Queer Relationship Allys
By Harvey Bruce
So you’re friends with someone in a queer relationship…
I am very privileged as a queer person to say that I grew up around allies, and throughout my life have continued to be surrounded by allies. Sometimes as queer people we avoid the uncomfortable conversation with our straight friends, that there is a good and a bad way to be an ally. In a time where ally-ship is not only acceptable but also popular, it’s crucial as a straight ally to examine your own behaviours towards your queer friends. In my experience as a queer person, this failure of ally-ship surfaces most often when I am in a relationship.
There are statistics about queer relationships that I don’t like sharing. They are, however, important statistics and critical to understanding toxic-ally-ship. They are also very easily misconflated. Stated plainly, intimate partner violence is as common, if not more common in LGBT+ relationships than in heterosexual relationships. This figure becomes even more startling when you break down these demographics. In a survey conducted with over 5,000 LGBT+ Australians, around 28% of male-identifying respondents and 41% of female-identifying respondents reported having been in a relationship where a partner was abusive. (Australian Institute of Family Studies) These statistics could be used to draw deeply homophobic and sexist generalisations about queer people. However, I believe this statistic is much more reflective of the pressures faced by LGBT people. For straight people, there is a lesson to be learned in these numbers about how to perform ally-ship when it comes to our friends’ queer relationships.
So without further ado, here is my list of ways to be an ally to your friends in queer relationships.
- Don’t say, “I wish I was gay.”
There are two main contexts in which I’ve heard this term used. The first is as a means of discussing queer culture and iconography. Queer culture has become increasingly visible through mainstream media. Unfortunately because queer representation is still largely tokenistic, this representation often doesn’t tell the full story. The ‘fun’ iconography of the queer community is derived from a necessity for LGBT+ spaces for refuge. It was and still is a means for retooling the fringe position that mainstream society has forced queer people into. In saying that you wish you were gay you are taking the surface of this, (drag, rainbows and pride) without acknowledging that the reason we have these things is a response to a deeply oppressive history.
The second use of this phrase is as means for women to curse their attraction to men. I get it; men do have a tendency to be the worst. However what lies in the assumption that it’d be easier if you were gay, is that being gay is easy. Queer couples do not have the same legal or social protection that straight couples do. Government, policy, research, justice and practice-based responses to intimate partner violence have overwhelmingly assumed a heterosexual framework in which women feature as victims and men as perpetrators (Ball & Hayes, 2009) This is before even considering the external homophobia and harassment experienced in some shape or form by the significant majority of queer people. So next time just say that men suck and move on.
- Do not over-do it on praising your queer friend’s relationships.
I’ll admit I am not immune to putting seemingly idyllic queer relationships on a pedestal. Especially when I was fresh out of the closet, examples of queer relationships gave me a lot of hope and direction. However, when you had to overcome a lot to be in a relationship, it is difficult to admit when this relationship has faults.
A natural response as an ally to a queer relationship is to show complete and unwavering support. I have a very distinct memory from one of my first relationships. Upon talking to a stranger I let loose that I had a girlfriend. They responded enthusiastically, “Oh that’s really cute”. Their intentions were most definitely good but what was jarring to me is that this person knew absolutely nothing about my relationship. When we operate off an idealised assumption, anything less than feels like failure. Furthermore, when things get bad, it’s important that we can talk to our friends without feeling like we’re letting people down. It’s more than okay to be happy for your queer friends when they get in relationships, but make sure not to overcorrect. Supporting us as individuals in our relationships is more important than symbolic gestures of ally-ship.
- Do not treat a monogamous, long-term queer relationship as the pinnacle of LGBT+ success.
There has been a certain image of LGBTQI+ identities that have been condoned and proliferated by mainstream media. For all of us that have a memory of Australia’s marriage equality postal survey; we will be familiar of the image of the caucasian gay couple that meets in a bookshop, falls in love over coffee dates and then moves into an inner city flat together with their cats and their knit wear. Or maybe you’ve seen the Telstra ad that’s been circulating recently where the network that’s keeping Australia together helps Matt tell his dad Ken that he’s gotten engaged to Tom. There’s nothing wrong with these expressions of queer identity; however they are the ones we see most because they are the ones that challenge our assumptions the least. LGBTQI+ culture has historically worked outside of a lot of heterosexual structures around relationships. It’s important not to value some forms of queer expression as more valuable than others.
- Recognise signs of an unhealthy relationship when they happen.
Helping our friends in toxic relationships is difficult regardless of how your friends identity. This is intensified when you consider the heteronormative approach taken surrounding intimate partner violence. It gets worse again when considering the cultural significance placed on the figure of the queer couple as the pinnacle of LGBTQI+ expression. I think these aspects can combine to give us a certain type of blindness to unhealthy patterns of behaviour in queer relationships. Your support of us as LGBTQI+ people needs to go further than simply giving blanket approval to queer relationships. Do not let the LGBTQI+ status of someone’s relationship stop you from being critical. Give us a safe space to talk about the aspects of our relationship that are difficult, without feeling judged. Ask us how we are going and try not to give praise where it isn’t due. Our relationships need to stop being the site for your performative ally-ship. Doing such is not only unhelpful but also often actively detrimental to queer people and their relationships.
This article does not represent UN Youth Australia as a whole – this is simply an interpretation by one of our fantastic volunteers in hope to create ideas and increased dialogue surrounding this topic.
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