is love

All I know is love. Every feeling I have is based in love. I know I’m a romantic, but I cannot imagine making any decision that isn’t based in the timeless, endlessly-facted emotion referred to, in English, simply as love. The Ancient Greeks used at least eight distinct words for different brands of love, from the love of the self (philautia) to the withstanding love between long-term partners (pragma). Sanskrit famously collects 96 individual words to characterise the nuances of love, including erotic love (काम kama), maternal love for a child (स्नेह sneha), and the love between friends (सौहार्दम् sauhardam). In Arabic, there are eleven stages of love describing the initial attraction to another person (الْهَوَى al-hawa) through the heights of passion (اللعَاج sha’af) to the insanity of an obsessive love (الْهُيُوْمُ huyum).

My deep fascination with love as a concept can probably be described similarly to the Greek agape, a universal, unconditional love known in Christianity as God’s love for all humans, which, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, “necessarily extends to the love of one’s fellow humans.” I am so deeply affected by the emotions of other people. This could be the outcome of any number of things: Childhood trauma, being especially empathic, or just another symptom of underlying autism. But perhaps I just love and care for everybody I welcome into my heart so deeply that I adopt their feelings as my own. To understand, compassionately, the truth of the struggle they are going through, or to lighten their load, perhaps.

“Society says that love is one way and very black and white, but we all know that love is a bustling highway and bursting with all vivid colors…. We are all different with different beliefs and a different story to us all, but we are connected through that and our love for each other draws us closer.”

Cece mcdonald, trans activist

I fall a little bit in love with so many people I encounter throughout my day to day life. That love never entirely fades, like the ghost of erased pencil markings in a book, or a faint scar. Forgotten until observed. Reflected upon. Past friendships and lovers I no longer speak to still hold a space in my heart reserved always for them. I feel it would be insincere of me to dismiss the care and intimacy we once shared, as if all the private confessions we made meant nothing, as if I didn’t once feel at home in their arms. Love may change, but it does not disappear.

“Love is unending and cannot be avoided.”

cece mcdonald, trans activist

In recent years I have taken cautious (and occasionally fumbling) steps into the world of polyamory — romantically loving more than one person at once — and it has been both a profound and painful experience, at times. Nothing quite prepares you for the level of self-reflection this practice of love inherently elicits. What does it mean to love, really? What is love practically? How do people experience different kinds of love? How do we experience it ourselves? How can we make others feel the same? To discover, accept, and actively practice an expression of love outside the norm of our present society feels radical not only because I am acting against what is expected of me, but also because I am left with no choice but to turn inward, to explore new forms of self-love, and to unpack the darker corners of my feelings that endanger love for myself and for those around me. Jealousy, fear of rejection, sexual uncertainty, isolation from community. We grow into these shadow feelings, trying to shape the love we find to be the love we expect.

Of course, love is never what we expect. It never plays out like in the ninety-minutes of a romantic comedy or a family drama. Love doesn’t stop growing at a certain point. There are no goalposts for love. It is messy, eternal, fierce, and confronting. Love inspires us to be better people, to create a better world. Love inspires art, determination, transition — in all its forms. Love has made poetry spill from my pen, sweet nothings gush from my lips, fire course through my veins, and tears spill over cheeks that hurt from smiling. Love, for self and community, is where I found the strength to begin my transition at only seventeen, in a conservative country town, knowing no other trans people. Love is where my mother planted the seeds of freedom and identity after an abusive first marriage — she and her new wife now stand as pillars of my belief in love.

I don’t pretend love is always easy and beautiful. Love and hurt have such a close connection in our society, which values the individual, the isolated. We are forced to gamble with our hearts with no guarantee or understanding that exposing our vulnerabilities to the world has its consequences, its effects on other lives. Some of the occasions I’ve been most aware of how big and uncontrollable my heart can be, has been when it aches the most.

Love has sealed my lips in fear of hurting another, and kept them closed when another’s love caused harm. I have been so afraid of losing love that I have sabotaged it before it could have the chance to destroy me. Is love, therefore, something to be feared? Something to step lightly around the edges, never diving in too deep lest we can no longer clamber back out to the safety of emotional distance? I don’t believe so.

We are constantly surrounded by love, constantly striving for it. My political worldview aligns with the international socialist movement, as this is the truest form of humanism I think there is, and because I want to create a world that is open for us to express ourselves truly, to be vulnerable and be loved for it. A world in which those living in hardship, oppressed economically and socially, are welcomed with open arms no matter where they place their feet, where we can achieve our dreams and feel the integral part we play in the lives of others. I want this world to exist simply because people deserve love and community. A German proverb states that “love is above King or Kaiser, lord or laws.” The arbitrary distinctions that are drawn up to separate us, to make us fear one another, breaks my heart. But love and solidarity can be found everywhere. It takes a fight to expand our capacity for love, to keep it glowing and alive, to share that light with others, no matter how different to us they may be. In the words of Che Guevara himself: “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love… We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force.”

My heart is constantly overflowing with love. I know I love many — not just my two beautiful partners, but family, friends, classmates and supervisors, my doctor who prescribes my hormone therapy and the friendly pharmacist who dispenses it to me, the hospitality workers that keep me nourished, and every pair of hands before them who have built such a beautifully interconnected world. I can feel the love brimming inside me, but like anyone else, I am sometimes at a loss for how to harness and express all of that burning emotion. The best I can do is be kind to those who cross my path, do what I can to be there for my loved ones, and fight like hell for the world I believe in, that future predicated on love for all. Love, like revolution, is not easy, but it is necessary.

Wear your heart on your sleeve. Call your parents, your siblings, your chosen family. Hold your lover a little tighter. Hug your friends a little longer. Read a romance novel and squeal in delight when the heroes finally kiss. Join an action for an environmentally stable future. Stand up for your rights and the rights of other oppressed and exploited communities. Stand up for your own feelings when someone hurts you, strengthen that relationship. Love yourself. Tend to your needs and boundaries. Care for yourself the way you would care for others. Love is endless, in all of us. Share it as broadly as possible. Leave pieces of it wherever you go, you won’t run out. Find it in everything you see and do, in everyone you meet.

Find love. Breathe it, embody it, nurture it.

Love will always find you in return.

is love

Complement this read with another piece by a guest author called “Broken Boy Blue”, or with a short exploration of the concept of self-love.