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More Than a Friend

Allyship in straight-queer friendship

“What do your friends think of your column? Has it caused any problems or changed your friendships?”

A student asked me this a few weeks ago during a question and answer session about Crimson columnists. Now, I am a queer woman of color, and my column shows it. Logically (dear God, hopefully), queer friends would have no problem with a column like mine. Straight ones, however, might.

To begin, I want to preface this by cautioning the dangers of putting straight allies on a pedestal and letting their efforts eclipse the actual lived experiences of queer people. Allies are great, but the A in “LGBTQIA+” is not for Ally. There is something truly special about having queer friends who share similar experiences with you and “get” it. I can’t fully express how validating it’s been to have meaningful friendships with other queer people. But, queer and trans people shouldn’t feel forced to seek solace in friendships with other queer and trans people because their cis straight friends are missing the mark.

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So what do my straight friends think of my column? Has it caused any problems?

To be honest, I hadn’t really thought about it, so that could be a good sign. My closest friends on campus were the ones who encouraged me to apply for a column and helped me fill out the application at the last minute. And my sister, who I consider one of my best friends, talked me through the decision to accept the columnist position—I was concerned about being publicly out, and she reassured me that she’d support me in any choice I made. Over a year later, she still helps me with brainstorming and editing for every piece I write. All in all, my closest straight friends have been incredibly supportive of my column and my queerness in general for a very long time.

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For example, last summer I stayed on campus for work while most of my queer friends traveled elsewhere. Some of my closest friends, most of whom are straight, lived on campus near me. We had frequent movie nights, and during June (Pride month), they encouraged me to choose queer movies to watch together and even made their own recommendations of queer films that they thought I might like. This was my first time celebrating Pride month, and while I enjoyed marching in Pride and attending queer events, it was also great to see queerness integrated into our usual activities. I didn’t feel like I had to compartmentalize my queer identity from the rest of myself—on the contrary, my queerness was embraced and openly brought into our friendship.

A few months ago, I was distraught by the HCFA event featuring an “ex-gay” activist. After mentioning it briefly at dinner, my blockmates immediately canceled their Friday night plans to come with me to the protest, decking themselves out in rainbow clothes. Even after the protest, they spent the rest of the night checking in with me and making sure I was okay.

I’m grateful to have found some straight friends who affirm my identity, but I had to spend extra time and effort to find and cultivate these close friendships, as many of my straight acquaintances and classmates only perform allyship and weren’t as supportive once I got to know them better. I’ve lost many friends over the years because I felt uncomfortable being unapologetically queer around them. It’s deeply upsetting that many queer and trans folks don’t feel supported by their cis straight friends, and that my current friendships could be an anomaly.

I’m tearing up a bit as I write this because even the idea of the friendships I currently have was unimaginable before I came to college. I used to think that I would have to hide parts of myself to be worthy of anyone’s friendship, that I would need to seem straight to fit in. But, now I see that it would be difficult for me to have a close friendship with someone who didn’t affirm and celebrate every part of my identity.

Queerness is not separate from who I am; I bring all my identities into every friendship. Thus, allyship cannot be separate from friendship. To be a good friend to someone of a marginalized identity, you must strive to be a good ally to all people of that identity.

While my sexuality shouldn’t change many of my personal interactions with straight friends, they should be aware that the world does see me differently because I’m queer. Certain situations, like dating or interacting with family members, may look different for me because of my sexuality. Good friends try to understand these nuances and realize that the support I need in these situations may be different than that of a straight person.

For straight people who have queer friends, take it upon yourself to learn about BGLTQ issues, both broad and specific to your friends. Show up for issues affecting the BGLTQ community, whether that be through attending protests and rallies or speaking up when you hear a homophobic or transphobic statement. Be mindful of the amount of space you take up in queer spaces. Bring up BGLTQ topics you hear about in the news as a cue to your queer friends that these kinds of discussions are welcome. Ask your queer friends how you can best support them, especially after difficult personal or public experiences of homophobia or transphobia.

And to queer people who are in un-affirming friendships, know that you deserve to be wholly seen and embraced by all of your friends. Know that you shouldn’t have to hide who you are or feel bad about expressing queerness within your friendships. Know that it’s not your responsibility to help your friends be better allies. Know that it’s okay to leave friendships that make you feel uncomfortable or less worthy. It’s been a long, difficult journey for me to finally feel more welcomed and supported in my friendships, but I promise, it gets better.

Becina J. Ganther ’20, a Crimson editorial editor, is a History and Science concentrator in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Tuesdays.

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