I’ve said it many times but it’s always good to acknowledge the biases that you have acquired during your life if you are aware of them. I grew up in a reasonable strict Christian home that would have said the LGBTQ+ community was a bad one. My parents never were ones to be out marching against the community, and I had people in my life that were Queer. My parents never preached hate, but being Queer was certainly a sin. With that in mind, I have a bunch of reading lined up in 2021 to help counter this bias.
Today we’ll look at The Savvy Ally by Jeanne Gainsburg. This book is written to provide a guidebook to the LGBTQ+ community for an ally so they can avoid making common mistakes[^Page XI]. It focuses on the HOW of being an ally not the WHY. An ally is someone that is not part of a particular marginalized group, but who stands up for and advocates for the rights of people in a marginalized group[^1].
Instead of focusing on being perfect, Gainsburg asks us to aim to be good each day and take better shots on net[^Page 3]. In this way we don’t see failure every day as we make stumbles, but we continue to learn from any stumbles and interface better with the community we’re working to be an ally of. She encourages us to let ourselves be raggedy[^2], and when given correction or advice we take it and move forward.
Gainsburg also has advice for raising allies, specifically dealing with white children that are curious about racism and prejudice. She says that white children who ask questions about these topics get shut down and learn not to talk about differences[^3]. This means that people of colour, First Nations, LGBTQ+ community members must live the prejudice and white people get off if they feel mildly uncomfortable. I tell me kids that the least we can do is have the conversations that make us feel a bit awkward while others have to live under that oppressive feeling all the time.
## Components of Human Sex, Gender and Sexuality
One of the most helpful sections for me was Gainsburg examining the components of gender and sexuality. She broke it down into five components.
First is our biological sex[^4]. This is what the doctor says when we are born. Cisgender is when what the doctor says at our birth matches us. Transgender is when what the doctor says doesn’t match with us.
Second is our gender identity[^5]. This is how you answer the question “are you a man or a woman”? Those who fit with this binary man/woman notion are gender binary. Those who don’t are gender non-binary.
Third we look come to our gender expression[^6]. Usually we’d have feminine, masculine or androgynous. This is how we express ourselves in our clothing, hair, colour choices, mannerisms and behaviours…A good note is that this list of characteristics changes between countries and over time. You must view the gender expression of someone in the context of their culture and time period.
This is also where Gainsburg says many homophobic/biphobic/transphobic behaviour is seen[^7]. When someone’s gender expression doesn’t conform to what society says is acceptable we get gender policing. I see this gender policing, in a very mild way, whenever I talk about misogyny. I always get someone that is mad at me. They’re always men and the undertone always seems to be that I shouldn’t be worrying about women so much because how men treat women is fine.
This also makes me think of [Boys & Sex](https://curtismchale.ca/2020/04/24/how-are-boys-socialized-sexually) or [Raising Empowered Daughters](https://curtismchale.ca/2020/12/25/raising-empowred-daughters-by-mike-adamick). Both of these books talked about the lengths that men go to enforce manliness on other men and what assholes they are to those that don’t conform. Locker rooms are policed so that all talk about sex is about aggression and nothing about caring love and ensuring that your partner is having the fun they want to have.
The fourth component is attraction[^8]. This is who makes your heart race, but not who you want to be naked with. You could be attracted to men, women, both or neither.
Fifth we have who you want to be naked with[^9]. Just like attraction, you can desire to be naked with men, women or no one. This may not line up with our attraction. Gainsburg cites a man that is attracted to men but due to societal pressure sleeps with women to make sure he conforms to expectations.
Each of these components operate across a spectrum. You could be mostly attracted to men, but occasionally attracted to women. I’ve found these components helpful as I think about myself. The doctor said I was male and I feel I agree with that. My gender expression is mostly what society would say is male, but I often love the colours in women’s clothing much more than men’s clothing. I just bought cycling shoes with pink and teal highlights which are officially “women’s” but fit me much better. Finally, I’m attracted to women and want to be naked with women.
## On Your Language
On the language front Gainsburg takes exception to the word “normal”[^10]. Normal implies that deviation is not normal, which is offensive. Specifically when we look at transgender we can use cisgender to say that our gender matches our birth sex.
When dealing with other people, use the terms that they use for themselves[^11]. If I use masculine pronouns and references for myself, then use them. Until then look at gender neutral terms. We already do this with people’s names. My wife is named Cynthia, and if someone calls her Cindi we correct and then are baffled that when she introduced herself as Cynthia the other person decided to change her name on her[^12].
Removing gender from your language also goes to not assuming that man has a wife[^13]. Ask about their partner or not at all. This also puts you in good standing for those that don’t get married and prefer “partner” to define their relationship status instead of married. When they say “my wife” or “my husband” you can mirror their language.
## On Coming Out
Gainsburg says that cisgender people never have to “come out”[^14] because they meet societies expectations. I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, how do we create an environment where no one has to come out? Much like racism, coming out means that the person dealing with discrimination pays all the costs of something that is not their problem[^15]. They often bear the burden of education, and any costs that come from not sticking with societal expectations.
To help allies see where someone is in their coming out journey, Gainsburg provides a coming out model[^16]. It’s something akin to the stages of grief. One highlight is that as someone has finally made the step of coming out they’re going to be very excited about the new found freedom and are more likely to be in your face about their new found freedom. As they get more comfortable with their freedom, they’ll get quieter.
Finally, if someone comes out to you, say some variation of thank you and then listen more[^17]. Remember it’s their job to come out to others, so don’t do it for them unless you have explicit permission. It’s likely a good idea to ask if they’ve come out to others so that you’re sure what you can say.
There are two things Gainsburg says to **not** do. Don’t say “I always knew”[^18]. This only brings guilt to the person coming out because if you knew and they didn’t they must be stupid. Also, don’t ask if it’s a phase. We never ask cisgender people if they’re in a cisgender phase. Asking if it’s a phase reinforces that the LGBTQ+ community is not normal[^19].
## Should You Read The Savvy Ally by Jeannie Gainsburg
> Equality means everyone is getting the same things are being treated the same, but this will create fairness only if everyone has started in the same place and has the same needs. Equity is about giving individuals what they need to succeed or to live happily. [^20]
There is no straight pride or straight safe spaces because that is everyday life. I’m straight male white, the whole world is my safe space[^21]. That means it’s up to those that live in safe spaces as normal to be sure that they help push safe space to everyone. Labelling yourself as an ally doesn’t say much, it’s your actions that speak about your true character[^22].
I’d say that this book should be required reading for everyone. It will help give you the tools to navigate life in an excellent way and help you be a better person than you are.
Purchase The Savvy Ally: [Independent Bookstore](https://bookshop.org/a/11916/9781538136775) | [Amazon ](https://amzn.to/389lTqV)
[^1]: Page 2
[^2]: Page 61
[^3]: Page 70
[^4]: Page 30
[^5]: Page 32
[^6]: Page 34
[^7]: Page 36
[^8]: Page 37
[^9]: Page 38
[^10]: I took this to heart and have had to edit this review a few times to remove references to normal
[^11]: Page 51
[^12]: For reference my wife hates Cindi, unless you new her before she was 9 because she preferred Cindi then. Only call her Cindi if you want to pick a fight
[^13]: Page 53
[^14]: Page 15
[^15]: Page 16
[^16]: Page 17
[^17]: Page 24
[^18]: Page 24
[^19]: Page 25
[^20]: Page 100
[^21]: Page 103
[^22]: Page 140