“Love is love.”
One of the first times I remember seeing this slogan was at one of my first Pride parades. It was colorfully emblazoned across the chest of a middle-aged woman marching in support of her daughter. I was heartened to see it. The essence of the message seemed to me completely true. Love is, in fact, just love, regardless of who is giving or receiving it.
But as I’ve gotten older and hopefully wiser, I’ve come to think that this message, in and of itself, occludes the real issue of what people are protesting when they object to the lives and freedoms of gay people. Love isn’t the problem. I don’t believe that homophobes object to whether same-sex couples love each other.
No, it’s not the love. It’s the sex.
In 1988, I was gay-bashed in Akron, Ohio. I was foolish, young and bulletproof then, and decided to leave the Interbelt Nite Club to walk home on my own. My fake ID had gotten me in, and I think I felt I could ride that stroke of good luck all the way home. The three men who attacked me seemed to come out of nowhere in the darkness. They followed me and said strange, specifically lewd things about my body and what they believed I was doing with it inside the club.
“Did you find a boyfriend tonight?”
I walked faster and hollered back at them, asking them to leave me alone. That seemed to make them only more determined. They perceived my request as weakness, and my weakness enraged them.
“You in there makin’ out with dudes?”
When they decided they’d toyed with me enough, two stood on either side of me while one jumped in front of me and punched me in the face. Then they ran away laughing.
It wasn’t much of a “bashing,” really. Many have experienced worse. But it was weeks before I was able to go back to the Interbelt, fake ID in hand. And when I think about that experience now, juxtaposed against the slogan “Love is love,” only one thing comes to mind.
Those men weren’t the least bit concerned with whom I loved. Their focus was solely on whom I touched.
They had a problem with it. Such a problem that they waited outside a gay club for a person they could easily target. To teach him a lesson about whom he could touch and whom he couldn’t.
I remember sitting in the front pew of my church as a teenager. We had a fire-and-brimstone preacher, as many Black American churches do. Every Sunday, his voice would rise and fall, fall and rise as he battered his lectern with a thick, imposing Bible. One Sunday, he shouted loudly enough for all the gods to hear.
“There is something deeply wrong with a man who fornicates with other men!”
I could never say for sure. But I felt that, in that moment, he looked directly at me.
When I see the slogan “Love is love,” I can’t help thinking of the ways in which those who spend their time battling queer people seem to ignore what love we might have for one another. Felix Unger and Oscar Madison loved each other. So did Laverne and Shirley. Heterosexual America loved those shows. They ran for a long time. But they never would have aired if there’d been only one bedroom in those hideous 1970s apartments.
Directing “Love is love” at the people who condemn us is pointless. They just don’t want us to touch each other. That’s what it boils down to.
Because of this, I believe that LGBTQ rights aren’t a matter of love. They’re a matter of bodily autonomy — the right to do what you want with your own body, as long as you’re not causing harm to others. The right to dress it how you want, present it how you want. The right to be sexually intimate with the consenting adult of your choice.
Love is love. Love is beautiful. And heaven knows there isn’t enough love in the world. But when it comes to slogans, “Love is love” is a bit misleading. I like “Your body is yours. Period.”