The Queer Take: What catchy phrases like 'Love is Love' overlook about the LGBT experience

The Queer Take is a fortnightly column by poet-writer Joshua Muyiwa. Read more from the series here.

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Love is love; this purified, polite phrase unleashed across all merchandise and marketing during this Pride Month makes me shudder. While I have come to see similar simplistic political moves as generally effective, it continues to bother me. I think of these trite declarations as balms used to appease the morality mob. The fact, the everyday reality: Love isn’t just love in the LGBTQ community. The fact, the everyday reality: Love in our community can’t simply be articulated through the filter of pride, like this slogan suggests. Love in our community has always had the added sheen of shame. That this is something we don’t want to talk about publicly is completely understandable. But by lying to everyone else for so long, we’ve stopped talking about it in private too.

If we’re to believe the ethos of sports movies for a second, community spirit is built when people come together despite their differences for a common good. Good doesn’t always have anything to do with it though. I’ll admit that at the end of Denzel Washington painting a vivid picture of the Battle of Gettysburg in Remember the Titans, I always cry a little. But one of those times that I did feel that I’d overcome all of our differences with my peers in my real life is actually quite a mean memory. In the first year of college, we were quite the raucous bunch and a teacher exasperated with us, screamed out at the top of her lungs. Immediately, we were silenced. Then, she gathered her thoughts in those seconds of quiet and said, “Sometimes, I feel like I’m invisible to all of you. No, actually it is worse. It feels like I just keep appearing and disappearing." The entire class burst out laughing at the same time. We hadn’t done anything together till then. We couldn’t stop laughing. She stormed out of the classroom, only some of us took notice. In truth: at the most awkward social moments with my batchmates, one of us has recounted this story and laughing together has helped smooth over that brief bump. I feel I’m suppose to write, we do have happier memories of those days, which is true. Though this one is just the simplest trigger to other ones.

 The Queer Take: What catchy phrases like Love is Love overlook about the LGBT experience

‘Love is Love’ seems to say, our love is like your love, so it should be allowed. In truth: Our love is nothing like your love at all. Illustration courtesy Satwik Gade

In much the same way, many of us in my community might present their love stories as triumphs. This telling glazes over the tribulations that act as touchstones to the truth of it. As queer bodies, we forget that pain will always be our only portal to the pleasures. You’ll have to forgive my pride here (insert: laugh track), but love in my community isn’t the same as in yours. My community isn’t the same anymore either. It has changed quite rapidly from casual to contained, compartmentalised. Lately, we’ve had to climb over the growing walls between the various camps of the alphabet soup (read: you can’t be femme, you’ve got to be female) to find community, not just contact. Then, we’ve had to negotiate prejudices packaged as preferences (read: no fats, no femmes, no dark skin). And if you’ve even sampled something like love as a queer body in the world, then, you know the shit you’ve had to trudge through to do it. You know, it hasn’t been easy to articulate this idea, and at times, the other person doesn’t even know you love them; and you’ve been good with that too.

The thing that annoys me most about ‘Love is Love’ and other such type of public campaign phrasing is that it attempts to make love between two queer bodies palatable, pleasing and pleasant. It seems to say, our love is like your love, so it should be allowed. In truth: our love is nothing like your love at all. And it isn’t seeking your permission to exist. We don’t do the dirty work of overcoming our internalised insecurities, strict societal standards, community guidelines and then our own personal pickiness to fall in love and not see it recognised for its struggles. Our love is murky, mucky and muddled. Our love, our relationships contend with these stains from the very start of them.

In another mean twist of Pride Month, the most visible and vulnerable bodies in our communities are piggybacked on to gain mainstream acceptance. It feels like using difference to dazzle the masses without ever addressing the reality that these bodies are punished and policed within our communities too. These bodies aren’t loved in our community either. These bodies aren’t seen as deserving of love. These bodies stand as reminders of the shaming from our childhoods. In my own life, I’ve found that the visibility of my queerness has hampered my chances at finding love. I wish it wasn’t so and I’m not complaining, exactly. I’ll quickly add: I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m simply saying that I haven’t had an easy time with this thing called love. And this plucky phrasing doesn’t even begin to capture these hurdles in the path of a queer person’s search for something like love. But what single sentence can we put on the merchandise though? Maybe – to paraphrase, the late great Whitney Houston’s title track from her fourth studio album of the same name: Your love is not my love, and my love is not your love. Except I don’t think that it has the ‘right community spirit’ to go on everything from a mug to a t-shirt.

Joshua Muyiwa is a Bengaluru-based poet and writer

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Updated Date: Jun 15, 2019 13:42:50 IST