We Will Fashion Something New: QTPoC Resistance Against Traditional Understandings of Intimacy

Queer and trans people of color are a part of many communities that are intrinsically invested in resistance to the predominant social and political understandings of a society structured by binary norms. Our communities are those that are non-heteronormative, that break conventional understandings of gender and defy racial barriers. As everyday praxis, QTPoC create multifaceted social networks of sustainability and survivability. It is through these networks that intimacy presents itself. Basically, we are othered for living as our genuine selves, and this presents challenges to the dominative narrative of intimacy, but also allows us to imagine and create something new.

There are many aspects of our collective identities that innately challenge paradigms that make up social, political, and economic structures within society. Our interpersonal and cultural complexities give us the power to dismantle multiple structures of oppression at once. As the great Audre Lorde once said, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single issue lives.” Though Lorde spoke these words nearly 35 years ago, it is still impactful in today’s society.

Intimacy, as a mode of queer praxis, is often challenged by normative societal structures because systems of oppression do not grant space to consider alternate ways it can be performed. As it will be presented below, QTPoC are aware of how our actions are erased, invalidated, moved aside and disregarded because we experience this down to the smallest actions. While our white, cis, straight counterparts do not face the same microaggressions, they should examine the ways they uphold societal structures that alienate and regulate performances of intimacy within public and private spaces. We present challenging manifestations of intimacy in our chosen and recreated family, as well as, our platonic and romantic relationships.


Foundations of Intimacy

Intimacy can be easily defined as the proximity one has to another person, both physically and emotionally. QTPoC challenge intimacy not only in its definition, but also in practice. Some of the many ways that QTPoC challenge hegemonic definitions of intimacy are through the recreation of family, platonic relationships, and romantic relationships. Intimacy is challenged in these forms, because it is only acceptable within certain parameters that are not inclusive to the kinds of intimacy performed by QTPoC. These parameters are imposed by social structures that are usually unseen by folks who carry privilege. For instance, a small yet intimate gesture, like holding hands, is overlooked except when QTPoC are doing it. In a recent case, two gay men of color were violently attacked in Denver by partaking in such an innocent act (Vaglanos). QTPoC challenge traditional definitions of almost any practice and while doing specifically intimate acts in public unwillingly invoke the wrath of homophobic and/or transphobic people who do not wish for their understandings to be defied.

Similarly, Carlos Fonseca Hernandez y Maria Luisa Soto Quintero talk about sexualities on the periphery, othered or outcast, and explain that las sexualidades periféricas están basadas en la resistencia a los valores tradicionales, y al asumir la transgresión muchas veces el precio que se tiene que pagar es el rechazo social, la discriminación y el estigma -- “the sexualities on the periphery are based on resistance towards traditional values and when they assume it, many times the price they pay is that of social rejection, discrimination and stigma.” Intimacy is subjective, it can hold varying definitions from person to person. However, due to the biased standards of acceptability, the kinds of intimacy practiced by QTPoC are often invalidated, and at times are actively criminalized. Because queer intimacies are not always permissible, QTPoC continue to change and adapt in ways that disrupt the very practice and definition of what it means to be in physical and emotional proximity.


Creations of Queer and Trans Family

The recreation of family is one case of interpersonal relationships within queer and trans communities of color that challenge traditional understandings of intimacy. We often recreate family by breaking or moving away from the nuclear family in building their own either as a family unit and through chosen family. Chosen family within QTPoC challenges ideas of traditional family, and in doing so presents how they, and in particularly Chicanx/Latinx queers, create alternate ways of making family while simultaneously transforming how intimacy is thought of (Rodriguez, 325). Meeting friends along your journey in queer spaces, whether through clubs and organizations, and creating chosen family is one of the many ways the queer and trans people of color meet folks whose experiences you may share. Chosen families challenge traditional definitions of family in a few ways; one of the ways it challenges it is by breaking blood ties, as well as, modifying the structure of family that is usually accepted.

As Fonseca Hernandez and Soto Quintero mentioned, many QTPoC face social discrimination and stigma that often alienates them from their families. By recreating the conventional definition of family, we create these crucial social networks that lead to the resiliency that aids us. “One factor that has been suggested as a contributor to the resiliency of individuals in queer communities is the ability to form and make use of ‘chosen families,’” say Blair and Pukall who found that QTPoC receive higher levels of support from chosen family than from their blood family.

Another way in which QTPoC transform familial units is by building a semblance of family, but with the resiliency and resistance to the gender binary and heteronormative expectations. One such family to do so is Kim, Tiq and, newest addition, Soleil Milan. Kim’s website describes the new parents as “Together with her husband Tiq Milan, the pair speak about creating love in queer communities of color and intersectional approaches to human rights activism in North America and abroad.” They aim at showing the world that Black queer love and families are a reality after not seeing their kind of love and family being represented. Self-describing themselves as a queer family, the Milans are challenging standard understandings by rebuilding what family consists. They are open about the trials and tribulations they have faced such as their romantic relationship and their journey to Soleil’s birth. They discuss subjects that are present in many relationships, but taking into consideration their queer relationship.


Building Queer Relationships

Platonic relationships are underrated. Queer and trans people of color challenge intimacy through platonic relationships by creating an alternative connection with another person that does not rely on sexualization--rather in the deeper connection QTPoC have in their shared experiences. In doing so, queer relationships dismantle traditional understandings of intimacy and creates a broader understanding of friendship and kinship within QTPoC communities. Platonic relationships are often topic of conversation when it comes to what kinds of friendships are permissible with people of varying genders -- for example articles titled “Can a Man and a Woman have a Really have Platonic Relationship?”. Because QTPoC have the ability to defy normalized ideas about gender, topics like these become unnecessary since people can befriend people. This creates spaces where QTPoC do not have limitations when it comes to identities and the social relationships we build. However, this space, one where intimacy and platonic relationships are allowed to bloom, necessitates individual’s agency to acknowledge and build boundaries with one another that is crucial to maintain healthy relationships.

Continuously, romantic relationships between QTPoC challenges traditional understandings of intimacy, because it breaks the barriers of what is acceptable. It disrupts the heteronormative ideas that intimacy should be between two people of opposite sex. Because of this, queer relationships are not limited to binaries of any kind. This moves queer relationships away from the traditional couplings of man and woman; queer relationships are more fluid in their making and in the identities made up by those in it. Queer relationships cannot be strictly defined, because QTPoC can identify in various ways in both their gender and sexuality, and the subcultures they belong to. Queer relationships are nuanced to say the least, and can be created by multiple combinations.


Variations Within QTPoC Communities

It is necessary to reiterate that QTPoC are not part of one single community, so intimacy can be practiced and conceptualized with unique variances. They represents all people of color, multiple genders, varying kind of sexual practices, relationships, and expressions love, friendship and intimacy. The relationships presented above included some of the forms of intimacy within familial, platonic and romantic relationships constructs where intimacy can be recreated and practiced by QTPoC.

What the many QTPoC communities understand is that there is not just one definition that limits or constricts the many possibilities in which intimacy can present itself. Intersectional identities allow for the disruption of hegemonic structures, because our experiences innately challenges them on multiple levels including social, political, and economic platforms. We cultivate new forms of intimacy in order to survive in the world that invalidates our experiences everyday. One way is when create community online through hashtags like #20GAYTEEN, #queerculure, #nonbinaryisntwhite where we share our experiences with people who can relate to us. When space is not given to us, we create it online or in person, this leads to building relationships with people who understand us and our experiences -- that is intimacy,

Queer Chicana writer Gloria Anzaldua said, 

“perhaps we, [those within the borderlands], will decide to disengage from the dominant culture, write it off altogether as a lost cause, and cross the border into a wholly new and separate territory. Or we might go another route. The possibilities are numerous once we decide to act and not act” (Anzaldua 101).

QTPoC are at the borderlands, or in a state of consciousness, that can unknowingly create new expressions of intimacy. The “new and separate territory” that Anzaldua describes is unlimited and provides a fresh canvas where QTPoC have the possibility to recreate many forms of intimacy. QTPoC ancestors set the stage for us to flourish in our art, our love, and every mode of connection that we desire.

Our intimacies are resistant, are resilient. They transcend any set definitions of love. They mold to our needs as individual members of multiple communities and our multi-layered and intertwined understandings of vulnerability, boundaries, togetherness, and even loneliness. Our intimacies shall forever be apprehensive of complicated pasts and the difficulties of navigating acceptance as we redefine ourselves in ways that affirm that we deserve.

So never forget: we have made our intimacies bountiful. We have created spaces that bring us love and compassion far different from what we so often experience. Our intimacies are of our own design, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Article sources:

Anzaldua, Gloria.

This Bridge Called My Back: La Mestiza Consciousness. Persephone Press, 1981.

Blair, Karen L., and Caroline F. Pukall.

“Family Matters, but Sometimes Chosen Family Matters More: Perceived Social Network Influence in the Dating Decisions of Same- and Mixed-Sex Couples.” Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, vol. 24, no. 3, Dec. 2015, pp. 257–270. LGBT Life, EBSCOhost, doi:10.3138/cjhs.243-A3. Accessed 21 June 2018.

Carlos Fonseca, Hernández, and Soto Maria Luisa Quintero.

“La Teoría Queer: La De-Construcción De Las Sexualidades Periféricas.” Sociológica, vol. 24, no. 69, Jan. 2009, pp. 43–60. LGBT Life, EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com.proxy.library.ucsb.edu:2048/login.aspx?direct=true&db=qrh&AN=44641573&site=ehost-live. Accessed 20 June 2018.

Lorde, Audre.

Learning from the 60s. 1982, www.blackpast.org/1982-audre-lorde-learning-60s. Accessed 21 June 2018.

Moss, Barry F., and Andrew I. Schwebel.

“Defining Intimacy in Romantic Relationships.” Family Relations, vol. 42, no. 1, 1993, pp. 31–37. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/584918.

Rodriguez, Richard T.

The Routledge Queer Reader: Making Queer Familia. Routledge, 2012.

Vaglanos, Alanna.

"Gay Couple Stabbed While Holding Hands Outside Denver Nightclub." HuffPost: Queer Voices, 28 May 2018, www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/gay-couple-stabbed-while-holding-hands-outside-denver-nightclub_us_5b0d5c19e4b0fdb2aa56f74a. Accessed 21 June 2018.