How Pure Must Allies Be?

I’ve been active in several different political movements in my life. I was raised conservative, became a libertarian, and am now a “left” libertarian who is passionate about LGBT issues, the drug war, and social justice. One common thread throughout the movements on the left, right, and libertarian is that many people demand a certain amount of purity in their allies. Personally, I think that is destructive. Particularly when that purity is demanded of someone’s past actions. Take Dan Savage, for example.

I like Dan Savage*. He did a lot to open my eyes to gender and sexuality issues and I think he is right a lot of the time. Though, in the past he made some harmful comments about transgender individuals and he contributed to the idea that bisexuality doesn’t really exist (Spoiler: We bisexuals exist). Since making those comments years ago he has become more educated and changed his mind. He has even apologized for making the comments. In reality, Savage has done more for the equality movement than most people… but he is often demonized because he wasn’t perfect in the past. Hell, he probably isn’t perfect now by anyone’s definition, but I’ve seen people say he shouldn’t be supported, his posts shouldn’t be shared, and that he shouldn’t be considered part of the equality movement because of the things he said in the past. It raises the question, how pure must someone be for them to get our support? And how long to we ostracize someone who has since apologized and changed their mind?

I didn’t always believe the things I believe now. I didn’t always support marriage equality. I used to think being gay was a sin and I said many hurtful things in the past. It seems that if I was more famous back in my youth I would be shunned by some of the people that I care about today.

All you have to do is watch the GOP debates or read the thread on a Reason Magazine Facebook post and you will see that most political views are filled with purity tests. You aren’t a “real” libertarian if you think a Basic Income Guarantee might be a pragmatic and beneficial initiative. You aren’t a “real” conservative if you don’t want to kill Muslims. Forget all the ways you might agree with a philosophy, if you don’t see eye-to-eye on every issue you are a phone, a RINO, a fraud, and all your opinions are worthless. If you disagree with some people on one issue you become incapable of contributing anything, even if your contributions are unrelated.

It is sad and really ineffective to destroy allies this way. By focusing on our areas of disagreement we only guarantee our movement will get smaller. Pushing people to the margins and cutting them out of the conversation won’t change their mind. Quite the contrary, it will only shrink their circle until they interact only with the people that you disagree with. If someone is wrong on transgender issues, you don’t decide that they aren’t a feminist, liberal, progressive, libertarian, or whatever and ostracize them, instead if you want to change their mind you bring them into the conversation and celebrate the areas you agree.

It is this pursuit of purity that drove me out of most political activism. My chosen identities of anarchist, feminist, libertarian, etc were constantly under fire until I said “fuck it” and just stopped being active. It wasn’t worth the heartache or headache to try and appease everyone. You destroy allies when you demand purity, and eventually you end up alone.

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