Though it’s been over a week since we left our beloved 100 year-old craftsman in Winston-Salem, it will likely be many more months before we can find the words to express how torn our hearts feel. Life was so hectic in the months leading up to the move. Between teaching multiple classes at WFU and at the gym, finishing a book project, selling the house, selling a car, packing, and preparing to take a toddler—and our myriad belongings—on a year-long adventure, there wasn’t time to process the emotions tied to any of the aforementioned events. “How do you feel about selling your car?” I’d ask Elizabeth. “I’ll let you know in mid-July,” she’d respond. Replace the object of the question with the house, the dining set, about 15 boxes of books, or any of the other material things we left behind, and the response was typically the same. Now it’s July, we’re in Vermont, and it’s time to finally address those untouched emotions. On the one hand, my heart is exploding with joy. Our adventure has begun. In the past few days I’ve hiked, canoed, gone on trail runs, napped, splashed in the lake, and picked fresh raspberries only steps away from our camper. We’re living what we hoped, planned, and dreamed. On the other hand, taking this adventure is not without its losses. The little town we called home for four and a half years had really grown on us. We adored our home. It was the first home we ever bought, the home we brought our child home to, the home where I found the courage to leave a job that was killing my soul, the home we lived in when our marriage was legally recognized by the state and then the country (on the day before we left, no less!). We leave behind dear friends, a sweet little town, a beautiful home, and jobs—vocations, actually. This was all part of the plan, but that does not take away from the sense of sadness we feel at saying goodbye. And then all of these emotions—the heart being tethered between joy and loss—are magnified on the national scale.
Recently, I realized the heart’s capacity to hold both extreme tragedy and utmost joy simultaneously. Surely this is something I’ve experienced in the past, but both personal and nation-wide events have served as poignant reminders. First, the racism that primarily persists in microaggressive forms—in the underbelly of a society that too often prides itself in the heinous sin of “colorblindness,” claiming that racism no longer exists in the United States—reared its violent head in the most blatant and painful ways in the slaughter of nine innocent people in Charleston. Because the massacre took place in a church, some media outlets have tried to claim that the shooter’s intentions were to attack persons of faith. It is clear, however, based on Dylann Roof’s words, photos, and history, that these killings were hate crimes targeted specifically at black people. Hearts broke. Lives ended. We, as a nation, were reminded, all too soon and yet again, that the lives of black people are valued less. Racism is present, evil, persistent, both blatant and hidden. It is more than hearts can hold.
Only days later SCOTUS ruled that same-sex marriage is now the law of the land. As we were packing to leave, we had already made copies of our marriage license (from Maryland before North Carolina recognized the legality of our love), two separate adoption decrees because our state did not recognize us as a family when Elizabeth first adopted Riah a brief 20 months ago, and all of the other legal paperwork that we could use to “prove” the legitimacy of our family in the case of an emergency (if medical staff wouldn’t permit us both to be in a hospital room with our child, for example). With those files copied and stored neatly in a suitcase, everything changed for us. Now, no matter what state we visit, our family is legally recognized. And while I’d like to think that our paperwork is no longer necessary, I know that the legality of the court’s decision doesn’t automatically change the hearts and minds of everyone in the country. Heteronormativity still reigns supreme. Hate crimes targeted at LGBTQ people have actually increased since the court’s decision. While we rejoiced at the ruling, we simultaneously acknowledged that marriage is only one small step in dismantling straight supremacy. Though countless couples can now marry, receiving all the legal rights and privileges therein, many may still live in states that allow LGBTQs to be fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity, where housing may be denied, where hate crime protections do not include sexual orientation or gender identity, and the list could continue. Still many queer people, myself included, found ourselves reveling in utter joy.
The day the court announced its decision, the life of the slain pastor of Mother Emanuel A.M.E., Rev. Clementa Pinckney, was remembered in a memorial service where President Obama sang and offered a eulogy. I wondered, in the midst of the entrenched racism embedded in systems of power, and in the love spilling out of those beloved rainbow flags, how our hearts could hold both realities at once. As I found myself—like many others—alternating between tears of joy and tears of rage, I realized how often these two seemingly disparate emotions are an ever-present reality for most people and communities with intersectionally oppressed identities. If my heart was torn between raging at the violence waged against black lives and celebrating that queer love was finally being acknowledged, I couldn’t imagine how the hearts of my beloved queer black friends and colleagues were faring. And it’s not simply in the past few weeks, but every week, every day, every moment, that those with intersectionally oppressed identities must experience the rending of hearts, the paradox of falling in love and having one’s heart broken at the same time.
Even as I write I cannot quite find the words. I try to nuance how my own white privilege clouds my understanding and find myself grasping, longing, remembering, hoping. So, we find ourselves grasping, hoping, longing, and remembering in the Green Mountains. Our intention was not necessarily for our posts to be political, but to be about travel, updates for the grandparents, and the like. But as many founding feminists proclaimed, the personal is political. As queer women and as a queer little family, our very lives are dubbed “social issues.” The country votes on whether or not our family is valid. Courts legislate our bodies. The legitimacy of our love, our family, is a linchpin issue for political pundits who formulate campaigns on whether or not our family is an abomination. Because of the way our home state voted, I was not Riah’s legal parent until about one month ago. Now, many hours, piles of paperwork, and thousands of extra dollars later, I am no longer considered a “legal stranger” living in Elizabeth and Riah’s home. This is good because now our “home” is a camper nestled on the shores of Silver Lake in Vermont and not an historic craftsman in the West End. Nevertheless, it’s nice to know that, after 20 months of love, diaper changes, late-night snuggles, and care, my title of “mama” carries with it the same legal weight every other parent in the country has.
As I’ve canoed, run, hiked, splashed, and eaten those tasty raspberries—often with Riah in tow—all these things weighed on my heart. So, it is with utmost joy, deep rage, tremendous laughter, righteous indignation, and a few tears that we say goodbye to Winston-Salem, that we remember the lives of nine beautiful people of color whose deaths seem all-too-familiar in our country, that we celebrate the long-awaited legality of our love, and that we greet this new journey with open arms, open eyes, open hearts, and open minds.