Who Is An Ally?
On the way to my wedding shower, I received a text picture of a gift someone had dropped off at my parents house for the days event. Yay, our first gift! It had been neatly wrapped in a pattern covering every square inch of the box… in bride and grooms. Teeny tiny men in tuxedos and women in wedding dresses starring back at me as I looked at my phone.
I was panic stricken. Panicked. I could feel my heart racing, as the words began forming in my mind, Who the hell would wrap a gift for us in this paper? Was it a joke? I wondered. Was someone trying to hurt us, or prove a point? I didn’t understand. As a woman marrying another woman, this wrapping paper represented the opposite of what we were – heterosexual. This paper represented the years and years of trying to fit into a picture just like what was represented, a happy woman marrying a man. It represented what so many people in my life at one point or another had wanted, and prayed for, and at times fought for in my life – for me not to be gay.
My then-fiancé and I had finally come out, walked through all the relational dynamics, painful conversations, losses and beautiful moments within our friend groups, jobs and family. It had taken us many years to get to this point. We were finally able to celebrate our commitment to one another and with this gift, someone had thrown all that in our face. I wanted to know what exactly this choice in paper meant. I was panicked that others coming to the shower would bring gifts representing this same sentiment, that our day would be “showered” in reminders that marriage was supposed to only be between men and women. But was this particular person who sent this particular gift trying to show they didn’t support us?
We all need cheerleaders in our lives. People who root us on as we risk in life, persevere through the hard times, and reach the goals we’ve set out before ourselves. I know I wouldn’t have accomplished half as much in my life or be as happy as I am if I did not have certain special people loving me, reminding me of who I am, and compelling me to become the strong woman they know me to be. We all need people cheering us on through the daily grind, but we need them especially when we do difficult or challenging things. Coming out as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, or queer/questioning) and living into that truth in our daily lives takes more courage than most people will use in their lifetime. It’s a huge risk to let others see who you really are, especially when doing that will risk the loss of important relationships – as is the case with many people who come out within the Christian world. We call these cheerleaders in the LGBTQ community “allies.”
An “ally” is someone who is straight, but who believes LGBTQ deserve to be treated equally. What does an ally do? I began to wonder. Are those who came to my bridal shower my allies? Are these women my cheerleaders? And if so, what did that bride and groom wrapping paper mean?
Some questions I have about allies are Who gets to define what being an ally in the LGBTQ community really means? Is it those doing the work of supporting, or those receiving the support? Is being supportive the same thing as being an ally?
My wife and I got married this past May, which was a huge deal for us, having both come from pretty conservative Christian families, and one of the many sweet things that happened during that time was my mom and a couple of my cousins throwing us this bridal shower. It meant more than the typical wedding shower, not just with our families, but because there was something so vulnerable in having it and having so many people agree to come. When you’re LGBTQ and someone doesn’t show up, you wonder, was it because they didn’t support or agree with me, or was it that they truly got sick, or had other plans they just couldn’t miss? Everything, everything has double meanings and questions. I think this vulnerable space made getting any gift – much more one wrapped in bride and groom paper – that much more complicated.
There I was, still on the way to the bridal shower, getting angrier by the mile. Clearly this person wanted to make a point, right? They wantedeveryone to know they did not support the marriage of two women together, didn’t they? By the time we arrived, I was fuming. I thought, I’m going to find out who gave us this effing gift and give her a piece of my mind too! Screw her!
Thank God I have a partner who is not as hot headed as I am.
My then-fiancé gently took me aside and encouraged me not to jump to conclusions. She reminded me of just how many people love us and asked that I look at the card first to see who it was from and what it said before taking too much meaning from the wrapping paper. I took a deep breath and took in the goodness she offered me. She was right. I need to slow down.
No one had arrived at the shower yet, so I took the gift into a bedroom and closed the door. I opened the card and when I saw who it was from and what was written inside, and all my anger went away. I knew in an instant that this person was in no way trying to communicate they did not support us. She was (and remains) just one of those goofy, not-thoughtful-in-the-details-of-life kind of person, who at the same time was (and remains!) a loyal, good person.
I began to think about how even though this person could not attend our shower, she went to the trouble of buying us a gift and dropping it off so we would be sure to get it because she loved and supported us. That’s a lot of effort to go to in hopes of giving something to us in order to celebrate our wedding.
I, in good conscious cannot name this person as anything other than an ally. To me, an ally might be someone who messes things up, doesn’t pay attention to detail, or is even careless, but is someone who still shows up to say, “Hey I care about you and support you in your life.” I’m positive this was this particular persons first time attending a lesbian wedding shower and I’m pretty sure my wife and I are the only lesbians she’s ever known. So even though the details were a bit messy, her gift and support means so very much. My fiancé was right. I didn’t need to jump to conclusions.
It’s instances like this that make me think we in the LGBTQ community need to be more gracious. I know it’s hard. It’s hard because we’ve had to endure so much pain and rejection that we can’t stand anything that comes close to that. It’s like we are over-sensitive to the pain. But here’s the thing, there are people out there who want to give to us and support us, they just don’t know how. They may be thoughtless, maybe even at times reckless, but they still love us and want to root us on. We need to be more gracious is receiving from those who can’t quite do it perfectly yet. We need to shake it off, laugh it off and assume the best of those trying to be our allies.
So today I challenge you to receive the support and cheers from those in your life who aren’t doing it perfectly Redefine what an ally looks like and maybe you’ll find yourself feeling less hurt and more loved than before. I know I did and do.