Kin Aesthetics // Queer Kinship in a Trump Dystopia

 Queer Kinship Photo by Cristal Veronica

What does kinship mean when living under Trump’s dystopia? In what ways are shifting how we relate to one another?

Let me preface with a former fantasy of mine. Near the end of my struggles to acknowledge my queerness, I held on to this idea that once I came out, I would be ushered into an instant queer family. I thought my queerness would be my golden ticket to a community of love, connection, acceptance. The tightness to which I gripped this dream was informed by years of feeling alienated in my all-hetero friend group. It was the narrative I kept repeating to myself as I built up enough courage to permanently alter the course of my life.

When I began identifying publicly as queer and entered the local queer community, my dream of having an instant family never quite materialized. I pushed myself to go out to house parties, bars, poetry readings, marches, workshops, all geared towards LGBTQ folks. In those spaces and in every interaction, I learned so much about the culture of queerness and the specific politics that define queerness beyond sexuality or gender. Because we are aligned under similar oppressions, I automatically became part of a political group. And my gender expression and sexuality were accepted without question. The relief of being seen and understood washed over me again and again until it felt like something I could expect and demand from this world. And, the nature of my social relations were not dramatically transformed. It’s still terribly difficult to make friends as an adult, queer or not. Like all friends do, my friends occasionally let me down or hurt me irresponsibly. Queer community is by no means my alternative chosen family. Replacing this fantasy with a framework of active community building has been an ongoing work in progress.

When I began identifying publicly as queer and entered the local queer community, my dream of having an instant family never quite materialized.

Last fall, I started a masters in Cultural Studies. I originally applied to this program on a whim because it spoke to my desires to combine my separate interests (tech, design, activism) in a body of research and community interventions. The cohort I was placed in consists of 17 people from all over the country, meeting for 10 hours a week. Before walking into class the first day, I was riddled with anxiety about whether we would get along or not. Would I be able to express my anger and fear at the new administration? Would someone come out in support of DT? My colleagues are white, Black, Vietnamese, mixed race, Mexican, Muslim, political refugees, queer, fresh out of undergrad, hold 20+ year careers, struggle with health issues, athletes, chefs, teachers, single parents, and low-wage earners. Two quarters later, I can confidently say that this cohort is a large reason why I feel grounded. Unexpected, these folks have become my alternative kinship. We enact care for each other in ways that I don’t do for all my friends. We regularly check in with each other over email and Signal, we have applied for conferences together, study together on the weekends, bring food to class when we can, and reach out when we are having a hard time. They are my thought partners, and they also show up for me emotionally. Some of them assert things that I don’t agree with, or even make me upset. And then we talk through them by challenging each others’ ideas and asking each other to expand on our hypotheses.

What does it mean to spend two evenings a week with people who aren’t your chosen friends or direct community members? For me, it’s a new form of relating to other people I did not choose that is teaching me so much about being in a community not based on shared identities. It is challenging my preference for wanting to only be around queer people who use a shared language and are angry at the same things in the world. As an activist, I am learning lessons about the need to know how to relate to and care for people who aren’t like me, and who even wholeheartedly disagree with me. Because we live in a world where a myriad of clashing opinions and ideologies drive people’s behaviors in the voting booth, at school, at home, and behind screens. In This Bridge Called Our Backs: Writings By Radical Women of Color, Barbara Smith muses, “What I really feel is radical is trying to make coalitions with people who are different from you.” During the next four years, I wonder what it would look like to hold both our beliefs and our community members close to our hearts.

 Frances Lee


Frances S. Lee is a queer designer, trans baker, cultural studies scholar.