In 2012, when Frank Ocean told me (yes, me, specifically) to “imagine being thrown off a cliff” in the Tumblr Note He posted before launching the transforming Channel Orange, the same Tumblr note in which he first publicly admitted that he had been in love with another man, I cried, and then I did too. I admitted for the first time publicly, or at least for the first time to my parents, that I was queer in a three-page email.
The fall from that cliff was glorious for many beautiful moments, until I hit the ground head first. Until my mother responded to me, three days after receiving my email, to tell me that the three pages were unacceptable and is It wasn’t what she raised me to be and – Kṛṣṇa, help her! – my body, now torn apart on the jagged rocks at the foot of this hill where I wanted to die, was wrapped in sin.
My weirdness was just my demon school brainwashing me, he insisted, so I was no longer able to financially support my education the way I had (which, my bank account is slim too, as this sort of thing tends to be hereditary – it was enough to mean that I had to consider dropping out of school).
When I say that mine was a great united black Hindu family, this does not really explain what was at stake in being disowned by my mother. There are no words to adequately summarize in a short essay what it means that he raised his 10 children (and helped raise many of his nine stepchildren, through my father) the way he did: homeschooling with intention and care, giving us something to believe in and bonding it with real, undisputed love, while daring to thrive in the face of poverty and abuse.
There are no words to articulate how quickly, efficiently, and lovingly my family came together three months ago, when the cancer attacking the uterus that had carried us ten for 40 years was diagnosed as untreatable, only to return that love to y support for our mother and for others.
It’s hard to explain what it meant to see my siblings lining up to call the two pages of my mother’s response to my email in 2012 unacceptable, telling her that the bigotry contained in it was not how she raised us to be.
What I mean is: my family has always loved deeply and strongly and with a blazing fire, specifically for all the beautiful things our mother taught us about how to care for family members.
I tried to deny this truth for a while to explain, after my mother’s attempt to disown me, why I kept everyone in my family at a distance for years. But what I mean is that this family, like everyone else’s, shits it hard and deep and also on fire. That seeing her support for me couldn’t make up for the fact that I almost lost my mother before the cancer showed up in the picture.
Sometimes we have good intentions and then we still hurt people. Pain is often unavoidable, and we are caught up in who will feel the pain and why. And a large part of who we choose to allow to feel certain pain is determined by the ideas we have about “family.”
My sister Priya, I changed her name to protect her privacy, is a police officer in Chicago, an occupation that raises eyebrows for the brother of an avowed and abolitionist prison cop. I don’t mention it often, but we’ve struggled immensely trying not to hurt each other over the years. I have struggled immensely trying to maintain what I know, that I mean well, that I would never intentionally hurt anyone, least of all blacks, in tension with what I know just as deeply: this surveillance system will always hurt us.
Before George Floyd, there was Repair and Rekia and Korryn and hundreds more who were proof of this, when everything they should have had to be was alive.
When George Floyd was assassinated and the global uprisings against the police occurred, I supported them while my sister Priya feared for her safety as enraged blacks destroyed the streets she patrolled.
I would post my concern for the thousands of protesters whose lives were being torn apart by her department’s violent response, leaving her to believe that I didn’t care, amid a pandemic that is brutally devastating black communities.
In the midst of this, we both had to watch our mother struggle to keep her face straight as increasingly excruciating pain shoots through her nerves, so small that they should never have been able to hold back so much pain. It was all at once: Black Death is a stellar collision in that sense, and in the way it can wipe out entire solar systems at the same time.
My queer community
My family has always been my first universe, but my weirdness taught me that it doesn’t have to be the only one. When my mother rejected me for what I was, my weirdness showed that there were other people who could be mothers and support me in the way I needed, and I found them in community centers, dance halls, clubs, and activist organizations created to protect people. people. too many of us who lose our galaxies regularly due to anti-blackness and homophobia.
It was a queer black man who helped guide me through the financial aid system at my school and raised enough money to continue paying for college that year; and it was queer lovers, friends, neighbors, and strangers who showed me the first real, loving community outside of family in my adult life.
It was these people who allowed the “of course” to pour out of my mouth so instinctively and volcanically when asked about adoption, hardly ever having to consider it in front of all the queer black kids who need a home and for whom I might. be able. to provide as it was provided to me.
For a long time, I used this community to replace my blood family, and not all for the worse. My queer community showed me a healthier relationship with sex and sexuality and gender and consent. They taught me ways to resist state violence, to organize and read the work of revolutionaries, and to write my own part in a future revolutionary story. They taught me that family is as much who you choose as what your DNA decides, that love does not have to stop on shores as fickle and deadly as oneself or one’s own blood or even who one knows.
I have to show concern for the communities that are bigger than me and the people close to me. I have to be willing to cast my love into waters beyond my own pool, even if the light refracts differently beneath those surfaces.
When you’re queer, there are some things that straight people tell you that just because of who you are means something different to you than they do to them.
When my sister says “family”, as in: “How you talk about the police knowing that I am an officer sometimes makes me feel that you do not care that I am family”, I see, in addition to her own beautiful face. , glimpses of faces at sea that I may not be able to see, simply from where I swam when this family didn’t feel safe for me.
I see Aiyana Y Sean and many others who weren’t innocent enough to become hashtags and while their faces aren’t always as clear as hers, I want them to be safe too. Faces don’t have to be recognizable for you to love them; I also want to take care of strangers in my community.
When I hear “family,” I see Trayvon and his brother, now one of my best friends. I see myself with pigs digging deep into my wrist and breaking the meat like bread after the bully police threw me into a cheap car, just for protesting the murder of my friend’s brother. And I know that we are united by something real, deep and fiery on fire. A recent study published in the Astrophysical Journal found that the calcium in our bones and teeth probably comes from the explosion of stars that scatter the mineral through space in massive amounts, and when I smile widely, I see his smile on mine. I also call that “family.”
And when I say to my sister “I love you, I really love you”, I mean that I have to be able to take care of her in this context. That I want her to be the best version of herself that can be like an important part of the vast sky, but I cannot operate as if she is the sky itself.
When I say “I love you”, I see my mother cross my sister’s face, remembering how the truest love for her never meant that I had to accept or forgive the damage she caused without her offering her apologies; and the police do a lot of devastating damage to blacks in this country. I remember how the apologies came later, when I refused to limit myself to the dictates of a concept of love and family that would not leave me room to live fully, even if my mother never said the word “sorry”, because true love finds a path.
The apologies come when she asks, “How is your husband? I really like that Timothy! “and in her reading my articles about her struggle to show her love and her struggle to absorb words and her struggle to show me love when it is difficult and uncomfortable and we don’t always agree.
My relationship with my sister, who is a police officer, is difficult and uncomfortable and we don’t always agree, but love is not about comforting and avoiding criticism. Love is what drives us to be better people.
My sister Priya and I will probably have to leave some things unresolved. There is nothing I want more than the dismantling of the police institution, because I believe with every little nerve in my being that it is necessary for the healing that my communities require. That is true regardless of who is part of that institution.
My sister and I may never agree on what “better” means, but I just hope that we can both agree that wishing it for someone and acting on that wish is what love is. Soon, inshallah, I will be better showing that this is what my desire for her has always been, and better struggling with the search for love guiding me. Better to show her that love, as I discover it, for her, and maybe then this doesn’t have to be so difficult.
I wish, more than anything, this didn’t have to be so fucking difficult. For my sister. My mother. For all the black folks who should never have had to figure out how to create a safe society amid the rubble of the last five centuries of being ravaged by the state and its agents.
It was unloving to keep avoiding these conversations just because I didn’t know how to say what had to be said. I know my sister wants me to improve on this front, which means I know that she loves me too. I promise to do better. Saying what to say even without knowing how to say it is what weirdness has always led me to, anyway.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism