No such thing as “normal”

Let me tell you something about normality.

Normal is a construct invented by the privileged to pathologise non-conformity. Normal is a reason to keep you out of a space because you’re too brown, too female, too queer, too trans, not binary enough, not able-bodied enough, not rich enough, not connected enough for the dominant class’ tastes. Normal is why women earn less, why non-whites are relegated to poorer neighbourhoods, why queer and trans people are targets of violent crime, why disabled people are stigmatised and looked down on and shunned, why sex workers aren’t allowed the agency to run their own lives.

Most of all, normal is a lie.

I am not normal. I am too brown and too female (and femme) and too mentally ill and too queer to be normal. Most of the people I know aren’t normal. And every time one of us tries – usually so that we might get that job we really want or a place on that guest speaker list or a piece of writing published or just acceptance into a new circle of friends – we find that the goalposts have shifted. Because the big secret about normal is that it’s whatever the people oppressing you want it to be. You can never meet the standard, because the standard will change with the specific goal of making you fall short yet again.

If you are brown, you will never be normal enough to be accepted unreservedly in white-dominated academia. If you are a woman, you will never be normal enough to be welcomed into the fold of mostly male businesspeople and entrepreneurs. If you are queer, your relationships will never be normal enough to gain mainstream acceptance; you will find yourself on the receiving end of disapproving stares from the parents of young children, awkward silences at family dinners, judgemental screeds from people who think they have a god(s)-given right to tell you that you’re immoral. If you are trans, you will never be normal enough to pass for your true gender, and if you do pass, that in itself will be a sign of your abnormality – you will be labelled a traitor, a deceiver, a liar. If you are disabled of body or mind, you will never be normal enough to escape the pity, scorn, condescension or disgust of people who will reduce the entirety of your being to a diagnosis. And so it goes.

Normal is a lie. It is a toxic lie, one that seeps beneath our skin and turns us against ourselves. Normal is why I grew up hating the colour of my skin and the way it marked me out as different from my classmates. Normal is why I wanted to be a boy growing up, because boys got to do all the things I wished I was allowed to do. Normal is why my ex used to silence me every time the topic of my queerness arose in conversation with friends – he was ashamed to be dating someone non-heterosexual, someone perverted. Normal is why many Muslims think I’m too “western” and westerners think it’s weird that I don’t drink alcohol or eat bacon. Normal is the little voice whispering in your ear that whatever you are, whoever you are, you are an outsider and a freak and you will never be good enough.

Normal drives people to hate themselves.

We are sold the idea that we will never be good enough for anyone unless we are willing to sacrifice our true selves on the altar of conformity to an ever-changing and unattainable ideal of normality. We must be taller, shorter, slimmer, curvier, lighter, darker, bolder, less assertive than we are. We must have more partners or fewer; we must be more willing to take risks or less outrageous; we must always be something else, anything else, other than ourselves. Our bodies, our souls, our minds are never normal enough. We are too clever or not clever enough or too spirited or not spirited enough or too bright or not bright enough for comfort. If we do not jump through impossible hoops, contort ourselves in impossible ways, we are hateful. We are worthless, unlovable, perverted, deformed. We are abnormal. We are pathologically different.

This is the toxic truth behind the lie that is normal – it serves only to push the oppressed and marginalised further down so that the privileged may be elevated. Normal protects the rights and freedoms of the dominant class at the expense of the people over whose backs they clamber in order to attain greater heights. It is a luxury enjoyed only by the privileged, and it is contingent on the erasure and stigmatisation of those who do not conform. To be normal is to never have to worry that one’s differences will mark one as undesirable. To be normal is to know that one’s self does not just meet the standard: it is the standard.

What a terrifyingly powerful thing that is.

I will never be anyone’s idea of normal. No sandstone institution will elevate my opinions to the status of truth. No industry will ever deem me their ideal: not of beauty, not of personality, not of anything. But I do not care about this, because I know that normal is a lie so I refuse to chase it. I refuse to change a single thing about myself in order to meet a standard that was never set with me in mind. I refuse to think or speak or act in a way that would make me more acceptable to the kinds of people society considers normal because I know what they do not: that the pedestal on which they are perched is a precarious one. Because the other thing about normal, you see, is that it is ever-changing, and the higher one climbs on the backs of the marginalised and dispossessed, the farther one has to fall when the goalposts shift.

Normal is a fiction, and to treat it as reality is to allow its toxicity to permeate our lives, to twist and contort us until we are unrecognisable even to ourselves. Do not strive to be normal; you will destroy the things that are true and valuable and lovable about yourself and you will still get nowhere. Strive instead to be yourself, and let the goalposts shift where they may.

Normal is a curious game, you see. The only winning move is not to play.

It’s Not About You, and other adventures in privilege

The other day, as I was contributing a few choice witticisms to the hashtag #whitefeministsbelike, I heard the dreaded wailing in the background.

Someone had sounded the NOT ALL WHITE PEOPLE KLAXON.

For the next twenty-odd minutes, my mentions were inundated with the thoughts, feelings and opinions of a self-proclaimed “white feminist” who desperately needed me to know how badly I’d hurt her feelings by implying that she was racist. I had not mentioned her name. I didn’t even know who she was. My tweets did not read “#allwhitefeministsbelike” or “#everysinglewhitepersoneverbelike”. The hashtag was clearly about whiteness-as-power-structure, not whiteness-as-her-personal-life-experience-that-she-needed-to-share-like-RIGHT-NOW.

But here I was, being tearfully reprimanded by a complete stranger, because my critique of a power structure that oppresses me had hurt her feelings.

I am not, despite my frequent jesting, anti-white. I do not hate white people or white culture. Actually, I quite enjoy Shakespeare and Mad Men and the odd visit to McDonald’s for a cheeseburger with that cheese that I’m fairly sure has never had even a passing relationship with the stuff that comes out of cows. But whiteness-as-power-structure? Whiteness-as-supremacist-ideology? Whiteness-as-oppressive-ideal? Those things, I do not like so much. Those things are responsible for taunts and bullying and my mother being yelled at by strangers on the street and my sisters being harassed and, on a memorable occasion that I’m sure will haunt me until the day I die, my father once threatening to beat the shit out of a couple of boys at a Hungry Jack’s who were making fun of my niqab. (He had removed his belt and was preparing to tan their hides with the buckled end before management intervened and made the young men in question leave, but I’m sure those seats still smell like adolescent male fear-sweat to this day. My father is a very imposing man.)

Whiteness, in short, is something I am very much committed to critiquing, de-centring, and even tearing apart a little. Whiteness is the reason there are very few role models for black and brown children in mainstream entertainment media. Whiteness is the reason that when I see a Muslim character on television, they’re more likely to be a terrorist than a love interest. Whiteness is incredibly problematic and we can and should question it and the ways in which it affects and harms people of colour. Because that’s what it’s about, see – not making white people feel bad, not white guilt or white-shaming or reverse racism. It’s about tearing off the shackles that bind us.

It is, in other words, Not About You.

To the white girl who felt the need to tell me I’d hurt her feelings, I have to ask – what were you trying to achieve? Did you really need the reassurance of a random brown stranger that you aren’t a bad person because of the colour of your skin? Did you need to be preened and petted so much that you had to interrupt a brown person’s narrative – the narrative of a person who is interrupted, silenced and shoved aside by white people constantly –  so that everyone in the metaphorical room could attend to your needs and desires for a little while? What did you stand to gain by pointing out huffily that you, individually, were not racist? Did you want a medal for basic human decency, perhaps? A ticker-tape parade with a float staffed by non-white people showering you in confetti and holding up a big sign saying “This White Person is Not Like the Others”? A lovingly-baked cookie containing the blood, sweat, tears and gratitude of a brown person, delivered to you in a little box with a card reading, “thanks for achieving the minimum standard required for being a tolerable human being”?

Because that’s the message you send when you derail conversations about whiteness-as-power-structure to point out that you, an individual white person, are not racist. You are saying: my feelings as a white person who is complicit in and bolstered by white privilege are more important than your right to talk about the power structures that oppress you. You are saying: I cannot abide a conversation that does not centre me, my feelings and my worldview. You are saying: me. Me me me me me me me me me me me. Also, me.

And let me tell you, that gets kind of intolerable after a while.

Yes, individual white people, I get it. You’re better than the others because you have black and brown friends, because you donate to charities that benefit non-white people in need, because you told a black woman her hair was neat and resisted the urge to touch it. And now, having achieved the standard of good behaviour we might expect of a house-trained puppy, you feel the need to tell every. single. non-white. person. ever. You are so desperate to differentiate and distinguish yourself from Those White People, the nasty racist ones who oppress blacks and aren’t as enlightened and caring and compassionate as you, that you need to make every conversation not about our continuing plights, but about how You Are Better Than Them and we need to acknowledge all the hard work you’ve put in.

How many times do you need to be told this? Being an ally or standing in solidarity with a group of oppressed people is not about you: it’s about the people you are trying to help. And that means that when those oppressed people are talking about the ways in which power structures marginalised and silence them, contributing to that silencing by talking loudly over us and ignoring our objections makes you part of the problem, not the solution. A white person who really does make an effort not to be complicit in white supremacy does not need to trumpet that fact. In fact, they don’t have time to do so, because they’re busy rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty with the rest of us. Ask yourself, well-meaning but self-absorbed white woman whose name I don’t even remember any more because this happens to me literally every single time I write about whiteness, why most of the people criticising you and asking you to pipe down were also white. Was it because they had something to prove? Was it because they wanted brownie points and a pat on the back?

Or maybe, just maybe, was it because they were seeing something you weren’t?

If you really are Not Like the Others, prove it to me not with your words but with your actions. Be an amplifier and supporter of non-white people. Give us space to speak. Listen to and internalise our stories when we share them (because believe it or not, hearing those stories is a privilege, not a right, and should be treated accordingly). Share our stories with your white friends. Stop your fellow white people from perpetrating the dozens of microaggressions that perpetuate and reinforce white supremacy every single day. Lobby for fairer representation of non-white people on television, in politics, in the corporate world, in academia. Fight anti-blackness. Ask before partaking of our culture so that you can be sure you’re not taking something that’s not yours to take. For the love of whatever you deem holy, DO NOT touch our hair or our niqabs without our permission. See us as people, not as curiosities. And stop equating your hurt feelings at being forced to confront the reality of white supremacy with the real hurts non-white people experience because of the insidious influence of white supremacy in their everyday lives.

Solidarity and intersectionality are not labels. They are things you practice. They are ways of living and being. If you truly want them to apply to you, stop making everything All About You and start listening a bit to all of us.

The patriarchy’s greatest victory

I’m a pretty girl. People tell me this makes me lucky. They say it will make me more successful in life. People will respond more positively to my presence and what I have to say just because they enjoy the appearance of the person saying it. People who judge others based solely on their looks will be more likely to favour me over other women. This is supposed to be a blessing. I am supposed to consider this a privilege.

That is, at least, until society’s idea of “pretty” changes and I find this “privilege” suddenly revoked.

The patriarchy’s greatest victory has been convincing us we’re not as oppressed by it as we think. By granting us false, conditional privileges based on attributes it values, a patriarchal society has a built-in method of keeping women in line. As long as we focus on the privileges we’ve supposedly been granted – by being conventionally attractive, by being able to “run with the boys”, by being, in short, pleasing to men in various ways – we won’t think to look around us and wonder why our so-called privileges seem contingent on what people other than us find valuable.

Being pretty only confers privilege because men say it does. By striving for conventional attractiveness, women are seen to be making themselves more pleasing to men, which gains them a modicum of acceptance. (Whether or not pleasing men is their actual intention is ignored, as it is assumed that women have no higher ultimate purpose.) In some cultures, women who fulfil some arbitrary standard of “virtue” (dressing modestly, allowing men to decide how and when they express their sexuality, etc.) are granted conditional privilege contingent on their continued obeisance to male-defined societal standards. Should a woman decide to act in a way that men do not consider pleasing – say, by dressing how she likes or having sex with whomever she wants – this privilege is revoked.

The illusion of “pretty privilege” (or “virtuous privilege” or “modest privilege” or any other kind of conditional privilege based on pleasing men) is an excellent way of turning women against each other, encouraging them to tear each other down so that men don’t have to. Women who are seen as going out of their way to please men are turned on by their fellows, and women who are seen as not doing enough to please men are judged by those who are. By holding these conditional privileges over our heads and forcing us to effectively fight each other in order to attain them, patriarchal society is able to keep us from uniting and calling them on their bullshit.

Because, you know, that’s what it is. The idea that I’m only worth something to society because I’m pretty isn’t flattering – it’s degrading, demeaning and dehumanising. Would my intelligence, my personality, my passion mean nothing if it wasn’t packaged in a way that men find pleasing? Would women willing to compromise their comfort and principles in order to “fit in” with men be so lauded if they decided that for once, they’d like to set their own boundaries? (If you don’t know the answer to this, go to a pop culture convention some time and see how women who dare to stand up for their rights are treated by the men who’d conditionally given them their approval.) As long as our privileges are contingent on measuring up to patriarchal standards, they aren’t real privileges at all – merely crumbs thrown our way to keep us from demanding a full meal.

The idea that some of us are “better girls” is a comforting but toxic lie. By leading us to believe that we can have a share of male privilege by conforming to a set of standards, the patriarchy is not only devaluing those of us who meet said standards, but those of us who don’t. What of women who aren’t conventionally attractive and have no desire to be? What of women who don’t feel the need to put on a show of virtue in order to appear more wholesome and thus more pleasing to men? What of women who don’t want to change their personalities in order to fit in with their male companions at the expense of their own personal boundaries and comfort? What of women who don’t do the things men want them to do in the way men want them to do it? As long as we are judged by the patriarchy’s standards, we are all equally dehumanised, equally objectified, equally stripped of our agency.

Privilege that is contingent on male approval isn’t privilege. Privilege that is contingent on meeting arbitrary external standards isn’t privilege. Privilege that requires us to compromise ourselves in order to attain impossible ideals isn’t privilege. Privilege that pits us against each other in battles to see which women can be most pleasing to men and therefore objectified in the most “positive” ways possible isn’t privilege. Privilege that asks us to stay quiet when our boundaries are breached – when we’re harassed on the street, when we’re forced to laugh along with sexist jokes, when we’re made to exercise our sexualities only for male pleasure – isn’t privilege. This is oppression dressed in nicer clothes, packaged to make it just appealing enough to us that we can believe that we’re somehow being given our due when all we’re really being given is a pat on the back for pleasing the people who make the rules.

This is the “privilege” that leads to the belief that women should be flattered by street harassment, that they should be honoured by male attention in all its forms, even the most violent. It is the “privilege” that allows cisgender women to feel superior to their trans* sisters because it is men, not women, who decide what a “real woman” is. It is the “privilege” that leads to the death of women who can’t or won’t toe the line, and society’s implicit acceptance of this as a punishment for not trying hard enough to follow the rules.

It isn’t privilege at all. It’s enslavement.

Do not judge yourself by the patriarchy’s standards. Even if you are not found wanting (and you will be, no matter how close to perfect you are), you will spend your life being weighed and measured against someone else’s yardstick. Your worth will always be externally granted, never internal and intrinsic. This is not privilege. This is a way of making sure you never question the privilege of others.

The patriarchy’s greatest victory has been convincing us all that if we can’t beat them, we should just give in and join them.

IMPORTANT PUBLIC HEALTH UPDATE: MAS reaches pandemic status worldwide

Readers, we are in the grips of a pandemic.

For years now, members of minorities and marginalised groups have been afflicted by a terrible condition. It may strike at any time, affecting them at work, during recreational activities or even when in the comfort and safety of their own homes. It affects people of colour, queer and trans* people, women, the disabled, the uneducated, sex workers, even the poor. As this condition sweeps through our population, taking casualty after casualty, many have searched in vain for a cure – some kind of vaccine to inoculate the victims against the effects of this affliction. Sadly, their efforts so far have been fruitless, and thousands – nay, millions – find themselves falling prey daily, usually when they least expect it.

I am speaking, of course, of Minority Ambassador Syndrome.

Minority Ambassador Syndrome (MAS) is a condition transmitted from unaffected carriers (usually able-bodied cishet white males with college degrees and steady jobs in respected fields) to marginalised people. Transmission can occur upon first contact, though it is not rare for MAS to incubate and lie latent in a carrier for some time before the condition is passed on. Although completely harmless to the vectors that spread it, MAS has serious and far-reaching consequences for any members of a marginalised group that may come into contact with it. I am writing this guide as a public health initiative. By learning to recognise the signs and symptoms of MAS, you and your loved ones can learn to take precautions and keep yourselves safe. While there is not yet any foolproof method of preventing MAS transmission, the following information may prove helpful to people in a high-risk environment (one with a lot of carriers, such as a video game forum, comic convention or gawker.com comments section) and help those already afflicted to obtain some symptomatic relief.

MAS – Recognising the Signs

MAS is transmitted aurally or via text from the carrier to the recipient. Transmission occurs in the form of a generalisation about the recipient’s race to which the recipient is then expected to give some kind of apology or rebuttal. Examples of transmission spores include:

  • “I don’t see any of you [insert religion here] apologising for [insert act of terrorism committed by people who claim x religion here]! You’re all the same!”
  • “I heard in the news last night that a [insert race here] committed [insert felony here]. Why don’t community leaders stand up and denounce those people? They’re making you all look bad.”
  • “I saw a [insert non-het sexuality here] couple engaging in the grossest PDA the other day. Why do all [insert non-het sexuality here] people have to be so blatant about it?”
  • “If [insert race here] women don’t want people to think of them as [insert racial pejorative here], maybe they should all stop [insert stereotype about women of x race here].”

However, transmission is not always in the form of a generalisation about the marginalised group in question; it may also occur in the form of a compliment that positions the recipient as somehow having transcended the group with whom they claim association. Examples of this include:

  • “It’s so great to see someone from [insert race/religion here] in college – you’re such a good example! If only more [insert race/religion here] people were like you.”
  • “Obviously, you’re not like those other [women/gay people/trans* people/sex workers] – you don’t go acting like they do.”
  • “I know you deserve disability benefits, but what about all those people with fake disabilities who are just rorting the system?”

In both cases, the recipient is now positioned as a representative of their entire group – be that people of a certain race or creed, women, trans* people, queer people, disabled people, sex workers, etc. Upon contact, the individual is expected to assume responsibility for all actions ever taken by any member of the group to which they belong, even if those actions were taken by someone they don’t know, someone whose behaviour they don’t condone or someone who is only tangentially related to them. If they do not do so, their failure is seen as an indictment of the entire group.

Symptoms of MAS

MAS is unique in that it does not affect carriers whatsoever. They are not expected to assume responsibility for groups to which they belong (e.g. white people, straight people, cisgender people, men, people with college degrees, people belonging to [x] field, etc.). The disease only activates upon transmission to a vulnerable minority recipient. Symptoms may include:

  • Being asked to justify the actions of complete strangers (e.g. “a black man robbed my friend’s friend’s house last night – why aren’t your people doing more to crack down on crime?”)
  • Being attacked if they do not issue fervent apologies for atrocities committed by people claiming to represent them (e.g. “those terrorists said they were fighting in the name of Islam, don’t you feel ashamed? Why aren’t you standing up to them?”)
  • Being expected to act with impeccable etiquette and deportment in all situations, even when subjected to scorn, criticism or mockery, on pain of damning the entire group by association if they do not (e.g. “I knew I shouldn’t have trusted you! Trans* people are all deceptive liars!”)
  • Being held up as an example to which other members of the group should aspire (e.g. “If you could work three jobs to pay your way through college, why can’t every poor kid from the poverty-stricken neighbourhood in which you grew up do the same?”)

Over time, these symptoms lead to irritation, frustration and a feeling of overwhelming pressure in sufferers.

Prognosis and Treatment

As of yet, there is no reliable treatment for MAS. Prognosis for sufferers is largely dependent on their will and ability to argue with carriers who insist that they be held accountable for the actions of complete strangers with whom they may have only the vaguest and most tenuous of affiliations. Whilst some sufferers of MAS are able to rebut such demands, others are not, and the stress of being expected to act as a perfect example for others to follow can do incredible damage over time. In such cases, the prognosis is fairly grim.

However, there are some strategies that sufferers may use to mitigate the effects of MAS. These include:

  • Asking carriers to account for the actions of people only vaguely connected to them (e.g. “your great-great grandparents probably owned slaves, should I make you apologise for that, too?”)
  • Insisting on being viewed as an individual regardless of group affiliation (e.g. “do you really think all brown people look the same? That’s pretty messed up, dude.”)
  • Telling carriers to fuck right back off on the high horse they rode in on

Employing these strategies will not cure MAS or completely remove it from the system of the sufferer, but they may provide some symptomatic relief, as well as a soothing sense of accomplishment and satisfaction at having told at least one ignorant bigot where to shove it.

Lessening the Impact of MAS

MAS is currently endemic amongst marginalised populations, with an estimated up to 100% of members of these groups having been exposed to the condition at least once in their lives. Therefore, treatment and intervention programs should initially focus on limiting exposure to carriers by removing the large-scale public platforms from which these carriers are often able to infect multiple people at once.

In order to stop the spread of MAS, a concerted effort must be made to stop the condition at the source. By eliminating carriers through education, socially-enforced anti-discrimination messages and straight up pointing and laughing at their ignorance, the number of carrier-to-recipient transmissions would be greatly lessened. In cases of patients already suffering from MAS, eliminating further contact with carriers can eventually lead to the condition becoming latent again. Future intervention programs should also focus on eliminating sources from which carriers initially pick up the condition, such as FOX News, Drudge Report, Cathy Brennan and any Twitter account operated by someone who endorses the views of Richard Dawkins.

Although it may seem like an impossible task, it is conceivable that in the next ten to twenty years, MAS transmission could be greatly reduced by implementing these measures, and existing sufferers could see their conditions become – and remain – latent. It may take an army of dedicated specialists slowly hacking away at the fanbases of influential carriers such as Dan Savage, the aforementioned Richard Dawkins, anyone who identifies as a “TERF” or “SWERF”, or Sean Hannity, but with time, effort and large-scale international cooperation, it may eventually be possible to end this pandemic.

Ally-ship for beginners, or: how not to be a dick

I do not think of myself as an ally. It’s not a label I apply to myself or ask people to apply to me. I am a person who tries to fix broken things. Chances are that if you’re reading this, you feel similarly – you don’t want a label or praise, you just want to get your hands dirty and make things better. This post is not for you, but this post might be for a few people in your life.

The word “ally” used to mean someone who supported a cause with which they did not directly identify. Unfortunately, as with many good things, it has been co-opted by people who think social justice is an opportunity to gain a little street cred. These days, plenty of serious discussions are derailed by (sometimes) well-meaning “allies” blundering in, trumpeting their own opinions over those of people trying to share their lived experiences. Thankfully, not all of those people are beyond redemption. It is for them that I present the following:

Ally-ship for beginners, or: how you’ll learn to stop interrupting and love thy neighbour

1. Sit down, shut up and listen.

If you only learn one thing about being an ally, let this be it – most of the time, what people need is for you to sit down, stop talking, and let them share their stories. A great amount of awareness is raised through the telling and re-telling of people’s lived experiences. There is literally nothing you can do to aid this except to listen, learn from what you hear and signal-boost so that the message gets out to as many people as possible. No, this is not the time for you to tell your trans* friend that what they experience daily is just like that time a guy didn’t give you a free drink because you wouldn’t flash your bra at him. This is not the time for you to interject that you’ve never seen an example of what someone is describing. (What, you think they make this stuff up? Why would they want to?) Sit down, get out a notepad and start taking notes. Here are some people taking the time to educate you about the way the world is. Show some goddamn respect.

2. Would you want someone asking you that? If not, don’t ask someone else.

It’s awesome that you want to learn more about the people you want to help. But there are some things it’s just not okay to ask unless someone gives you their express permission. If you’d be offended if someone asked you a question, chances are the person you’re about to ask is gonna be offended too. Remember – the people you’re helping here aren’t freakshows. They’re not novelties. They don’t exist for your entertainment or to satisfy your curiosity. They’re living, breathing people with thoughts and feelings, and they deserve humanity, dignity and respect. How would you feel if a stranger expected you to divulge your entire medical and surgical history to them? How would you feel if someone asked you probing questions about your sexual experiences? You’d be offended, right? So don’t do it to anyone else. Treat others as you’d like to be treated.

3. Your privileged existence does not trump their lived experience.

Sure, maybe you’ve never seen someone reach out and touch a black woman’s hair without asking. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Have you considered that maybe the reason you don’t see these things daily is that you don’t have to live them? Have you thought about how your privilege might insulate you from the bad behaviour of others?

I have seen this time and time again in online discussions – someone will share a story of something harrowing that’s happened to them, and an “ally” will pipe up with a comment like, “I know you have things hard, but that sounds like exaggeration to me.” Think through that for a second – you’re suggesting that the folks you supposedly support aren’t oppressed enough, so they have to make up stories to make their cases convincing. And you want a pat on the back for deigning to hang out with them? Please. They’re the ones doing YOU a favour.

The lived experience of oppressed people trumps pretty much anything in discussions about privilege and oppression. Learn it, live it, love it.

4. You are not owed entry into minority spaces.

You want to help out? Great! But please understand that dozens, hundreds, even thousands of people before you have said that as a way of gaining entry into safe spaces and proceeding to make them unsafe. But even disregarding the fact that oppressed people need to look out for their health and well-being, have you thought about the fact that you’re not actually owed anything? Nobody owes you entry into their spaces. As a privileged person, this might be hard for you to swallow, but it’s true. I could make a group for bisexual Muslim women and decide I don’t want anyone but my fellow Muslim bi gals there, and that would be my right. Safe spaces are important – they give people a place to seek shelter from the daily abuse they face, a place where their experiences and stories won’t be questioned. If there’s a chance that you’ll make a space unsafe – and to be frank, if you’re privileged, there’s always a chance – then no, you are not automatically owed entry. Work on proving yourself through your actions and people might trust you – might. But get used to the idea that you’re not entitled to barge into a space and make it your own just because you want to be there.

5. You’d better not be doing it for the praise.

As an ally, you will go through a lot of thankless things. You’ll be abused, reviled and mocked for associating with people society oppresses and marginalises. It’s not easy. You might feel like you deserve some kind of pat on the back for your hard work and perseverance. I mean, you could just turn around and walk away at any time, right?

Well, guess what? You know the jeers and mockery you put up with? That’s just a fraction of what oppressed people get every single day of their lives. I’m serious. You’re trying to help people who live in fear of violence, harassment, abuse and worse, and you want a cookie because you didn’t run away the first time someone called you a pussy? Seriously?

Grow up. This isn’t a game, and you’re not going to get brownie points for grinding your mad ally skillz. This is real life. Put up or leave.

6. Be prepared to call your friends out.

As an ally, you’re busy trying your best to erase slurs from your vocabulary, support oppressed people and reblog posts that, like, totally moved you. Your friends? They’re probably the same ignorami they’ve always been. You’re gonna need to do something about that.

Yeah, it’s hard calling your friends out when they make nasty jokes around you. Nobody wants to be That Guy (or That Girl, or That Gender Non-Conforming Person). I get it. But if you don’t actively do what you can to combat oppression, then you, my friend, are part of the problem. No two ways about it. That means calling out rape jokes, saying something when a friend uses the t-word and throwing shade at your friend who spews old stereotypes about black people. It means sometimes being unpopular for the sake of sticking up for people who don’t have many other people to stick up for them.

Yes, it’s hard. If you expected it to be easy, you really have been living under a rock.

7. At the end of the day, This Is Not About You.

I can’t stress this enough. You’re an ally, all right? You’re someone helping out people who are seriously hurting in a number of really nasty, life-affecting ways. This is not about your feelings. This is not about your moment in the spotlight. This is about doing work that needs to be done because somebody needs to do it and you were a decent enough person to volunteer. That means sometimes sidelining your hurt feelings when you aren’t instantly welcomed into a community. That means holding your tongue when people who are so often rendered voiceless finally get the chance to speak. That means reminding yourself, every second of every minute of every hour of every day, that these people you’re trying to help are your equals, and you’d damn well better treat them as such. If you can’t commit to that philosophy – if you can’t live it in both word and action – then you might not be cut out for this activism lark. Them’s the breaks.

8. Even if you do all of this, you’ll still make mistakes.

I’ve been in the activism business, such as it is, for a long time now. I still get called on my mistakes near-daily. I’m not perfect, and neither are you. Nobody is, and nobody’s expecting you to be. You will make mistakes, and that’s fine. What people will care about is whether or not you learn from them. If you keep on making the same mistakes, issuing false apologies and refusing to learn, people will catch onto you pretty quick. Learn humility. Acknowledge that you don’t know everything. Be prepared to have things turn messy. It’s how you’ll learn. At the end of the day, what’s more important than your wounded pride is the struggle to make the world a better place for everyone. That’s the big picture; the rest is just filling in the details. Don’t lose sight of that goal, and you’ll probably do just fine.

Welcome to the fight. There’s a place in it for all of us. Time to find yours.