Take Back the Night, an annual event organized by SACHA, is a powerful opportunity for survivors and their supporters to actively build connections, assertively reclaim our right to safety, and courageously stand up against violence.
James Diemert is a sexual health educator and queer community activist from Hamilton Ontario. In his role at the AIDS Network he provides queer-competency and HIV advocacy training to service providers, as well as direct outreach, support and sexual health education for the diverse community of gay, bisexual, queer, trans and two spirit men in the communities of Hamilton, Halton, Haldimand, Norfolk and Brant.
Why do you think it is important to create space for women and gender non-conforming folks?
I personally think that question answers itself by the fact that it needs to be asked. These spaces need to be created because they do not exist without a great deal of intentional effort being put into making them happen.
Folks who have been socialized as male frequently take up more than equal space, and often we do not even realize it. Its deeply ingrained and subconscious. Even those of us put in the conscious effort into understanding and challenging our privilege will often make mistakes because patriarchy can be subtle and pervasive. I think of myself as a good ally, I challenge my privilege and try to be conscious of the space I take up as a cisgendered white man, but nobody is perfect, and I mess up too. And even when us male allies are on our best possible behaviour, it doesn’t change the fact that folks who were raised with feminine socialization have their own deeply ingrained and subconscious pressure to defer to us, to minimize themselves, to be our emotional support and to allow us to take up more-than-equal space. We don’t need to be acting like bad allies to impact women, our presence alone changes the dynamic, no matter how self-aware and supportive we are trying to be. Changing that dynamic and creating safer spaces where women are given all the air time is so crucial.
What do you think male allies can do to create more space for women and gender non-conforming folks?
While it is important to really examine our male privilege and work to dismantle all of the ways it negatively affects the women and gender nonconforming folks in our lives, we also need to be using that privilege to reach other men. Educating other men on the importance of space for women and gender nonconforming folks should not have to be the sole responsibility of women and gender nonconforming folks, and our male privilege means that, unfortunately, we are often more likely to be listened to and taken seriously by other men. It’s not just an issue of how we behave, like I said before our presence in and of itself makes it harder for folks without male privilege to lead and take up their own space – I think that is a piece men tend to not see, when they don’t understand why these spaces are needed. So in my opinion one of the most crucial roles of male allies needs to be to take on the emotional labour of educating other men on the importance of these spaces.
What do you think male allies can do to end gendered violence?
While I certainly have thoughts about how all men can help end gendered violence, I feel it’s especially important to answer this question through my personal lens as a gay man, because it is way overdue for us to be held just as accountable as straight men for our role in dismantling the patriarchy, rape culture and misogyny. I think we are given a pass, and we give ourselves a pass far too often – ‘how can gay men be objectifying women if we are not sexually attracted to women?’ And yet casual misogyny and transphobia are far too common amongst gay men, and we can be just as guilty of perpetuating a culture of objectification and sexism. The effect of casual sexism is cumulative, gendered violence can only happen because our society diminishes women, and we contribute to this violence whenever we participate in a culture of sexism, even in small ways. We are a part of the problem when we make sexist jokes, body shame, slut shame, police clothing, jokingly misgender each-other, use transmisogynistic slurs… the list goes on, and we are often not challenged on this behaviour by virtue of our queerness. Additionally, our perpetuation of internalized homophobia hurts women as well as ourselves – when we shame each-other for perceived femininity or preferred sexual roles we contribute to a culture that devalues femininity and leads to a culture where gendered violence is possible.
What inspires/motivates you to be a male ally?
For me, I think it’s too often overlooked just how much we are all in this together. Patriarchy hurts men too, especially queer men. It is patriarchy that tells us that femininity is shameful and that our queer desires diminish our masculinity. The root of homophobia and transphobia is the same toxic masculinity that is at the root of gendered violence. What’s worse is that many queer men subscribe to some extent to this toxic masculinity, continuing a cycle of patriarchal violence that impacts all women, as well as the broader LGBTQ+ community including ourselves.
I am motivated to be a male ally for lots of the same reasons I think lots of straight male allies are – I am here to demand a better world for the women and gender nonconforming folks in my life – but I am also here for my gay, bi, 2 spirit and queer brothers. Our oppression is inexorably linked, and not only is it my pleasure but also I believe it is our duty to stand in solidarity with Take Back the Night.