Rebecca Morrison had to learn a lesson about being an ally.Rebecca Morrison
In my 20s, I pretended to be gay and deceived a saleswoman to get a discount on an expensive couch.
I recently told my friends that anecdote, and my LGBTQ friends took offense.
Even though I’ve long considered myself an LGBTQ ally, I realized I had a lot left to learn.
For decades, I’ve been a relentless supporter of LGBTQ people, marching in parades, donating to LGBTQ nonprofits, and supporting family and friends.
But recently, when I started telling an anecdote from my past to some of those same friends, I realized I had a lot left to learn about being an ally. At 51 — after decades of being immersed in LGBTQ communities — I had to face my prejudices.
When I was in my 20s, I pretended to be gay and flirted with a young saleswoman
One Saturday afternoon, I was walking around an upscale store in Washington, DC, and became enamored with a couch that was out of my price range. A slender, young saleswoman caught me circling it and walked over.
“Can I help you with something?” she asked. The woman was wearing a camouflage sleeveless top and had cropped strawberry-blond hair.
“This couch is just so gorgeous,” I giggled, embarrassed by my over-the-top enthusiasm. She laughed, showing off her dimples, and gave me a surprisingly intimate touch on the shoulder.
“Try it out,” she said.
Turning around, I fell backward onto the 6-foot couch, my curly chestnut hair settled onto the white cushions. She laughed at my theatrics and sat next to me. She smelled like soap and cigarettes. Our bodies sunk into the billowy couch toward each other, our knees touching. I could tell she was interested in me.
“There’s no world in which I can afford this couch,” I said, holding the look between us long enough for her to get the impression I wanted her, too. I didn’t, though; I’m straight.
“We’re not supposed to do this,” she said, pausing. “But I can give you my employee discount.”
My deception had worked.
A few days later, she called to ask me out. Hearing her voice was thrilling; it was nice to be wanted. But the sting of guilt was sharper than the thrill. Instead of telling her the truth, I said I was busy. She called a few more times, and each time, I made an excuse about why I couldn’t meet up.
Having been an LGBTQ ally for decades, I felt comfortable sharing the story with my straight and gay friends
At a recent gathering, I regaled everyone with the story of how I flirted my way into getting the couch they saw in my living room. It solicited laughter from some guests. But when I shared the story with my best friend, who is gay, he didn’t laugh.
He was frank about my behavior.
“I’m not saying you’re a bad person. You know I don’t think that,” he said, trying to reassure me. “But I think you haven’t fully considered what you did back then and what it meant for her as a gay woman in America 30 years ago.”
I was taken aback. Was he saying my actions were homophobic? How could I — his rainbow-flag-waving, pride-parade-marching friend — be homophobic? Don’t people flirt for a lot less?
Wanting to confirm my position, I ran it by other friends. To my surprise, my straight friends thought of it as a minor indiscretion — it wasn’t worthy of much guilt, many said. But my LGBTQ friends disagreed and pushed me to think differently about the situation. It wasn’t about the flirting, they said, but rather the adoption of another community’s identity for my benefit.
Once I was confronted, I realized I still had more to learn about being an ally
I quickly discovered that even after all these years of fighting for LGBTQ rights, I, as a straight person, still didn’t understand the depth of what it’s like to be gay in America. It can be easy to dismiss another community’s plight, even when you love and support the people in it.
I needed to do more than call myself an ally. I realized calling myself an ally and doing the things that I thought allies did wasn’t enough. I needed to work harder to understand and respect LGBTQ people. I needed to keep an open conversation going with queer people to make sure their viewpoints were heard.
Now I no longer tell the couch story as a funny anecdote, but I do still share it. I share it in hopes of starting a dialogue about the importance of truly understanding what it means to respect and fight for other communities.
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