Love is…

Photo by Zackary Drucker as part of Broadly’s Gender Spectrum Collection. Credit: The Gender Spectrum Collection. Made available to media outlets via Creative Commons.

By Bryan Garcia (he/him/his)

With Valentine’s Day (or Día de Amor y Amistad) two Sundays away, it seems like the perfect time to talk about healthy relationships. Humans thrive on social connection and the social, emotional, and physical benefits we receive from them. They can provide us with a sense of belonging, which is invaluable for queer people of color. Unfortunately, a lot of what we learn about what romantic relationships look like often comes from tv shows, movies, other media, or what we may have seen at home growing up. That leaves QPOC with very few references to draw from when forming our own romantic relationships. So, let’s do a quick Healthy Relationships 101. The following may serve as a refresher for some, and for some, it may be the first time you’ve heard these terms or heard them talked about this way. Here we go!

Consent 

Consent is an enthusiastic “YES!” Not saying “no” is NOT consent. Consent is something that needs to be asked for every step of the way. “Is this okay?” or “How are you feeling?” are some ways to do this. Feelings can change, and that is okay. We have to respect someone’s right to say no, even if it is in the heat of the moment. Trying to convince someone to continue or making them feel guilty about no longer being “in the mood” is not okay. That is a form of coercion, and you need to steer away from that. Instead, thank your partner for being honest and upfront with you and agree to find something else to do together or apart. Just because you did something before does not give you a free pass to do it again. 

Communication 

Telepathy is challenging to master. So, until they offer an affordable MasterClass on it online (I checked – they aren’t), let’s not assume that our partners can read our minds. Have something serious you want to discuss? The best time to bring something up is when your partner feels calm and in a good mood. Many people think that by bringing something up at this time, their partner will become upset, but wouldn’t you want your partner to feel comfortable enough to bring up their concerns to you? Doing this strengthens and grows relationships. If you find that there just doesn’t ever seem to be a good time to bring things up, that may be a warning sign that your relationship is not healthy. No one should have to be afraid of their partner’s response. 

*This includes communicating about sex and what that looks like for each person involved. Not everyone has the same idea of what they want/or believe sex to look like as you. Don’t make assumptions based on someone’s gender/gender identity, sexual orientation/sexual identity. For example, not all people enjoy partaking in penetrative sex, and not everyone will engage in oral sex. Just because they have specific genitalia does not mean they want to use them during intercourse. (See paragraph on consent above). It is best to go in with all of your partners on the same page. Make it fun: You each can make a list of all the things you like and what you may not like to do, and then go over it with them and talk it over.

Boundaries 

These are so important! Especially during a time when we may be in much closer quarters with our partners. Being in a relationship does not mean that you and your partner(s) need to be together and doing the same thing all the time. A healthy partner makes you feel like it is okay to grow and be yourself. That includes pursuing your hobbies and interests, having your own set of friends independent from mutual ones, not having to check in all the time, and letting them know your every move. Boundaries include not having to share passwords, social media, and all other forms of digital privacy. Making your partner feel like you can’t talk to certain people because it brings out their insecurities is NOT a boundary. This brings us to trust. 

Trust 

Trust takes consistency and keeping your word. Your partner liking a sexy picture on social media does not mean that they don’t love you, find you attractive, or are cheating on you. If trust has been broken in the past, you decide whether or not you want to trust them again and if not, then it may be time to reconsider if it is worth staying in the relationship. It doesn’t mean that you get to monitor their digital devices/social media usage moving forward or that they have to tell you where they are and who they are with or text you back as soon as you message them. There is no guarantee that it won’t happen again, but no one deserves to have to feel like they have to prove themselves over and over, and no one should have to feel paranoid about whether their partner will cheat again. If you have doubts, trust yourself and use that to make your decision to leave.

Respect 

A healthy partner is someone who respects your emotions and feelings, needs, and opinions as an individual. They want to have an equal say when it comes to decisions involving all persons in the relationship. Making an effort to understand your partner’s cultural background if it is something important to them can be a great way to gain a sense of closeness to them. It is also essential to respect their right to come out to whoever they want whenever they want. It is okay to want to be in a relationship with someone who is entirely out in the open and to have deal-breakers that help you decide to no longer be in the relationship, but these should never take the form of ultimatums.  

Not Seeing These Things?

If you ever feel like there might be an imbalance of power and control in your romantic relationship, you may be experiencing intimate partner violence. Abuse is not just a problem that heterosexual and cisgender folks experience. It is a widespread myth that abuse cannot happen in relationships outside of that. Abuse among LGTBQ+ couples occurs at the same rates. The truth is that anyone can be abused, and anyone can be abusive. Abuse is not just physical either. It can take many shapes and forms: financial, emotional, sexual, digital. Being abused doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with you. You don’t get to choose whether you are abused or not. There are so many valid reasons why it is not easy to “just leave.“ Getting out of an abusive situation often requires support, safety planning, and having options. There can be unique barriers that prevent queer folx from doing this (fear of discrimination, shame around identity, laws that vary by state or are not enforced, and isolation to name a few.) Leaving an abusive relationship is one of the most dangerous times if an abuser senses that they are losing power and control over you. That is why it is not as simple as telling the person you no longer want to be with them. They may try to do or say things to prevent losing power over you. So what can you do?                                                                  

Talk to Someone

Easier said than done, right? It takes a certain level of vulnerability to open up about something so private and that society says is between you and the abuser. Be kind to yourself and go at your own pace. Change is a process where you may feel like you are taking two steps forward and then one step back. If you have been in abusive relationships in the past, don’t let anyone else dictate how your healing should look. “That happened a long time ago” or “you are no longer in the relationship; you should be okay by now.” Healing doesn’t look the same for everyone. For helpers (friends/family members/co-workers): Listen to the survivor that found the courage to reach out to you and believe them. Support them by offering and exploring options on how they can stay safe, don’t tell them what to do/direct them, and balance your own needs with theirs. Love is Respect is an anonymous and confidential support resource available 24/7 to call, text, or chat at no cost. No one should have to go through this alone. 

Join us on Thursday, February 11th at 6 PM CST as we gather to discuss and share our experiences navigating relationships as queer people of color and celebrating the beauty and life we bring to romantic relationships. Talking about our relationships can help us feel supported and creates a shared image of healthy relationships, especially when we feel confused, hurt, or unworthy due to past relationship experiences. Let’s remind one another that we are worthy of healthy romantic relationships where we feel treated with dignity and respect. Whether we are single, ready to mingle, dating, or committed, allgo is always prepared to hold space for just you or you and yours. You can register here.

This event is one of many this year around promoting the well-being and vitality of QPOC communities in Austin, TX. For more information about this and other Health and Wellness events, send a message to wellness@allgo.org.

What is love to you? There is so much more to touch on when it comes to QPOC love and relationships. What relationship topics would you like to see us write about next? Let us know on social media @allgoqpoc on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. 

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