A queer vision of love and marriage Tiq Milan and Kim Katrin Milan

Tiq Milan: Our first conversation was on Facebook, and it was three days long. (Laughter) We shared over 3,000 messages between us, and it was during those 72 hours that I knew she was going to be my wife. We didn't wait any prerequisite amount of time for our courtship; we told each other the vulnerable truths up front: I am a transgender man, which means the F on my birth certificate should have stood for "False," instead of "Female." (Laughter) Walking around as a woman in the world felt like walking with pebbles in my shoes. It took the rhythm out of my swagger, it threw me off balance, it pained me with every step I took forward. But today I'm a man of my own intention; a man of my own design. Kim Katrin Milan: I am a cisgender queer woman. Cisgender means the gender I was assigned at birth is still and has always been female. This doesn't make me natural or normal, this is just one way of describing the many different ways that we exist in this world. And queer is a cultural term, but in this case, it refers to the way that I'm not restricted by gender when it comes to choosing partners. I've identified in a few different ways -- as a bisexual, as a lesbian -- but for me, queerness encompasses all of the layers of who I am and how I've loved. I'm layers, and not fractions. And for me, the fact that he was queer meant that I could trust his courtship from the very beginning. As queer and trans people, we're so often excluded from institutions and traditions. We create spaces outside of convention, including the conventions of time. And in those 3,000 messages between us, we collapsed time; we queered it; we laid it all on the table. (Laughter) With no pretense at all. And this meant that we were able to commit to each other in a profoundly different way. So often what we're told is this idea of the "Golden Rule," that we should treat other people the way we want to be treated. But the problem with that is that it assumes that we are the standard for other people, and we're not. We need to treat other people the way they want to be treated, which means we had to ask. I couldn't assume that the kind of love that Tiq needed was the same kind of love that I needed. So I asked him everything -- about his fears, his insecurities -- and we started from there. TM: I didn't know what kind of love I needed. I had just come out of a year-long fog of being rejected and utterly depleted. I had someone look me in my eyes and tell me that I was unworthy of their love because I was trans. And there's a culture of lovelessness that we've created around transgender people. It's reasoned, justified and often signed into law. And I was a heartbeat away from internalizing that message, that I wasn't worthy. But Kim said that I was her ideal -- the heartbroken mess that I was. (Laughter) KKM: He totally was my ideal. (Laughter) In more ways than one. Both poets, writers, creatives with a long history of community work behind us, and big, huge dreams of a family in front of us, we shared a lot of things in common, but we were also incredibly different. I've been a lifelong traveler and a bit of an orphan, whereas he comes from a huge family, and definitely stays grounded. I often kind of sum up the differences in our strengths by saying, "Keep me safe, and I'll keep you wild." (Laughter) TM: We have marginalized identities but we don't live marginalized lives. Being queer and trans is about creating new ways of existing. It's about loving people as they are, not as they're supposed to be. Kim is unapologetically feminine in a world that is often cruel and violent to women who are too proud and too freeing. And I didn't enter into this union under the auspices that she was going to be my helper or my rib, but a fully complex -- (Laughter) KKM: Right? That's not right. TM: But a fully complex human being whose femininity wasn't for me to rein in, control or critique. It's her brilliance, the way she leads with compassion, and how she never loses sight of her empathy. She has been my hero since day one. (Applause) KKM: Our relationship has always been about setting each other free. One of the first questions I asked him was what dreams he had left to accomplish, and how would I help him get there. His dreams to live as a poet, to adopt and raise a family together, to live a life that he was proud of, and one that would live up to his mother's incredible legacy. And I really appreciated that we were able to start from that place, and not from a place that was around figuring out how to make each other work together. And I think this really allowed us to grow into the people that we were in a way that was incredibly different. I love him whole; pre-transition, now and in the future. And it's this love that had us committed to each other before we'd even seen each other's faces. TM: My mother's biggest concern when I transitioned was who was going to love me as I am. Had being transgender somehow precluded me from love and monogamy because I was supposedly born in the wrong body? But it's this type of structuring that has to be reframed in order to let love in. My body never betrayed me, and my body was never wrong. It's this restrictive, binary thinking on gender that said that I didn't exist. But when we met, she loved me for exactly how I showed up. She would trace her fingers along the numb keloid scars left by my top surgery. Scars that run from the middle of my chest all the way out to my outer torso. She said that these were reminders of my strength and everything that I went through and nothing for me to be ashamed of. So sprinting towards her hand in marriage was the queerest thing that I could do. (Laughter) It flew in the face of more conventional trajectories of love and relationships, because God was never supposed to bless a union for folks like us, and the law was never supposed to recognize it. KKM: So on May 5, 2014, just about three months after meeting online, we were married on the steps of City Hall in Manhattan, and it was beautiful in every conceivable way. It's safe to say that we reimagined some traditions, but we also kept some old ones that we worked in, and we created something that worked for us. My bouquet and corsage was actually filled with wildflowers from Brooklyn -- also added in a little bit of lavender and sage to keep us grounded because we were so nervous. And it was put together by a sweet sister healer friend of ours. I never wanted a diamond ring, because conflict and convention are not my thing, so my ring is the deepest purple, like the color of my crown chakra, and set in place with my birthstones. The gift of queerness is options. I never had to choose his last name, it was never an exception, but I did because I am my father's bastard child, someone who has always been an apology, a secret, an imposition. And it was incredibly freeing to choose the name of a man who chose me first. (Applause) TM: So we told some family and some close friends, many of whom were still in disbelief as we took our vows. Fittingly, we posted all of our wedding photos on Facebook, where we met -- and Instagram, of course. And we quickly realized that our coming together was more than just a union of two people, but was a model of possibility for the millions of LGBTQ folks who have been sold this lie that family and matrimony is antithetical to who they are -- for those of us who rarely get to see ourselves reflected in love and happiness. KKM: And the thing is, absolutely we are marginalized because of our identities, but it also emboldens us to be the people that we are. Queerness is our major key; blackness is our magic. It's because of these things that we are able to be hopeful, open, receptive and shape-shifting. These are the things that give us, and are such an incredible source of, our strength. Our queerness is a source of that strength. I think of the words of Ottawa-based poet Brandon Wint: "Not queer like gay; queer like escaping definition. Queer like some sort of fluidity and limitlessness all at once. Queer like a freedom too strange to be conquered. Queer like the fearlessness to imagine what love can look like, and to pursue it." TM: We are part of a community of folks -- Yeah, that's good right? (Laughter) We are part of a community of folks who are living their authentic selves all along the gender spectrum, despite the ubiquitous threat of violence, despite the undercurrent of anxiety that always is present for people who live on their own terms. Globally, a transgender person is murdered every 21 hours. And the United States has had more trans murders on record this year than any year to date. However, our stories are much more than this rigid dichotomy of strength and resilience. We are expanding the human complexity on these margins, and we are creating freedom on these margins. KKM: And we don't have any blueprints. We're creating a world that we have literally never seen before; organizing families based on love and not by blood, guiding by a compassion that so few of us have been shown ourselves. So many of us have not received love from our families -- have been betrayed by the people that we trust most. So what we do here is we create entirely new languages of love. Ones that are about creating the space for us to be our authentic selves and not imposing this standard of what masculinity or femininity is supposed to be. TM: We are interested in love and inclusion as a tool of revolutionary change, right? And the idea is simply, if we drop all our preconceived notions about how somebody is supposed to be -- in their body, in their gender, in their skin -- if we take the intentional steps to unlearn these deep-seated biases and create space for people to be self-determined, and embrace who they are, then we will definitely create a better world than the one we were born into. (Applause) KKM: We want to mark this time in history by leaving evidence of the fact that we were here. We open up little windows into our relationship for our community to bear witness, and we do this because we want to make maps to the future and not monuments to ourselves. Our experience does not invalidate other peoples' experience, but it should and necessarily does complicate this idea of what love and marriage are supposed to be. TM: OK, now for all the talking, and inspiring, and possibility-modeling we've done, we've been nowhere near perfect. And we've had to hold a mirror up to ourselves. And I saw that I wasn't always the best listener, and that my ego got in the way of our progress as a couple. And I've had to really assess these deep-seated, sexist ideas that I've had about the value of a woman's experience in the world. I've had to reevaluate what it means to be in allyship with my wife. KKM: And I had to remind myself of a lot of things, too. What it means to be hard on the issues, but soft on the person. While we were writing this, we got into a massive fight. (Laughter) For so many different reasons, but based on the content about our values and our lived experiences -- and we were really hurt, you know? Because what we do and how we love puts ourselves entirely on the line. But even though the fight lasted over the course of two days -- (Laughter) We were able to come back together to each other, and recommit to ourselves, to each other and to our marriage. And that really yielded some of the most passionate parts of what we share with you here today. TM: I have had to interrogate masculinity, which I think doesn't happen enough. I've had to interrogate masculinity; the toxic privileges that come with being a man don't define me, but I have to be accountable for how it shows up in my life every day. I have allowed my wife to do all of the emotional labor of prying open the lines of communication when I'd rather clam up and run away. (Laughter) I've stripped away emotional support instead of facing my own vulnerabilities, particularly around the heartbreaking miscarriage we suffered last year, and I'm sorry for that. Sometimes as men, we get to take the easy way out. And so my journey as a trans person is about reimagining masculinity. About creating a manhood that isn't measured by the power it wields, by the entitlements afforded to it, or any simulacrum of control that it can muster, but works in tandem with femininity, and is guided by my spirit. KKM: Y'all ... (Applause) And this has created the space for my femininity to flourish in a way I had never experienced before. He never is threatened by my sexuality, he never polices what I wear or how I act. I cook but he does way more of the cleaning than I do. And when we're rushing to get out of the house and we have so much to handle, he handles everything, so I have time to do my hair and makeup. (Laughter) He understands that this is my armor, and he never treats femininity as though it is frivolous or superficial, and this, and him -- he grows my experience of gender every single day. TM: I love to watch her get dressed in the morning. Watching her in the closet, looking for something comfortable and colorful, and tight, and safe -- (Laughter) But it's challenging to watch her negotiate her decisions looking for something that's going to get the least amount of attention, but at the same time be an expression of the vibrant and sexy woman she is. And all I want to do is celebrate her for her beauty, and the things that make her beautiful and special and free, from her long acrylic nails, to her uncompromising black feminism. (Applause) KKM: I love you. TM: I love you. (Laughter) KKM: There are so many queer and trans people who have come before us, whose stories we will never get to hear. We constantly experience this retelling of history where we are conspicuously left out. And it's really hard to not see ourselves there. And so living out loud for us is about that representation. It's about having possibility models, and having hope that love is part of our inheritance in this world, too. TM: The possibility that we are practicing is about reinventing time, love and institutions. We are creating a future of multiplicity. We are expanding the spectrum of gender and sexuality, imagining ourselves into existence, imagining a world where gender is self-determined and not imposed, and where who we are is a kaleidoscope of possibility without the narrow-minded limitations masquerading as science or justice. (Applause) KKM: And I can't lie: it is really, really hard. It is hard to stand in the face of bigotry with an open heart and a smile on my face. It is really hard to face the injustice that exists in the world, while still believing in the ability of people to really change. That takes an enormous amount of faith and dedication. And beyond that, marriage is hard work. (Laughter) Piles of dirty socks on the floor, more boring sports shows than I ever thought possible -- (Laughter) And fights that bring me to tears when it feels like we're not speaking the same language. But there is not a day that goes by where I am not so grateful to be married to this man; where I'm not so grateful for the possibility of changing minds, and rewarding conversations, and creating a world where love belongs to us all. I think about our acronym: LGBTQ2SIA. A seemingly endless evolution of self and a community, but also this really deep desire not to leave anyone behind. We've learned how to love each other, and we've committed to loving each other throughout changes to gender and changes in spirit. And we learned this love in our chat rooms, in our clubs, in our bars and in our community centers. We've learned how to love each other for the long haul. TM & KKM: Thank you. (Applause)