So, as you have read by now, that December 2007, my long-term relationship ended. It created a cascade of closure crashing around me, the effects of which I liken to trying remain standing upright at the foot of a waterfall.
By March, after a spontaneously cancelled Australian tour left a gap in our pre-booked show schedule, I bought another flight back to Beijing for three months. I needed to escape. The destruction and emotional strain of living and touring with my partner for the first three months of our tumultuous break-up was torturous. Besides, I missed him—a distant, flickering memory of joy.
Guo Jian and I spent those three months testing out what a “real” relationship together would feel like. And real it was. We started fighting. My skepticism didn’t help matters. It was the b-side to the fairy tale.
One day, I reached out to a fellow artist whom I have always admired and looked up to as a performer and an activist: Holly Near. She and I have met several times at various events and I knew that she had a similar romantic history. I really wanted to ask for her advice, but I was too proud and embarrassed to need it. I simply wrote a quick “hello” e-mail that went like this:
“I’m living part-time in Beijing, China. I’m touring much less. I fell in love with a man here, the first man I have ever fallen in love with in my adult life and, well, he’s remarkable and his gender is the last thing I care about in the pursuit of my heart. Love is an enormous gift.”
She graciously wrote me back (and gave me permission to post it here):
“How lovely! So glad to get your news and to hear of your love…
As for gender, it is my great wish that your generation and those yet to come, do not need to defend or explain the choices of love. That was handed to my era. We did some great work and we made mistakes. Please take and honor our great work and leave our mistakes behind.
You say “…gender is the last thing I care about in the pursuit of my
heart…” Someday I hope that it feels safe to care about gender. Men and women
and everything in between are probably not the same and yet the differences can be exciting. In early anti race work, liberals claimed to be colorblind. I did not trust them. It was when we could see color AND be excited by it, move gracefully in and about difference with fascination, with profound awareness of the dangers of race, that progress was made.
…I have come to respect gender in a way that I did not respect in my early days of working to end sexism. I believe that ending sexism and racism is more achievable when we allow ourselves to see gender and color and treat the differences with high regard. How we embrace our intimate personal relationships will resonate out into the world, into the language, the music, the children and take oppression down by example. There lies the Valentine.
That said, gender may still be unimportant to you and I honor that. I simply want to give you the gift of moving beyond where my generation was able to go albeit we did great things in a short period of time. You are writing the next chapter. Allow it to be complex and delicate, wildly inexplicable and profoundly simple.”
I can’t tell you how important these words were and are to me. They embodied everything I needed to hear at that time. I thanked her. I listened. I shifted my thinking. I had been spending a lot of energy trying to source the differences in our conflicts. Was it his maleness? What it his straightness? Was it a Chinese thing? A culture clash? I was confused as to how we could ever have found each other in such a tightly weaved jungle of difference. I felt tangled up in it.
But the fighting was the source of the strangling tangle, not the differences themselves. When I realized this, everything loosened. The fighting didn’t end immediately, of course, but it put everything into a new light. Holly’s words reminded me that it was, well… kind of fun to be in a jungle! It was new! The point is to love because and not despite the essence of another’s humanity, which includes all our differences. And how colourful they are!
Like light pouring through rushing water. A stunning rainbow.
This queer girl was learning another vital lesson about the meaning of “rainbow pride.”