Love Letters to Queer Kinship

Anti-Capitalist Mutual-Aid and Solidarity

(cover photo taken by emmi b. in American University of Beirut)

This project emerged organically from an email I sent to two friends and (current or past) lovers about the radical potential of Queer Kinship Networks. Consider this a snapshot into a depth of prior conversation. It’s an open source voyeurism into a private discussion in the vein of so many before it and before us. What follows are the mostly unedited correspondences exchanged.

—–

Emmi Bevensee                                  Mar 14

To Khalil, Emma

I want queer, radical, and intersectionally marginalized kinship networks.

I want a utopian, prefigurative striving grounded fully in our reality.

I want to redefine support to include collaborative mutual aid and direct action on all the levels that we need and share.

I want our sex, should we share authentic consent and radically respected desire, to acknowledge the many different levels upon which we serve and guide and excite and brace and melt each other in our oscillations of ecstasy and centered honoring of the role of our embraces as marginalized beings.

I want us to craft fluid but clear agreements (to the best of our abilities) across complex homeostases that subvert and transform our power-mediated interactions.

I want graceful, hectic, decentralized pockets of affinity and free association that ACTIVELY resist hegemony, clique-ish tribalism, concentrations of power, and the cycles of re-traumatization and revictimization that plague radical oppressed communities.

I want to protect and serve each other in ways that render the prison-industrial complex, policing, and its infected capitalist track marks (note 1) progressively irrelevant in small, beautiful, precious, delicate acts of resistance, restorative/transformative community-based justice, and ethical ACCOUNTABILITY.

(note 1: stated with deep empathy for folks struggling with addiction)

We can build alternative fabrics of trust, agreements, and consent. We can do the work that no one will ever do for us. We cannot rely on the vapid ghost of capitalist state reformism. We are our only saviours. Not only can we do this— as oppressed translators, hybrid organs, and visceral borderlands of society’s prejudice— we already are. We look out for kin folks. We hold each other up even when the ugly snot of tears makes messes on our already dirty shirts. We fuck each other sideways. We love and fight and struggle our own strange paths forward. We can take solace in our wisdom. We’re already pragmatic visionaries or society would have destroyed us by now. So let’s do it all on purpose now, as autonomous agents, together.

—-

 

Khalil Sullivan                                  Mar 14

To Emmi, Emma

An Unfinished Response

I’m not here, grocery shopping the product aisles, tantalized by merchant displays, fancy graphics, pins and colorful ads.  I’m cruising to paradise with a helmet full of utopian dreams, ready to prance arm-in-arm with teams of revolutionary bandits and outlaws:

All you welkin-eyed weary travelers, all you meandering mystics.  All you romantic poets and pragmatists, shuffling in and out of hell and heaven on temporary visas, biding your time twixt the many worlds of middle earth.  All you restless dancers and singers, smooth-skinned and baby-faced, made young by the twinkle that never fades for too long a time.

For you stars were born in the celestial, to be distant compasses begging your soul return to the hearth.  You who in solitary cells or bedroom-basement-dungeons closed the windows and gazed inward, chanting, breathing light.

You who walking in the dilapidated cities, found the Buddha, then meditated on the dharma, but wandered from sangha to sangha, winking third-eyed over nameless faces and chapped lips, strategizing the ways to moisten and revive from the embers, how to call forth the phoenix, whispering magic words, in tongues, knowing they ain’t dead yet just been dried up and untouched for too long.

—-

Emma Buck                                      Mar 17

To Khalil, Emmi

as we dream, we must live. i’ve been thinking about utopia as methodology, the power of visioning that transcends current, apparent restraints, oppression, marginalization, trauma. what, then, do we want instead of our current landscape? and how can striving towards that horizon of our unrealized potential make our lives and loves richer today? something to believe in, greater than ourselves yet of ourselves. we work with today. we need to know what’s in our supply cabinet, toolbox, or just our pockets, today, right now. we start from the earth beneath our toes. and as we live, we dream.

utopia and dystopia in popular imagination reveal the cracks and lights of today. that hell is today, and it could get worse, that heaven is today, and it could get better. so we shine on, we dirty diamonds, we can be, we are the sparks and embers and flames and wildfires and the first perfect doe walking over the still steaming, burnt ground. we do not get to choose our apocalypse. we can be burnt or we can burn.

i believe in my favorite tarot card, the tower: transformation through the unequivocal destruction of our proudest accomplishments, built themselves on top of our deepest shames. this is how i see our looming apocalypse, destruction and opportunity. the destruction is already occurring now, an erosion of our skin to the nubs of our bones. the opportunity for our survival of such destruction is about the brick-by-brick and mortars, of rebuilding and rebuilding after every lightning strike or sanding down, of being willing to go deep and stay there, and to do so, exposed and vulnerable, with others.

with so much stacked against us, survival is revolutionary, and we simply cannot survive alone. alone, we are in bondage to our own destruction. so we strive to know ourselves, we strive to know each other, we strive to know the world, and through this, the recognition of the self, and of where the self encounters the other, i think that that’s love.

loving is a political, spiritual, psychological act, and is strongest as a dynamic action, not a calcified state: through my presence, gratitude, ecstasy, frustration, support, challenge, catalyst, i love you. it is the striving towards self and other to build and rebuild with what we have in our pockets. i love you as, our survival is interdependent, my liberation is tied to yours, i see you in your striving, i see us in our striving, and we are so, so beautiful.

—–

Emmi Bevensee                                  Apr 6

To Khalil, Emma

Love is far too meandering of a word for the gravitas of the topics it seeks to describe. I think there is something to be said for romance though, at least for me.

“Let’s get free together baby girl.” Those are some of the most romantic words I’ve ever heard. Spoken not by a textbook lover, but by a teacher, mentor, friend. Crystallee Crain— beautiful-brilliant, beautiful-bi, beautiful-black. When you spoke those words I felt them but I did not understand them for many years to come. You meant, our freedom is entwined and interdependent and the truth could be nothing less. This recognition, is romantic to me.

Queers… we’ve known this for awhile. I don’t mean queers in the fickle hipster sense of haircut as liberation aesthetic, of assimilation as progress, of greater than thou atomized individualism. I mean ‘queers’ in a grand sense. In an encompassing and fluid sense. Those who bend and swim in the rivers in valleys contained by worlds opposed and crashing, surviving brilliantly like cacti in a city.  We write hymnals of liminality lymnally.

Queers develop kinship networks, not out of petty clique-ish insecurity (although we suffer from these compulsions) but out of a necessity. We create these mycelial networks to survive. My trans-mother gave me underwear and roast beef when I had nothing. We share tricks and tricks of the trade. We share what we have and what we hardly have, mostly without a thought. There is a utopian striving in our kinship. We fail beautifully and with flair.

Emma. Khalil. Had we not fucked, we would still be lovers in my mind. The snot and ecstasy we’ve shared. The laws we’ve broken trying to ensure each other and our communities get by. Our struggle is tremendously enrapturing. It gives me force to stand in the spaces where I am so needed but yet unwelcome. The spaces outside of our family. The spaces that our bonds enable me to survive. The spaces that our connections begin to transform. There is nothing sexier than our joyous struggle. I love you both. You are my lovers even if not like in the textbook. We are lovers, not in the sense that we have sex– whether we do or do not is irrelevant. We are lovers in the sense that we aren’t allies, we are accomplices. Our romance is resilience. Our art is life in a world unprepared to embrace us with the caresses that we can share so readily.

Let’s get free together. Let’s let the depth of our identities blur across our bodies and borders. Let us sprout like mushrooms. We may appear small on the surface, but we are webbed across the entire forest floor, we are the source of creation through destruction.

—-

Khalil Sullivan                                 Apr 8

To Emmi, Emma

Addiction & Floating Free

I do a lot of my meditation in the gym.  I’m up to 4 days a week, two hours a day.  I read some study that classified exercise as a form of addiction, the same as cocaine.  In the experiment, one control group of lab mice were given water for thirty days, and the experimental group was given water laced with highly addictive liquid cocaine.  The experimental group immediately became addicted to cocaine.  After the thirty days, both groups were given an exercise wheel in lieu of their respective water supplies. The experimental group used it far more than the control group.

I’m still struggling with addiction–not to drugs but to being loved, caressed, touched, and cared for and to being given permission to love, caress, touch, and care for others.  The last part about permission, some even use the word consent, is important.  In the absence of being given permission to love others, in the past, I have turned to drugs as coping mechanisms.  Now, I turn to exercise.  Sometimes I get that “runner’s high,” my tongue hangs out, I get this giddy, wild look in my eyes, and I enter a zone. If left alone, I’ve been known to even laugh uncontrollably while pushing my body and my heart to increase the pace at which I move. I wonder if that same thing happens when I’m fucking. I wonder if the same thing happens when I’m making love.

I do a lot of meditation in the gym, because the gym requires a controlled and disciplined focus.  And after about fifteen minutes or a half-hour, my body glows with the glistening dew of my sweat, my breathing becomes heavy and labored, and my brain forgets about the pain….I begin to float free.

II–The Closet & Queer Kinship Networks

Today, while floating free, I thought about queer kinship networks.  Sometimes I think of them as alternative families.  But, today I thought of them as alternatives to the closet.  Because the closet is still a present reality for the queerfolk I encounter.  The queerfolk I encounter are trans-folk, queer people of color, trans-class, enjoy trans-racial contacts–they are folk on the move, constantly negotiating their identity and survival in a number of social circles.  Thus, covering up and alternatively revealing one’s sexuality is an act of survival in which the “closet” can be imagined as a safe space for sharing desire amongst trusted parties–queer and queer allies.  This may require a paradigmatic shift in the way we think of the closet, but for the past two hundred years the “closet” has been a word that has a undergone a number of changes.

Historian George Chauncey, author of Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World 1890-1940, notes that the “closet” as in “coming out of the closet,” was probably a term coined in the 1960s.  But the allusion can be traced to the 19th century British euphemism “skeleton in the closet,”  which alluded to an “apparently irreproachable person or family having a guilty secret waiting to be uncovered.”  The “skeleton” or “secret” was later adapted by William Hendry Stowell in 1816  to denote a “disease, infectious or hereditary.”  Nineteenth century authors picked up the phrase but maintained both meanings. In Edgar Allen Poe’s The Black Cat (1845) the “skeleton in the closet” was a literal dead body, whereas William Makepeace Thackeray ambiguously used the phrase in “The Newcomers; memoirs of a most respectable family” (1845-1855) to hint at both murder and disease.1

The resurgence of the “closet” in the 1960s as a signifier of gay shame may have more to do with the Lavender Scare of the 1950s. In 1954 President Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450 which “tasked the government with investigating federal employees and delineated specific prohibited behaviors” including sexual perversion.2  Four years earlier FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover ordered agents to investigate prospective employee’s “sexual orientation” during background checks. Organizations have since sued the government for the release of public records, but continue to face resistance from the FBI who withhold documents for reasons of “national security”.3

What I find even more ironic is the continued use of the “closet” especially in light of the 1980s and 1990s HIV/AIDS epidemic, in which the disease and its sufferers were quietly and quickly marginalized by the state, medical professionals, and sometimes their own family.  To borrow Eve Sedgwick’s argument in the Epistemology of the Closet, media representations of the HIV/AIDS epidemic marked the diseased gay body as a sign of deviant sexuality.  Thus, the closet was reconstituted as an open secret akin to its nineteenth century uses.

Let me be clear: I am not arguing that we redeploy the “closet.” In so doing, I fear that a another ideological shift in meaning will erase the revisionist history that must be done. The state must continually be called upon to open its archives and acknowledge its record of discrimination. But in light of continued calls for the institutionalization of “safe spaces,” especially for LGBT youth and people of color, I wonder what kind of radical interventions we can initiate with a discussion about the nature of queer kinship networks.  What’s so radical, shameful, or addictive about protecting everyone’s right and desire to give and receive love?

Section Footnotes:

1 “Skeleton in the closet” Phrase Dictionary. Ed. Gary Martin. Last accessed May 12, 2016. http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/skeleton-in-the-closet.html

2 Volsky, Igor “Clinton Issued Order Letting Gays Get Security Clearances 16 Years Ago Today” Thing Prgoress. Last accessed May 12, 2016. http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2011/08/05/288942/clinton-issued-order-letting-gays-get-security-clearances-16-years-ago-today/

3 Tucker, Eric. “Suit Seeks Records Tied to Ike’s Anti-Gay Order” Pride Source. Last Accessed May 12, 2016. http://www.pridesource.com/article.html?article=76489

—-

Khalil Sullivan                                 Apr 8

To Emmi, Emma

Oooh, btw, pardon the typos. I really want to spend more time developing a lot of these thoughts.  I probably will in the future.  At this point, I’m just gonna have to let go and get things out there.

—-

Emmi Bevensee                                Apr 8

To Khalil, Emma

Don’t be ashamed.  Your words are perfect. They needed to be said.  Just like that.

—-

Emma Buck                                Apr 24

To Emmi, Khalil

let me take a brief pause from all of this sabre-rattling, this manifesto decrying, this utopian visioning to look through it all from the other side of the mirror. in spite of what i’ve said, there are exceptions to every sentiment and example, every intention can be contorted and abused by others and our own projections, and what we call our dream can also become our nightmare. i’m talking about, we cannot fix each other. we cannot save each other. the combinations of traits and histories that come up so often in those who inhabit QKN- deep issues within families of origins, childhoods marked by difficulties not the least of which was being deeply different, feeling deeply different, and also, possibly because of it, deeply ashamed and closeted, at least portions of our lives lived not as ourselves (often into the present, out of necessity), can lead us to feel so wholly devalued and separate from other humans that to find a person before us saying ‘i love you’ seem like a goddamn miracle. and, possibly, too good to be true (do you see the setup?). and even more, to find oneself in a family of choice that accepts and cherishes each other for being the freaks we are, well, what ecstasy! what are the odds, we wonder, that anything was going to work out after the ride we’ve been on? ride that gratitude, but don’t let it curdle into grasping. don’t believe for a second that others in QKN can fill us completely, can cure us of the shame and fear we carry close to our hearts, can take care of each other when we are not taking care of ourselves.

what we can do is save ourselves. what we can do is recover ourselves.

QKN is dependent on independence and interdependence. it’s each person contributing their precious soul to themselves, first, and then to the others, to trust those who are trustworthy.

codependent coupleship is a terribly common trope in queer communities, pairs merging into one another, indecisive, fearful and desperate. QKN, there, not inspiring greatness but reduced to a place to hide from the world. what a waste. and what a trap. hiding is impossible. absorbing into one another is impossible. we cannot save each other. we cannot fix each other.

a commitment to QKN is a commitment to ourselves. to our precious souls not being crushed by all that life, trauma, capitalism, patriarchy, ableism, racism, and heteronormativity have loaded us up with. to our belief in our own flames shining through. taken together, to make up cartographies of hope and strength. the codependence we are at high risk for halves what we can accomplish and be. the interdependence that is worth fighting for is more than the sum of its parts. QKN starts in our hearts and with our own work. we create the fertile grounds for our growth- our root systems intertwine, our leaves share the sun, but we stand alone and inconceivably strong.

Emmi Bevensee                                Apr 24

To Khalil, Emma

(NOTE: Although this was posted to Craigslist  in the Women for Women- Missed Connections section, it was banned within a couple of hours. The reason why it was reported is unknown. The fact that it was reported though speaks for itself.)

  • personals >
  • missed connections

Blonde hard-femme w/ black circle sunglasses- shared driving smiles – w4w

: disarming

I’ve never done this before. For no other reason than that I fall in short-term crush with considerable frequency in the course of each day. I just have an amorous approach to the world in some way. It doesn’t make it any less special that we connected though.

This is how it happened. I was driving for work but stopped at the light when you started to turn left from the perpendicular lane. I saw you from across the lanes. You’re super cute, with a blonde bob and a small SUV, bigger than my little Subaru. As you drove past me, unthinkingly, a lovestruck face and stupid grin crossed my face. My hand gently scratched on the driver’s side window. You saw me and made eye contact. I must’ve looked like I was waving instead of the slightly creepy and not entirely un-lust filled unconscious pawing that I was actually doing. When you saw me, doe-eyed and approving, you smiled so widely that I was filled with an immediate delight that lasted through the rest of my shift. It’s rare that my micro-crushes are shared in any way. Usually we just pass by, unconsidering that we’ve just passed past an entire being, rich in complexity and experience all hidden behind eyes and flesh and surface. But on this special occasion, we saw each other, seeing each other.

Here’s a bit about me in the context that you saw me. I drive delivery. My passenger seat was full of packages. I drive delivery because I need the money to survive. When all’s said and done it’s not enough, but also, I like my job. I only drive in the evenings so it gives me the time to write and learn in the daytime, which is a deep passion. I also like my job independently of what it offers me. I mean there are moments I hate it. Like today when I was stuck behind an eighteen wheeler on the highway with a burning tire and billowing noxious fumes… or the moments when I’m delivering a package to someone whose yard signs express how incredibly armed they are and how very much they despise visitors of any kind (almost everyday). But other than those things, my job generally relaxes me greatly. Much of my package destinations, especially around sundown, are deep out in the beautiful desert. I turn off the music, open my windows, smell the air, and watch the orange purple paintings form along the horizon. On these shitty back roads, sometimes many miles long, I feel so alone and the world is so quiet. It refreshes me. Not because I only like solidarity, but because at times I need it greatly. You saw me just before this sunset period of my drive. I regularly see Javelinas (relative of a Boar), Rabbits, and Mice but sometimes even see Coyotes or Horses. Tonight I heard the Coyotes but didn’t see them. I did however see a Jackrabbit with ears and body so large, I first thought it was a Coyote pup.

Right after I passed you by, I called my partner to tell her what had happened. I knew that she would laugh because it’s a very “me” type of thing to happen. Don’t worry reader, she knows that my affection, attraction, and love is a bit hyper-polyamorous. She did laugh. She said it reminded her of that song by James Blunt or something that, “Just basically goes… “you’re beautiful”… over and over again.” It reminded me of the Langston Hughes short story called, “Early Autumn.” The story is about two former lovers who cross paths in New York City while one is waiting for a bus. As they see each other and begin casual conversation, the woman becomes overwhelmed by all the things that she would like to say, and as a result, says none of them. They both have different lives at this time but, her feelings seem to have remained more than his. They invite each other over to meet their families but don’t exchange phone numbers and know that, however small NYC is, they will likely never run into each other again. The story deals a lot with the complexity of love and regret in a very short form but I think it also deals with the depth that we can share in those brief moments of intense connection that defy full explanation. The story itself is a metaphor for this in that it’s less than 500 words yet catalyzes so much emotion. I have those kinds of moments with some regularity and I try my best to make something, however small, of the possibility for connection. Even if only a smile and shared eye contact, I consider it meaningful. I don’t feel the need for it to be more even as sometimes my heart or body wishes otherwise. Generally though, I fail to react quickly enough or we miss eyes.

Recently, myself and some friends/lovers, have been engaging in a correspondence about something we call queer kinship networks by which we are basically just referring to the networks of interconnected service and support that can be found in specific queer communities, especially those between people who are marginalized in more ways than just being queer such as between queer folks of color, neurodiverse queers, poor trans folks, etc. We’ve been looking at how special these connections and networks can be but, I think it’s worth mentioning that much of what defines them are missed connections. I have no doubt that Langston Hughes, himself a queer black poet, author, and playwright in the Harlem Renaissance, knows these feelings acutely. In queer communities we are so prone to infighting that we destroy ourselves at every chance. No doubt internalized oppressions play a part, but that can only go so far in explaining all of our dirty laundry. We are a fractious, divided, and hurt spectra of groups and we do this to each other. So often we fail to see the fullness of each other’s being and life. Because it’s so hard to hold that reality in the front of the mind. So we settle for the surface when it serves us. Maybe we just don’t have the structural mental or physiological emotional capacity to handle such complexity as that constant realization would need. But sometimes we do hold that reality up front. We do this for people we care about. We know when they panic about X, they’re really thinking about Y or when they laugh at A they’re really remembering C. We hold this present because we care so deeply about them and their well-being that we take time to remember the important details that build up parts of the human we know and love. I think queer kinship networks try to do this and then to take it a step further in supporting each other in the ways that larger society will not.

And let me be clear. Society does not want us to connect at the levels we need. A variety of overlapping minority political causes united in common liberation is a fierce opponent to hegemony. This “unholy” union will not settle for the intolerable. It’s probably so fucking rare for a straight missed connection to find each other on here. Imagine how rare it is for multiply oppressed queers to do so. We need each other more than ever, but we are as divided as ever. The internet helps in so many ways. We can find disparate people who share intimate knowledge of our experiences but at the same time, the internet can also be a cruel, cruel place where people unleash their deepest struggles onto each other as virtual violence.

You know, “Blonde Hard-Femme with Black circle sunglasses with whom I shared broad smiles while driving” I could love you forever and we’d never know it because we will likely never see each other again. And that’s okay, but I hope that our connection, however brief, serves as a reminder of the sacredness of those who stand beside us when it matters the most. You may be straight or have been smiling at the person behind me. My androgynous, trans-ness may have convinced you that I’m a boy. Whatever the case I appreciated the warmth you gifted me. Without diminishing your unique and complex existence, “Blonde Hard-Femme with Black circle sunglasses with whom I shared broad smiles while driving”, I’m also writing this letter to all the missed connections that I’ve let float away without recognition. As well, I write this for the missed connections that I never knew I missed, the gaze towards me that I failed to notice. Thank you all for trying. It means a lot.

  • do NOT contact me with unsolicited services or offers

 

post id: 5546035750

posted: 2016-04-18 11:13pm

updated: 2016-04-18 11:27pm

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BIOGRAPHIES

Khalil face QKNKhalil Sullivan: An Oakland, CA-based  “scholartist” who manages a hectic schedule, dividing his time between his doctoral candidacy in English at University of California, Berkeley where he writes on the risk and danger found in the popular music performances of local independent queer musicians.  Additionally, his scholarship is grounded in active work in three long-term music projects:  his work with the genre-defying popular music ensemble, MAD NOISE; the punk rock band the Truants; and his work as lead composer on the historical based musical, At Buffalo, which examines the encounters of peoples of African-descent at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.  

 

emma face QKN

Emma Buck: I’m a traveler, writer, facilitator and scholar from Kansas City, Missouri, with heart-ties in Boston, Tucson, London and Vermont. I’m studying the intersections of literature, narrative and cultural violence, through engagement with the past (legacy and collective identity formation), the future (speculative fiction and activist visioning and realization), and how both impact our present need for survival. I received my Honors B.A. from Brown in Literary Arts with a personal major in Gastroanthropology: Food and Culture and my M.A. in Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation with a focus in Sustainable Development. I intend to start a PhD in Fall 2017.

 

 

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