Being an ally is not for the faint of heart. It is a paradoxical mix of both fierce love and deep sensitivity; of both bold risk-taking and the capacity to weather messing up without making it about you; of both speaking out and being constantly teachable.
Being an ally will break your heart. It will break when you glimpse the pain of your LGBTQ+ siblings, when you see micro-aggressions in language, tone, assumption, and attitude, when you try to grasp the exhaustion of constantly coming out, weighing the potential receptivity, navigating heterosexism, or confronting blatant homophobia and transphobia. It will break your heart to know that you can never really feel what it is like to experience such pain. It will break your heart to see the inevitable two-steps forward, one-step back or worse. But it will also break your heart to see the times you inadvertently contribute to the very things that cause pain – in a moment of unawareness, in a flash of your own anxiety, in not anticipating a trigger, in the most unintentional but oh so acute forgetfulness. Being an ally WILL break your heart.
Being an ally will humble you. When you are safe enough and trust-worthy enough to hear the raw and honest experiences, and it might feel way too personal or too confrontational or just plain unfair, (“after all, I’m trying to stand with you and work for justice – I’m one of the good guys”) then you get to practice incarnation. You get to practice emptying yourself. You get to practice not getting defensive. You get to practice keeping a soft and open heart while not letting the words pierce you, defeat you, or cause you to run away and hide. Often it isn’t fair because it is connected to hurt and pain far beyond you – but it is infinitely more unfair that LGBTQ+ people have to navigate the heteronormativity that tells them they are at best different at worst unlovable, excluded, and subject to derision. It will humble you when you encounter moments that expose how much you have yet to learn. Facing deep systemic injustice and feeling overwhelmed and helpless to change it will humble you. Recognizing that loving someone, embracing someone, even being fully affirming is just the beginning of the work of an ally, will humble you. Accepting that you will not and cannot be perfect in the pursuit of ally-ship is essential. Being an ally WILL humble you.
Being an ally will build resilience. Often those we seek to stand with have limited, if any choices to avoid the impact of minority stress if they want to live honest, authentic lives. When something painful happens, going back into the closet isn’t an option. Living your truth, standing tall in your belovedness, owning your birthright, holding your head up high, while beautiful and strong demonstrations of resilience, do not guarantee the absence of pain. The temptation for allies is to opt out when it gets hard. But that is when the work of an ally really begins. Allies have the opportunity to choose – and the choice to stay engaged, to refuse to be silenced or shamed or hidden, is a crucial one. Every time an ally takes a deep breath and tries again, resists again, speaks out again, resilience is built. Every time you do your best to embody what being a living apology looks like, resilience is built. Every time you use your privilege to choose to count the cost of being an ally, resilience is built. When you find yourself knocked down and you get up again, you are growing in ally-ship. Being an ally WILL build resilience.
Helping to cultivate a community in which mistakes and failures can be embraced as opportunities for growth and transformation is a lot easier to talk about conceptually than it is to live. But an ally will inevitably fail despite their very best intentions. Sometimes we’re silent when we should have spoken up. And sometimes we’ve spoken when we should have passed the microphone. Sometimes we’re busy when we need to take the time to listen more deeply. And sometimes we need to get busy but we let our sense of inadequacy paralyze us. That is the nature of being one with privilege seeking to work for justice. As one who is part of a system that has treated the other inequitably, allies must do the painful work of recognizing their own complicity in oppressive environments rather than focusing on justifying themselves because of the love and service they have offered. It doesn’t mean that their love and service is meaningless. It matters deeply. It means that love must be accompanied by the ongoing commitment to keep on learning, to keep on growing, and to keep on doing the work of an ally.
Being an ally is NOT for the faint-of-heart. But it is for those who long to do justice, who love kindness, and who seek to walk humbly with their God.