Celebrating real straight allies, not just the self-aggrandizing ones

I am going to say some nice things about straight people.  That may be the most provocative sentence I have ever written, because in being queer and out over the last 25 or so years, I have had my fair share of negative experiences with straight people.  

Even the most well-meaning straight person can say and do things that leave queer people feeling less than or marginalized. 

Growing up and being noticeably effeminate, before I ever acknowledged to myself and others that I was queer, was its own hell of sorts and colored my world view of the fallacies of heteronormative and patriarchal power structures.  So the lens through which I view straight people is tinted with, at best, self-preservation and at worst, a deep and lingering suspicion. 

But in the last seven years doing stand-up comedy, I have been more engaged with the straight world. I’ve been exposed to it because most comedy takes place in straight clubs, bars and music venues, and most comedians are straight. 

In short, the straight world of today is not the straight world that I essentially left behind in my 20s. Since then, most of my time and energy went into being around and involved with other queer people.  

The main difference is the effect that we out queer people have had on the world. The more of us who are visible and vocal and include straight people in our lives, the more they see the similarities than the differences. 

For some of us, this may not be an option as we still carry the scars of experiences with straight people and find solace in the company and spaces of queers. I know this feeling, and it has been in the back of every interaction I’ve had with straight people my entire life.  But in order to progress in any capacity in stand-up comedy, I’ve had to address this aversion to, and mistrust of, straight people.

That process has not been easy or smooth in any capacity. There have been nights where I didn’t think I could sit through one more open mic of homophobic jokes or have one more side conversation with a straight comedian who identifies as an ally because “they love going to gay bars to dance”.  But I persisted because of my love of the art form and because of my refusal to be marginalized because I am queer. 

After attending not one but two queer comedy festivals this year and meeting at least 100 other queer people pursuing stand-up comedy as a career all over the country, I realized I am not the only one. There is a ground swell of funny queer people who are becoming better comedians, running more shows, and essentially becoming part of the infrastructure of their comedy scenes, roles usually exclusively held by straight men. 

My firm belief is the next big wave of comedy is going to be queer, and its roots are in every comedy scene across this country.

Part of this change comes from more and more straight people in comedy who have queer people in their lives and who value the diversity we bring to the comedic experience. These are people who probably don’t know what an ally is by definition, but many of them do more as allies in their actions to support queer people than some self-described allies will do in a lifetime.  

There are now straight people whose support of queer people is almost instinctual and a part of their being, not some aftermarket add on to their personality that needs to be switched on and acknowledged every time they use it. 

I am reminded that we are all in this together and that sometimes the source of past trauma can be the present’s remedy. This year, I celebrate Pride by not only recognizing the amazing queer people in my life, but also the straight people who support and advocate on behalf of all of us.   

Ian Aber is a queer comedian and show promoter living in Atlanta. Download his podcast, Str8ppl, on your favorite streaming service.

This column originally appeared in Q magazine. Read the full issue below, and pick up a new edition each week.