One of my favorite songs growing up was “God Favored Me” by Hezekiah Walker, inspired by 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.

The start of the first verse of that song reads:

“Love is patient, caring

Love is kind

Love is felt most

When it’s genuine”

I always loved those words because I have always had a deep fondness for Love; for learning what Love is and what it is not; for learning how to do Love, and how I wanted to be Loved. As young as I was, there was something special to me about the possibility of Love. Everyone around me was showing me that who I was in full was not able to be loved; I was dancing to a rhythm in Love it seemed no one else could hear. I knew I was queer. I even knew I was trans. But so much about what I was being taught about Love not only limited Love, but limited what Love I felt justified in exploring. And that is why I loved that song so much. Even though it is a Gospel song, the idea that Love not only could be kind, patient, and caring, but was all of those things—according to the lyrics—made Love feel more expansive than I’d ever known it to be.

Then I read bell hooks’s “all about love” for the very first time, and my entire life changed. Through what sociologists call “social institutions,” varying mechanisms teach us about what behavioral rules make up our culture and society. What I learned through family, and religion, and the media, and the government is that it was impossible for queerness and Love to coexist; or, at the very least, that if I wanted to feel loved by my family, friends, and other constituents, I had to lock away the parts of me that needed that Love the most. What hooks taught me, even as I have critiques of how cisheteronormative the book is, is that this is not Love at all. And that revelation wrecked me, but also gave me a new sense of peace.

According to bell hooks, Love is comprised of several different ingredients: “care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust, as well as honest and open communication.” She offers that one of these ingredients can be present without the others, but for it to be Love—real and true—they must all be present at once. Because Love cannot exist in the same space as negligence and abuse. And this forced me down a long road of wrestling with whether or not my family loved me as they said they did, or if my friends actually had the ability to love me in the ways they proclaimed. As far as family goes, I still have not reached a conclusion. I bounce back and forth between “Love can’t live there” and “Love has always lived there” quite often, but I don’t live comfortably in binaries. So, as of now, where I have landed is here: Love is a journey. And just because it did not exist in one moment does not mean it never can. The perfect dish takes practice, time, and skill.

I’ve since been re-reading “all about love,” and it has reminded me again of how much we are socialized to believe that Love of any kind must be accompanied by pain, abuse, and negligence. The Black Church teaches us that when we “spare the rod” we “spoil the child”; that to Love your child is to abuse them, and to name parts of who they are as “perverse.” The media and government have long taught us that Love is so complex, but that it only exists amongst cisgender, heterosexual people. When I sit with this, and return to my own childhood, I realized that I was not loving myself. I had no honest and open communication about who I was and what I needed. And this revelation is not to blame my younger self for my community’s failings, or for the ways in which they were coerced through colonialism into a poor reckoning with Love, but rather to interrogate how unsafe conditions make it for many of us to Love. As a child, I could not be honest and open with myself because it could have resulted in any level of emotional, physical, or intellectual abuse. As an adult navigating the possibilities of romantic Love, not only is it less likely that I’ll be loved—because of the identities I carry with this flesh—but it is also much more dangerous. Fat people are often manipulated by our partners into believing no one else could love us; Intimate Partner Violence (IPV)—while understudied for LGBTQ+ communities—largely impacts queer and trans people at equal or higher rates than that of our cisgender, heterosexual counterparts.

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I love hooks’s definition of Love. Ideally, I would want to see all of these ingredients in one pot for anyone who claims to Love me in any capacity. And for romantic Love, I won’t settle for anything less. Still, I recognize that Love ain’t easy and ain’t always safe—even when we think we have found a person, or persons, who possesses all of those qualities. Because humans are not nearly as clear and structured as that definition. Because we are bound by systems of domination that warp how we see the world and how we experience and arrive at Love. It is my deepest desire that we all get to experience the pleasantries of this dish—full of each ingredient—in whatever capacity we want to experience Love. I know firsthand that Love is a dish unpleasant without all of the ingredients.

I have a lot of thoughts of Love, and with this series the WYV team and I will explore many of our thoughts on it. For now, I’ll leave you with these words by L’Antoinette Stines from the beginning of “Black Effect” on Everything Is Love by Beyoncé and Jay-Z:

Well there’s love of children

Love of self

Love of God

Love of a partner

All of them have a different shape

But all of them is the same in the end

It’s about sensitivity, it’s about passion

It’s about unconditional giving of self to another person

And there’s love of humanity

That’s the love that is right now needed most

Love of humanity

But in everything, in all of that love, there is a soul

It’s like when you take some eggs and break them

And you take the shells and mix them up

Trying to find the ones that match

And you find the perfect match

When you find the perfect match

That compatibility results in passion

Results in unconditional giving of self

I hope I can say that again

*I capitalize the “L” in “Love” as an indication that it is greater than us. It’s an action, but it is also a proper noun—intended to name what “love” does not: that it is not about the individual so much as it is about what the social, political, economic, and cultural mechanisms are that make up Love. “Love is as Love does,” and what Love does cannot and does not exist in a vacuum so long as we have marginalized experiences and identities.