I was once an Arab queer, masculine of center teen. Living in the Arab world. Afraid, ashamed and confused.
Though I remember distinct moments, inexplicably rare moments of absolute clarity. Moments where I felt my body align with its essence. Moments that were unquestionably meant to happen no matter how ‘odd,’ ‘wrong’ or unusual. No matter if they had ever happened before for anyone else, or anywhere else. I knew they were meant to happen because I was no longer in control. Neither fear nor shame could stop them. I was going to let them happen. And these moments were fueled by an unrelenting desire to love, and perhaps be loved - be seen, be known. Be needed, wanted.
In the first 20 page love letter I had gotten -- maybe the first love letter aside from a neighborhood friend’s small love note which I burned in a fire, because he was a boy and I wanted to be his friend, nothing more. In the first 20 page love letter, my mutual love interest had written a confession. She had watched me with the eye of a mature artist, in what I felt were extended moments of photographic precision. Only 15 then, I was struck by the details she could see that I had never. From the markings on my face (that tiny tiny scar above my eye) to the way I squinted my eyes, or bit my lips when I was holding back. My animated hands dangling from my arms, their length. To my thought patterns, my response styles and logical reasonings. Someone had seen me whole for the first time (and written me about it, along with a convoluted love confession). I remember reading and re-reading the letter like a kind of mirror ritual. And I would always start reading with disbelief, transform halfway through and fall into a kind of thoughtless trance by the end. Time had stopped and the only thing left was a recognition of my breath, my heart beat. I was cloaked by a buzzing tingle that had increased my ability to feel tenfold. Feel…my awkward body. My face. I remember this moment of deep aliveness. A moment I wished I could capture and replay perpetually.
I surrendered. I was in love. No one could tell me it was wrong.
What happened in that moment is a kind of unmatched embodiment -- a complete presence with my body that I had learned to turn off to protect myself. Yet somehow, being seen with this level of detail, with that kind of elaborate perception gave me a profound sense of awareness. An aliveness I had lost somewhere along the way. A moment to live for… even when the idea of living was growing dimmer.
Some people say you have to learn to love yourself first. I disagree. The love I felt from that letter saved my life.
Loving is a communal act. I can’t say I was able to get there alone - seeing myself, loving myself. Without my lovers, but also without my elders - those who saw me in the ways one needs to be seen. The “love yourself” statement is somewhat incomplete, maybe even reifying the dichotomy it tries to resolve. The false division between the inner and outer worlds. There is no difference. There is no difference between the inner and outer worlds -- and if we believe that statement fully we would not be saying “love yourself” alone. The inner love would feed the outer love and the outer love would feed the inner in no particular order or primacy.
And to expect us queer of color, trans, disabled, marginalized folks to love ourselves when we struggle to be loved, when everything around us is built to remind us we don’t deserve to be loved -- is absurd, and violent. Don’t blame your (heteronormative) lack of love on us not loving ourselves. Examine instead why you were taught not to love us. We have a lot to teach you.
We are born to be loved, to be seen, to be known by our partners, friends, families, our communities -- by you. Not TOLERATED, not ACCEPTED, not LIKED but LOVED, deeply and fiercely. There is no time for “almost” anymore. That time is up.
What I’m about to say may teeter on a concept we (radical folks) hate most about a consumerist, industrialist, productionist culture. But I’m going to reframe it a little. It’s the idea of being needed, of serving a role or function. I’m going to call that idea: purpose (surprise, surprise) and I’m going to talk about it outside of the bounds of “productivity” as we know it in a colonial sense.
First, let me say that I will never deny that we need to be loved just for being. Before we’ve ever moved a finger or a toe. We need to be loved simply by virtue of being born.
And although I love and believe in this unconditional and inexplicably soul-lead dimension of love, the kind of love I am talking about is not devoid of practicality or purpose-- the kind of love I’m talking about is about physical, emotional and spiritual survival. In fact, loving us queer and trans and disabled of color folk is your (the rest of the world’s) prayer for survival. And it is the only way this planet will make it through this transition, this turmoil.
There is a reason some of us are born queer just as we are born of color. And yes, I said born and you can rip me to shreds for it, for my so-called ‘essentialism.’ I call that line of thought: indigenous, to my and others’ communal experiences. This is my pre-birth choice and is therefore part of my post-birth gift to the world -- as I believe it is for other queer of color folks who walk this path.
We are born, because you need us to be born. Because our communities need us in order to survive. Because we are the warriors that bridge destructive divides reified by systemic oppression, because we embody spaces of integration and convergence -- because we live and struggle and fight in those spaces day in and day out, where many seemingly opposing factors meet. Because we see the solutions you will overlook. Because when we know ourselves, we are a reminder of what balance and justice can look like. We are a line to creation, a reminder of the face of the great mystery. We are the artistic genius, the molders of energy, the perceivers of prophecy and the makers of magic. We are the leaders of this upcoming/ongoing revolution and we have always been the leaders of revolution -- that is why we are born. Whether acknowledged, noticed, remembered or not. We are the spark that creates the fire. We are the river water that reminds you where you came from, that returns you to the bottom of the ocean where you were made. We are power embodied. We are a gift to you.
And without us, without loving us and knowing how badly you need us right now… the world will end. Not metaphorically, but physically.
Every time a queer woman of color or transwoman of color disappears we are losing a line to the divine. We are killing, suffocating ourselves quickly. And I refuse to let this world self-destruct like this. That is my mandate, my pre-birth mandate.
I’m not asking anyone to love us because they should, out of pity, or understanding -- that is ignorant and no longer enough. Please spare us that kind of ‘love’. That is no longer ENOUGH. I’m asking you to love us because you need to. Because you need to see yourself and know yourself clearly through us. Not scapegoat us for hating the power that lives within us -- the parts of us that live in you that you’ve been taught to hate. Do not project your misery onto our bodies. We will only take this for so long, before we leave. We leave this earth, we leave this time and choose to fight another day. Do not pathologize us for wanting to leave or for leaving. Find the spaces in you that love us already. That need us. And we will stay.
Praise the child that surrenders to who they are, that knows no other way of being but what they were called to be despite the abuse, the torture, the misery, the painful nights spent squeezing out the grief we’ve inherited from generations of hate.
Praise the child that surrenders to who they are. That is your prayer for salvation.
In the name of my ancestors and unborn children, and the one that passed many years ago today, my Teta.
CBO, Baladé Black