When Allies Fail: An Open Letter to the University Community

by: C.J. Queirolo

I’ve heard from a lot of different people that “Greek Life and Straight Supremacy,” the essay I published in Wetlands this fall, is too angry. I’ve heard a lot of allies say that they thought my tone was too “harsh.” You might be surprised that after I submitted the first draft of that essay, I edited it to make it angrier. I hope when allies read this that they don’t think I’m trying to burn any bridges. What I say here isn’t the “official” Wetlands editorial view. It’s not even my opinion as an editor of Wetlands. It’s probably not even the view of a majority of the editors. But it’s just why I, as a queer and as nothing more, just can’t help getting so angry whenever straight people always tell me to “tone it down.” The following is addressed to every straight “ally” on this campus who has doubted whether my rhetoric is appropriate:

Did you know that when two straight men tied Matthew Sheppard to a fence with a rope and pistol-whipped him for 18 hours, they left him so bloody that the person who found his body thought he was a scarecrow? That is something I get mad about. I get mad whenever a student is called faggot. I get mad whenever a queer is bashed. There was a queer bashing here last year. Right in front of a dorm. These things happen here. This university is not a safe space for queers no matter how high your frat’s “Gay Point Average” might be. You let this happen to one of my fellow queers on this campus. What did you do to stop it? Obviously not enough. What evidence do I have to prove it? That queer was bashed and they were bashed on this campus and that itself is proof enough. You let this happen to one of my fellow queers because you have made this campus into a space of queer vulnerability, where despite all the concern you might show for our “participation” in your institutions it is still brutally obvious to those of us who are forced, daily, to know it, that queers can still be made the object of public hatred even at the University of Puget Sound. If you do not feel the anger that I do then that is a privilege that I will never have because I didn’t choose to get this angry. This anger is a self-defense strategy. You people don’t listen to us when we aren’t angry. Know how I know that? A queer was bashed on this campus and they were bashed because they were queer. Is it not obvious how this anger is a survival mechanism?

This isn’t hyperbole. I as a queer have been the target of multiple forms of violence and been subject to public humiliation for the past six years of my life. When you say that my piece is “too” angry you are exercising your privilege to ignore queer suffering whenever it’s easier for you to do that than think that maybe the things queers are saying about what straight people do to us is true. You have this privilege because you are straight. You should be embarrassed to call yourself an ally to queers. You should think about how your words might make a queer feel. Have you ever been called a “fag” and worried a kick to the head might follow? You do not know this suffering.  You cannot know this suffering. Because you cannot know it here’s two things you should think about it: (1) that it’s not something any queer ever takes delight in talking about and (2) that we are talking about things that you have sometimes helped to make possible. When we tell you about our suffering you do not get to set the terms of the dialogue. You do not get to judge our emotional states. You do not get to tell us when it is and is not appropriate for us to be upset. When one queer is made to feel victimized by virtue of their queerness, the social relation in question is itself a relation of antiqueerness. I feel that it victimizes queers to belittle their anger and to not take seriously what they have to say on their own terms. I think belittling this anger is therefore antiqueer. As reconciliation, I demand that queers be taken seriously, and that queers be taken seriously in our own words.

Have you ever been to a GSA meeting? They aren’t all about Elton John and Ru Paul. Sometimes queers talk about how straight people have hurt them. Isn’t this the reason queers were forced to organize in the first place? What you see as a chance to “help out” I see as something that I know queers need to survive. There’s a piece in the Fall 2013 issue of Wetlands called “Allies Aren’t Queer.” Did any of you even read it? I know it’s unreasonable to ask you to read three whole queer essays totaling at less than six pages but I think if you did then you would know that what you said is not an okay thing for an ally to say. You attend a liberal arts college so why don’t you do some critical thinking and consider that your actions and your words have consequences and that sometimes your actions and words make queers angry. I do not care if you say you are an “ally.” Queers have absolutely no reason to trust you. You need to prove to us that you are an ally worth having before you expect us to feel safe working with you. How could you possibly call yourself an “ally” and in the same breath tell queers to quiet down?  This PISSES ME OFF. You LET them HIT us. I don’t care if you aren’t the one who threw the punch. You are still letting them hit us. You let them hit us each and every time you tell a queer to calm down; you let them hit us each and every time you joke with each other how that fag’s essay in Wetlands is “too angry.” Think about this: would any of you have said it to my face? If you would then you aren’t fucking listening. Guess what? You don’t know me. My whole argument is that straight people are not listening. You prove that what I am saying is true even as you rationalize your own active complicity with antiqueerness. It’s not even that you “allies” don’t know any better: your complicity is active when you make the choice to dismiss queer discontent with your actions.

You don’t know how unspeakably shitty being queer can feel sometimes. You force me to relive that feeling of being worth shit when you tell me to stay quiet. You routinize antiqueer expectations of silence each and every time you don’t take my queer anger seriously. That you have never been made to feel these expectations in the face of people hating you is a privilege that I will never again be able to enjoy. When you exercise this privilege it has to be understood as a verbal assault on the queer you are telling to quiet down. This is because it reminds us of the most recurrent experiences of being queer: (1) Knowing that straight people can say whatever they want about us and (2) That there is nothing they will let us do about it. Being reminded of this is painful and terrifying and I know that I probably can’t change this overnight but: I hate you when you say this. You are not being an ally when you say this and you are being an enemy to queers. You are telling me to not get angry about this suffering and you are telling me that you, a straight person, know this suffering better than I do. Why try to embarrass queers for getting upset when you hurt us? For you these conversations might be ones that you can discuss “rationally” but we’re fighting for a chance to exist and not be hated for merely existing and you might not like that I use whatever rhetoric I feel I that I need to in order to do justice to the loneliness and the suffering that I have been made to feel and that you have made the choice to ignore. Until you realize that queers aren’t “too angry” but that we could never be angry enough you don’t deserve to call yourself an ally. When I hear “allies” belittling queer rage I feel that I am personally assaulted because I am made to relive years of public humiliation and personal trauma at the same time that I am made to know those who caused it will never listen to me. It forces us to experience the loneliness that follows when straight people know we suffer and do nothing to stop it. And the impossible, unreasonable thing I’m asking from you? LISTEN TO WHAT QUEERS ARE ACTIVELY TRYING TO TELL YOU. Capital letters cannot make obvious enough how truly simple my demands are: listen to me and to what other queers have been saying for years. You belittle each and every queer when you tell any queer to stop screaming. How could I speak but with rage when I’m talking about the things that are the causes of antiqueerness, the very things that make queers feel each and every day our actual social inferiority? I feel that you are asking me to go back into a closet and keep my anger secret. I did that for long enough. That you straight allies do not know the horrors of the closet is obvious. You have the privilege of never having lived this suffering. All I am doing is pointing out the basic facts of queer life. I am talking about the everyday antiqueerness that happens on our campus that straight people have made possible and that you are making the choice to ignore when you tell us to be quiet, as if you didn’t have anything to do in making us so angry in the first place.

When I said that I hate you I hope you don’t pretend that I said I hate straight people because that’s not what I am saying and you would know that if you just read what I have said in not one but two essays in Wetlands now and also in this essay. What I mean is that I hate when straight people and their straight privilege become the cause of queer vulnerability. From now on, I am adopting a personal policy of calling “allies” out, wherever I see this happening in person or when I have the opportunity to publish something in print. I’m going to be doing this because I think those of you who question my anger should be embarrassed that you think you are an ally and I am not worried about making you feel uncomfortable because you have already made me feel like I’m not being heard at my current volume. When those very allies who belittle queer anger are elevated to positions of leadership on this campus and claim to represent allies, then they have been rewarded for being bad allies. This campus community routinely rewards straight allies only interested in listening to other straight people. I will not congratulate a straight ally community that seems to have no interest in listening to queer discontent. If you are an “ally” on this campus who belittles queer rage then you should prepare to be outed as someone who has helped make that very anger possible. I only get angrier every day that queers aren’t listened to and I doubt you have the level of emotional investment that I am forced to have in these conversations. If you want to be an ally then that means taking responsibility even when you’d rather put in earplugs, or worse when you have the nerve to tell a queer they’re being too dramatic. Start thinking about what you say before you say it. This campus is a space of queer vulnerability. I’m tired of pretending otherwise. Last year three straight men bashed a queer on the fucking South Quad. Were they students? If they were students, have they been expelled? If they haven’t: why the fuck not? Has the school not found them? Then keep looking. This school isn’t going to tell us unless we make them. They gave us one email in February last year. After that we got nothing but a confirming silence. What does this silence confirm? That this campus is still not a safe space for queers. This campus is therefore an antiqueer space. I am terrorized every day by the prospect of being beaten on my own college campus and I am forced to wonder if the student sitting next to me in class is one who might bash me if I do something as appalling as just fucking stand outside of Regester. But I don’t know why it’s surprising. Schools are not safe spaces. Ask any group of assembled queers who felt unsafe in their high school and you might be surprised at how many tell you just how mortifying walking to class could feel. That feeling of being alone in a crowd of straight people who make the choice to ignore you, belittle you, and then tell you to “stop taking it so seriously” when you finally tell them how fed up you are with their shit, it continues when the very people claiming to be your “allies,” the ones who are supposed to be fighting for you are also the ones who are making you feel so alone.

What did this campus do in response to the February ’13 bashing? Lord knows that I, as a queer, didn’t see a single fucking thing. Does my anger not now seem woefully insufficient, my rhetoric nothing but euphemistic approximation that could only ever fail to articulate how horrible the antiqueerness you make me live through feels? That’s the entire point of my polemic tone: to get it across that I could never articulate how horrible these feelings are and that sometimes you are responsible for these feelings. If it seems like I’m the only one saying it then that’s just because you aren’t listening to the people who have been telling you this for years. Just because you have one friend who’s queer or you have three gay frat brothers or whatever doesn’t mean you’re not also straight and have privilege by virtue of that straightness and that this straight privilege is bought at the cost of queer life. If what I’m saying sounds hyperbolic to describe the “reality” of “diversity” and “inclusion” and “progress” that you think you are seeing, consider this: how lonely do you think Matthew Sheppard felt as he was left on that fence to bleed out? What do you think the queer felt after being thrown to the concrete in front of Regester? Isn’t it obvious that as they were pushed and that when someone shouted “fag!” that queer must also have been terrified a kick to the head would follow? Isn’t that enough to get you to listen to me? Why do I feel that I have to scream at you in order for you to even recognize I have something to say? Is it possible that I feel this way because you have made this campus into one that does not take seriously what queers have to say, even when it’s about the queer community on this campus? If you think what I’m saying is “too” angry then you weren’t ever an ally in the first place. You have been lying to yourself and, even worse, you have been lying to queers. You should be embarrassed that you lied to us for this long. You should be ashamed that you thought we wouldn’t find out. If you did not know you were lying then that is your own fault because all that you need to do to be an ally is start listening.

Again: what do you know of queer suffering? Why do you think it is that you get angry when I write about it?

To see where this conversation started please look at C.J. Queirolo’s “Greek Life and Straight Supremacy,” Phillip Brenfleck’s “An Open Letter to Greek Life,”and Lindsey Conrad’s “Allies Aren’t Queer” prose pieces, all published in the  Fall 2013 issue of Wetlands Magazine, as well as responses from the campus community: Kyle Long’s “I’m Queer and I’m Greek…and I Love It” here: https://wetlandsmagazine.com/2014/01/31/im-queer-and-im-greek-and-i-love-it-a-personal-response-by-kyle-long/ , and Becca Duncan’s “Greek Life on Puget Sound Campus,” here:http://trail.pugetsound.edu/2014/02/greek-life-on-puget-sound-campus-the-perspective-of-a-new-member/

In addition, C.J. Queirolo has a letter to the editor scheduled to print in the March 7 issue of The Trail responding to Becca Duncan’s article”

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. sam says:

    Dear C.J. Queirolo,

    You have many reasons to be angry, and no one is blaming you for it, but if you want to lead to positive changes in this world you have to control your emotions and give calm rational arguments for why your opinions are valid. Simply being angry does not prove to anyone that you are right. That searing anger, clearly present in your most recent post has caused you to equated all straight people with two sadistic murders, and adopt an “us vs. them” attitude. Although you have a right to be angry, you no right which mandates that people have to read your rants.

    The fact is that most straight people at UPS do not hate queer people, and are willing to work hard to make the university a more inclusive environment. By writing articles that accuse all straight people of complicity in events they had no part of, you alienate your largest group of supporters.
    I don’t have that much else to say, so I will end with a quote that you have likely seen before, but forgotten:
    “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

    -Sam

    1. Jackie Cutter says:

      Wow, you seriously just fucking quoted MLK after that.

      This is like crap ally detailing 101 concentrated in one holier-than-thou post.

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