Overview:

While there's a lot of fiddling with the LGBTQIA acronym, "A" does not stand for ally because that's a choice, not an identity.

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The LGBTQIA+ acronym has taken multiple forms and inspired many debates over which identities should be included. But having the “A” (one of them, anyway) stand for “ally” is not the way to go.

Typically, we sort the letters as such:

  • L = lesbian
  • G = gay
  • B = bisexual
  • T = transgender
  • Q = queer/questioning
  • I = intersex
  • A = asexual

Sometimes additional letters get tacked on depending on your cultural context; T might stand for trans-identified, and there’s been a whole debate about whether to put an asterisk after trans (like such: trans*) to show that people might have a ton of reasons for using different words like transgender, transsexual (which is less common these days but has historically valid reasons for use in the community), and so on.

If you’re in Canada you might include a “2” to include two-spirited people, one of the Indigenous categories of people who might be neither cisgender nor straight. You might include a “P” for pansexual.

What all these letters have in common is that they denote an identity that is largely ingrained. The argument has been made time and time again that given the amount of oppression and prejudice that non-straight, non-cisgender people face, who would choose to be that way? I don’t necessarily agree with this argument 100% since I like to celebrate queer joy in addition to resilience, but we know from sexuality studies that most expressions of sexual orientation/attraction are lifelong patterns. There’s a bit of fluidity over time, but mostly we don’t choose who we’re attracted to.

Further, non-cisgender, non-heterosexual identities tend to be marginalized. Yes, some of us have passing privilege, like my bisexual cisgender woman self, but remaining closeted while passing can be difficult emotionally so it’s not entirely a walk in the park.

And when queer people are targeted for violence—as we often are—the results can be deadly.

So we have a grouping of identities that are, for the most part, stable and internally consistent. Incidentally, this is why conversion therapy doesn’t work. That, and well, it’s torture.

And this grouping of identities tends to be persecuted.

Put those attributes together, and you can see why we have celebrations and protests like Pride. Why we aim for solidarity and activism where possible. And why we welcome cisgender and heterosexual allies, but we don’t include them in the acronym, because their identities dictate that they will walk through life facing a different array of threats than we will.

Now, sure, someone who’s cis and heterosexual might be oppressed for other reasons: skin color, social class, etc. And hopefully, we’re all down to be allies to help them out.

But simply attempting to be an ally doesn’t mean that you’ve experienced that same type of oppression.

This is why I don’t believe the “A” in the acronym should stand for allies.

For one thing, if there’s only one “A” in the mix and it’s taken up by allies, that’s another blow to asexual folks, who are often overlooked and excluded as it is. For another thing, allies can turn on and off their allyship on a daily or hourly basis if they want to, and it’s not like we queer folk can turn on and off our identities. It is somewhat insulting to give someone a seat at the table who can come and go on a lark and escape the worst forms of oppression some of us face.

It’s also worth saying: the feelings of allies aren’t as important as their willingness to do the work. Yes, I generally care about the emotions of other humans, but an ally should want to help members of a marginalized group because it’s the ethical thing to do, not because of how it makes them feel. And especially not if their feelings then veer towards entitlement: I helped these poor people out so I deserve to be recognized for it by being made to feel special. That’s not okay.

Honestly, that’s how I interpret it when allies say they feel excluded from the LGBTQIA+ acronym, as coming from a place of entitlement. My friends, the acronym is not for you. It is not meant to reflect your historical and ongoing oppression based on internal identities and external behaviors that get pathologized and demonized in hundreds of different ways. This feels as gross to me as a white person saying they’re not racist because they’re colorblind.

If someone only wants to help me because they want some kind of recognition for it, that is very suspect. It means their help is contingent. It means they view my bid for full humanity as something they may or may not support, depending on whether they get a cookie or an invite to the cool kids’ party. I’m all for being inclusive; heck, people may come to Pride celebrations who aren’t out of the closet, who don’t visibly present as queer at all, who are in the questioning phase after a whole lifetime of being more-or-less convinced that they were cis and straight. That’s all fine.

I don’t dislike cisgender, heterosexual allies. They’re my friends, family, acquaintances, colleagues, and more. I am just keenly aware that they can opt-in or out of allyship at any moment, whereas those of us stuck with marginalized identities cannot do so. But equating the two is both inaccurate and deeply disturbing.

Jeana Jorgensen

FOXY FOLKORIST Studied folklore under Alan Dundes at the University of California, Berkeley, and went on to earn her PhD in folklore from Indiana University. She researches gender and sexuality in fairy...