I never really understood family. What I did understand was that I couldn’t really get attached to it.
My mother is what many might have called a mistress, making me the bastard child. Although she was with my father for 14 years, the three of us marked his third separate family as he had five kids from his previous marriage and four kids with his then and current wife. My relationship with them has been strained at best. I’m a painful reminder of my father’s indiscretion and was the only one raised in North America, which gave them far more reasons to welcome my distance than my presence. And coming out as queer to that side of the family produced tears and accusations that this was so selfish of me as now I could never give them a grandchild.
My single mother, although thankful for me, always swore that if she could do it again, she would do it alone.
I bounced around a lot, weeks and months spent as a guest in many different families. I have found my home for a time in abundant loving Filipino families surrounded by a lot of food and a lot of kids; in small, Polish families of visionary artists and travelers, who nurtured me with stories of Sartre and introduced me to oil paintings; and unfriendly corporate, wealthy families with massive homes devoid of the spirits to fill them. As a transient little Queer Black Girl, I have seen a lot of families.
And the skill I became best at with all these families was leaving: in the middle of the night, before I overstayed my welcome, leaving when I had nowhere to go, leaving when the yelling started, when the sun rose or in the dead of night.
And once I started dating, as a Queer Black Girlfriend, I was not normally the girl that parents wanted to welcome home. My first partner’s Trinidadian mother upon realizing who I was, dropped her hand limply in mine with an icy stare and asked her daughter to make sure I was gone before she left. One of my long-term white partner’s father would regularly offer soliloquies on how immigrants were ruining this country, and me with my polite immigrant tongue swelling in my mouth shifted my gaze to my partner’s sheepish shrug and realized that just like everywhere else, this was not my home.
Most of the time I am an obvious secret, an exceptional exception or a quiet reminder: the friend, the colleague or a laundry list of accomplishments that will hopefully quiet the family rumblings.
Anti-Black racism and femmephobia while dating is real. I have had partners shame me for the sag of my breasts, all the femme rituals that are integral to the way I do gender and even the smell of my pussy. I have had partners walk away while I am being harassed by a group of men and partners who in drunken rages have left me with bruises across my body.
And in a world where it seems like there is an article monthly decrying that Black women are the least desirable in dating, the strength and desire to keep going comes from my homegirls, my mentors like Punam Kholsla and a small fire burning inside that is stoked by mi abuela’s unconditional love.
I gave up on family a long time ago. I built community. I created coalitions and organizations, but that kind of ride or die, got you for life shit — I never put any stock in it. It was better not to have hope than to risk more and more crushing disappointment.
And now at the end of my 29th year, I am in love for what feels like the first and last time and we are deciding to start a family and merge a family. She is a Newfoundland born butch with Italian roots and on our anniversary after a lot of years and heartbreak and work, she asked me with a ring purple as my heart chakra to spend the rest of our lives together and I tearfully said yes.
For us the way we have reimagined engagement is a commitment to create a family together. A commitment to acts of daily solidarity. For her daily acts of acknowledging and being accountable for her privilege as a white masculine of centre woman, to holding me down in the street, to creating lots of space for me to shine and interrupting racism whenever she sees it whether it is her family or friends.
Our engagement is a commitment to learn together, to study our mother tongues as well as learn sign, to explore quantum physics and Indigenous knowledge systems and to believe in magic.
When you come from trauma, survival seems like self care and our engaging each other is a commitment to let our guards down, become increasingly vulnerable, to love sweeter and softer and with more and more consent. And as a chronically ill babe, the care I get and I give to her humbles me every single day.
In a world that is framed by systemic racism, sexism, ableism and a gamut of institutionalized experiences of oppression, and as someone who has been engaged in active resistance there are a lot of values that are important for me, and to be entirely honest I didn’t think I would ever partner with someone who was white again.
I was tired of the ‘casual racism’ from their friends and family, explaining that my Blackness was something I never got a break from, and the denial of privilege and all that comes with it.
Reconciling these things is an ongoing process, one that I could not do without a powerfully tight circle of women and people who are Black and People Of Colour who make up our closest friends and mentors. These folks have held and counseled us together and separately when we needed to be apart. Us sharing a best friend, two relationships that developed entirely unbeknownst to each other, has also been such an asset. There are countless people with values I trust deeply who love us separately and together and check us both when we need it.
It seems that somewhere along the line with all the leaving and the running, I got found by a small crew of folks who define family as these loose elastic relationships. It is like we are being held in a cat’s cradle. It is sometimes chaotic and unclear, but we are knitted together by our struggles, linked by shared experiences and shared values to love each other’s autonomy and freedom most of all. We work hard not to bind each other, but nurture each other, recognizing that the only thing that will always remain true is that everything will change.
And change has come so swiftly, I realized I want to have as many children as possible, at least 4, but hopefully 6. I finally feel safe enough to imagine the big queer family I never had. A home where gender is an option, not an obligation, where parents can apologize to each other as well as to their kids and where long, ongoing conversations about race, power and privilege exist.
I am going to homeschool these damn babies.
I want to spend more and more of my time building this fragile precious thing called family. I think it will be one of the most radical, transformative and healing things I will ever do to love and be loved, to create everything I never had and never dared to wish for, at least not until now.
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