I’m planning to ask my boyfriend to marry me. He’s been my rock throughout all the years we’ve been together. But I know doing what I do—community organizing and political work—will put us at risk of attacks by state forces and by those who wish to oppress the communities I serve. I know this because I’ve already experienced it myself. I’m afraid that I’ll be dragging my boyfriend into that if we spend our lives together. He’s not an activist but he knows and understands the work that I do. How do I prepare him for it?
Thanks and keep doing your great work!
First of all, let me say I am very happy for you. It comforts me to know that you are cared for, accepted, and loved, that you have someone to turn to when you feel scared or angry or sad. This life is not exactly easy and each day can wound us in more ways than one, but I know you feel just a little bit braver and ready to forge on, because someone is there to hold your hand.
I hope you make each other happy for as long as you can. That he will continue to be your rock, just as I’m sure you are to him, too. And I hope that your love will grow with time, as you face the odds together, amid a society that still has a lot to learn.
It’s a long battle ahead, but know that many of us do stand with you in this fight – for a world where love always wins, where we can all marry the person we want to be with. Until then, I wish you immeasurable strength and courage, joy and peace.
Alongside this struggle for acceptance and equality are other battles to be won, and allow me to say I am deeply grateful for what you do. There is something to be said about the immense generosity and fortitude of queer comrades who deal with inner turmoil every day – for many, each time they face a mirror – and then with a society that keeps making them second-guess themselves, but who still show up for the Cause of everybody’s liberation. It is true that the queer can only be truly free when everyone is, but it’s still a choice to fight on, and I thank you for making it, each time.
I might have digressed, but that point about your generous heart is partly a response to your concern. I thought it’s important to make clear: no one is being dragged into anything. Your boyfriend chooses to be beside you because you’re a wonderful human being.
Moreso in this time of repression, full-time organizing demands a lot of sacrifice. That you are capable of this kind of commitment, of selflessness, is something honorable and something he should be proud of, if he isn’t yet. But you did ask a good question, as someone who wishes to protect their partner from harm. It is a fair point that he did not choose this life, and he may not, in a way, know what he signed up for.
So I guess that’s where we start: by having him know more about what you do, and why and how you do it. Continue to talk about our campaigns and the conditions that make them necessary, the disciplines you abide by to facilitate your work, and to ensure your personal safety. Share with him the things you read, along with security protocols for families and friends of activists.
But if you ask me, that’s the easy part. The harder one is where you show that this path is where you find the most meaning. That your actions are rooted in an unassailable truth about life and the world that permeates all of your being. Like I wrote to student activists,* the conduct of our lives is, in a way, the ultimate testament to the Resistance, and our participation in it.
Within the relationship, may you then aspire to become your best revolutionary self. You’re probably already doing it, but I’ll say anyway that it means upholding, in your private life, the same values that we promote as a movement. I am talking about the tenets of equality and freedom, and of wanting for our fellow (oppressed) humans only the very best.
We try to unlearn unfair standards for what is and what is not desirable. We look not at people’s titles or possessions but at their character. Their drive to transcend their personal circumstances, their principles, and even better, their commitment to live these principles.
We treat our partner with great respect and honesty. We throw them our full support in their endeavors, and work with them towards their goals. We give and give without expecting anything in return; we give simply because we are able to.
We do not confine each other to roles, and instead negotiate these based on what would lead to growth. We make agreements around things, but revisit them in light of changing needs. We do not seek to own the other. Instead, we create the freest environment for them to explore all of life’s possibilities, and the point of the relationship is them choosing, over and over, to stay.
I think queer couples in particular are in a great position to do all these, because you’re already challenging, in many ways, society’s notions of what it means to be in a relationship. While the rest of us still needs to catch up, most of you are already able to fathom non-conforming identities, to transcend outdated labels and gender expectations. And with this dynamic, you are better-placed to pursue your best selves.
Once your partner sees how doing what you do brings out the best in you and him, I think everything follows. Whatever life throws at you will be easier to bear.
At the same time, I’d like to say that all of these come with a caveat that no one can really be fully prepared for anything. But what’s important is the pledge to at least try, and see how you can move past difficult times together. Remolding to become ideal partners is a long process that will call for profuse amounts of patience from both sides. And in love and relationships, it is often the case that the journey is more important than the destination.
May this journey be life-affirming for both of you, L. We have no seasons ‘round here but I think you’ll understand when I say, as Neruda once wrote, that I wish you do to each other as Spring does to cherry trees.
With my best wishes,
*See related post: https://bit.ly/3lzo1ly
Thank you so much to Kenikenken for this beautiful custom artwork!!!