Allyship goes down in the DMs; why it’s time for more than words

(This article was originally commissioned and published by Stylist Magazine)

 

 I’m sitting in the middle of a vineyard in Australia laughing with the two women I’ve just met. They’re telling me about their upcoming marriage and how they’ve been engaged for years but waited for Australia to pass the equal marriage act before they tied the knot. They want their right to marry and love one another recognised in their own country and I can’t argue with it. They’ve been marching and protesting and campaigning for it to happen, as if planning a wedding wasn’t stressful enough. These women have had to plan their human rights campaign to change the law, and then plan a wedding on top. A bottle of wine gets passed around and as usual I put my hand over my glass and refuse. My new friends ask me why I’m not drinking and I tell them I’m Muslim and don’t drink. They laugh and remark that their country doesn’t like my lot either, so really the three of us are outcasts here. Australia has a deeply uncomfortable history with people of colour and Islam and so we spend the rest of the afternoon joking about our oppression. How it differs but how so often it tastes the same. Bitter and sharp.

It might seem jarring to some but we can joke about it because the bruises are ours to prod at. When marginalised people come together there is comfort in pain. In the sharing of our respective hurts we understand that we are not alone, that others are fighting similar fights and oppression is a language we all speak. In the laughter and the jokes lies the ability to talk about uncomfortable truths in safe ways. It doesn’t escape me that many Muslims are loudly and visibly opposed to same sex relationships and just like the Australians haven’t always been good to my people, my people haven’t always been good to the LGBTQ community. It feels good to sit with these women and joke about our problematic communities and in doing so it feels a little a little bit like healing. Somewhere during the day we joke about how funny it would be if I was their marriage celebrant. What could be more hilarious than a brown, Muslim woman marrying two queer, Australian women. How enraged our respective communities would be, but we’re all rebels here so the idea is appealing.

Fast forward a year and a half and I’m back in Australia, standing at the head of an aisle watching two queer, Australian woman walk down it to stand before me as I marry them. Our joke had quickly become a reality and not because it was funny or because we wanted to anger our respective communities, but because in the middle of the laughter we found a message worth taking seriously.

The serious truth is we’re living in volatile times. The collective cries of marginalised groups are breaking the silence that has so long blanketed our society. We’re starting to do things differently and as we shift the power structures we also change the dynamic. Those losing a seat at the table cling on with renewed vigour and often the result is a rise in bigotry, hatred and attacks. It’s why our actions matter more than ever. The time is past for hashtags, long Facebook posts and empty words, but rather it’s time to take a stand. To let actions speak louder than words.

It’s time for allyship and not just in whispered conversations but in big, loud, obvious actions that let your people know you’re standing for other people. That you’re prepared to fight for all marginalised groups because you recognise that oppression for one means oppression for all.

As a Muslim woman of colour I long for more people to stand up and fight with me. To defend me in the street. Call out the co-worker who asks me about ISIS. Tell the guy catcalling me to back off. I desperately wish white men would say something when other white men use me as the centre of their jokes. Sliding in my DMs later to tell me how inappropriate their behaviour is and how I should keep fighting because they support me is quite frankly a waste of my time. Too much of our allyship has happened in dark corners and private conversations. I need it to happen loudly, and in the blazing sunlight.

Which is why when my two friends asked me, in all seriousness, to marry them, I did, not just because I love them, but because it allowed me to step up as an ally. To be a visible friend to the LGBTQ community, regardless of my own religious upbringing. History has already taught us that they come for marginalised groups, one at a time, and it’s in the silence of ‘it’s not my business’ that oppression blooms. Which is exactly why allyship is all of our business. It has to be.

 

Salma El-Wardany