There’s this boy in my life who has my back in the way that I want to have yours. I’m going to tell you what that looks like, so that I can remember, too.
This boy has a lot more privilege than me in a particular way that matters to me a lot. Sometimes, he does things with that privilege that feel busted to me. And when I talk to him about that, he listens. And when I cry about it, he listens. And when I don’t know how to talk about it, or I can’t talk because I’m crying, he waits and sometimes offers to hold my hand or asks if I need anything, and if I don’t, he waits some more and then, when I can talk, he listens. This kind of patience helps me feel like I’m not crazy, like what I have to say matters enough to be worth hearing. It helps me take the time to be honest with myself about what’s going on for me.
This boy is fighting against (and inside) a System that hurts me and he’s been doing it for a long time. He isn’t doing it for me. He’s doing for him. He’s been doing it since long before he met me, and he’s doing it for reasons that have to do with his life, not mine. He’s been doing it so hard that sometimes I wish he’d stop — even though the way he’s fighting helps me, and helps him, and might be necessary for folks like us to survive. But, although I care about him enough to wish he didn’t have them, his battle scars make him easier for me to trust.
He knows the inner workings of this corner of the System better than I do. That doesn’t mean he understands my experience better than I do. But it means he understands the mechanisms of the power structure, because he’s spent years working to understand the mechanisms of the power structure, because it matters to him in a deeply personal way. Being inside that power structure has given him the access and the agency to learn about it that I don’t have and he shares that information freely with me and others. He is a double-agent.
This person lets me love him and hate his structural position simultaneously and doesn’t ask me to choose. He doesn’t expect me to sandwich my institutional critique in assurances that I’m not talking about him personally or that I understand that he’s a special case. He gets that sometimes I am talking about him personally, regardless of the ways that his personal case is also complicated, and he holds my pain without being ashamed of having been forced by the System into being its source. He doesn’t make absolution a condition of our care for one another.
And if, on the flipside, I ask him for reassurance about our relationship within the context of an oppression culture, he reassures me that we are okay. All of this helps me feel safe even when my feelings are messy and raw.
There’s this boy in my life. He can talk about the politics but he doesn’t have to talk about the politics if what I need to talk about is just plain feelings. He stays with me when I cry. And if I ask him to hold me, he holds me. And if I ask him not to touch me, he doesn’t touch me. He empathizes deeply without co-opting my experience. He understands things that people have rarely understood, and when I tell him that it’s hard for me to talk to him because he doesn’t understand, he understands that, too.
Last night, after I got triggered by something he didn’t even do and stormed off and slammed a door and went to bed, he left a note on top of a sweatshirt outside my room. I found it this morning when I woke up afraid that maybe, this time, I’d said too much. I found it and read it and clutched it in my hand and hugged my sweatshirt and cried. It said:
I didn’t want to disturb you, but I wanted you to have your hoodie.
(I care about you a lot and want to see you as you see yourself.)
I know I’m not supposed to give cookies for allyship. But that’s because most people are doing allyship wrong. Most “allies” are simply trying for basic human decency. That’s great, but it would be a resource-draining strategy to reward everybody all the time just for not fucking up. No, I don’t want to praise this person for dealing gracefully with his privilege; that’s something he’s doing for him, not me. I want to appreciate what that gracefulness, as a base layer, creates space for: It allows him to actually be my friend. It allows us to be friends in spite of a world that tells us there are a million reasons why we shouldn’t, wouldn’t want to, and can’t be. And being friends makes me want us to bake cookies and eat them together.