This year, the Australian Ally Conference was held at Curtin University, and I had the privilege of listening to some incredible speakers. As someone who belongs to the queer and transgender community, there was still much for me to learn about allyship to disabled, intersex people, people of colour and from generations I don’t belong to. Nuanced and intersectional understandings of identity were the subject of what made out to be a fabulous 48 hours. Here are some of the main takeaways.
You can’t dehumanise someone in their PJs
“You can’t dehumanise someone in their PJs,” said Sadie Ward in her opening remarks to the Australian Ally Conference.
Sadie Ward is a committee member for the Youth Pride Network, a peer support facilitator for TransFolk of WA and radio host of RTRFM’s All Things Queer.
“The thing we never really talk about is that we’re actually really boring”.
Sadie’s speech struck a chord with me. I have only been called “brave” a few times, but I know the dehumanising effect of that praise when you’re only doing what you need to do to make your own life liveable—doing boring things.
Being called “brave” for changing your name, or for writing an essay about your own personal dysphoria felt like a well-meaning but misgiven compliment.
“We’re not seen as multifaceted people by a lot of people […] we are complete humans and that story is never really told in its entirety,” Ward said.
None of the things I’ve been called brave for were actually what felt like courageous decisions; it was never like I was facing something optional. The name change was a bureaucratic process and only really exciting once the new IDs started coming in the mail. The essay was just another assignment for uni, and it was the first subject that popped into my head during a class exercise. It was boring, like many things in life. Trans people are sometimes kind of boring, just like everybody else in that sense. Of course, we are different to cis people, but every human being is united in our boring moments.
So, you can’t dehumanise someone in their PJs.
Intersex people are not calling for a third “X” marker
From the UN Office of the High Commissioner, Human Rights: Intersex people are born with physical or biological sex characteristics (such as sexual anatomy, reproductive organs, hormonal patterns and/or chromosomal patterns) that do not fit the typical definitions for male and female bodies. For some intersex people these traits are apparent at birth, while for others they emerge later in life, often at puberty.
I learned a lot about intersex people at the ally conference. Some things I knew already: you have no way of knowing who is intersex by looking at them, intersex people can be transgender and non-binary and experience gender in much the same way as non-intersex people, and intersex people are advocating for their representation in the law and autonomy under it every single day.
One of the key things to read and uphold if you would like help is the Darlington Statement, accessible here. It was written by Australian and Aotearoa/New Zealand intersex organisations and independent advocates to lay out the specific demands and rights of their community.
One thing the Statement specifically addresses is that “Individuals able to consent should be able to choose between female (F), male (M), non-binary, alternative gender markers, or multiple options”. Assigning anybody a label at birth, whether it is X or otherwise, still removes the ability of the individual to choose for themselves, whether they are intersex, trans or gender diverse. An “X” option is just another form of restriction around intersex identities and people, who deserve a model for self-determination (as do all of us).
One of the intersex speakers at the conference, Morgan Carpenter, discussed the pathologisation of intersex bodies:
“I was told I had a series of medical conditions,” he said, “I didn’t give informed consent, because I wasn’t prepared for the consequences”.
He spoke around the subjects of unnecessary and “justified” sterilisation of intersex people, and medical interventions to “normalise” intersex people despite the fact that intersex conditions are natural and, more often than not, cause absolutely no physical harm to the people who have them.
Non-binary people experience “double discrimination”
Anglo-Indian speaker Misty Farquhar spoke about the double discrimination that non-binary people face as a non-binary, biracial and bisexual person.
Non-binary people experience discrimination from both cishet (cisgender heterosexual) folks, and the LGBTQIA+ community. Their existence is denied on both ends by people who declare gender as being binary, that non-binary people (much like bisexuals in this instance) must “pick a side”.
Such intersections and grey areas are often places of incredible discrimination, where neither the cis-, hetero- nor homonormative narratives leave room for individuals who fit into several boxes.
People at the intersection of disability and queerness experience higher rates of discrimination
This should come as no surprise. Speaker Jax Brown spoke on the subject at the beginning of the conference, addressing the entire audience with a quote from the UN General Assembly:
“Disability is ‘the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others’”.
Jax broke down some of the key issues people with disabilities face, including experiencing higher rates of violence then LGBTI people without disabilities, restrictions on expression of sexual or gender identity by support workers or family members, a general lack of access to information (including sexual health education), less social connections and decreased access to community groups, and the National Disability Insurance Scheme not being LGBTIQ responsive.
The LGBTIQ+ community is rife with ableism, as is the disability community with queerphobia, and the effects of these biases compound on queer people with disabilities. To add to all this, disability is still viewed by the majority as a personal problem, not an issue of human rights or provision of access.
Elderly LGBTQIA+ folks show that legal discrimination exists in living memory
June Lowe, the Chair of GLBTI Rights in Ageing (GRAI), spoke about people and generations who “grew really adept at identity concealment”.
She spoke about people she knew personally, about a man called Geoff Davis, born in 1936, who had to wait 54 years before his life was decriminalised.
In 2005, when GRAI was formed, aged care services were ignorant of the fact that LGBTQIA+ people exist in all generations, and that they were responsible for the care of some of those people. It was formed, said June, with the philosophy that they were “not doubting that a small committed group can change the world, because that’s the only that has”.
The entire point of allyship
All speakers addressed this issue, as was the key subject of the conference.
June Lowe brought up allyship in ageing: “Are we allies to our elders? Do we honour them, and do we celebrate them?”.
Morgan Carpenter reinforced to the audience that “intersex people do need regulatory reform.”
Jax Brown implored the audience to unpack our power and privilege where it exists: “Allies have power because they are less threatening to systems of power than those who are oppressed by it.” And to consider closely why we are doing the work we do, and what we expect in return: “Is your allyship conditional?” she asked.
Allyship involves working alongside those you are advocating for, not over them. To do otherwise is to join the long history of individuals acting “in the best interests” of others whom they do not truly understand, as in the case of disabled or intersex people. Allyship does not mean “to speak over”, but rather “speak with”.