Personal Stories

I Am Not An Immersive Experience

If you are an actual ally and you come across a queer event/venue, you will probably look for the ‘allies welcome’ or ‘everyone welcome’ sign- and if you don’t find it, you will understand that that space is not for you. Just like for ladies’ nights nobody needs to write ‘not for men’, when an event announcement says ‘Queer Social’, you need to understand that it is not for you.

If I hear one more straight person talk about how they want to go to a queer club because they “just want to see what happens there”, I will officially lose my mind. What happens, there, Karen, is that queer people get to breathe and be themselves without the fear of being judged by an othering gaze. Thiiss  the exact purpose that you defeat when you walk in with your “curiosity”. Let’s be clear here: there is a huge difference between actual, genuine allies wanting to support queer venues, and straight people who treat our spaces like they are walking into a ‘scandalous’ theme park with a sash that says ‘Bride to be’ or a crown that says ‘Birthday Girl’. None of us are playing a role here (except for those who might literally be performing on the stage) and we are not exotic characters whose purpose is to show you a fun time. We are literally just trying to exist and chill with each other in a safe space, and being exotic-ized by you takes that away from us.

The problem is not the physical presence of a straight person, but the entitlement. If you are an actual ally and you come across a queer event/venue, you will probably look for the ‘allies welcome’ or ‘everyone welcome’ sign- and if you don’t find it, you will understand that that space is not for you. Just like for ladies’ nights nobody needs to write ‘not for men’, when an event announcement says ‘Queer Social’, you need to understand that it is not for you. It would seem that this is a very simple thing to understand, but my last year in London has shown me otherwise. In one instance, I was talking to two friends (one of whom was straight) about how amazing it had been to attend a Discussion Group for Sapphic people because I had felt seen. Immediately, the straight one went, “Can I come next time?”

I must admit here that the AUDACITY left me flabbergasted for a moment. I had JUST mentioned that it was a safe space for Sapphic people. Had she not heard me? What part of what I had said had made her feel that it was okay to ask that? I replied by stressing that it was for sapphic people ONLY. That should have ended the conversation, but she doubled down by saying, “Not to participate, just to be a fly on the wall.” And this is a person who sees herself as a feminist. I am 99% sure that if I had told her that a cishet man had wanted to attend a women’s group she would have immediately spotted the issue with his request. Therefore, my question is this: do straight people think that queerness is a performance for their viewing? Do they even see us as human beings or do they view our community as an immersive experience that they can enjoy/ observe/ engage with and then go back home after this ‘experience’?

Then, of course, it becomes a cyclical idea that goes like this: of course I am a ‘cool’ ally, therefore I can go to a queer space; of course I have been to queer spaces, therefore I am a ‘cool’ ally. And what is with this confidence that allows straight people to decide for themselves that they are brilliant allies to the queer community simply because they have never personally hurled a slur, and therefore they should be allowed to enter queer spaces since they have decided that they are ‘safe’? First of all, allyship does not mean not doing anything bad towards a community. It means standing beside someone, advocating, protesting, and speaking up on their behalf when the need arises. Secondly, if you believe that you are safe and therefore can just walk into a queer-only space, then I have news for you: you are the most dangerous kind of unsafe because you think you are entitled to consume queer people’s existence in mere exchange for not calling them a slur. This is not how it works. This is not how anything works. Being able to enter our safe spaces is not a trophy that you get for not being a horrible person. Sorry, but not sorry.

And then there are straight women who will tell me that they want to go to queer bars because that is the only place where they feel safe. Even as they say this sentence they will fail to see the irony in the words escaping their mouth. So for them, I will underline this next sentence: You are feeling safe because you know that you have the most privilege in a room that was supposed to keep people safe from your gaze. And if you find yourself being offended by what I just wrote, ask yourself this: if a cishet man who was your friend said over and over again, “I want to come to ladies’ night, please, you know me and you know I won’t objectify anyone or make them uncomfortable!” would you not think he was being shady?

Treating people like objects is not just about sexualisation- it is about dehumanization. And when you see queer people as an opportunity to have an immersive, exotic experience, that is exactly what you do to us. And we can always tell who you are. Always.

2 thoughts on “I Am Not An Immersive Experience

  1. The title instantly hit me when I read it and then I read this stirring piece – love the on-point distinctions that have been made between true allies and not so true allies! Wonderful!

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The student that always has her hand up in class, and in life. Dreams of a world where there is an abundance of love and ice cream, minorities are not constantly expected to put in unequal emotional labour for everything, and kind people find each other despite all the noise.
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