are not restricted only to straight, cis people. Some LGBTQ+ people (unfortunately) feel this way about themselves or other members of the community. However, since straight and cisgender people are typically the ones in positions of power, this presents an obvious problem.
What’s a little less obvious, and therefore more insidious, is the entire class of opinions between these extremes of innocuous and noxious. Opinions like, “I know a lot about gender and it doesn’t sound like you’re trans,” and “Maybe you wouldn’t have so many problems as an LGBTQ+ person if you did this thing differently…” are an entirely different kind of dangerous opinion. On the surface, they seem to be (and are often meant as) helpful comments from a well-meaning ally. In context, however, simple remarks of this nature represent a dangerous precedent: that straight, cis people have a right to dictate or influence the self-identification of LGBTQ+ people simply because they believe they are “better educated” or “more knowledgeable” than the people they are attempting to help. This perpetuates the idea that LGTBQ+ people are not capable of living outside of existing cis- and hetero-normative societal structures, the idea that we are weak and somehow dependent for our survival and understanding of ourselves on the groups that have historically been our oppressors.
Queer and trans people do actually know what is best for ourselves. This should not come as a surprise to allies. When an ally expresses a “helpful” opinion, the result is usually a silencing of LGBTQ+ voices on the same issue. This is especially true when the opinion comes from a white ally speaking on the issues of QTPOC (queer and trans people of color), as white voices are consistently prioritized above those of POC in nearly every social, political and economic setting.
The bottom line for allies? Acknowledge that there are times when your opinions are not relevant, and your voice is neither wanted nor needed. Do not try to speak on experiences you have not had. After all, do we have any reason to believe that you know more about what’s going on inside our heads than we do?
This column was written by an anonymous resident of the Rainbow House.