Skirting The Issues: Allyship
What does it mean to show up for someone who’s GLBT or part of another marginalized community? To be a true ally?
Just the other day, a spunky 25-year-old woman taught me what showing up actually looks like.
Brettina — she goes by “B” — is the brand new program manager for my nonprofit, Call for Justice. Anyone meeting B for the first time will remember her disarming smile and quiet confidence. Both suggest a degree of grace that makes it impossible to not like this woman.
Although I’m still getting to know her, I’ve figured out that B is a survivor; from what little she’s shared thus far, it’s clear that life has thrown her a few curveballs. Despite that, B seems to have always plowed ahead using intelligence, work ethic, imagination, and passion as survival tools.
What I’m also quickly realizing is that B has heart. Real heart.
I learned about B’s heart by way of a couple Dell Computer salespersons during a speakerphone call to order a new laptop. B — who’s way more knowledgeable about computers than me — sat in on the call to make sure we got what we needed.
Those who know me know that I hate speaking on the telephone; my still-masculine voice always needs explaining. My standard line is “I’m actually a woman even though I sound like a dude.” Many times, the person on the other end of the phone doesn’t get it and continues to call me “sir.”
Which is exactly what happened with the Dell salespeople.
“Can you please give me your customer ID, sir?” a woman salesperson asked with a distinctly female voice that sounded a bit shrill on the speakerphone.
“It’s ‘Ms.’” I answered before reciting a string of numbers.
“Thank you, sir,” the voice responded.
I glanced at B and rolled my eyes. She gave a head shake. “No, it’s ‘Ms.’” I replied to the female voice.
“Sorry,” the female voice answered.
With the initial screening completed, I was transferred to another salesperson, this time a man with a male voice.
Once more, I explained about being female, my vocal pipes notwithstanding.
The male voice then asked, “What’s the model number of the laptop you want to purchase, sir?” Before I could say anything, I heard B jump in.
“She’s a woman. You need to call her ‘Ms.’!”
B’s advocacy surprised the heck out of me. In the seven years since I transitioned genders, I can recall only a couple instances where someone’s spoken up for me on pronouns or gendering. I’ve almost always had to do that hard work by myself.
I looked at B and saw a scrunched face. Clearly, she wasn’t trying to court favor with her new boss; instead, she had truly taken exception to how I was being treated on the phone.
It was that heart thing of hers working in real time.
“Those people obviously need to get trained,” she whispered. “It’s 2016 after all.”
I whispered in response, “Thank you, B.”
We soon finished the call and went back to our respective jobs. I didn’t give B’s speaking up for me much thought until the next morning when I was in the shower, the place where I do my best thinking.
I remembered the Dell speakerphone call and how B reacted. Then, totally out of the blue, I felt bursts of sadness and gratitude, so much so that I started to cry.
Sadness because yes, it’s been a long hard slog by myself with no loved one there for me. As others who are alone know well, sometimes it’s incredibly difficult.
Gratitude because it felt so wonderful to witness someone caring about me enough to speak up on my behalf.
There’s being an ally and then there’s something quite a bit different called “allyship.” According to the Anti-Oppression Network, “allyship” is a “lifelong process of building relationships based on trust, consistency, and accountability with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people. Allyship is not self-defined — our work and our efforts must be recognized by the people we seek to ally ourselves with.”
I am blessed to have many allies in my life; they are dear to me and critical to my happiness. However, this allyship thing is something entirely new to me. It means putting one’s heart into action and showing up with a degree of fearlessness.
In other words, it’s the kind of thing that spunky 25-year-olds can do exceedingly well.
When I hired B, I told her that I aspired to be her mentor. It would appear that at least for now, things are the other way around.
Ongoing Call for Submissions: Lavender magazine and I continue to solicit submissions from transgender writers who can share the “Skirting the Issues” platform and offer fresh perspective. Please see the January 21, 2016 issue of Lavender magazine for submission criteria.
Ellen (Ellie) Krug is the author of Getting to Ellen: A Memoir about Love, Honesty and Gender Change (2013) and the architect of The C* Project, a new rural Midwest diversity/inclusion initiative (www.elliekrug.com/the-c-project). She welcomes your comments at [email protected].