Allies

I’ve never considered myself a good “ally” to marginalized communities. In light of the shootings in Orlando, it’s felt even more so.

I grew up in a place where being even half a standard deviation outside of “normal” meant you were going to get “othered.” And “othering” meant bullying. I heard “fag” and “queer” and “gay” just about every day from first grade clear into high school. But I’m about as straight as they come.

When I got to college, things were supposed to be different. But they weren’t. The years of crippling social anxiety exacerbated by the bullying left me in a weird position for school.

I fell in with the conservative Christians. But I wasn’t very good at being a conservative Christian. That damn empathy kept getting in the way. I couldn’t see “sinners” as people we should be running around condemning. It’s one thing to believe yourself to be morally superior; it’s another to use the government to reinforce that.

Now, I wouldn’t say I wasn’t homophobic. I had a healthy dose of homophobia. It didn’t come out as hatred, though, just discomfort and awkwardness.

The sad truth is I didn’t come to confront my own homophobia as part of some magical revelation from an LGBTQ advocacy organization or getting hit over the head on Twitter over and over. I got there because I changed, slowly.

People change slowly. Rarely do you get the “Damascus Road” event, where you get hit over the head with a revelation that You Are Totally Wrong. Instead, it’s a string of small events. Like being at a Christian conference where two of the other attendees came out to me because I was cool and safe. (Me? Safe?) Or discovering the LGBTQ people I worked with weren’t the FAB-ulous people made out to recruit kids and destroy America’s moral fiber. They were just people.

In the wake of Orlando, a number of my queer friends have reasserted their own queerness in defiance of such an act of indiscriminate homophobia. And I’m reminded that I’m lucky, in good and bad ways. Good, in that I have friends who are brave and confident enough to be themselves. Bad, in that I never have to be “brave” or “confident” because I’m a cisgendered hetero guy who presents as an American white male.

I don’t feel like a good ally, though. I feel like I’m muddling through, stumbling over my own ignorance from being someone who is not LGBTQ. I’m never sure what to say, so sometimes I choose silence over speaking up. Sometimes, as the LGBTQ community roils from tragedy, I’m not sure which I’m even supposed to do. But I have so many gay, lesbian, bi, trans, and even poly friends that I don’t feel like I have a choice but to keep trying. I rely on them to push me to be better.

I’m thankful, ironically, for being bullied relentlessly as a kid. It’s made me more empathetic to those who are “others.” It’s cost a ton in therapy bills, but that’s a story for my attorneys — and my former bullies’ attorneys.

Author: Dylan Wilbanks

Dylan Wilbanks is a web roustabout, raconteur, and curmudgeon currently practicing as a user experience designer in Seattle. He’s spent over 15 years designing, building, and perfecting online experiences, and every once in a while does a good job. Occasionally, he speaks at conferences like SXSW and Webvisions. He created one of the first Twitter accounts used in higher education, but that was an accident, and he's really sorry about it. With Kyle Weems, he co-hosts Squirrel And Moose, a podcast about designing and building the web, when they remember to talk about it. He likes nectarines. You can read his tweets at @dylanw and learn more at dylanwilbanks.com.