Queer Visibility: Love is NOT Love

It’s been three days since the inauguration of Donald Trump as “President” of the United States, a position he gained through collusion with a foreign power and active suppression of voter communities in multiple states.

Three days full of anxiety, excitement, hope, grief, comfort, anger, and every other emotion one can imagine. We’ve seen the beginnings of what this administration wants and how it will conduct itself in relation to the press, to the public, and to the truth.

But we’ve also seen dissent: the largest protest in American history rose up in cities large and small across America for the rights of women and against the administration of Donald Trump, his beliefs and behaviors to date, and what he represents to sexual assaulters and abusers across this nation. Millions of women took to the streets (with many men like myself joining to support), expressing their anger, and chanting loudly one of my favorite lines of the day: “We don’t want your tiny hands anywhere near our underpants.”

And it was magnificent.

A native Chicagoan, I was present for one of the largest accumulations of women nationwide that oppose Donald Trump and his staff, and pride in my city’s patriotism aside, my selfish nature drew a much more comforting thought from the packed trains, filled streets, and loud chants.

Today, I feel safe here. My love is safer here in Chicago, in light of what’s coming, than other places. I will fight for women, for Black lives, for trans lives, for the rights of immigrants and Muslim citizens, and they will fight for me — for my right to love my husband, to be treated like a human being, and simply to live openly, come what may.

It’s a powerful thing to feel that in a wave, standing nuts to butts with over 250,000 people.

In no small part, it’s what I felt with the publication of Love is Love just three short (but seemingly endless) weeks ago. A compilation of original short stories (one and two pages long) in honor — and financial support of — those who died in the Orlando Pulse shooting months ago, Love is Love represents a real grassroots swell of support for the queer community in comics that I couldn’t have imagined just a few years ago.

Curated by queer writer Marc Andreyko and edited by IDW Publishing’s Sarah Gaydos and DC Comics’ Jamie S. Rich, the book combines true reactions and sometimes graphic depictions of the violent shooting, as well as stories pledged to celebrating queerness, coming out, protest, marriage, growing families, and more. It features donated work from creators who are queer themselves — gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and presumably more — as well as many pieces from those who identify as allies.

It’s not a perfect mix any more than the Women’s March post-inauguration day was. It leaned heavy on typical media representations of gay men, felt light on transgender and racial diversity, and in some places, fell deep into allyship that came off too self-centering at times. It wasn’t enough to disturb the meaning of the book, and indeed, taken as a whole, the volume shines as a tribute to those who fight everyday for the right to love. But it did help illuminate something else about how our struggle as queer citizens is described and understood by even the most well-intentioned of straight supporters.

I understand this is in no way the politically advantageous position to take, even in 2017, but it’s an unavoidable truth I have to share.

Our love is never just love.

It can’t be. It would never survive if it was. And sometimes it doesn’t. But when it does, our love is a fight. It’s rebellion. It’s resistance to a world that wants to see us silenced, invisible, or dead. It’s pain. It’s courage. It’s relentless optimism in the face of overwhelming social weight against it. It would cripple any and every straight person I know, who have never had to push that hard against the rock of our culture simply to love another person.

A few creators really grasped this reality, the earliest in the volume being Teddy Tenenbaum, Mike Huddleston, and Corey Breen with their single page rendering of a young boy asking his father about two men kissing at a nearby gathering. It’s not only a textbook example of how easy it is for a (presumably) straight parent to speak to their child about gay people, but it recognizes the social inequity queer love faces without reinforcing the power of that status quo. It pivots to assigning heroism to resistance to all of the hate and fear that are institutionally set out to deny us love. Our love is super. Our love is more.

Jay Edidin and Sophia Foster-Dimino put it out there in even more explicit terms, pushing beyond the individual and expressing the value (not necessity) of queer love in a community sense. It too builds our love into something more than selfish, more than about sex, companionship, and security — into something that empowers an entire movement to change the world, fight back against oppression, and do so publicly.

And Emma Houxbois and Alejandra Guitierrez take a slightly more nuanced approach to the weight we carry in society, by focusing in on what makes a place like Orlando’s Pulse night club so important to the queer community. It is, as Houxbois describes, “a liminal space where societal norms are temporarily suspended.” It’s a place to experiment with identity, or simply default into what feels right. It is a release valve, a break, from the constant performance of our sexuality — or another — that bears an incredible, indescribable in extent, weight on the back of every queer person, out or not.

I think about what it takes to love, even as a gay, white man in a major metropolitan city — ostensibly the safest of identities among the queer rainbow — and on my worst days, I crumble under the weight of it. It’s a difficult thing to explain to family and friends, who, while blessedly supportive, simply can’t judge the psychic weight of having to reinforce and justify my love consistently in public space.

My father doesn’t get asked if he and my mother are brother and sister two to three times a week on average, because the idea of them as a married couple is so alien or dangerously offensive to those with whom they socially interact.

My brother-in-law doesn’t need to reiterate that he filled the “my spouse” blank in correctly each and every time he stands before a bank teller, postal employee, government clerk, insurance broker, or pharmacist.

None of my straight friends have ever had their desk at work pepper-sprayed by a colleague who wanted to see “people like them burn,” two days after showing their husband around the office.

Every day, in small and large ways, our love — our very existence as human — is called upon to show its receipts, to prove that we’re deserving, and to constantly do the work of reasserting itself in public, lest it be rendered inconsequential. The sheer emotional labor involved in loving as a queer person is massive. It is always active, never passive. It is never without consequence.

I understand the desire here, from queer persons and allies both, to try to convince those who doubt our humanity to recognize our similarities. That we are like them. That we are the same. That love is love.

But we are not. And it isn’t. Our love is more, by necessity.

And I’m not sorry to say it. It’s as much a burden as it is a blessing, if not more so the former. To love takes its toll on each one of us, emotionally and corporally. Sometimes it makes us stronger. Sometimes it makes us bitter to the things life has to offer — because they purposely are kept just beyond our reach. Occasionally, as it did last year in Orlando, it literally costs us our lives.

But when something like the Pulse shooting occurs, or leaders ascend in our country on a wave of hate, our love may be what saves us in the end, because it is infused already with anger, fear, and an uncompromising desire to fight. We can draw on it — some of us literally — and make change along the way. Here’s hoping we have more marches and comic volumes in us to keep us going against everything we need to fight that which wants to destroy us.

But not too many, God willing.


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