In the wake of more mobilized social movements around the world, ‘allyship’ is a term that gets tossed around a lot. While anyone can claim to be an ally, to truly stand in solidarity with the LGBTQIA+ community requires going beyond hashtags, Pride flag-inspired photo frames on social media and marching in Pride parades. So how can you go from performative allyship to solidarity?
A great starting point in any journey is to learn the truth, then educate, increase awareness and feel more empowered to speak out in situations where you observe discrimination or harassment. We’ve compiled 10 myths that members of the LGBTQIA+ often face so next time you encounter any of these scenarios, you’ll be able to stand up and show active love and support for members of the community.
Myth #1: Gender identity is your biological gender from birth as well as how others perceive your gender. Reality: Gender identity is entirely personal: it’s how you experience your gender internally and think about yourself. There’s no such thing as a biological gender, since it’s a societal construct.
Myth #2: Some people choose to be gay. Reality: Sexuality is not a choice, that is how the person is born. Like we do not chose to be heterosexual person, people do not chose to be homosexual, bisexual or pansexual. No one chooses to be gay, as much as no one chooses to be straight. Similarly, counseling or therapy can’t change someone’s sexuality. This sort of counseling, generally referred to as "conversion therapy", increases the likelihood of depression, anxiety, drug use and suicide, particularly amongst teenagers and adolescents.
Myth #3: It’s perfectly fine to continue referring to a trans person by their birth name once they’ve chosen a new name. Reality: This is called “dead-naming”, referring to someone with their dead-name can trigger anxiety among trans-people and it invalidates a trans person’s identity and experience. While accidents or slip-ups may occur, it’s best to always address a trans person by both their chosen name as well as the pronouns with which they identify. If you don’t know their name or pronouns, just ask them, "What is the name and pronoun you go by?"
Myth #4: If you encounter someone who you believe is a man but looks and acts in what you perceive to be a feminine manner, you should take your best guess as to their pronouns. Reality: We can’t guess someone’s gender identity: it is not our determination to make for someone else! If you’re unsure of how someone would like to be addressed, you should simply ask them directly for the pronouns they go by?"
Myth #5: Gay men love to dress like women because they secretly wish they were women. Likewise, lesbians wish they were men and dress as such. Reality: Being gay does not mean that the person identifies as a member of opposite gender. Sexuality is different from gender identity and they do not have correlation with each other.
Myth #6: Gender-neutral bathrooms are exclusively for LGBTQIA+ people; cis-heterosexual people should only use clearly-marked men’s or women’s restrooms. Reality: Imagine a cis-man babysitting a girl child and the child needs to use rest-room. Gender-neutral bathrooms are meant to be used by everyone regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, expression or ability.
Myth #7: It’s better for LGBTQIA+ employees to be closeted at the workplace. Being out can impede productivity, as out employees are more likely to think about sex at work and/or face discrimination for their orientation. Plus, it can be a distraction for coworkers. Reality: Closeted employees are often times less productive because they spend their energy hiding an integral part of themselves. A good exercise: try talking about your weekend without once mentioning the gender of the people you spent it with.
Myth #8: When someone comes out to you as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community: it’s fine to let other people know about the person’s decision to come out (it’s public news anyway, right?); it’s also fine to mention that you knew about their identity or orientation for a long time; and assume that they probably came out to you because they’re attracted to you, if you’re of the relevant sex. Reality: The decision to come out is an incredibly personal and often difficult decision to make. Regardless of how long it took someone to come out or how easy their announcement appeared to be, you should never assume it’s okay to share the news on their behalf. Deciding when to come out and who to come out to is entirely up to the person. Refrain from making any comments relating to ‘knowing’ of their orientation: this can invalidate their choice to speak out, or take away from the power of their coming out moment Oh, and never assume someone comes out to you because they’re attracted to you: the moment is not about you!
Myth #9: As opposed to other letters in the community, bisexuality is generally a short-term phase. Bisexual people are also more promiscuous than straight people. It’s short-lived: bisexual people tend to identify as gay or lesbian later on in life. Reality: A bisexual is a person who has romantic and/or sexual inclinations for people of more than one gender. Some homosexual people who identify as bisexual may come out later in life as gay. However, typically, bisexual people have a lifelong attraction to people of more than one gender. Bisexuality is not a phase. Bisexuality as an orientation persists regardless of whether the individual is single or in a relationship with an individual of one gender. Thus, a bisexual partnered with a same-gender person does not "become gay" and a bisexual partnered with a person of another gender does not "become straight.”
Myth #10: A person whose biological sex is a female but feels man inside is still a female. Reality: However someone experiences their gender identity should be accepted and respected without judgment or stereotypes on what the gender should be. This should be regardless of the sex they were assigned at birth or how they express themselves currently. In this case, the person is a trans-man as they identify as a man and should be treated as a man.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.