A love letter to the queer and trans community

Dear queer and trans community,

It’s Valentine’s Day so I’m writing you a love letter, because I want you to know how much I love you. It’s a fierce and tender femme love, the kind forged by learning to remake family with you, by joyfully witnessing your abundant beauty, and out of gratitude for your wisdom, strength and resilience. You are magic. Thank you for sharing that magic with me and for teaching me about my own. Thank you for all the ways you hold me.

I didn’t always know how to tell you this. When I was growing up, I learned that “I love you” is something you only say to select family members and romantic partners. I remember being in my early twenties and feeling acutely uncomfortable when I overheard my friend on the phone telling another friend she loved them. Some part of me cringed at what seemed like a deviation from the script. It felt awkward and vulnerable and wrong, and it didn’t make sense.

I don’t know exactly where that reaction came from - probably a tangled knot of my own history of abandonment and trauma and growing up in a society that privileges romantic (heterosexual) love over all else. I had to untangle that knot of scarcity and fear of my own vulnerability before I learned how to tell my friends I loved them. I’m in my late thirties now and the act of telling my friends I love them has come to feel both mundane and revolutionary. I say it to them all the time, in person, in letters and cards and my personal favourite, ALL CAPS TEXT MESSAGES with an array of individually-tailored emoji.

Today it feels important to extend that message to you, my beloved community*, and since I can’t send each of you your very own all caps text, I’m writing this letter instead. I want you to know this: you are my family, my greatest joy, my most influential teacher, the reason I do my work in the world. You are the love of my life.

Femme artist Lora Mathis has a piece that reads in part, “Kiss your friends’ faces more. Destroy the belief that intimacy must be reserved for monogamous relationships...Use emotionality as a radical tactic against a society which teaches you that emotions are a sign of weakness.” An image of this piece has made the rounds of my social media feeds more than once because queer and trans people know what it is to love and be loved outside of the norms, systems and structures that oppress us or try to make us disappear.

Oppression and disappearance are on my mind a lot lately because I can’t stop thinking about the individual and systemic violence queer and trans people face everyday, violence that intersects with and is amplified by other forms of oppression like racism, colonialism and transmisogyny. It is not safe for many of the people I love to go to work, or school, or the doctor, or a public washroom. Sometimes it feels like there is danger everywhere, because there is, and I know that as a white, cisgender settler living on unceded Indigenous lands I am both buffered from and complicit in that danger and violence.

Beloved community, my love for you is accountable. My work includes continually learning and understanding how I’m part of and benefit from systems of oppression, and working to disrupt those systems and my place in them from a place of humility and accountability. I know this because you’ve taught me with your art and your activism, your call-outs and call-ins, in one-on-one conversations and thousand-person rallies. I am deeply grateful to you for this, and for the opportunity to keep learning and practicing how to love you from a place of personal and systemic accountability.

I’m too much of an activist to think that love is the answer to all of our problems (more positivity or “light” won’t solve everything, either). What I do know is that my own activism - whether it’s in the form of editing a book or throwing a dance party or chairing a meeting or casting a spell - comes from a place of deep and enduring love.

I love your sparkle and all the gorgeous and creative ways you express your genders and sexualities. I love your wrinkles and and your scars and your beautiful bodies in all of their colours, shapes and sizes. I love how we flag for each other and how we keep ourselves and one another safe. I love how we take care of each other. I love how you smile and laugh and cry, and how you keep going even when things feel hard or impossible. I love when you know how to stop and rest and listen to your body. I love all the ways you are healing from trauma, and all the ways you persist in the face of it. I love how you are soft and how you are strong. I love how you crack my heart open again and again with your courage and vulnerability.

I love you fiercely, beloved community, and I am so glad and grateful that each one of you is in the world. Thank you for being in my life. I wouldn’t be who I am without you.

With all my heart,

Zena


*Thank you to writer Ariel Estrella for introducing me to the concept of beloved community in their piece, “healing exchanges: the necessity of beloved community for queer survivors of colour.” You can find it in The Remedy: Queer and Trans Voices on Health and Health Care.