Feature image photos by Sofia Lee
Okay, everyone: I know what’s happening tomorrow, you know what’s happening tomorrow, and if you’re a regular reader of Queer Crip Love Fest, chances are you’re pretty torn up about it. I, for one, have been dealing with a low rumble of nausea all week (or since about November 5, really) and want to spend these closing hours of the Obama era reminding myself how and why to keep fighting. So, in the spirit of gathering our strength and resisting the living hell out of these next four years, I bring you our sweetest installment to date — along with some notes for the revolution.
Yael is a 22-year-old agender trans woman living in Seattle who described her relationship with her girlfriend Jarreau like this:
“After a night in late July when I got my first choker, we ended up hooking up and from there on, our subsequent encounters made us realize how gay we are for the other person. We’re both really goofy and silly and we’ll crack jokes with each other all the time, and whenever there’s serious stuff we need to talk about, we affirm each other and figure out how to grow in caring for each other. Whenever I feel really emotionally drained or something bad happens, I can go see her and just rest in her warm presence.”
Don’t you want to meet them? Just for that choker story alone? I did too. So read on and remember, my fellow resisters: love won’t save us on its own, but it certainly helps along the way. We love you and we are here.
So you recently moved to Seattle, and you met your girlfriend soon after, right?
Yep! I first visited last summer back when I was dating an ex of mine. It was only a visit, but as soon as I got up here I felt like I had fresh air and wasn’t extremely anxious all the time. So I figured out how to make it work and finally moved to Seattle back in March. I found this amazing group of friends and two of the people I’ve had romantic and sexual entanglements with, all in the same night and at the same place. I met Jarreau there but we were only acquaintances after that.
Tell me more about it! Did you approach her or vice versa or both or…?
Having moved to a new city, I was like “I don’t know anybody here, I need more friends because I feel so isolated right now.” So being the little social butterfly I am, I was chatting up a storm with just about everybody, and I was like, “She’s cute and I like talking to her but I don’t think she’s interested in me, so I’ll file that away and we’ll be friends,” which is a super easy mental process for me.
Once we became friends, I had walked to Capitol Hill with my cane, and I saw her sitting on the stairs of some building eating a burrito, and I was so excited to see her. Because while I had built up the skeleton for my current set of friend groups in Seattle, I wanted to nurture and blow on every little flame of friendship I saw. We ended up having a really exciting conversation and made plans to meet up later that day for coffee as a “friend date” —
Ah yes, the friend date. Ambiguous yet promising.
Yeah! And she told me a while after that, one of the things she really loved about that encounter was how excited I was to see her. In hindsight, it was the classic meet cute and it was amazing. When we met up later that day it was a few hours of sweet and interesting conversation. Another time after that, we went to visit a different friend but ended up just talking to each other and eating some bowl of chocolate in the shop where our friend worked. I don’t know what it was exactly, but all the little seeds of a crush she had for me blossomed into a full-on one.
“One of the things she really loved about that encounter was how excited I was to see her. In hindsight, it was the classic meet cute and it was amazing.”
That is so sweet, I love it.
But I was completely oblivious! So after that, we bumped into each other a few times at this rooftop summer LGBT party and this amazing bar that’s really faggy and dykey. During that same time, a complicated thing started with an older cis woman friend of mine. We both had feelings for each other and stuff happened, but she wasn’t ready for a relationship, which made things complicated to navigate emotionally, and that was hard.
So I ended up thinking, “Theoretically, I’m poly, I need to have a week where I’m super slutty and get a lot of attention.” So that was when I bought my first choker. Both because it’s a trans woman thing, and I’d read some article that jokingly said that after women get a choker, they have a lot of sex. So I went to Claire’s, got this cute lacy choker that had a metal heart attached to it — and who do I run into, but my soon-to-be girlfriend. I swear, that choker was a fucking miracle.
Later that night we were at a bar and I told her about how I want to have many slutty and gay escapades, and then she asked if I wanted to sleep with her, making sure to clarify only if I wanted to and it was only a suggestion. It took a second for me to refile her in my mental categories, because I hadn’t realized she was interested. After that, I was super enthusiastic. So we hooked up in one of the bathrooms there.
“Being the silly and cheeky person I am, decided to be cute and poke fun like ‘That’s cute that you called me your girlfriend.’ And she was like ‘I didn’t, but that’s actually a really great idea and I’d love to be that with you if you want.'”
YEAH YOU DID. So was it officially on after that?
We decided to hook up again several times and in my mind, it seemed like a friends with benefits situation. But then we both caught emotions for each other, and ended up going on several dates. One night was super romantic — dimmed lights, all that — and at one point, I thought she had called me her girlfriend even though we weren’t official at the time. Being the silly and cheeky person I am, I decided to be cute and poke fun like “That’s cute that you called me your girlfriend.” And she was like “I didn’t, but that’s actually a really great idea and I’d love to be that with you if you want.”
So cute! Oh my.
From that point on we threw ourselves into the swing of things while we slowly figured each other out and what our dynamics were going to be. In some ways it was really easy, both of us being trans women, and nonbinary trans women at that. In others we were different, with me being physically disabled and younger than she is, and her being Black. So we both went through this process of “Is she going to be respectful and mindful of power dynamics?” and ultimately, yeah, that’s how it turned out.
We both realized this is a constant process and there’s an important ethical responsibility in handling power differences for the both of us. We always grew and affirmed each other. Even when we weren’t talking about power differences, we were both thinking about what the proper ethical actions are to go through our dynamics. I care about her so much and love her so much, and she loves me.
I’m wondering how poly plays out for you, especially intersecting with disability and race and gender and all of your identities.
I tend to avoid poly communities as much as I can, except if they’re LGBT. Hetero-aligned polyamory is such an utter nightmare. Straight poly communities, to me, have always stunk of domination by popular dudes trying to get laid as much as possible. I got into polyamory originally because I was really attracted to the radical love part of it, how in the right circumstances, it works very well to build social infrastructures and support networks.
“So much of the Poly 101 info out there is catered to neurotypical able-bodied folks. So disabled poly folks have always had to find each other and through the lessons we’ve learned, build our own 101s, our own communal reservoirs of advice and wisdom and possible paths.”
I’m physically disabled and I need to be able to access caretakers now and then, and spreading it out versus focusing it on one person is a survival strategy I have for avoiding a caretaker turning on me and becoming really ableist. Also, with my bipolar disorder, I deal with such intense emotional energies all the time and such a strong desire for attention, and poly is a coping mechanism for that. I don’t have to worry if one person is not giving me affection at the time, because a bunch of other people are!
I’m also moving and encountering and growing through this world with the trauma I’ve had to deal with. To be perfectly honest, I would not have survived if it wasn’t for my friends and support networks, social infrastructures and communal fabrics. They’ve always helped me to cling and hold tightly to life. Nobody can go through this world alone, nobody. We’re embedded within webs of relations and it’s such an important value to me: interconnectivity and interdependence, mutual self-care.
Navigating polyamory with mental illness and neurodivergences is such a task, because for a while, you have to learn the hard way how to do it yourself. So much of the Poly 101 info out there is catered to neurotypical able-bodied folks. So disabled poly folks have always had to find each other and through the lessons we’ve learned, build our own 101s, our own communal reservoirs of advice and wisdom and possible paths.
Yes! As is the case with a ton of sexual communities, including the queer community at large, I think.
With race, I’m always thinking about how my whiteness impacts my relationships, and even if a lot of white LGBT folks don’t like to talk about it, we all have the subconscious and sometimes conscious urge of the whole white picket fence, 1950s path of relationships, and it’s a constant and ongoing process for us to critique and move against that. In dating, sooner or later, you’re going to have a partner who’s BIPOC and there’s an ethical responsibility to constantly manage our whiteness.
“We need to constantly figure this stuff out and hold other white people accountable because if we don’t, sooner or later, a person of color is going to be forced to do emotional labor they don’t want to do, and there’s an ethical responsibility to prevent that. It’s a process of regularly giving space to the people of color in your life for them to do their own thing.”
A common mechanism in a lot of interracial relationships is that white folks take up way too much emotional energy and way too much space. Like, we need to constantly figure this stuff out and hold other white people accountable because if we don’t, sooner or later, a person of color is going to be forced to do emotional labor they don’t want to do, and there’s an ethical responsibility to prevent that. It’s a process of regularly giving space to the people of color in your life for them to do their own thing. It’s a constant process, you can always fuck up, but you need to hold yourself accountable and grow.
We do have a knack for the fuck up, yes.
My girlfriend has this saying: “I don’t try to be perfect, but I always strive to always do better.” Which is an A+ ethos, to be honest.
That’s fantastic. Solid words to live by.
In terms of gender, that’s a whole thing on its own. So many cis LGBT folks have such a narrow, homonationalist view of their futures. They see potential years and decades and lifetimes with other cis people they find cute, but so many times, when they look at trans women, they don’t see futures in us.
What a spot on way to say it.
They see us as short flings, as experiences to try. And it’s really frustrating because like, I’m not at all a separatist — I think that goes to bad places — and I have many cis folks in my life who I care bunches about. But so many times, cis people in general don’t get it. Like, I want to be around you but I need you to do the work that comes with critically examining and undermining your role in cisness in a way that isn’t the whole performative ally thing. And so many cis people aren’t willing to do that. Gender fucks up everybody, trans and gender nonconforming and cis people.
“They see potential years and decades and lifetimes with other cis people they find cute, but so many times, when they look at trans women, they don’t see futures in us.”
A lot of the time, trans women signify the dramatic contradictions within gender just bubbling under the surface. We corrode the toxic cisness of their milieus and networks and worlds, and they’re not willing to give up the material positions of cisness and the comforts and resources that come with that. I’m super sapphic, but there really is so much cisness in a lot of WLW communities. Women-aligned gay spaces don’t do the work of making an atmosphere that welcomes and centers trans women. They pay lip service a lot, but they’re more likely to produce infrastructures and networks and fabrics that only provide for cis sapphic folks. At the end of the day, cis sapphic folks and sapphic spaces need to centrally dwell on the questions of “How do we undermine cisness in this space and provide the resource networks to trans women that cis sapphic folks already have?”
We should all go ahead and tattoo that question on our foreheads. Were you your girlfriend’s first exposure to disability politics?
I don’t think so? I think she’s encountered it. I think I’m the first physically disabled person she’s dated, though. When I asked why she was never ableist towards me and respectful of my physical limits — her answer, oh my god. It made me so happy.
Tell me! What did she say?
She basically saw that sooner or later, everybody is going to encounter and enter into positions of disability. For most people, that usually happens when they’re older. But knowing that, she realized it was something she had to honor even though she’s 90% able-bodied at this point. She realized that navigating ableism and her position as an able-bodied position in relation to physically disabled folks was going to be a constant thing.
That’s an incredible response, and very perceptive.
I can visibly see she’s willing to do the work and accept the ethical responsibilities of encountering others who are marginalized in ways you’re not. Like, if I’m having a fibro episode, she’ll walk me through it, ask what she can do, and most importantly, respect my consent. She doesn’t act like physically disabled bodies can be used as toys.
“Are they going to explode and make a big deal out of a small basic need and get resentful for addressing needs that, if they were coming from an able-bodied person, they wouldn’t blink twice?”
It’s worth mentioning how patronizing able-bodied people can be. They treat us like beautiful props and displays to have around, but they don’t respect our consent and autonomy. They just treat us as furniture, at best, to move around — and at worst (which is a lot of the time), they treat us as broken tools and utilities. They try and extract labor even though that’s not going to happen. Our bodies simply can’t do that, and they get really frustrated with that. Which, to be honest, is a common tendency in our ableist and capitalist society — how so many people treat others like tools, thinking “what can I use this person for?” It’s not just a toxic attitude but a violent and abusive logic common to so many institutions and networks.
Do you feel that weight in your relationship ever, of the expectations people have about disabled folks and our able-bodied partners?
Oh, that I’m expected to do all the emotional labor just so they can be the “good” able-bodied person? That has happened occasionally. Not with my girlfriend or my sweet friend or most people I’ve had romantic and sexual encounters with lately, but it has happened before, and it’s really frustrating. Because one of the things that has always made it hard for me to ask for help sometimes, is I’m worried about what the other person’s reaction is going to be.
Are they going to explode and make a big deal out of a small basic need and get resentful for addressing needs that, if they were coming from an able-bodied person, they wouldn’t blink twice? So through a lot of trial and error, I’ve learned to suss it out. At the end of the day, if an able-bodied person is not willing to do the work that comes with the ethical encounter, I’m not really interested in dealing with them regularly.
It’s why I left my family, because apart from a small handful of people, they could never understand and affirm me. They always treated me either like a beautiful prop or a broken tool, and I figured I deserve way better than that.
“It’s not ‘we’re all the same, we should all love each other’ but more like, everyone won’t be like us, there will be differences, there will be divides, but what matters is how we go about affirming those differences. Not idealizing and projecting on others, but seeing how we can grow together.”
You are absolutely right, and I’m so glad you got it. So what does love mean to you?
Wait, sorry, my girlfriend is just starting to wake up and she’s being super sweet, oh my god.
Aww hiiii! That timing could not have been better.
Okay, love: that’s a big question. Being the philosophy nerd that I am, I would say this comes down to ethics. Every day we encounter other people, each who may or may not share some commonality with us. In every encounter, there’s an important and strong ethical responsibility to affirm the other, and that responsibility is a constant process. We can’t belittle or fetishize the other person; we have to respect and encourage their autonomy, not just on a personal level, but also in the encounters between milieus and networks.
We have to build up an ethical, communal fabric. Not a “community,” per se. Communities are imagined groupings, they depend on borders and limits, they require enemies and scapegoats; they’re filled with egocrats who care more about their own universes rather than encouraging growth and change and healing and affirmation. Communities get so fucked over by a particular sort of desire and envy of, “Why does this other person have this thing? I want that thing,” and it leads to so much lateral violence. Building an ethical, communal fabric is about making a break from that: about styles of care where we affirm and respect and love each other and no matter what the circumstance, we all dream for a better world, we constantly work on healing whatever traumas we carry, and push toward common goals.
It’s not hippy-dippy “we’re all the same, we should all love each other” but more like, everyone won’t be like us, there will be differences, there will be divides, but what matters is how we go about affirming those differences. Not idealizing and projecting on others, but seeing how we can grow together.
All so true, and really well put! I think that’s all crucial to keep in mind as we move into the Trump era, too.
Serious Love, whether romantic or sexual or platonic or whatever, requires us to actively respect and take on the task of ethical responsibility towards the other, to build an ethical communal fabric that will always defend each other and grow with each other and never ever forget that healing is the number one task that can never be dropped or disregarded.
As soon as you forget about healing and often the momentous tasks and exchanges and reparations that come with that, everything gets fucked up. You’re never obliged to be around other people, but you are obliged to take seriously the task that we don’t hurt the people we are around. And whether between power differences or laterally, we can never stop taking that seriously.