Words by Hadley Stewart | @wordsbyhadley

The past year has been one of the most challenging for me. Like everyone else, lockdown has felt like an isolating and nerve-wracking place to be. I told my friend, on a particularly difficult day, that I hadn’t felt this alone since before I came out. So maybe it was perfect timing that a TV drama about HIV, homophobia and shame would glue us to our screens during this time of international crisis. It’s A Sin pushed us to reflect on those who have been there for us during our time of need.

My allies have predominantly been women, and I will be forever grateful for the important role that they have played in my life. Yet this year was also another reminder that the freedom and safety of women is perpetually called into question, and they too need allies.

When the TV show It’s A Sin came out, we saw a flurry of social media posts tagged with #BeMoreJill, in response to the allyship Jill’s character showed to the young men who were dying of AIDS and those who were living in fear of HIV. I posted a picture of my best friend, one of the many female allies I’m fortunate to have in my life. We met during our first year of university, and have seen each other through various key milestones in our lives. She has been there for me to celebrate my wins, sit with me whilst I’ve cried, and everything else in-between.

Other female allies include my former English A-level teacher, who showed me what acceptance looks like, and taught me the power that writing can have on telling the stories of LGBTQ+ people.

The books she’s bought me over the years by queer authors have allowed me to gain a greater understanding of the rich social, cultural and political threads that run through our community. Not to mention the female friends who supported me through a decade of bullying at school, and were there for me when I first came out. Women have always played an important part in my life, and have both inspired me and cheered me on in equal measure.

Thankfully none of my friends lived through the horrors of the 1980s that are depicted in It’s A Sin, yet the sentiment that the LGBTQ+ community still needs female allies stands true even today. I’ve never felt like “the gay best friend” in any of my close friendships with women; the friendship has always felt equal between the both of us.

Although the positioning of women in society is different to that of gay men, There is a certain degree of overlap between our experiences of fighting for rights, the silencing of our voices by a patriarchal rhetoric, and our unfair treatment in the media.

This year, we had another reminder of the obstacles that women, the people who that so many of us have leant on when things were tough, face in their daily lives.

The murder of Sarah Everard sparked fresh conversations about violence towards women, and their treatment in society more broadly. Women took to social media to share their experiences with the police, and their own stories of sexual assault and violence committed by men. I reflected on the times female friends have asked me to walk them to the tube after a night out, or stayed on the phone with them whilst they’re in the back of a taxi, or checking that they’ve got home OK after meeting up.

Whilst I agree that it is not “all men” who are conducting themselves in this way, the fact that women in this country still don’t feel safe to walk down the street tells us society has failed them. There are still strides to be made when it comes to LGBTQ+ equality, but the same could be said for gender equality.

Maybe now is the time to look for constructive ways to have conversations about these topics. For some, discussions about the behaviour of certain men in society seems unsettling. The homophobia and transphobia we as queer people face, is a consequence of the divisions society has created between men and women; so it is in everyone’s interests that bridges are built over them.

What seems clear is that unless we find new ways to navigate these conversations about the gender divide in our society, progress will be arduous. Yet at the moment, those in positions to make a difference are not willing to reflect on their behaviours. In the
meantime, perhaps we as gay men are in a position to lead by example, by mirroring the allyship that women have showed us when we too have come under attack.