Sunday, June 22, 2008

Love and...everything else

I have been trying recently to write about partnerships love. As in, for the last four days I have sat down and typed out long winding convoluted sentences that politely try to ask the question: “how do you sustain a relationship”? Eventually I realized that my attempts to cover this main question with flowery phrases and clever quotes had me as confused as any reader would be.

But the more I think about my love for my partner, and the more I realize how visible we are as interracial and queer, the more afraid I become, Not afraid of discrimination or violence, but of the fact that no matter where I go to look for answers about my life I can not find myself. I find queer couples or straight interracial couples, I find long-lasting friendships between white men and Black women, I find steamy hot but ultimately broken relationships between white women and Black women. I find narratives about the universality of love and memoirs by white mothers of Black children. But I never see us.

And then I wonder why I need to see us. If I ever did come across a documentary or memoir about a white Midwest transman and a mixed Black genderqueer lady…would I even like it? I’d critique it to death! I don’t need any affirmation that our love is real or right or legitimate. I feel that every day. I don’t need any affirmation that our couples have always existed. Our lives are clouded and secret, they are oral histories and art projects. Our lives exist in old photographs and sideways glances on subways. We are the stuff of weekend retreats and college thesises. We make our lives from scratch, we build them slowly, and like Edna St. Vincent Millay’s castle - they are built precariously upon the sand.

No, I don’t crave affirmation or historical records. I think what I crave for is an elder who can give me guidance on behavior. I want to see examples of how white men earn their keep in interracial relationships.

One of the most surprising things that I should have known but didn’t see coming when I threw my entire being into this couple, is that my white privilege will always be present. Things that I might not think of as racially motivated will appear so because of my history, my background, my constant privilege. Phrases that wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in an all white circle (“what are you people doing?”) suddenly seem racially charged. My extreme shyness, which often causes me to back into corners and keep my eyes plastered to the ground seems to be motivate by being surrounded by educated and opinionated Black women, as opposed to a ridiculous inability to meet strangers. And at the same time…there is a deeply rooted racist reason for my actions, a reason that I can take control of and try to own, and a reason that ultimately I know I will never completely overcome. That knowledge is incredibly painful and at times the pain of it doesn’t allow me to carry forward in any positive way.

Like bell hooks suggests in “all about love” there is an inexcusable lack of representation of long-lasting (queer, interracial) love in the majority of our lives. I can’t find examples of queer couples where one partner is white who make their race, class, ability, and queerness a constant part of their lives. I know some couples, and perhaps I should schedule a time to sit down and hash out exactly how they negotiate their identities…but I’ve yet to hear or see or read an honest account. Audre Lorde discusses her relationship with her white (Irish? Italian? I can’t recall) love Muriel in “ZAMI”, and Cherrie Moraga notes her relationship with her white Irish partner in many of her works especially “Waiting in the Wings”. I have read a few accounts of white mothers raising children of color – most amazingly Jane Lazarre’s “Beyond the Whiteness of Whiteness”. But there are few complete accounts that I can draw upon.

There are a million small things that have amazed me since falling in love. That someone scratching their nose during sex doesn’t mean they are bored, it means their nose itches (sometimes it means they’re bored too). Not crying doesn’t mean you’re not hurt, crying doesn’t man you are hurt. Making love after fighting doesn’t mean you’re codependent, it means there aren’t any more words left. If you can laugh while you eat leftovers, it tastes like a whole new meal. And as much as I try, my white privilege will always be here.

But it is how I negotiate the last one, how we respond and react to each other that will ensure just how much impact that last fact has in our lives. And now that I’ve finally written down all the things that kept me from addressing it…I think my next blog post will be specifically on ways I try and address my whiteness in the relationship, and ways I feel I fail at addressing it. Which, eventually, will be posted here.


nixwilliams said...

i really look forward to reading the next post when it comes along. thank you.

Anonymous said...

When I broke up with my partner of five years, she said to me, “It will be much easier for you to walk through the world without a black woman at your side.” That hurt me, as she knew it would. But it hurt me because she was right – I was walking away with the white privilege I’d always had, and I was gaining additional privileges that come along with being a white woman outside of an interracial relationship.

My partner and I rarely knew what to do with the ways that my white privilege manifested itself in our relationship – how to be honest about it, how to work with it, how to talk about it in ways that got more at our feelings and less at the intellectual knowledge we (especially she, as a college lecturer and soon-to-be PhD) carried with us. I am impressed by the work that you are doing in your current relationship, by your efforts to wrestle with the complexity of being the couple that you are in the world that you live in. I am impressed by your efforts to begin dialogue about this.

I hope that you do find those white (male) allies (in interracial relationships) to support you. In the two years since my partner and I broke up, that has been one of the most valuable things for me – talking with other (queer) white folks about their journeys and struggles and mistakes and insights, as I have tried to engage with these issues of racial privilege and oppression from my new position outside of an interracial relationship. I continue to carry with me a conscious of my white privilege that I gained while in this relationship, but my partner is right – it is easier to walk through this world without a black woman at my side. It’s easier not to notice, not to engage in, not to intervene in the daily operation of privilege and oppression in my life. Sometimes I do a good job of fighting against that tendency toward obliviousness and complacency; at other times, I simply don’t.

Thanks for providing a little jolt out of my obliviousness and complacency.

Dylan said...

I think most people have a desire to see themselves and their lives reflected in those of others. It's not that we need the affirmation or approval of someone else, but somehow it makes us feel a bit more sane to know we are not alone. Even if that relationship wasn't an exact mirror of yours, some of the struggles would be the same... you could and would share unspoken understandings, because some things you encounter/feel would be universal. It's nice at times to stand on common ground... to just have someone nod and get it without explanation.

I've tried to explore this topic before in my own writing and I could never quite get at the real issues, articulate what I was really trying to say. This was a wonderfully self reflective entry, I look forward to the next one you have planned.

Mik Danger said...

Wow. Thank you all for your posts, and A thank you for that story. What a heartbreaking situation.

I promise you all that I will be posting my promised follow-up soon, but understandably I'm wanting it to be complete and that's taking a bit longer than I had first thought.