Just because we’ve wrapped up our production of The Gay Heritage Project doesn’t mean there isn’t anything left to say. One of our Artists in Residence, Aurora Stewart de Pena, saw the show on opening night and came to us with some thoughts on being an ally.
I had this little twitch when I hear somebody refer to themselves as an “ally.”
I think it was an internal twitch, but maybe it showed up on my face after people began putting up those self-congratulatory “I am an ally” Facebook profile pictures.
“Good evening to you, Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender and Queer friends—“
These digital badges seem to say,
“Are we not friends?
Oh! But sweet wide-eyed marginalized one! You’ll know we’re kindred spirits of the brightest sort after you hear this:
There’s something you might not know about me.
Now hush. Be very quiet… hussshhhhhhhhhhhh….shhhhhhhhhhh….
(Extending moisturized hand to the Queer Community)
(Quietly) Lift yourself up off the cold hearth and brush the cinders from your ragged garments, for I, clad in the high quality products of the second floor of the Eaton Centre, have arrived. And I—
(Louder) YES I—
(Bellowed with arms outstreched) I AM AN ALLY!
As though everybody else isn’t.
As though the entire non-heterosexual population was just wallowing in despair until legions of straight people in mall-basic fashions jumped on the bandwagon of systemic oppression, making it slightly heavier and a lot less distinctive.
There’s something about this proclamation of identity – because your Facebook picture is your identity – that made me embarrassed.
I don’t think my queer friends need me to stand up for them on the playground of adult life. I know they’ve got this, and me identifying myself by their struggle seemed parasitic.
But I’m wrong. Sort of.
This week I saw The Gay Heritage Project, in which three men search through histories, personal and communal, for what it means to lay claim to a Gay Heritage. There are segments of the show shaped like G.I. Joe commercials from the early 80s, in which two kids talk excitedly about their collection of GCA, or Gay Canadian Action Figures:
“Grand Slam can take out the Cobra Command with his special Heavy Artillery Laser! Watch out, Cobra Command, you’re snake meat!”
“Margaret Atwood’s an action machine! She sliced through the entire idea of the bathhouse raids by making them look stupid with a witty remark! Conservatism’s in serious trouble, now!”
Margaret Atwood. A Gay Canadian Action Hero. And Leanne Iskander, who started a Gay Straight Alliance in the most homophobic and bullying of institutions, the Catholic School, was also honoured as a Gay Canadian Action Hero, because what she did wasn’t easy.
And I realized this: Ally isn’t a thing you are, it’s a thing you do.
This week I was also reading Army of Lovers, a collective biography of Will Munro, compiled beautifully by Sarah Liss, in which the group of friends and family who loved the man talk about the golden time in our recent history when we danced and stood together and sometimes had sex with a watermelon on stage at Munro’s monthly dance party Vazeline. And I guess that sounds like Hedonism, and I was there, and it was, but it was revolutionary hedonism, and why?
Because we were all together.
L, G, B, T, Q and S, bound together by space and music. And at that time, because we were all together, the city felt like a place full of hope. We were not afraid of each other and we weren’t afraid of the future. I’m so grateful I got to be there. It put this city and it’s people in my heart.
There are a lot of ways to be an ally. I can dance behind somebody and smile over my shoulder, I can throw an arm around them if they hang their head, I can pick them up by their armpits if they’re drunk and slip on the dance floor. Or they can pick me up, which is more likely if there’s going to be Ke$ha.
The most important thing I can do though, I think, is stand beside them.
Sometimes that means standing beside them and being quiet, because as an ally my job is to listen to the people I’m allegiant to. But sometimes there might come a time when I stand beside them and I have to yell. I’ll wait for the cue, I’ll take it from my friends, but I hope I take it.
In my life, there’s been no greater regret than shutting up when I should have shouted.