This post is part two of my belated contribution to Carnival of Aces hosted by luvtheheaven. After diving into how I view love, I wanted to share how the 5 love languages may be relevant to queer people specifically. These come out of personal experience, from being demisexual, panromantic and queer as well as a protestant Christian. I wanted to balance communal love, ‘agapè’ (charity) and ‘storge’ (familial/belonging), with more individual love, ‘philia’ (friendship/love-of-choice) and ‘eros’ (sexual/romantic love).
The 5 Love Languages
I’ve known of the 5 love languages for over a decade. In short, I believe the 5 love languages literature cover expressions suitable for all forms of affection, but focus on storge (familial love) and eros (sexual/romantic love). I believe it’s a useful tool for a queer person looking for pointers on ways to express themselves towards your partner. Something that can be especially hard to an a-spec person. However, Chapman’s conception of love only overlaps in part with love as found in the queer and a-spec communities, it’s sometimes very amato-, cis- and heteronormative. Still, I believe that within each language there are some expressions of love unique or important to queer people and I wanted to explore ones I’ve seen.
Words of Affirmation
Communal: respecting pronouns and general expressions of acceptance of LGBTQ+ people can make a family or a church a safe haven. I’ve come to understand that most environments are unsafe or hostile if you’re queer… until they show they’re not. While that does not eliminate the work a person puts in to come out or to pass, a community can make the lead-up, the choice, the effort less of a risk. This also helps clear the way to open up within a community.
I’ve experienced the reverse… regular, general dismissal of queer people in my current church has made me feel unsafe and hesitant about any connection with other Christians. I believe similar experiences of casual queerphobia to be an common reason people leave church when they discover and accept they’re queer.
Individual: I read an interesting article, which I’ve failed to recover, that discussed the importance of choosing the right terms of affection and labels for one’s partner when one is queer. I think such affirmation is even more important in asexual and aromantic relationships than others because outsiders tend to discredited or erase them. The language used also serves as a defense, whether you choose camouflage or flaming colour as your relationship’s survival strategy.
Recognition and validation between people can be both balm and empowerment. Words of affection used with deliberation can have a lot of power, when you’re queer.
Communal: I am learning how very important respecting others’ bodies is, in the social queer space I’ve started attending. Some conversations made me aware how much effort non-binary people put in curating a ‘white list’ of people, in a social environment.
I can be helpful by making sure I ask for consent any time I approach or touch someone, even just on the shoulder . But also by taking initiative in approaching or touching, to not be another cisgender person who implicitly rejects people by avoiding them.
Individual: Adjusting my behaviour has made me aware of how much both affectionate touch and respecting people’s boundaries can be appreciated. Some friends complimented me for becoming a bit more sensitive. I’ve also personally benefited. Since touch is my “native” love language, it’s made it easier to express it, easier to know when I should and should not. Easier, also, to say no to others when they cross my boundaries and I am uncomfortable. It’s been a boon in my desire to show friends and family affection.
Communal: I have found quality time to be a powerful weapon when it comes to showing acceptance and rejection. Being asexual around my family has meant an increased acceptance over time, even when it was scary in the beginning. Also, I’ve come to see people suddenly not wishing to spend time as the surest sign something’s up.
In media and society, I’ve also found that seeing how much time and space there is for queer people is the best measure to gage acceptance. For example, some churches say queer people may attend but that they cannot be themselves while in church and won’t have a space in heaven. Disney claims to be an ally but only shows half a second of men dancing with each other in Beauty and the Beast. Marvel didn’t think Valkyrie’s bisexuality deserved screentime. On the flipside, Doctor Who makes Bill, a queer character, a companion for a whole season, has bit parts as well as recurring supporting roles for gay and lesbian people, single as well as married.
Individual: I’ve learned to make time to love my demisexual self. At the start of 2019, I resolved to have at least one ‘queer’ day every month, in which I read an LGBTQ+ book or go to a queer space or engage in an activity that speaks to my demisexual or panromantic identity. Each one feels like a spa day and leaves me refreshed for another month’s worth of heteronormativity. When I come up against queerphobia, my self-care is planning an extra date with myself.
Acts of Service and Tokens of Affection
Communal: if it’s hard to speak, acts of service and tokens can be very powerful as an ally. One of my favourite aspects of pride, when I went in 2015, was that parents brought their children to show them look, look it’s okay. Fantasising a little, I can imagine what that’d mean to a child that’s queer, that parents drove across the country to show them a day where many other people like them are gathered.
My favourite scene in Bohemian Rhapsody was Mary dressing Freddie Mercury, showing him by assisting in his makeover that she accepted him for who he was.
Individual: these love language to me are closely linked to my panromantic identity. I am finding that I wish to perform acts of service and give tokens to my partner whatever their gender. And so, in my head I perform acts linked to whatever role complements my current crush. This, in turn, has made me aware how gendered acts of service and tokens are, especially when they’re considered romantic, and that I don’t want to be limited to my gender role. So, as practice, as defiance, I’ve started to perform romantically-coded acts of service and give tokens whether they fit my gender or not, towards the people I love.
Further reading (i.e. google “5 love languages for queer people”)
- 5 Love Languages on HuffPost (gender-neutral!)
- 5 Love Languages for Gay Men
- 5 Love Languages Expanded on The Span of My Hips (very constructively critical, and good suggestions for additional ways to show affection)
- Queer Eye’s Fab Five Low-key Represent the Five Love Languages
- Holigay Gift Guide on Autostraddle (gift ideas for each ‘language’)
- Love, Languages and Logic on A Queer Calling (uses it as a jumping-off point to discuss deeper realities of a relationship)
TW: discussion of rationalisations behind queerphobia.
This post is a late submission to April’s Carnival of Aces hosted by luvtheheaven. Its theme is the 5 Love Languages, a concept authored by a Big Name Evangelical that’s crossed over into mainstream pop psychology. As a queer Christian I have much to say on it. Before diving into how I express love, I wanted to introduce how faith has influenced my idea of love, how this translates to a queer perspective. And in the next post, how I my being queer has influenced my view of what may be expressed through the 5 love languages.
Agapè and Eros and Storge and Philia
What love is meant to be expressed in the 5 love languages? The American-evangelical discourse on Christian life and love influences christian communities worldwide. Its conception of love is based on the Gospels, Acts and the Apostle Paul’s letters, which are themselves heavily influenced by Greek philosophy. The most common form of love often called platonic love in English, for God, for friends, for family but even when you have deep rapport with a stranger, acquaintance or enemy. According to C.S. Lewis these may be split into ‘storge’, the love you share based on belonging and familiarity and ‘philia’, the love you choose and cultivate such as for friends. The other two forms are ‘eros’, an amalgam of sexual and romantic love, and ‘agapè’ or charity, compassion or care you may cultivate by doing good or thinking well of others, but also the general love you may have for humanity or the planet as an activist or environmentalist. This is also the love God has for humans. The 5 love languages focuses on expressing affection for specific people: storge, philia and eros.
Christian Love Queered
How do these types of love translate to a queer perspective? Most Christians (that I’ve met) would say the core of their religion isn’t any organisation, or a holy text, a law or a doctrine. It’s a relationship. An exclusive relationship between a consenting human follower and an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God. All human-to-human relationships are meant to be reflections of this central relationship.
Some key features are:
Communal and individual: in human-to-God relationships the person-to-God relationship is almost interchangable with the community-to-God relationship. This is alien to and overlooked in Western culture. It means one’s love for and investment in community (friend group, family, team) is equally as important as one’s love for specific people. And that as community you can love a person (co-parenting! safe spaces!).
Consensual: an all-powerful God lets humans decide whether to enter into a relationship with Him, in which salvation is freely offered, not earned by good deeds. As such, relationships and acts of affection between humans should also be offered and accepted freely. It should also mean no one is barred from following God, regardless of their life. Logically meaning that whether being queer is a sin or not isn’t just a distasteful question, but an irrelevant one.
Equal: each human is loved by God. Each Christian’s first allegiance is to God, not spouse, family or leader. These two combined mean all humans should be treated as valuable and all humans have an authority higher than any human to which they may appeal. So, for example, a woman is not her husband’s property, but both are followers of God, should they invite his blessing over their relationship. Meaning Christians can often be found in equal rights movements, even when they have a reputation for being conservative in the Western world.
Amatonormative: since the highest form of love is human-to-God, all love between humans is potentially a good reflection of that. This does not hold true in communities that hold up marriage – and thus eros – as closest to the love between God and humans. This is why conservative media will style itself family- or marriage-focused, to express their (hetero-)amatonormativity. Such individualistic churches often skip agape, obsess over eros (in dos and don’ts) and rank philia and storge as less important.
Monogamous: the demand that one worship God and only God translates to a strong preference for monogamy within Christian communities. How strictly this is enforced within and without the community depends on whether loving people as they are is considered more important than how people love one another. This is reflected in the emphasis on exclusive long-term relationships between same-sex partners whenever acceptance of queer people in religious communities comes up.
Cis/heteronormative: whether queer people are accepted depends on whether they are thought to be loved and accepted by God. If one considers God’s love to be unconditional and people’s deeds less important, then the Christian (community) is likely to be very inclusive. If God is considered harsh; if certain behaviour or identities are considered to constitute a rejection of God, then the Christian (community) will reject those people.
Personally, the love I consider good based on my faith is equal, consensual and with a more communal focus than commonly found in the Western world.
I would be monogamous towards my partner, but mostly because that fits how I love, I’d hesitate to say others should be as well. I have found my love towards friends and family, philia and storge, to be truer reflections of God’s love for humans than what I felt when I dated, a chaste incarnation of eros.
I hate the near-obsession with marriage and ‘family focus’ I find in my current church. I consider churches that exclude queer people wrong because I very much believe God’s love to be unconditional.
Once again, please consider this a personal account. I do not pretend to speak for over a billion Christians, and I cannot cover the variety of encounters queer people have had with Christian communities. If you wish to share your experiences, I’d love to hear about it. I hope I’ve given you some insight into how my world view may differ from yours. Coming up, the 5 love languages!
Featured image from unsplash.