“Love is love” is a lie: How sentiments of equality cover up harsh queer realities
Whenever there’s an LGBT celebration, like during Pride Month, or a time of tragedy, like this summer’s shooting at Pulse in Orlando, my newsfeed becomes flooded with both articles and individuals posting a phrase meant to signal support for the LGBT+ community: “Love Is Love” — but I absolutely hate it. The most famous rallying cry of relationship equality, in its quick attempt to correctly say “hey, queer people, your love isn’t less valid than that of straight people,” implicitly also says that queer love is the same as straight love, and in doing so, glosses over the endless ways in which the two are incredibly different — and leaves almost no room to talk about those (sometimes painful, sometimes violent, sometimes terrifying) differences.
In the year since gay marriage was legalized across the U.S., supporters of gay rights have circled around this phrase. It was one of the official hashtags of this year’s Pride celebration. It’s the bumper sticker of choice for many, queer or straight. It’s what is meant to bond us, to mark us as equal, to mark us as same. But despite how lovely it would be if it were true, love simply isn’t love.
I understand the drive to say that love is love. It sounds nice and it’s the easiest form of allyship there is: saying, “Well, aren’t we all the same?” It reminds me of white people who say they don’t see color, men who want to deny the existence of gender inequality, and women who see “women” as a homogenous group. But when someone says, “Love is love,” I hear, “I respect your relationship only inasmuch as I can relate it to my own” and I hear that straight people, per usual, are the ones who get to decide which relationships are real and which ones aren’t.
Despite how lovely it would be if it were true, love simply isn’t love.
Not only is the phrase a form of erasure, as it seeks to silence all difference between them and the romantic lives of queer people, it makes us seem identical to straight people. That isn’t only factually incorrect, it also ignores all structural and social barriers that exist to make it much more difficult for queer folks to find any sort of love, with ourselves or with each other.
Societal structures have real impact on how queer love differs from straight love. A recent study found that employers are close to 30% less likely to hire a queer woman with LGBT indicators on her resume than a straight woman. I’m currently applying to jobs, and with each rejection I wonder if I should have taken off the administrative work I did in the LGBT center, or not mentioned my history of volunteering with with queer organizations. Every time I apply for a writing job, I have to research whether or not this particular women’s publication would be pleased, or horrified, at the thought of a queer woman on staff.
It sucks, but it also has real consequences on our relationships. If a couple is made up of two women, and we have LGBT indicators on our resumes, we’re less likely to have jobs. We’re less likely to have money. We’re less likely to have health insurance, and vacation time, and all of those nice little things that make relationships much, much easier.
[Love is love] ignores all structural and social barriers that exist to make it much more difficult for queer folks to find any sort of love, with ourselves or with each other.
As bi women, we’re more likely to be depressed, to struggle with disordered eating, to have anxiety disorders, to self-harm. Mental health issues absolutely impact and shape my relationships and the way that I love. They make it hard for me to love. They make it hard for me to be loved.
There is what has been called a “quiet crisis” among queer women. No matter how much it appears that things have majorly improved in the lives of the LGBT community at large, this is largely a farce perpetuated by mainstream media that waters down our reality: our lives are on fire. And no one is doing us a favor by making it even harder for us to find room to talk about how much it burns.
If you’re straight, my love is harder than your love. My love is being afraid of everyone from waiters to apartment managers. My love is never holding hands whether we’re in West Hollywood or the middle of North Carolina. My love is always weighing the options, always knowing where the exit is, always wondering if it’s worth it, the constant fear. My love is constant erasure in the form of family members who refuse to get it and the teachers who will question my relationship with my future children because, well, didn’t another mom come for pickup yesterday? My love is preparing for battle constantly. My love is never easy.
If you’re straight, my love is harder than your love.
And while “love is love” definitely has a nice ring to it, it also has a silencing effect because it requires queer folks to fight against this lie in order to discuss our own realities. We can talk all we want about personal hardships, but that one simple phrase is such an easy way to shut us down in the name of supposed support. For some of us, finding love feels next to impossible. In light of the Orlando shooting, love feels even more unlikely. Following the event, my friends and I were afraid. My girlfriend and I didn’t go to Pride. My friends questioned whether or not they should stop going to queer coffee shops and open mics. For many queer folks, gay bars and queer spaces once felt like a home we always dreamed of but didn’t know could exist. It was where we went to find community, friendship, and sex, but also, hopefully, love. But with queer spaces feeling haunted in a way that harkens back to our Stonewall roots, I am left wondering how these ghosts will shape our search for love.
It is not a rare thing in my life for a queer friend of mine to text me and ask if we can talk about love. It’s something we talk about a lot. We find freedom within our queerness and the room it affords us to build our own families, relationships, and understanding of what love is and how it functions. We are already breaking the rules of love and already challenging gender and gender roles and power dynamics. We seek to change what love means and what it does.
Love isn’t love because we don’t want it to be. Our love is our own to define and straight people don’t get to maintain that power in an attempt to mask difference. Whoever said we wanted what you have anyway?