by Mia McKenzie
Love is challenging in all its forms. Familial love, love in friendship, love in romance. Love in our relationships with ourselves. There are all sorts of definitions for love, all sorts of ideas about what love is. In All About Love, bell hooks talks about love “as the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” I like that definition, it sounds right. And simple enough in the way a definition of love ought to be simple.
Only it isn’t simple at all. Because in order to extend one’s self for anyone’s spiritual growth, including one’s own, one has to first be capable of extending one’s self, and then be willing to choose to do so. And extending one’s self, for the purpose of anything, let alone love, is really fucking scary.
It’s scary for everyone. For us, for queer people of color, it is exceptionally scary. As POC, we are taught by the people in power in this world that we are less, and are therefore less deserving of things like freedom and justice, education and employment, respect of our minds and consideration of our bodies, and, surely, the best thing of all—love. As queers, the messages we get aren’t much better. As queers of color…well…
As queers of color, we are both invisible and reviled. The world sees race and sexuality as mutually exclusive. You are black or you are gay. You are brown or you are a lesbian. White people are the only people allowed to be complex enough to be queer. Because white is the default, the normal, the expected, white people can be anything, and more than one thing simultaneously. The rest of us, not so much. Still, our invisibility doesn’t stop us from also being hated. Somehow, we are seen just enough to be abhorred, to be targets. It’s a strange space to exist in.
Many of us grow up thinking (because we are told so) that we are not the kind of people who get to be happy. The images of happy people on TV and in movies and magazines look nothing like us. Happiness and its components, of which love is surely a big one, maybe the biggest, are not for us. So, for us to even begin to be able to love, to love the way bell hooks defines it, we have to believe, somehow, in spite of everything that says otherwise, that we are worthy of love, that we deserve to love and be loved. Which is totally possible. But it takes a lot of time, and a lot of hard work. And that work can’t even begin until we recognize that we need it, which many of us never do. For those of us who do recognize it, and invest in the hard work of self-healing and growth, it’s still really, really challenging.
We come to the table of love with all this baggage, with all these voices in the back of our minds telling us not to bother, not to even try, because we’ll never be good enough, and trying will only get us hurt, maybe beyond repair this time. We come anyway. Because we are human and we have to. We want love, even though it terrifies us. So, we come to the table. We come to it together. We ask each other out on dates. We lean in for kisses. We fuck. We feel. And all the time we are waiting for it to not work. All the time we are waiting for the proof that we were right all along, that we don’t deserve it. Or we can’t wait, the waiting is too much, so we leave first so as not to be the one who is left.
Letting down your guard can be really difficult, especially when you are black or brown and have been taught that letting down your guard is a sure way to not survive in a world that wants to kill you. Still, somehow we find ways to do it, to let each other in, to allow friends and lovers into the deepest parts of our hearts. We get hurt, terribly hurt, by each other. And still, we keep trying.
Sometimes it does work. Sometimes, a lot of the time, we build lasting friendships that see us through the most difficult moments of our lives, and that fill our days with good, good stuff. Sometimes we create lasting monogamous and polyamorous romances. Sometimes, we learn how to really love ourselves, how to extend ourselves for the purpose of our own spiritual growth. We do all of this while carrying the nearly incalculable weight of oppression, while resisting racism and heterosexism and transphobia and xenophobia and colonialism. In the face of all of these things, any one of which by itself should be enough to shut us down, we find ways to love each other more and better. Which really, when you think about it, makes us great at love.
It makes us superstars of love.
Because our love for each other is love for ourselves. By loving other black and brown queers, in all the ways I love them, I am also loving my Self, healing my Self, rejecting all the bullshit that tells me I’m not worthy, that love is not for me. Every time I trust my friends enough to fail in front of them, every time I commit to some activity of self-care, every time I take a lover’s hand when the voices are telling me to just give up because I cannot really have this thing, I am loving all of us.
My life, without my ever deciding it, has become a serious journey of love. QPOC style.
Get your copy of Mia McKenzie’s queer literary novel, The Summer We Got Free.
Mia McKenzie is a writer and a smart, scrappy Philadelphian with a deep love of vegan pomegranate ice cream and fake fur collars. She is a black feminist and a freaking queer, facts that are often reflected in her writings, which have won her some awards and grants, such as the Astraea Foundation’s Writers Fund Award and the Leeway Foundation’s Transformation Award. She just finished a novel and has a short story forthcoming in The Kenyon Review. She is the creator of Black Girl Dangerous, a revolutionary blog. She is a nerd who will correct your grammar, so watch out for that.
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