By Bel South
When the HOLAAfrica! team put out a call for stories about queer love it made me start thinking about what queer love looks like, what does it feel like, what does it act like? What does it mean to truly queer love?
Love between people (whether mono or polyamorous) consists of a cocktail of personalities, egos and emotions, stirred inside layers stained and strained by the complexities of power and privileges. I realised that if I want to love and love well, I need to find ways to navigate these complexities with kindness, openness and most terrifying of all…my own vulnerability.
For me, queer love is an open and honest interrogation of love. It recognises that love changes, is in flux, is never static. As are people. Love for myself, another person or many other people, shifts as I grow and change, and queering love enhances my ability to negotiate these shifts.
In any relationship there are layers of unspoken assumptions and stereotypes. Queer love confronts these things, brings them to light, grapples with them, challenges them.
From the the way we were brought up,
to how the world reads our bodies,
to how we step into and engage with the world.
From how we identify and experience
class, race, gender, sexual orientation, disability.
It has less to do with the gender identity/sexual orientation of who I fuck, but has everything to do with an analysis, confrontation, negotiation and naming of power in all forms in all spaces. Consciously building a more critical love.
Much of my way of loving in previous relationships was wrapped up in heteronormative power play. I felt myself working to live up some strange expectations of what it means to be a women, what it means to be a girlfriend, or a partner, or a sex goddess. And I realised all of these were stopping me from loving myself, stopping me from loving my partner at the time. I wanted to shed those layers and shatter those heteronormative shackles. I wanted to work out for myself how I want to love and how I want to be loved.
This journey of self continues and is interconnected with my partners own journey. We realised we had agency in this relationship-building process. And once we began to articulate how we needed to be loved and the challenges we had in loving (of which there were many ghosts from the past), it made the loving a whole lot clearer, not easier, but definitely healthier.
In this queering love co-creation there are 3 traditions my partner and I have experimented with over the last few years of queer living and loving together. We have acknowledged that these ideas are not perfect and they may work just for us, but if loving is about questioning and learning then these 3 traditions have proven invaluable in unwrapping ourselves and one another better.
Tradition I: Annual Monitoring & Evaluation
Tradition II: Our Open Table
Tradition III: New Years Eve High
TRADITION I: Annual Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E) Dinner
Our first experiment with queering love traditions started with our first anniversary – around August – springtime in the Southern hemisphere. We picked a fancy restaurant, one with good food and lots of wine. We got dressed up in our grown up clothes and as the wine flowed we fell into a conversation about how the last year of our relationship had unfolded. It felt good to reflect and be a little critical about what we had been up too together.
Over the last 4 years this method has developed. Year 1 was kinda random, a spontaneous assessment over too much wine. Year 2 was a more conscious analysis. Year 3 we had an actual agenda. Year 4 we developed standing annual monitoring & evaluation (M&E) agenda. We look at (1) what worked, (2) what didn’t and (3) what’s unlikely to change, and we unpack different aspects of our lives (see Appendeix A). It remains a work in progress….
- What worked
We always start with this agenda item because it let’s us do the warm and fuzzy.
It gives us space to celebrate the other person.
“I love that you…”
“I love how you…”
“I love when you…”
It gives us space to celebrate us.
“I love that we…”
“I love how we…”
“I love when we…”
This conversation builds a beautiful foundation of celebration and appreciation for the rest of the discussion. It allows you to acknowledge and revel in how far you have come in the love journey, to celebrate what you are co-creating and what you two do best in the world, for each other, for your chosen family, for the world.
Celebratory appreciation is a muscle that requires practice. We are so good at criticising and analysing and unpacking, we don’t often take time to lift our heads and look back at the beautiful view. I want to pat anyone on the back who is able to love another human consciously, especially when we can be so disillusioned and cynical about the happenings in the world.
This celebratory model of appreciation is a continuous practice, whether it be at the beginning of an annual M&E dinner, or the end of a hard week, or at the end of a long day…
‘We did this day well
‘We loved each other well
So let’s slow dance to Sam Cooke across the black and white tiles of our kitchen.’
- What didn’t work
During the conversations relating to this area one of us, or both, inevitable crys. It’s hard to hear that your words and/or actions can affect and hurt another human so severely. It’s even harder to take responsibility and reflect on the specific ways that you contributed to the situation.
This part is a chance to reflect on what didn’t work; those interactions that were caused by or resulted in pain, hurt, anger, frustration or mere ignorance.
that time I raised my voice,
stormed against her.
An assault that no other human deserves to be the receptor of.
No one should never have to absorb my anger, my frustration, my rage.
It is painful to hear my partner tell me how much my words and actions hurt her. It made me realise that my way of fighting, engaging in conflict, is not the only way, and in fact was experienced as violence. I don’t want to be that person. I’m still learning.
- What is unlikely to change
This revelation only came to us at the third annual M&E dinner. It was recognising that we are flawed beings. Over the course of our relationship some of these flaws can change and will disappear, but others are more stubborn and are not going anywhere. There will be things that I do, and will always do, that will irritate the shit out of my partner (and vica versa).
It’s that small habit of your sandy feet in the bed
vs my princess-and-the-pea tendencies
Or how I always leave a sip of milk or juice in the box
But don’t put it on the shopping list
Imperfectly perfect – Perfectly imperfect
Accepting that we are in a relationship with these habits and we need to embrace them into our being.
Our greatest insight was the realisation that end goal was not to avoid conflict, or to move everything into the “what worked” agenda item. It was acknowledging that what is important is not whether we fight, but how we fight.
For example when I am under extreme stress in my work
I have a bad habit of bringing my dark clouds home.
And I let them rain on the couch, and in the kitchen, and over our pillows, and on her.
Dark, heavy, soaking frustrated rain.
And I had to learn to hold my rain back,
or shelter her,
or at least explain the downpour.
Queering love is about healthy tension and conflict. It is a sign of growth.
This M&E dinner tradition sounds so strange when I write it out down, but if the personal is the political then it’s necessary to gently and critically unpack each aspect of how we embody our queerness. I have never been confronted so starkly with myself through the eyes and experience of someone who loves me. It’s as hard as any psychologist session. But it is also healing.
It has become a ritual now. Every year around the same time we have our official M&E dinner, we dive deep and hopefully both of us sign on for another year of crazy queer love.
APPENDIX A: Areas for what works, what doesn’t and the inbetween
About the Author: Bel South was born in exile in London, returning to South Africa in the late 90s. Bel has spent life exploring new ways to connect seemingly disparate worlds, always using social justice as the linchpin. With a background that ranges from human rights law to business, from academia to the arts, Bel enjoys dream-weaving with people and organisations working to build reflexive and more vibrant worlds.
Also check out this post on navigating polyamory for another look into a different type of relationship.
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