Love Letter

Heather Corinna

Heather Corinna's explorative and gorgeous treatise on Love, with a capital "L", for young people (but, believe us, it's a must-read for all ages!).


I’m writing this because someone
told you that you can’t understand or experience love at your age. If no one
did yet, they probably will soon enough. I’m writing to tell you that if you’ve
heard that, I just don’t think it’s true.

You might have been told that what
you express or experience as love isn’t really love, but infatuation, fantasy,
delusion, lust, loneliness or your "raging hormones." You might have
heard that it’s either best you don’t get serious about love at all right now,
or you that cementing yourself as deeply as you can in one relationship — like
with an engagement or marriage — is the only way you can have a healthy or
real love relationship. Someone may have said that what you and the person you
have feelings with are experiencing as big, big love is, instead, "puppy
love" or a crush.

Maybe it was one of your parents,
someone else in your family, a teacher or another adult. Maybe it was a sibling
or friend who isn’t even that much older than you, or one who is even your same
age or younger. All the same, someone said it, and you felt the double-whammy
of having what you know to be the truth of your feelings discounted and of
being deeply patronized all at once.

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Whoever said it to you? They might
just be full of it. Okay, if not exactly full of it, not thinking it through or
choosing their words carefully or thoughtfully. Maybe they have selectively
forgotten their own life experiences or are projecting their own experiences
unto you. They might have fears around the intensity of your feelings. They
might be freaking out because you grew up so darn fast they’ve got vertigo.
They may be bitter about their own experiences with love, and with love not
having met their expectations. It might be what was said to them at your age,
and they believed it.

There are many reasons why people
say this stuff to young people, and I’ll get to that, but what’s most important
to me is that you know your feelings do have weight and are real.

No matter what anyone says, love
doesn’t have an age requirement: we can feel and enact love at the age of 4,
14, 40 or 74. It doesn’t have any one time, place or kind of relationship it
can only manifest in: it can happen with lovers or friends, parents or
siblings, even with whole communities, even with the whole world. We can and do
love in friendships, family relationships, mentorships, sexual relationships,
romantic relationships, in and outside of marriage, with people we’ve known
forever, with people we’ve only just met, by ourselves, with another person,
with whole groups of people. Love doesn’t discriminate by gender, race, age,
class, size, shape or any other criteria you can think of. We can love or be
loved in a relationship that lasts decades or in one that lasts weeks. There is
no one, clear, universal definition of love. There never has been, and it’s
safe to say there never will be.

IS love? It depends on who you ask.

Artists, poets, writers,
politicians, philosophers, teachers, and just about everyone who has ever given
some thought to anything have been trying to figure out what love is and isn’t
for all of human history, and millions of people still can’t agree. We have yet
to come to any kind of universal agreement on what love is, nor to have any
kind of sole, universal experience of love. Like just about anything else where
people are involved, because people are so diverse, what we know love to be,
how we experience it, and the way we define it is diverse. Not only do
definitions of love vary from person to person, they’re something that any
given person usually evolves and adapts in their lifetime, and often more than

If you’re asking me for a basic
definition, I resonate with the way bell hooks talks about love. When asked to
define it simply, she said that, "Love is a combination of six
ingredients: care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect and
It may
be obvious (which may be why she didn’t say it) but to her list I’d add
connectivity: I’d say love is about connecting and being connected to
ourselves, to who we love, to everything. There’s an energy to being deeply
connected that once you feel, you’ll recognize ever after.

I also like something Thich Nhat
Hanh said on the topic, which is that "Love is the capacity to take
care, to protect, to nourish. If you are not capable of generating that kind of
energy toward yourself – if you are not capable of taking care of yourself, of
nourishing yourself, of protecting yourself – it is very difficult to take care
of another person…to love oneself is the foundation of the love of other
people. Love is a practice. Love is truly a practice."

I think all of that is a good recipe
for figuring out if what you’re experiencing, in yourself, and with others, is
or may be love. We can be certain that while sometimes some of those things
might be a bit scary, all of them leave us feeling good. The kind of scary they
can be is scary-we-have-to-grow, not scary-we-might-be-harmed or
scary-I-hate-myself. Love expands who we are and how we relate to the world and
others in it. Love nurtures and supports us when we’re weak and strong; when
we’re great and when we kind of suck. Love inclines us and those feeling love
for us to want to be and become our very best selves. Love doesn’t leave us
feeling we’re starving: it makes us feel very well fed. While all that stuff
can sound very heavy, love ultimately feels freeing, not like a cage or a
weight. Love for or with others also requires that we first love ourselves.

One thing we can all usually agree
on about love is that the vast majority of the time, love makes you and
everyone in it seriously happy. When we love and are being loved, we don’t
usually feel miserable, desperate, terrified, detached or lonely: love feels

Love is active: it isn’t this
disembodied thing that’s out there floating around we either get or we don’t. It’s
something we and others feel because we actively and intentionally create and
enact it. It’s something we nurture, grow, practice and refine. It’s something
we make and do, not something we are given or take. If we lose it, it’s not like
losing our keys: rather, it’s about one or more people no longer choosing to
love; no longer actively loving.

Vs. In Love

If you’re reading this at
Scarleteen, it’s probably because you’re thinking about romantic love, where we
often talk about being "in love." There’s a difference between the possibility of love, the potential start of
love and love that is really developing, fully flowering. While certainly, a
plant is not the same as a seed, a seed is the possibility of a plant. It may
not always grow into one, it may not come back every year, but a plant at every
stage IS still a plant, right?

When people talk about being in love, they’re usually talking about
a strong feeling of connection to someone else, a passion, a desire for love;
about feelings which may become love or are part of the kind of love we feel,
rather than love itself. Being in love is something that can cultivate, feed or water love,
but isn’t love itself.

I think one way to differentiate
between those feelings and the deeper stuff is when the love we feel has
flavors of other loves we have felt. While the relationship we have with
parents, siblings or a best friend differ than those we have in romantic and/or
sexual relationships, when we’re talking about capital-L love, the love itself isn’t
really different from other kinds of love we have known. No matter how old you
are, even if you’re in your first romantic love relationship, you have already
learned about love and probably also already had experiences of love and being
loved. Never having had a romantic or sexual relationship doesn’t mean you have
never had a love relationship or don’t know from love. I’m sure when you told
your Mom or Dad as a small child, "I love you!" they didn’t reply with an,
"Oh, hush: you can’t know what love is!"

why do they say that?

People’s ideas about love don’t stay
the same for the whole of their lives. What you think love is and how you
experience it now won’t always be how you do, even if you stay — sometimes
especially if you do — in the same relationships for decades. People grow and
change, and love fosters growth and change: that’s one reason why love and our
ideas about it grow and change. And the more we "do" love, the more
we learn about it, just like the more we do and learn more about anything else
in our lives.

So, sometimes people figure the way
they define and experience love at any given time in their lives is the only
truth of love: the only correct definition. That’s kind of bizarre, since for
most of us, by the time we have a definition we will have come to it in part by
feeling we mistook what love was at some point, and then revised what it
afterwards. We should all always know that any definition we have at one time
may be one we later revise. Someone who is absolutely, positively sure they
know exactly what love is at the age of 40 is likely at 70 to feel their
40-year-old self didn’t know jack. All the same, that’s a view that can make
people think that someone younger than them just doesn’t and can’t get it.

The love you’re feeling right now
probably isn’t going to feel or look exactly like the love you feel 20 years
from now. At the same time, you’ll find common threads in how you experience
and define love that run through the whole of your life, like some of those
basics I was talking about a few paragraphs ago. When you love and are loved,
you’re likely always going to feel a certain connectedness to someone else, to
yourself, to everyone around you. When you love and are loved, you will likely
always feel something about yourself has become better, larger, deeper and more
enlightened. When you love and are loved, you feel profound concern for the
person you love and want to do what you can to love them well. And when you
love and are loved, because it will likely always be something with some
measure of elusiveness to all of us, you may well always have some part of
yourself that’s never quite sure if it’s "real" love or not.

I know I love differently and
experience love differently pushing 40 than I did pushing 20. I also know that
I have become better at it over the years: I have become better, throughout my
life, at loving others and also better at being loved: remember, it’s a
practice, not an object. But.

I don’t feel comfortable saying that
the way I love now, or any love I feel now, is somehow more "real"
than a love I felt or the way I defined love at 15. I was just as real of a
person then as I am now, as were the people I loved. My life was just as real a
life. My relationships then were real, the people I had them with were real.
Life experience and aging does tend to change us and help us grow, and often
will change how we love and experience love, but we’re not more or less real based on what our life experience
has or hasn’t been, and our love is no more or less real because we are younger
or older. It’s all real.

In hindsight I can see I’ve mistaken
love for something else sometimes, based on my current definition and my
experiences to date. But when I look back at my teen years, I’d say that much
of the time I felt like what was going on was love? I was right. I wasn’t as
good at it as I think I am now (and I’ll likely be better at it 20 years from
now), and many of the people who loved me have likely gotten better at it, too.
But just like when I took my first steps I was walking, even though a few years
later I got way better at it, love when I had lots tot learn about it, and was
just starting to practice it was still love.

I’m certain you’re going to find
yourself looking back when you’re older and thinking the same thing,
particularly if you do not try and quantify love or think of knowledge and
understanding of love as something that only matters in the final tally (and I
hope you don’t), rather than in all of the moments you experienced and acquired
it at every stage of your life. Particularly if you do not figure that because
you got hurt or heart-bruised, you didn’t love or weren’t loved. Because we got
hurt or didn’t have our expectations met — like an expectation of marriage,
for instance, or for the nature of a love relationship to never change —
doesn’t mean love wasn’t present or real.

people say that because they love you. Really.

People who love you want to help
protect you from heartbreak. None of us want the people we love to get hurt.

Some folks who say you can’t know
love yet got hurt with love when they were young. They know how bad heartbreak
or disappointment can feel then and they want to spare you. They know that the
L-word gets tossed around a lot, and can mask a lot when some people say it.
Having someone say, "I love you," is such a powerful thing that
sometimes those words can override what we’re actually being shown, or are
doing ourselves, in action. They also may be saying what they are from a place
of their own present hurt: when any of us are disappointed by love, or have
lost love, it can be easy to think that it just doesn’t exist or that none of
our ideas that we knew love have been real.

The trouble is that in order to make
room for love we have to risk the loss or lack of love; risk having our love go
unreciprocated or unrequited or having things not turn out the way we might want.
We risk hurting others or ourselves, in small or big ways, even when that’s the
last thing we intend to do. There’s no escaping those risks: that’s what it
costs to get on the ride that is love.

No one who loves you wants to keep
you from experiencing love: they just might forget — or dislike — sometimes
that to be open to love, you’ve got to be open to the emotional risks we have
to take for it, to the outcomes of loving that might not be what we wanted or

is not to say that love requires you be a masochist.

There are ways to have our hearts
open and still protect ourselves. Pacing how vulnerable we are with others,
having limits and boundaries that we only open up when we feel we know it’s
safe to do so, making sure things aren’t one-sided aren’t an enemy of love:
those things are important parts of loving and being loved. Like all great big
things, love requires patience, after all.

We can take the risks of loving
without going loopy and being reckless or unsafe. For instance, we aren’t going
to miss out on love by not moving in with someone in the first month we’re
dating. We aren’t going to miss out on love by not getting into a given kind of
relationship with someone we feel love for which one or both of us knows isn’t
best or just doesn’t want right now. We aren’t going to miss out on love if we
don’t have sex right when someone else we love wants it.

We can open up to people slowly and
develop trust over time without missing a window to love or be loved. I don’t
mean to go all crazy plant lady on you with gardening analogies, but those
parts of love that are about commitment and trust are a lot like growing
things. When we begin loving someone, we’re just that, beginning; new into that
process and practice. We want the people we love to open up to us in a way that
makes them feel safe and cared for, not overexposed or at great risk. We know
that when we give people time to develop trust, and take the time to develop it
ourselves, everything will grow in good time. When we plant seeds, if we push
them to grow too fast, the plants could bolt and then not bear fruit. Same goes
with love: a patient love-gardener (I know, that was seriously corny) isn’t
going to want to rush too much because they know and feel that won’t grow the
good stuff.

"You don’t understand love," is really "Your relationship
doesn’t seem loving."

There are healthy ways to pursue and
enact love, and unhealthy or not-so-healthy ways. There’s also the part where
what someone calls love just isn’t.

Sometimes what folks mean who say
what’s going on isn’t really love is that the dynamics of your relationship or
your behavior don’t appear loving. They’re just not choosing their words very
carefully or expressing what they actually mean well. Sometimes, when someone
says "That isn’t real love," what they really mean is "I don’t
think the dynamics of your relationship are loving," or "The way
he/she/you are behaving doesn’t seem to be with love," or "You
endlessly harassing someone who you claim to love but who has asked you to
leave them alone is not loving them." In other words, when people say you
don’t understand love, sometimes they’re saying that you are mistaking
maltreatment or abuse for love. Since a whole lot of people who are being
treated poorly or abused do, that’s a concern to pay attention to.

Even when we or others are feeling
love, love being something we feel doesn’t always mean we’ll have healthy
relationships, or construct or enact relationships that are good for us.
Feeling or wanting love doesn’t always make someone act with love, and
sometimes we can also love people who just aren’t good for us to be around, at
a certain time or ever, or who aren’t good for us to be in a certain kind of
relationship with. Feeling love, even showing love, doesn’t make someone else
love us back, either.

One thing we can say confidently is
that in a relationship where there is abuse, there is not love. We just
can’t love someone and abuse them at the same time.
We may love someone who is abusing
us, but someone who is abusing us does not love us. None of those basic six
ingredients hooks talked about — care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility,
respect and trust — can coexist with abuse.

While identifying
what’s abusive isn’t always simple
, it is often easier than identifying
what just isn’t healthy. That can be all the more difficult in romantic love
relationships because some of our cultural ideas about romance, what’s romantic
and loving and what’s not, are messed up. Stalking someone, or being highly
possessive, jealous or controlling, someone stalking us down, for instance,
aren’t about respect, trust or care. Remembering that we have to love ourselves
first to love others, you can see why someone who is so insecure they need
constant control of you or loses it every time you interact with someone else
who might be attracted to you isn’t going to be able to love you yet. Someone
who grew up watching one parent belittle another and who is continuing that
behavior because they never healed from it or did the work to learn to live
differently can’t love you yet. They still need to learn to love themselves

Some people have the idea — and
some abusive people will say this — that the reason they mistreat people they
claim to love is because they just love them SO FREAKING MUCH. But that’s just
not true. You can love as big as a planet and do it in a healthy, sound way,
which is the way you will do it if you really do love someone that much. We just
can’t mistreat or abuse people we love. When you are really experiencing love,
you don’t have to sacrifice your safety, your goals and dreams, your sense of
self or your own ethics: love, rather, supports these things.

For instance, you don’t have to
ditch an education or life goals to experience or express love. You don’t have
to hurt or betray a friend to love. You don’t have to get married at 18, run
away together at 16 or have sex at 14 to try and cement love or make it stay
(hint: none of those things work, anyway). You don’t have to stay in a
relationship which is abusive or dysfunctional to express or experience love:
if you do, you’re going to miss out on love instead. So long as you’re making
choices, in terms of your actions, that are not only sane but sound, you can
love as much as you want to and even if you fall on your face doing it, even if
you wind up crying for a month solid at some point, be relatively safe and have
wounds that will heal. If we bear the most basic ingredients of love in mind,
we can see that if those things are really what are going on — in our feelings
towards another and our feelings about ourselves — if someone didn’t love us
back at all, it’d be tough for us to love them. It’s hard to have respect for
someone who doesn’t respect us or have self-respect: it’s tough to trust
someone who doesn’t trust us.

I can’t speak for other adults, but
speaking for myself, while I think young people can experience love and know
what it is, I am always concerned that inaccurate ideas about love will
endanger you or keep you from seeing the real deal when it does happen. Being
emotionally, physically or sexually hurt is obviously something we all want to
avoid, and isn’t a positive outcome. But perhaps even more dangerous and scary
is the fact that the way some people decide what love is — when it’s a set of
ideas that isn’t about love at all, but about harm or vacancy — can keep them
from identifying and experiencing love. If our ideas about love are backwards
or messed-up, we can stick to relationships that aren’t loving, thinking they
are and all the while missing out on others which could be, including the
relationship we have with ourselves.

Of course, love being positive and
healthy, being primarily about joy and connection, doesn’t mean it’s always
easy. Because love is made of people, there are going to be disagreements,
misunderstandings, conflicts of interest and challenges. Because people are
always growing, any two or more people loving each other are going to feel
growing pains: just because we love one another doesn’t mean we grow at the
same rate or time or in the same direction. But that’s the stuff of transient
discomforts, and stuff that in love, ultimately brings us to a closer place, a
more enlightened place. It doesn’t keep on hurting.

Your Words

There’s another reason people may
tell young people they don’t understand love. That’s because of the way some
young people talk about love. If and when you use the word love to mean passion
or solely sexual feelings, rather than saying that lust and passion are part of your love relationships or
feelings you’re expressing a misunderstanding of love. When you’re positively
miserable, lonely and hopeless most of the time you’re saying you’re feeling
love, it’s usually clear what you’re probably feeling is actually a LACK of
love, probably from the other person not reciprocating love, or out of a wish
for love to grow from some other feelings and desires you might have.

I get WHY we might call things like
that love, even if we sense that’s not really what they are. After all, we live
in a culture which has a lot of value judgments around lust, passion, around
unrequited romantic interest, around crushes. All of those feelings can be big
feelings too, and if we want to have them taken seriously, we might
unconsciously shortcut and call them love in the hope they will net a more
compassionate response from the people around us. Heck, we might call them love
out of a wish that’s what they become, or because they look like what others
say love is like. It’s tough to have other kinds of feelings and get those
respected as much as feelings of love. So, it’s pretty easy to just call any of
those things love as a shortcut to having the import of our feelings
understood. Just know that if that’s ever what’s going on with you, you can
express that you’re having those feelings, and while they might not be love,
they’re big and powerful feelings you want to have recognized and need some
care around.

And if you’re saying something is
love that isn’t yet because you think saying it will get you something you
want? I don’t think I need to tell you that’s just not cool. Some people say
they love someone else in order to make sex happen, in order to avoid being
alone, to try and make someone stay who doesn’t want to, in order to try and
get parents to okay something they otherwise wouldn’t. Love requires honesty:
you can’t manipulate and be acting with love or in the interest of love.

that sometimes, when we grow older, we unlearn things, too.

Our world is saturated with the idea
that age brings wisdom; that the older we get, the more we know. While in many
ways that’s true, what it discounts is that even the youngest of us, even the
smallest children, know things of value and import. Some of that knowledge is
learned, but some of it is intuitive, more about gut feelings than empirical
evidence or experience. Those ways of knowing are no less valuable than the
other ways.

There’s another change of
consciousness with age that adults don’t often tell young people about, which
some may not even have any awareness of. That’s the fact that not only do we
learn many new things as we grow, we also can sometimes forget things.
Sometimes the things we forget are terribly important.

There’s a certain fearlessness, an
openness, a nakedness (the emotional kind, not the sexy stuff) to love and
living younger people often have that older folks can forget, unlearn, discount
or run from as we get older. There’s an intensity in feeling love and giving
over to our feelings when we’re younger that can make older adults feel scared,
intimidated or even — let’s go ahead and say it — jealous. It’s not that love
can’t feel passionate and intense when you’re older: it can. But some adults
will just choose love relationships that have a different flavor than that
because it fits their wants and needs better (some teens will, too).
Alternately, some adults who have been in a given love relationship for a while
will find that part of them mellows some over time. What grows out of that
initial intensity has its own value, but sometimes we might still long for that
if we haven’t felt it in a while. Super-duper intense love is also often fairly
all-consuming. In a lot of ways, younger people have lifestyles that are better
suited to it. If you don’t have to pay the bills, meet hard deadlines, feed and
clothe any kids you’ve got, fix the roof, deal with the taxman, negotiate one
relationship with all the others you have going, tend to an ailing parent, get
all the dishes done, have that biopsy, and get your boss every last little
thing they want in a day, all while you have way less energy than you did 20 years
ago, you’ve got a lot more freedom to BE that intense.

It’s hard to have very high-key,
intense and passionate feelings of love and still take care of everything you
need to when you’re older. As a person who often has very passionate love
relationships, I can tell you that landlords aren’t particularly patient about
rent that’s late because you’ve been sailing on the love boat, believe me. So,
that mellowing can be really welcomed, but it doesn’t mean older adults
wouldn’t love to have more freedom for the supper-twitterpatted variety of
love, too.

There’s also a certain optimism
about love many young people have, and some will seem to see love nearly
everywhere. For sure, some of that is only so realistic. After all, some of the
ideas we have when we’re younger about love are not always sound: again, we’re
learning. When you hear adults being negative about your experiences with and
ideas about love, some of that negativity can come from a sadness around the
loss of some of those young ideas and ideals: it can be about knowing, now,
some of the more challenging realities of love you might not know yet. For
adults who care about you and recall those feelings, they may remember feeling
scared by them, or feeling or getting lost in them, and they may just be
worried about you in that respect. They may just want to try and spare you
disappointment or the loss of that optimism. Thick, rose-colored glasses are a
very pleasant thing to look at the world through, but they can also make it
more likely to walk into walls and break your face.

However, there’s a balance to be
struck. Eventually, if we keep growing, stay open, and unionize our learned
perspectives on love with our instinctive, intuitive feelings, we’ll find it.
We’re all always in process, after all, with love just like anything else. It’s
not like someone "grows up," is then forever done growing, and comes
to some kind of final conclusion about what love is stops everything. Not
unless they’ve stopped living, feeling and thinking, anyway.

The point is, just like you have
things to learn about love in getting older, those of us who already have put
on the years can have things to relearn about love we knew or were open to when we were
younger. The things we feel and know and the things you feel and know, our
collective experiences and yours, are not only all valuable, but the richest
love has all of them in it.

what I’d want for you, if I could give you a gift when it comes to all of this.

I want you to be able to define and
identify love based on who you are at any given time, and to have that unique definition
and experience of love respected and accepted. I want you to feel able to open
up your heart without having to worry about what someone else thinks about it,
and if what you’re feeling matches their own experiences and definitions. I
want for you to be able to explore love, without having to feel wary about any
missteps you or others take in your process because they’ll be seen as some
kind of proof or disproof that you really did or didn’t love. I want your
exploration in love to be about your own journey, not someone else’s.

I don’t want you to have to feel
when you’re having a doubt, question or concern about love or a love
relationship that you can’t voice it to the people around you out of fear
they’ll say, "See? I told you this wasn’t really love." I want you to be able to express
all of the complicated, challenging, intense and mind-bending things freely
that love has you feeling — especially since love being the big thing it is,
we often need sounding boards for it — rather than clamming up about it
because you suspect you’ll get shut down instead of heard.

I’m always worried there just isn’t
enough love in the world. Love is the way we get to real compassion with and
for ourselves and others, it’s what really connects us to everyone and
everything, it’s the best push for the most positive growth, it’s what
motivates all the best stuff in the world. Love buoys us up as individuals and
as a collective of people, both the love we do at a given time as well as the
love we have experienced and done through our lives, even if the people we
loved, or the relationships in which we loved and were loved, are no longer
with us. Love is how we make peace, in every sense of the word.

Parts of life can be really hard,
and it doesn’t get much easier as you get older. We tend to get better at
managing and dealing with the hard stuff as we grow, but however rough your
life is now as a young person, chances are good that there will be many times
when it’s going to be even rougher. What often makes life hardest is a lack of
love: for ourselves, for others and from others. Poverty, bigotry, war and
other violence, illness, death: none of the really tough stuff ever gets easy,
but love, in all different kinds of ways and relationships, makes a huge
difference. As well, so many of the biggest problems in our world are, at their
root, because of
a lack of love and compassion: when the Beatles said that love was all you
need, that’s
what they meant.

I feel like if our experiences of
love aren’t respected, we can get really screwed. I’ve watched some young
people stay in relationships that are lousy and really loveless for a long time
thinking that as long as everyone stays put, they can prove to themselves or
others it’s love, and that proving love is more important than actually loving
and being loved. I’ve seen young people do some really damaging things to
themselves in reaction to adults discounting their experiences of love, which
is particularly tragic since the adults saying those things sometimes do
because they want to help teens stay OUT of harm’s way. Any of us who did grow
up or are growing up queer, or who loved in a way that simply did not fit a
given social ideal or norm, have often been hit particularly hard to the gut by
being told our love isn’t what love is: it’s one reason the suicide rates of
GLBT young people have always been so high. The quality of our relationships
and our sense of self suffer when the realness of our feelings of love are dismissed
or discounted.

Sure, it’s likely that if you open
yourself up to love, you are going to experience heartbreak. If we open our
hearts, it’s going to hurt now and then. Sometimes that hurt is about the mere
fact that all of us are imperfect, and we say or hear something that just came
out all wrong and unintentionally hurts. Sometimes, we just can’t have exactly
what we want very badly: the timing is off, the distance too great, the alchemy
not quite right. Now and then we may love someone who just isn’t willing or
able to love us back, or love us the way we want to be loved. You have a
pivotal life experience (or someone else does), the world tilts on its axis,
and changes you or a relationship in such a way that those little puzzle pieces
of you and someone else that fit together so perfectly before suddenly or
gradually no longer fit. People change. People move. People die. These are all
inevitable givens in life which we cannot control or prevent, and where love
can either be lost, change in a way that hurts or scares us or create some
serious challenges.

There are no forevers that we know
of, yet love tends to make many people feel like there are in the moment. I
think that’s a gorgeous, kickass, life-affirming thing. If you feel like, no
matter how many of us tell you otherwise, the love you feel right now, or the
relationship you are in, cannot fade, vanish or end, my hat’s off to you. While
the reality of that outcome is unlikely, that feeling is very real: just ask
the artists and poets who have been expressing that for thousands of years.
Part of what makes love so big is that we know there is risk involved, we know
love or life might change us or others, we might have parts of ourselves seen
we aren’t so proud of, we might get attached to things being a certain way and
at some point have to let go of that attachment, but we take those risks and
others anyway. Like Lynda Barry says, "Love is an exploding cigar we
willingly smoke."

I’ve often been asked by parents or
other adults if I’m worried about all of you getting your hearts broken. The
truth is that I’m less worried about people getting their hearts broken than I
am about people never deeply experiencing love, never taking the kinds of sound
risks for love that force us to grow and expand as people.

I had my heart broken plenty in my
teens, in my twenties, in my thirties, even in the last year or two. I’ve put
my heart out there for a few people who just were not interested in it. I had
relationships that felt like forevers that lasted but a few months. I had a
high school relationship not make it through that transition to college, as so
often happens. I hurt someone and myself by not being able to love at a given
time the way that I wanted to and had before. I’ve had love relationships I was
very invested in shift and change, where one of us involved either stopped
loving the other, or even with both of us still loving, where someone needed to
leave the relationship as it was. I even had one of the first people I deeply
loved romantically die violently when I was a teenager. I have soaked more than
one pillow with tears when I wanted love and could not find or make it.

But all the same, here I am, still
standing, still loving and even if I could go back in time I’d not choose to
change history and not have loved or been loved as I did. The loss of love, the
hard changes of love, the
embarrass-the-bloody-hell-out-of-myselfs-and-for-what’s of love? I don’t want
to undo or redo any of it. The essence of all of those experiences is always
with me, part of who I am and have become, even if the relationships aren’t (or
have changed) or the people I loved or were loved by are long gone.

We’ll all survive heartbreak,
especially when there really IS and has been love. It’s a lack of love, a lack
of loving that I’m not so sure we’ll get through. Zora Neale Hurston — who is
far more efficient with words on this topic than I — said, "Love makes
your soul crawl out from its hiding place." I think the deepest parts of
who we all are are best seen and shared, not hidden.

My advice? Light up that exploding
cigar, agree to aid and abet love, crawl out from your hiding place and love
big. Grow your own heart and feel those growing pains. Risk a sane amount of
heartbreak, disappointment or loss; risk challenges, elation, self-discovery,
deep connection and joy. Make an ass of yourself. Have those moments where but
a handful of seconds feels like forever-and-ever, and those evenings where you
try to will the sun to never come up and bring the next day. Let them be what
they are: relish and enjoy them. Risk growing, risk changing, risk looking back
ten or twenty years from now and having a different opinion on what love really
is or was.

And if someone else tells you what
you’re feeling is not or cannot possibly be love, but you feel it is? If
someone says that, but it feels every kind of right and good and exactly like
love to you, you don’t need to prove them right or wrong. Your journeys and
process with love are just that: yours. You’ll figure this out for yourself in
time, and have your own observations and perceptions. You just need to go ahead
and love anyway.


News Health Systems

Complaint: Citing Catholic Rules, Doctor Turns Away Bleeding Woman With Dislodged IUD

Amy Littlefield

“It felt heartbreaking,” said Melanie Jones. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”

Melanie Jones arrived for her doctor’s appointment bleeding and in pain. Jones, 28, who lives in the Chicago area, had slipped in her bathroom, and suspected the fall had dislodged her copper intrauterine device (IUD).

Her doctor confirmed the IUD was dislodged and had to be removed. But the doctor said she would be unable to remove the IUD, citing Catholic restrictions followed by Mercy Hospital and Medical Center and providers within its system.

“I think my first feeling was shock,” Jones told Rewire in an interview. “I thought that eventually they were going to recognize that my health was the top priority.”

The doctor left Jones to confer with colleagues, before returning to confirm that her “hands [were] tied,” according to two complaints filed by the ACLU of Illinois. Not only could she not help her, the doctor said, but no one in Jones’ health insurance network could remove the IUD, because all of them followed similar restrictions. Mercy, like many Catholic providers, follows directives issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that restrict access to an array of services, including abortion care, tubal ligations, and contraception.

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Some Catholic providers may get around the rules by purporting to prescribe hormonal contraception for acne or heavy periods, rather than for birth control, but in the case of copper IUDs, there is no such pretext available.

“She told Ms. Jones that that process [of switching networks] would take her a month, and that she should feel fortunate because sometimes switching networks takes up to six months or even a year,” the ACLU of Illinois wrote in a pair of complaints filed in late June.

Jones hadn’t even realized her health-care network was Catholic.

Mercy has about nine off-site locations in the Chicago area, including the Dearborn Station office Jones visited, said Eric Rhodes, senior vice president of administrative and professional services. It is part of Trinity Health, one of the largest Catholic health systems in the country.

The ACLU and ACLU of Michigan sued Trinity last year for its “repeated and systematic failure to provide women suffering pregnancy complications with appropriate emergency abortions as required by federal law.” The lawsuit was dismissed but the ACLU has asked for reconsideration.

In a written statement to Rewire, Mercy said, “Generally, our protocol in caring for a woman with a dislodged or troublesome IUD is to offer to remove it.”

Rhodes said Mercy was reviewing its education process on Catholic directives for physicians and residents.

“That act [of removing an IUD] in itself does not violate the directives,” Marty Folan, Mercy’s director of mission integration, told Rewire.

The number of acute care hospitals that are Catholic owned or affiliated has grown by 22 percent over the past 15 years, according to MergerWatch, with one in every six acute care hospital beds now in a Catholic owned or affiliated facility. Women in such hospitals have been turned away while miscarrying and denied tubal ligations.

“We think that people should be aware that they may face limitations on the kind of care they can receive when they go to the doctor based on religious restrictions,” said Lorie Chaiten, director of the women’s and reproductive rights project of the ACLU of Illinois, in a phone interview with Rewire. “It’s really important that the public understand that this is going on and it is going on in a widespread fashion so that people can take whatever steps they need to do to protect themselves.”

Jones left her doctor’s office, still in pain and bleeding. Her options were limited. She couldn’t afford a $1,000 trip to the emergency room, and an urgent care facility was out of the question since her Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois insurance policy would only cover treatment within her network—and she had just been told that her entire network followed Catholic restrictions.

Jones, on the advice of a friend, contacted the ACLU of Illinois. Attorneys there advised Jones to call her insurance company and demand they expedite her network change. After five hours of phone calls, Jones was able to see a doctor who removed her IUD, five days after her initial appointment and almost two weeks after she fell in the bathroom.

Before the IUD was removed, Jones suffered from cramps she compared to those she felt after the IUD was first placed, severe enough that she medicated herself to cope with the pain.

She experienced another feeling after being turned away: stigma.

“It felt heartbreaking,” Jones told Rewire. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”

The ACLU of Illinois has filed two complaints in Jones’ case: one before the Illinois Department of Human Rights and another with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights under the anti-discrimination provision of the Affordable Care Act. Chaiten said it’s clear Jones was discriminated against because of her gender.

“We don’t know what Mercy’s policies are, but I would find it hard to believe that if there were a man who was suffering complications from a vasectomy and came to the emergency room, that they would turn him away,” Chaiten said. “This the equivalent of that, right, this is a woman who had an IUD, and because they couldn’t pretend the purpose of the IUD was something other than pregnancy prevention, they told her, ‘We can’t help you.’”

Commentary Sexuality

Black Trans Liberation Tuesday Must Become an Annual Observance

Raquel Willis

As long as trans people—many of them Black trans women—continue to be murdered, there will be a need to commemorate their lives, work to prevent more deaths, and uplift Black trans activism.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

This week marks one year since Black transgender activists in the United States organized Black Trans Liberation Tuesday. Held on Tuesday, August 25, the national day of action publicized Black trans experiences and memorialized 18 trans women, predominantly trans women of color, who had been murdered by this time last year.

In conjunction with the Black Lives Matter network, the effort built upon an earlier Trans Liberation Tuesday observance created by Bay Area organizations TGI Justice Project and Taja’s Coalition to recognize the fatal stabbing of 36-year-old trans Latina woman Taja DeJesus in February 2015.

Black Trans Liberation Tuesday should become an annual observance because transphobic violence and discrimination aren’t going to dissipate with one-off occurrences. I propose that Black Trans Liberation Tuesday fall on the fourth Tuesday of August to coincide with the first observance and also the August 24 birthday of the late Black trans activist Marsha P. Johnson.

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There is a continuing need to pay specific attention to Black transgender issues, and the larger Black community must be pushed to stand in solidarity with us. Last year, Black trans activists, the Black Lives Matter network, and GetEQUAL collaborated on a blueprint of what collective support looks like, discussions that led to Black Trans Liberation Tuesday.

“Patrisse Cullors [a co-founder of Black Lives Matter] had been in talks on ways to support Black trans women who had been organizing around various murders,” said Black Lives Matter Organizing Coordinator Elle Hearns of Washington, D.C. “At that time, Black trans folks had been experiencing erasure from the movement and a lack of support from cis people that we’d been in solidarity with who hadn’t reciprocated that support.”

This erasure speaks to a long history of Black LGBTQ activism going underrecognized in both the civil rights and early LGBTQ liberation movements. Many civil rights leaders bought into the idea that influential Black gay activist Bayard Rustin was unfit to be a leader simply because he had relationships with men, though he organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Johnson, who is often credited with kicking off the 1969 Stonewall riots with other trans and gender-nonconforming people of color, fought tirelessly for LGBTQ rights. She and other trans activists of color lived in poverty and danger (Johnson was found dead under suspicious circumstances in July 1992), while the white mainstream gay elite were able to demand acceptance from society. Just last year, Stonewall, a movie chronicling the riots, was released with a whitewashed retelling that centered a white, cisgender gay male protagonist.

The Black Lives Matter network has made an intentional effort to avoid the pitfalls of those earlier movements.

“Our movement has been intersectional in ways that help all people gain liberation whether they see it or not. It became a major element of the network vision and how it was seeing itself in the Black liberation movement,” Hearns said. “There was no way to discuss police brutality without discussing structural violence affecting Black lives, in general”—and that includes Black trans lives.

Despite a greater mainstream visibility for LGBTQ issues in general, Black LGBTQ issues have not taken the forefront in Black freedom struggles. When a Black cisgender heterosexual man is killed, his name trends on social media feeds and is in the headlines, but Black trans women don’t see the same importance placed on their lives.

According to a 2015 report by the Anti-Violence Project, a group dedicated to ending anti-LGBTQ and HIV-affected community violence, trans women of color account for 54 percent of all anti-LGBTQ homicides. Despite increased awareness, with at least 20 transgender people murdered since the beginning of this year, it seems things haven’t really changed at all since Black Trans Liberation Tuesday.

“There are many issues at hand when talking about Black trans issues, particularly in the South. There’s a lack of infrastructure and support in the nonprofit sector, but also within health care and other systems. Staffs at LGBTQ organizations are underfunded when it comes to explicitly reaching the trans community,” said Micky Bradford, the Atlanta-based regional organizer for TLC@SONG. “The space between towns can harbor isolation from each other, making it more difficult to build up community organizing, coalitions, and culture.”

The marginalization that Black trans people face comes from both the broader society and the Black community. Fighting white supremacy is a full-time job, and some activists within the Black Lives Matter movement see homophobia and transphobia as muddying the fight for Black liberation.

“I think we have a very special relationship with gender and gender violence to all Black people,” said Aaryn Lang, a New York City-based Black trans activist. “There’s a special type of trauma that Black people inflict on Black trans people because of how strict the box of gender and space of gender expression has been to move in for Black people. In the future of the movement, I see more people trusting that trans folks have a vision that’s as diverse as blackness is.”

But even within that diversity, Black trans people are often overlooked in movement spaces due to anti-Blackness in mainstream LGBTQ circles and transphobia in Black circles. Further, many Black trans people aren’t in the position to put energy into movement work because they are simply trying to survive and find basic resources. This can create a disconnect between various sections of the Black trans community.

Janetta Johnson, executive director of TGI Justice Project in San Francisco, thinks the solution is twofold: increased Black trans involvement and leadership in activism spaces, and more facilitated conversations between Black cis and trans people.

“I think a certain part of the transgender community kind of blocks all of this stuff out. We are saying we need you to come through this process and see how we can create strength in numbers. We need to bring in other trans people not involved in the movement,” she said. “We need to create a space where we can share views and strategies and experiences.”

Those conversations must be an ongoing process until the killings of Black trans women like Rae’Lynn Thomas, Dee Whigham, and Skye Mockabee stop.

“As we commemorate this year, we remember who and why we organized Black Trans Liberation Tuesday last year. It’s important we realize that Black trans lives are still being affected in ways that everyday people don’t realize,” Hearns said. “We must understand why movements exist and why people take extreme action to continuously interrupt the system that will gladly forget them.”


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