by Shaadi Devereaux
Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. As we begin to wrap ourselves in the nostalgia of waxy discount chocolate and chalk-flavored hearts, we find ourselves turning to the question of love. On February 14, love and romance seem to take on a hypervisibility that can’t be avoided. Whether we are paired, single, looking, or some “it’s complicated” combo of all the above, we consider affairs of the heart. Amidst the smokey haze of floating red cellophane balloons, most of us who are interested at least ask the question, “Am I where I want to be in love?”
We all have different ideas about the details of what it takes to personally experience romantic love in the ways we need and desire. When it comes to this particular holiday, people have a range of reactions from simply not caring to binging and crying. Many let it pass as another day, others make hopes for next year and cuddle up to a body pillow and Netflix, some shower themselves in self love.
This is for my single folks who care.
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When lamenting our love lives, we often hear the advice, “There are plenty of fish in the sea.” People tell you, “Work on yourself and the perfect partner will come along when the stars align,” and say that if “you just stop thinking about it,” love will approach you, like an uninterested and stubborn cat. But what if we look at love and desire as a commodity like anything else? What if we take apart the landscape of love to look at it as more than compatibility and chance, and look at it as operating within a purposeful economy where it’s afforded to those with the highest property values and worth in stock?
Love is often portrayed as a powerful and organic entity. Surely it is and can be, but much of love, like many things that shape our lives as QTPoC, has also been flattened, sanitized and colonized. The most visible discussions of love often leave out that its current language excludes our bodies and lives. Who is even able to safely pursue and explore love? Some of us run the risk of shame, abuse and even death in exposing ourselves to a partner intimately.
What about when your body needs a negotiation?
There is little exploration of the space where a magic person finally shows up and they have no literacy of a Black and Indigenous Trans Woman’s body. Where, finding yourself in that experience, you center someone else’s gaze, at best, and pre-emptively apologize for the reality of your own body, at worst.
When you are contested at every turn for simply and unapologetically being “in your own skin” and have little to no space to openly express desire without punishment, love becomes ever more elusive.
Writer @crankyskirt on Twitter often describes this elusive experience for Black femmes as “the tide.” There is a point on the shore where the waves approach and rescind, a meeting of sand and ocean. As Trans Black women we are often the Ocean, reaching out to partners who are simply too afraid of getting wet. Maybe it’s a little fun to get your toes wet, to let them sink a little in the moistened sand for a nice sensation, but they often run back before they surrender themselves to the Sea. There is danger in cutting through the waves and allowing a mutual swallowing of intimacy, desire and love when it comes to our dangerous bodies.
The truth of the matter is that some of us can forget about it, invest in ourselves, and then watch perfectly suitable and safe partners shift and materialize into place. But the world is simply not ready, qualified, able, or even willing to love some of us. The world lacks the language to love some of us and loving some of us requires an intensive labor that few feel we are worth.
For Black Trans women, the world even lacks the literacy to desire or describe attraction to our bodies. Meeting an amazing person and having a mindblowing experience takes on many more layers when negotiating their perception of your body. When you have a conversation with a potential partner and have to set up disclaimers around your body, it can be a very violent and self-immolating spiritual process required for your own safety.
Narratives of love for Black women often operate on the assumption that there is a wealth of partners ready to receive you. Many of us have done an immense amount of work to be able to give our partners exactly what they need in love by way of support and openness. As feminists, many of us have dedicated ourselves to redefining love in a way that supports women instead of exploiting them. As an unapologetic Black queer feminist, you can make an incredible inner journey and find yourself compromised when there is no network to support that new way of experiencing love, in your interpersonal networks of love and friendship. What does it mean when, as a Black queer woman, you move at the speed of light, always with much more room to grow of course, but your selection of partners remains in the same place: emotionally unavailable; unable to articulate needs and desires in a healthy way; refusing to acknowledge and navigate their own power and your vulnerability in a way that makes you safe and engage in ways of love that are non-exploitative?
The truth is that certain bodies are seen as devaluing a potential partner and suggesting that they could “do no better.” When people imagine a “dream girl” few imagine those with an intersection of blackness and trans womanhood. Some of our identities are seen as a taint to womanhood, antithetical to its definition. In a world that defines women as accessories and trophies to their partners, we have no appraisal value. To be loved as a Black woman or femme often means having to undo, rebuild and teach people how to love us in a world that defines us as outside the context of loveable and desirable.
When love requires the entire world to be undone and unraveled at its very seams, it becomes a little more complicated than speed dating and taking up hobbies until a relationship falls into your lap. Who is willing to be undone for Black Trans women?
Much of my untangling of oppression is rooted in a deep desire for transformative and mind-blowing love. I’m a firm believer in “it’s not me, it’s him.” Or better yet, “it’s not me, it’s patriarchy and anti-black transmisogyny.” The surest way to love for me is not patience, but taking a sledgehammer to the walls of a colonial project long overdue for cancellation in an HGTV-style Extreme Home Makeover. The decolonization of love and desire is essential to my freedom. It’s often within those spheres that girls like me are murdered and disappeared.
Valentine’s Day for me is a day of resistance and a reminder that freedom and ultimate liberation lies in creation of a reality in which I am able to surrender my heart safely to the world around me. In essence, the Revolution starts in my baby browns and fluttering heart.
As Black women and femmes we are often told that we are unlovable, but love will certainly never come if we don’t behave and make nice. This Valentine’s Day I’m celebrating all the brazen Black and Indigenous women I love who have made immense sacrifices in naming the culture of violence that shapes our lives and the way we love.
Happy Valentine’s Day to those of us with hearts still mending and healing.
Happy Valentine’s Day to those us who have marooned beyond the settlements of colonized love.
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Shaadi Devereaux is a Black and AfroIndigenous writer using media to build narratives for Trans Women of Color. She is also an independent contractor and consultant on Women’s Global Initiatives and Human Rights.