A column about queer love in a Trump dystopia
One of my mentors, who is a white man, recently remarked to me with a tinge of sorrow in his voice: “Whiteness is not at all a privilege; rather, it is a spiritually impoverished way of moving through the world.” As a person of color with a wakening consciousness, I am rarely not ruminating on race, color, and whiteness. Over the past few years, my understanding of the plight of people of color in this country has come into sharp clarity against the backdrop of the pathetic lack of Asian Americans in film and TV, the surfacing of disproportionate police brutality against black communities, the recent Muslim ban under the new administration, and how our capitalist government continues its long standing tradition of destroying indigenous ways of life. The deathly legacy of whiteness over the last five centuries is utterly unenviable. In some anti-racist spaces, due to the acknowledgment of generations of trauma due to white supremacy and devaluation of black/brown life, whiteness is de facto perceived as a blight to move as far away from as possible.
In my nascent grappling with understanding how white supremacy snakes through everything and everyone, my shock and disgust began to bleed into the way I enacted my relationships. I had been relishing a loving, supportive, monogamous relationship with my white partner for several dreamy months. In one turn, I was plagued by guilt for loving a white person when the arms of white supremacy were gunning down my peaceful black neighbors in the name of white safety. I raged alone, I penned anguished prose, and I drew back emotionally. I expressed my intense confusion to my partner as it came tumbling out one boozy evening. She was hurt, but unsurprised. At parties and on social media, I became aware of more representations of black queer love, Asian/Pacific Islander queer love, Latinx queer love, and so forth. The recommendation was clear: people of color must love each other to survive. Our rich cultures and alternate knowledges, both subjugated and commodified by mainstream white culture, must be celebrated and protected by us. In this light, what was I doing loving a white person? Painfully, my partner processed this with me over long-distance. We broke up. Weeks later, injured yet still in love, we decided to get back together in an open relationship.
“Whiteness is not at all a privilege; rather, it is a spiritually impoverished way of moving through the world.”
Now I had a chance to experience romance and sex with another queer person of color for the first time. It just so happened that I had been spending a lot of time with a very cute femme Asian friend. After expressing zings of mutual attraction, we had sex after Trans Pride. I had fantasized about this moment over and over again, how connecting intimately with a person who sort of looked like me and had a similar culture would feel oh so right. The sex was pretty awkward, since we were unfamiliar with each others’ bodies and preferences. It was also fun and novel, and my body reverberated with elation for days. I was walking on pink clouds. But we came into a disagreement and our connection was extinguished almost as rapidly as it started. She soon drifted into the background of community as someone I would see occasionally at queer events and briefly greet. I decided an open relationship wasn’t my jam, and went back to being monogamous with my partner and have been ever since.
Reflecting on that experience two years later, I realize how much I needed to be validated as a Chinese American and how I hoped I could accomplish that through sex and romance with other people like me. Don’t get me wrong—it makes me tingle with joy when I see people of color thriving in healthy relationships with each other. It is hope and resistance personified, it is the political made personal. For me, I love my partner and that’s that. Although whiteness is an ever-present aspect in our relationship we regularly name and negotiate, she is not solely defined by it. When I frame her existence against the critical lens of whiteness, I am removing her agency and flattening her multitudes. My partner is an anti-racist activist, an artist, a poet, a dreamer, a cook, a mentor, an educator, a filmmaker, and so much more I’ve yet to discover. What I’ve learned from this and other experiences is that I can’t save myself or my communities by applying identity politics to every aspect of my life. Relationships and intimacy are complicated; they do not play by hard and fast political rules I attempt to impose. I have a partner who recognizes the places she can’t meet me, and she has private spaces I can’t access either. During this time, I’ve also amassed so many sweet friendships with people of color, queer, straight and everything in between. We rage, cry, protest, and question together. In those realms, I don’t have to do it alone anymore.
Frances S. Lee is a queer designer, trans baker, cultural studies scholar.