Growing up, I didn’t always understand what love was. For me, it was both constant and obscure but it almost always came in the form of a harsh, demanding directive. My parents were relatively strict and in that way I knew they cared a great deal for my well-being but sometimes, it did come at the expense of my confidence.
My dad would tell my sister and I, “You have two strikes against you, you’re a woman and you’re Black” (and later a third strike when I came out). As I have evolved, I’ve challenged the metaphors he used to describe the challenges I would face in my life – but the point came across; life won’t be easy for you because of what you look like – and later, because of who you love.
Being a queer Black woman was always framed as a problem, not a lifestyle. I always had the tenacity to fight the unconstructive ways in which my life was discussed but behind closed doors. I felt wrought with frustration and sadness that the burden rest on my shoulders to convince others my life was valuable. This didn’t feel like love to me.
Love, in all of its nuanced complexity, is many things to many people. It is adorning and ostentatious, a glittery show of lights for the entire world to see, it is mindful and quaint, compliant and subtly exposed to an intimate audience of two; it is mellow but rich and full of niceties and sometimes love is grippingly unemotional, but consistently so. Compound emotional details aside, love is also a warm meal. It is enough money in your pocket to buy a dignifying cup of coffee, it is a warm, embracing coat on a cold winter’s day, the long, slow breath you take when you flip the switch and the lights come on, the ability make a decent wage, feed your family and live life away from the margins and closer to the center.
But for me love is embracing the notion that I have to fight for my right to live a full and satisfying life, free of scrutiny and judgment and that that fight won’t always be won. Standing on the side of love means reconciling that my existence is radically offensive to some and refreshingly welcomed by others and that’s okay.
Moving through the world as a queer, woman of color has proven to be both difficult and extremely rewarding but I am standing on the side of life because my life is valuable and sharing my story reminds others that their life is valuable too.
This post was written by Shanelle Matthews. Shanelle is the Communications Manager at Forward Together, an organization that leads grassroots actions and trains community leaders to transform policy and culture in ways that support individuals, families, and communities in reaching our full potential. Shanelle is working with UUA staff on the upcoming Mama’s Day celebrations. You can read her other Standing on the Side of Love blog posts here.