Allyship July- Asking Questions
Welcome to the 2nd post of InterPride’s “Allyship” campaign! Today’s post focuses on asking questions.
Asking questions is an integral part of the Allyship experience. Learning more about someone’s experience as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community is a natural part of the learning process, but there are things to keep in mind to ensure that we are respectful. If done right, having a conversation with someone with a different identity and perspective is sometimes the best way to show you care about them and want to make them feel comfortable with you.
Starting a conversation is sometimes the hardest thing to do because when you don’t know something, the instinct is to explain yourself/talk leading you almost to dig yourself into a metaphorical hole of awkwardness. The key is to be honest with what you know about a particular area and transparent about what you don’t.
A good rule of thumb:
Listen more, talk less, speak only to what you know, and carefully inquire about what you do not.
You should reflect and establish that you don’t know much about a given experience. At this point, do some research! A great place to start if you need some help with learning basics is by going to the United Nations website to understand the basics on definitions of certain terms. Another great glossary is the University of California at San Francisco’s Resource Center. During your conversation, you should not ask someone to explain to you what a particular perspective is. Instead, you should do some preliminary research before you start this discussion. Remember, you are there to learn from a person’s experience, not receive a lesson. You want to hear someone share their story, so by listening more than talking, you can hear their experiences!
What does this mean in practice?
Let’s say you are meeting someone who is a non-binary person of color, and you want to understand how intersectionality and discrimination impact their life. However, you should avoid asking them to explain what being non-binary or intersectionality means. That makes the individual an explainer of the entire experience and places them in the role of a “teacher.”
Some people are comfortable with this approach. They may explain how intersectionality and discrimination impact their lives while sharing personal stories. Keep in mind that this person may or may not desire to take on the role of teacher. It’s a good idea for you to conduct some preliminary research to understand before engaging in a discussion. Take some time to read journals and op-eds to have a certain level of understanding before entering a discussion. Doing so will help move the conversation towards a much more personal and deeper level of understanding. Listen, learn, but don’t expect to be taught or lectured.
Remember, you are there to listen. You are asking someone to step out of their comfort zone and share their story. When someone decides to share their story, you are asking them to step out of their comfort zone. Respect that, don’t talk over them, and if they say something you disagree with, ask them to elaborate while still validating their experience.
Identity is also very multidimensional, and people have many parts that make them human beings. Acknowledge all of those aspects and do your best to be kind. Again, listen, learn, and carefully inquire about what you do not fully understand.
Story-based questions are an excellent place to start. For example:
- Asking someone to share what it was like for them growing up;
- How they came out (if it was not traumatizing, and if it was, making sure they are comfortable sharing);
- When they knew it was time to come out.
This approach allows for a broad range of potential questions and starts a profoundly personal and genuine conversation.
Another great way to establish trust is asking them to be honest with you about things you say/do wrong so that you can learn from such blissful ignorance (which we are all guilty of at times). The key is to start a conversation and ask questions that acknowledge someone’s experience and are kind and respectful to them. Realize that you may not be correct, and it is okay to ask for help understanding.
Asking questions is seemingly the most basic way to be an ally. Still, it is also the most important because if done well, you can not only foster new relationships, but you can learn about an experience you’ve never had!
Realize that you will make mistakes; acknowledge that up front, but the key is to be receptive to feedback and continuous allyship learning.
We are only human, learn together, and are stronger when we work together!