Many gender and sexually diverse folks experience oppression such as homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, etc. on a daily basis. However, it is important to consider how this oppression intersects with other factors of marginalization, like race, skin colour, ethnicity, ability, age, class, etc. In all social justice work, it is important to acknowledge the diversity of identities within the communities with which you are working. Therefore, in fighting heteronormativity and cissexism, it is vital that we also fight misogyny, racism, xenophobia, ableism, ageism, classism, etc. – if we fail to do this, we fail to advocate for all those who are gender and sexually diverse.
The concept of intersectionality suggests that a person’s multiple identities cannot be experienced separately. For example, as a permanently disabled queer woman, I experience oppression based on my ability, sexuality, and sex. However, as a cisgender white person, I do not experience oppression based on my gender identity or race. Being cisgender and white affords me privileges that gender diverse and black, indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) folks don’t have. This is not to say, however, that oppression should be any sort of competition (aka Oppression Olympics). We should be aware of who experiences compounded oppression and why, in order to combat it, but not to use it to diminish or undervalue the experiences of others. So, although we in the gender and sexually diverse community experience oppression because of our sexual orientation and/or gender identity, some of us have more privilege than others. Therefore, it is important to afford those people who face a number of forms of oppression the space and allyship to express their lived experiences, for that is something we can never personally encounter.
This means, then, that gender and sexually diverse communities need to create more space for trans women of colour, particularly black and indigenous women, people with disabilities and from lower classes, young and old people, and immigrants. Unfortunately, the movement for queer equality has long been headed by white, able-bodied, cisgender men. To reiterate, the misfortune of this is not to demean the experiences of these people, but we must consider that these are the folks who have the most privilege out of all of us. They do not experience sexism or misogyny, or transphobia or cissexism, or racism, xenophobia, or ableism on the same scale as their counterparts.
With February being Black History Month, perhaps we should begin this discussion by looking at anti-black racism (racism, that is, “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races,” towards black people). While some may say that racism no longer exists in Canada, testimonies and studies tell us that this is simply not the case. “[Anti-black racism] expresses itself in a variety of ways: in the poverty afflicting members of their communities; in their overrepresentation in the prison population; in the widespread daily practice of racial profiling; in their underrepresentation in the middle and upper layers of political, administrative, economic, cultural and media institutions and mechanisms, and in the obstacles that impede their access to employment, housing and health care.” Just as we in the gender and sexually diverse communities love and need the support of allies, so do other marginalized groups. It is our job, then, to band together as folks with lived experience of oppression in order to stand up and advocate for one another in ways that are safe and productive. It is important that we do not remain silent in the face of oppression and discrimination toward others (unless it is unsafe to do so), for that indicates our consent and approval of such actions. Allyship is vital, and we must all work everyday to earn the “ally” title from those we seek to assist. In this instance, white people need to speak out against racism (not to do so may be an expression of privilege) and take the front line as a “buffer” not a saviour. Ally is also not a title for us to self-identify – it is one that must be given to us by a person who is BIPOC; however, just because that person considers us an ally in no way means that we are an ally to all BIPOC folks. As well, it is important to note that it is not their job or responsibility to educate allies about racism or their experiences of it. It is up to allies to continually learn and unlearn, in all facets of our lives, including racism.
For more information about allyship, intersectionality, and anti-oppression, please consult this presentation by Kim Crosby.