Coming OUT as an Ally

When asked during my interview what motivates me to do this work in LGBT advocacy specifically, I responded that I was interested in the power of theatre to cohere and uplift marginalized communities. I gave examples of the oppression that LGBT communities face.

I told my boss-to-be that I hoped a year spent working for The Theater Offensive could help make me the best ally I can be.

The Theater Offensive’s mission is to present the diversity of LGBT lives in art so bold it breaks through personal isolation, challenges the status quo, and builds thriving communities.

In the four neighborhoods where TTO focuses, we work to inspire OUTness through OUT In Your Neighborhood programming.

OUTness – being honest about one’s sexuality and gender and then choosing to share this with others – is our community’s greatest cultural contribution to society. While the term OUT is most often associated with the LGBT movement, the concept of OUTness resonates far beyond it. OUTness is the way in which people’s personal identity can contribute to a movement. Identifying society’s privilege systems and compelling activists to be more honest about our relationships in those systems can contribute to the dismantling of racism, sexism, classism, and other institutional oppressions.

The courage and specificity in that statement continually blows me away. Perhaps it is because I am from the south and we do not always say things directly. Perhaps it is because I—like many others—have become far too comfortable classifying the variety of institutional oppressions as different fights.
At any rate, this declaration of OUTness has offered me plenty of food for reflection in my first three months. This definition pushes beyond tolerance, acceptance, towards something more like solidarity.

At some point in my life, I have been called an “honorary” Asian, Jew, lesbian, Afro-Latina, first generation college student and Indian. None of these identities actually correspond to ones I hold, but rather reflect groups that I have felt affinity towards. This “honorary” label is problematic for a couple of reasons: first, it allows the other person to forget my identity and think of me as an “exception to the rule” rather than part of a diverse community of black, straight, cisgender, or non-religious people. On the other hand, it is problematic, because it lets me forget what my relationship is to the system that makes each of those groups an “other” in some way.

OUTness can be uncomfortable, but deep examination of my place in these systems that adversely affect communities I care deeply about will make me open to criticism and help—open to hearing the “oops” and the “ouch”.

In the end, I feel empowered by this notion.

I can affect change as a self-loving, feminist African descendent. I can inspire and support White allies to support People of Color. I can also use my privilege as a cisgender, straight ally to affect change.

I find this reality check refreshing! I can be OUT about my journey as I grow into the ally that I hope to be. I don’t have to get it all right from the start.

I encourage anyone who reads this post to consider….are you OUT? Will you take the #allychallenge?