Straight Up Queer Spaces

Grace Woodruff, Web Editor

I clearly remember the first time I went to the Gay-Straight Alliance, more commonly known as GSA. I was in middle school, and I was just figuring out that I might not be straight (childhood obsession with Ariel, anyone?). At this time, I was also questioning my gender identity, feeling as though the dichotomy of the feminine and masculine just didn’t fit me. And so I went to a place that, theoretically, would have people who were experiencing the same things as me, people who could help me out. But when I arrived, I was surrounded by cisgender heterosexuals who, despite their allyship, didn’t really know how I was feeling or how to help me.

It was a uniquely uncomfortable experience. I mentioned an attraction to women, and suddenly, all eyes were on me. It seemed as though every straight person in the room was looking for a  “gay best friend,” and they had finally found the perfect prey. It didn’t get better as the years went on. In 7th grade, I mentioned my girlfriend to a then-friend, who promptly laughed and said, “Hot. Lesbians.” As unfortunate as it is, it often feels as though the only alternative to hatred is fetishization and laughter.

I can’t help but suspect that a lot of young queer people feel this way. For all the good that allies do, they also have the tendency to take up space, time and energy that isn’t theirs. And I understand why allies are required, I really do. No one should be forced to come out in order to join a community that embraces acceptance, but it can be so disheartening to come to a space that was quite literally designed for people like you and find that there isn’t enough room for you. Or even worse, to find the space is only available for those willing to fulfill the stereotypes and be the butt of jokes.

I think that a large part of the problem is that people don’t know what being an ally really means or looks like. And while I’m not the authority, this has been my lived experience. People tend to think that just showing up is enough to be a good ally, and while that’s important, there’s a lot more to it. Contributing financially is part of it, but largely, it’s about the attitude you have going in. Hot Rabbit, an LGBTQ+ events organizer, says it well: “It’s about cultural humility. Allies should act as if they are in someone else’s home.” 

This means that if you’re not queer, it’s probably best to just be quiet. Listen to the queer voices surrounding you, and don’t talk over them to provide anecdotes about your one queer friend or the time you went to pride. Fetishizing queer couples or talking about a desire for a “GBF” should not be confused with allyship. It’s not cute, it’s not supportive it’s creepy.

Another issue is that, especially for young people, there are very few spaces that are actually designated as queer-friendly. Unless you live in a major metropolitan area, you are highly unlikely to find queer book stores, queer coffee shops or even queer bars. So if you’re not a member of the LGBTQ+ community, please just leave the few spaces that there are for the people who need them.

The most important thing to remember is that these spaces aren’t for non-LGBTQ+ people. Pride and GSA and queer spaces in all their forms should be centered around listening to and uplifting queer people, and that’s a lot harder when they have to shout to be heard.