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This Love Is Revolutionary: Reflecting on the Power of Black Queer Love

Janaya Khan and Patrisse Cullors

Black queer love is militant. Models: Activist Janaya Khan and her partner, Patrisse Cullors.

Written by Ashleigh Shackelford

Today, and everyday, I am thinking about what it means to engage in transformative, Black queer love.

Engaging in black queer love means not only surviving your own trauma, but holding the paralleled trauma of your partner and navigating the ways in which that trauma collides. In existing, navigating, and surviving as queer Black folks within a white supremacist patriarchy, it feels impossible to heal our own selves, yet alone offer healing to each other. In seeing each other, holding each other, and loving each other, we must engage in community practice and dialogue around what transformative love looks like beyond survival.

Revolutionary Black love is often praised within our organizing and activist spaces, yet rarely engaged in practice enough to garner understanding of how our mental health, political growth, and prospering are cultivated within our intimate partnerships.

Thriving often feels very distant from what we are readily able to gain access to. We find love in the small spaces we’ve carved and curated for ourselves, yet that love seems like the bare minimum at times. Queer Black love (whether it be platonic, romantic, intimate, etc.) is inherently a survival resource, but many of us are waiting for what’s next. Survival can often look like barely making it day to day, expecting the least amount of violence to be inflicted upon us, and engaging in intimacy with our partner in between said violence. We are often holding on to survival by a thread, and left wanting more.

I wait for the day my partner and I can find well-paying organizing jobs, less debt, stable housing, stable transportation, and less structural violence. I get through my days with my partner by hoping for the day we can thrive together rather than “just making it.” It feels like I’m suffocating all the time, so I dream about what it would feel like to breathe tomorrow.

What does revolutionary love look like when you’re both struggling to survive, struggling to heal, and struggling to live? What happens when looking at your partner is like looking in the mirror? To be with someone who hurts and carries trauma like you, and hides pain under smiles like you is the most powerful and heartbreaking thing in the world. Understanding that white supremacy has harmed us to the point that engaging with a partner’s paralleled pain feels more challenging than lying in bed with your oppressor, drains you of buoyancy. How can we stay afloat when unearthing our pain in partnership feels like drowning?

To embark upon this love is always more than just surviving. In wanting and needing transformative, revolutionary Black love, I want and need to thrive in real time. Thriving can seem like we’re asking for too much when finding someone who echoes your suffering also seems impossible. But in realizing this, I’ve challenged myself to think beyond ideas of impossibility that white supremacist capitalism has limited us to. We were never meant to survive. So being here, right now, is revolutionary. Finding someone to love who is struggling the same way you’re struggling is revolutionary. And this revolutionary act of loving is not just survival. It’s thriving, and that’s powerful.

How We Create Transformative Love

Pushing yourself and someone you love to grow and transform means you’re both shaping new worlds of emotional and mental justice. We are creators of the most important thing for human sustainability: transformative, accountable love. We hold each other responsible for the pain we inflict and the pain we project. We hold each other close despite the violent barriers in the way of our love, affection, and intimacy. We transform our understanding, our desires, and our abilities to show up for each other just by communicating what we’ve been taught to keep hidden. We engage, we analyze, we unlearn, we digest, we grow. We continue to evolve together, individually and collectively. Thriving sometimes feels far away because our proximity to liberation shifts every time our pain suffocates us. But even at our worst mental health state or most emotionally charged argument, we have access to some form of thriving.

Today, I laughed with my partner after a week of drifting apart towards our own individual trauma. Our laughter is thriving. It’s not enough to solely sustain health of our relationship, but those moments matter for our own survival and for the survival of our love. As hard as it is, we must challenge ourselves to value the thriving we have access to. It will vary and fluctuate. It can be limited. It may be sparingly or seldom. But those moments and tools exist somewhere. Sometimes thriving like spending your last $5 on convenience store snacks. Sometimes thriving exists in taking naps together, even if it’s only for 30 minutes in between your 9-to-5 jobs and an organizing meetings. Other times, our thriving looks like staying in our safe spaces where there’s no one to violate us. In these spaces, we can cherish each other, our time together, and our moments of flourish.

This Love Work Is Hard

In the words of Shan Davis, “This love work is hard.” It is a commitment to show up for each other. Sometimes we aren’t able to show up all the time. Sometimes we can only show up for our partners and not ourselves. Sometimes we can only be okay for our partner and ourselves when we take space from each other. It is a process of continuous transformative growth that sustains our ability to challenge systems of oppression and violence around us through the very strenuous, challenging act of revolutionary love.

It is through this act of transformative and revolutionary love, that we can unite together fully in our Blackness and queerness, and thrive.


Ashleigh Shackelford is a radical queer Black fat femme based in Richmond, VA. Ashleigh is a cultural producer, body positivity advocate, pop culture enthusiast, and a run-on sentence repeat offender. They are a community organizer at Black Action Now and the director of Free Figure Revolution. Find more posts at: BlackFatFemme.com. This article was also published on ForHarriet.com.

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    Intruiging.thats alot to think about!?

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