Like most cishet males, I didn’t think I had any issues with being an ally to the women and nonbinary folks walking this world with me. And it wasn’t really until I got hired on at the Mercury that I had that belief challenged and my ego balloon deflated.

Readers kindly pointed out implicit biases in my writing, and co-workers kept me aware of the same inclinations sneaking out in meetings and one-on-one interactions. All this shit I’ve absorbed in my 40-plus years of pop culture consumption and observing the actions of my peers was leaching out—without me even thinking about it. I still had a lot to learn.

So as we started putting together the Mercury’s Gender Empowerment Issue, I decided to reach out to some people from across the gender spectrum—people who I knew, but who aren’t so close to me that they might pull their punches—to get some insight into what being a male ally looks like to them. It’s worth doing the same, my fellow cishet men, just as it’s worth using their words as a starting point to open up necessary conversations with the people in your life.

Melynda Marie Amann, musician and bartender at Mad Hanna

I don’t want to presume that the men in my life don’t know this, but being an ally is kind of a misnomer. It’s not that you are this thing... this noun. Being an ally is a definitive verb that shows continued or progressive action on the part of the subject. Those who call themselves “ally” will benefit through action, listening, and growing. And these activities may help those [who are] marginalized and inform the ally [of] what role they can play. I can also ally in my everyday life. It’s important for me to learn from those around me and to teach at the same time. Being allied means to listening to the people around me that need to be heard and recognize that I do not always have all the answers.

Tex Clark, assistant federal public defender

Being an ally looks like self-awareness and insight. It’s hard for me to be a good ally to people I want to do right by without first starting off on a baseline that [our current system] is a problem and has been a problem. Even if you didn’t think it was your problem, it could have been a problem for others. If you start off there, you won’t feel defensive about trying to do better. And you don’t want to pat yourself on the back too hard. If the norm is male dominance, than we’re trying to change those norms. It’s not an inconvenience to reject that norm and expect some special recognition. Starting from that place—that insight that sexism is systemic—it really takes a lot of pressure off, so they can say, “I’m operating in a world where there’s these power differentials, and here’s how I’m going to make sure that I’m being conscientious about this.”

Clara Emiliana, designer and illustrator

I was thinking a lot about male posturing. Like whenever I ask one of my male friends, “Can you do this?”, that’s when the posturing comes in: “Don’t worry. I have so much experience in this.” And then when the thing in question fails, they’re just like, “Well, I dunno what to tell you.” And then when you, as a woman, handle it personally, they’re kind of quiet and there’s a sense of a bruised ego. So I feel for a lot of my male allies: [Use] more collaboration from the get-go. In 2020, it’s more acceptable for men to show vulnerability. I would rather take your vulnerability than the posturing.