On the Queerness of Self Love

14 May
Tattoo on inside of someone's fingers that says "self love"

Self Love by Artnoose

While conducting a seminar with college students about self-esteem, Yolo Akili heard a young person say something that remains an important touchstone for those of us trying to do liberatory work in our communities. When talking about loving oneself, a Black woman said, “Self love? That shit’s gay!”

I’ve turned this statement over in my head a million times as it so accurately and unintentionally reveals so much about the constructions of sexuality in our culture. “Gay” has become an all purpose insult that means something is not cool, wack, aberrant, and not worth your time. How deep is it that loving yourself is a weird and unworthy pursuit? If self love is gay, what is straight? Is straightness self hatred?

I want to be clear that I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being a cis gender man or woman engaged in loving consensual relationships with cis gender women or men. Like with race in our country, the problem isn’t necessarily white people, but how whiteness as a problematic social construct impacts everyone. Similarly, I would argue that straight people aren’t the issue but the way straightness and heteronormativity operate in our culture are serious impediments to self love and self actualization.

I choose to be queer. My choosing queerness has a lot to do with the scripts that exist for straight men and women’s relationships. Take the recent box office smash, Think Like a Man. So much of what is prescribed for straight couples is for women to change themselves into what they imagine men want from them.  You can see it if you want to but it’s essentially a feature film length infomercial for Steve Harvey’s similarly titled book. It had the requisite gay jokes (for both men and women) and many a strong black woman cut back down to size. By thinking like a man, you ensure that he gets what he wants, sex, and women get what they want, a man. This reductive view on what motivates straight relationships depends on strict gender roles.

Straightness/heteronormativity sets up roles for men and women that serve a capitalistic agenda more than the building of loving relationships. The script is simple; find a member of the “opposite sex”, date, get married, buy a house, have kids and do all of this as an individual family unit. Our culture will sell you the tools to properly achieve these ends, to properly conform to gender norms that will hopefully help you attract someone to walk down the aisle with you. Buy this men’s loofa and women will be all over you, buy this lady razor and your man will love to get close to you. Selling people the idea that they are somehow insufficiently performing their  gender, and therefore not attractive, reinforces a sense of self doubt and looking externally for validation, which is great for capitalism. You have to do something or buy something to be worthy of relationship. What a queer thing to say that my relationship with myself is important and I should invest in it over and above my ability to pull a partner.

And this is why I and other queer folks are giving Obama’s announcement regarding gay marriage the side eye. Leveraging privilege for certain types of households does nothing to address systemic inequality or combat discrimination that queer folks face. Why do romantic ties afford rights and access that would otherwise be denied? And I use the word “afford” deliberately because so much of what is obscured about marriage are its roots and continued relevance as a financial institution. Love takes a backseat to the structural realities of couple privilege in our culture. Society continues to give us messages that marriage is valuable, perhaps even at the expense of our own personal safety and freedom.

Self love is awesome. It should be celebrated and encouraged, not derided because it hinders an economy that’s dependent on folks feeling insecure. If loving yourself is gay, I don’t want to be straight.

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21 Responses to “On the Queerness of Self Love”

  1. Susan L Daniels May 14, 2012 at 9:19 AM #

    This straight woman has heard it all now–self-love is gay!? How can you love anyone–within or without your own gender–without learning to love yourself?

    • spaceactivator May 21, 2012 at 2:21 AM #

      Why does the woman who made the comment have to be identified by colour?If a white woman had said that would you have said a “white woman said,”? I don’t think so. so much of our power to dissamble bullshit stereotypes is weakened by our failure to recognise our own inherent prejudice.

      • moyazb May 21, 2012 at 6:37 AM #

        I would have identified a white woman by color. Part of prejudice is not acknowledging race when it’s present. White is a race. When we don’t mark it, that’s a problem too. I do not imply that she said what she said because she was Black.

  2. kaimg May 14, 2012 at 9:31 AM #

    Moya! Thank you for this. I appreciate you.

  3. Son of Baldwin May 14, 2012 at 11:10 AM #

    You. Went. INNNNNNNNNNNNN! #LoveIt

  4. ivyleaves May 14, 2012 at 12:00 PM #

    Nice post. It has a typo, or word choice error, though. The word you used “proscribed” means prohibited. I think you meant “prescribed.”

    • moyazb May 14, 2012 at 12:02 PM #

      thanks!

  5. itzadundeal May 14, 2012 at 12:09 PM #

    #IAMTRAYVONMARTIN “Self love is awesome. It should be celebrated and encouraged, not derided because it hinders an economy that’s dependent on folks feeling insecure. If loving yourself is gay, I don’t want to be straight.”—>#truthbetold #pREACH

  6. Pia Guerrero May 14, 2012 at 12:22 PM #

    Great post. We’d love to crosspost this over at AdiosBarbie.com. Please let me know.

    • moyazb May 14, 2012 at 2:16 PM #

      certainly. Will you just link back to this piece? Thanks!

  7. jalylah May 14, 2012 at 5:44 PM #

    “What a queer thing to say that my relationship with myself is important and I should invest in it over and above my ability to pull a partner.”

    Great piece Moya! Great writing. Wonderful arc. I think Barack’s move was important. And you well articulate how many more moves equality demands.

  8. natasiarose May 14, 2012 at 7:48 PM #

    I hate movies that make cheap shots at gay people and teach women that they need to be a certain way to get a man. All love involves compromise, regardless of gender or race.

  9. Elizabeth May 14, 2012 at 7:59 PM #

    http://www.bspcn.com/2010/05/27/25-horribly-sexist-vintage-ads/

    – While looking at the ad’s posted on this website, I came close to laughing at the ridiculousness of them. And then after a few seconds though, I was disappointed to see a remarkable amount of similarity between the advertisements used decades ago, and the ad’s I see on t.v. and read in newspapers.

  10. Marilyn May 14, 2012 at 9:06 PM #

    That article was beautiful.

  11. Groundation Grenada Action Collective May 15, 2012 at 6:59 PM #

    Definitely feeling this. Thank you!

  12. Derrick May 15, 2012 at 11:27 PM #

    Moya thank you so much for this piece. I’ve, too, been unable to laud President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage for the very reason you point to: “Leveraging privilege for certain types of households does nothing to address systemic inequality or combat discrimination that queer folks face.”

    It seems that interrogating heterosexism and homophobia, the roots of queer oppression, frequently gets sidelined by “rights based” affirmations that do little to seriously “address systemic inequality or combat discrimination that queer folks face,” as you aptly state.

    The conversation surrounding bullying got universalized–foreclosing any real attempt at critiquing specific queer oppression. EVERYONE is bullied; we are not special. There is also a familiar script associated with critiques of racism. It is important that we continue to tease out the difference between affirming gay marriage and critiquing heterosexism and homophobia. They are not necessarily happening at the same time.

  13. Selene May 21, 2012 at 8:27 PM #

    Love they neighbor as thyself

  14. Koritha Mitchell June 1, 2012 at 9:10 AM #

    As always, CFC gives me language that I need to continue my attempts at helping people think critically. Yes, this will help me: “Why do romantic ties afford rights and access that would otherwise be denied? And I use the word ‘afford’ deliberately because so much of what is obscured about marriage are its roots and continued relevance as a financial institution.”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Culture Is What We Make It, Yes It Is | Deep Thoughts by Christine Capetola - May 21, 2012

    [...] liberty (neo)libearlism?  In the wake of Obama’s announcement from last week, along with two quite excellent responses on the Crunk Feminist Collective blog, I have felt extra incited to question [...]

  2. Some Familiar Territory Gets The Best Of Me | Deep Thoughts by Christine Capetola - June 10, 2012

    [...] I’ve come across a couple of really good pieces about self love on two of my favorite blogs—one on Crunk Feminist Collective and another on Zen Habits.  Although neither of these blogs are [...]

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