Love Beyond Law: Learning to Live Honestly

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Photo: Adam Fagan, flckr

Photo: Adam Fagan, flckr

When asked to write about my queer identity as a Boricua/ Dominicana, I have to start with church. Not because of the rejections LGBTQ often face but, more specifically, because of the grace and sanctuary I found when moving to Portland, OR, 4 years ago, I found a gay-friendly church., Saint Andrews, with a history marching in Portland’s pride parades.  As a Chicago native struggling for individuals who lived the gospel without letting the “Word of God” get in the way, Saint Andrew’s community provided spaces and opportunities to continue to learn about the complex struggles of prisoners and work with immigrants in ways that extended what social justice issues had sustained my attention during undergrad.

And as much as I love the diverse browns of queer faces I engage with en el barrio and across the city – old college friends and  community leaders. I engage because of work to which I am getting reintroduced – siento la ausencia de una comunidad that encompasses living the Gospel as I had learned with my DePaul friends and the Catholic Worker with which we collaborated a decade ago. To explain, I will paraphrase algo que Oscar Lopez Rivera me dijo in one of his first letters to me, he said he’d, “go to a church without gods” (February 3, 2005) Given what I learned from him in his letters, I understood the message to mean a church that does what Matthew 34 calls one to do – care for the sick, serve and heal the poor, visit the prisoner, clothe the naked”. In other words, operate from a place of unconditional love regardless of the bible or any other institution’s law. As Oscar’s letters have continued to articulate that love is more important than law.

And whether following the examples of Christian philosophy, ethics, spirituality or religiosity, the lessons demonstrate the difficulty of that kind of love, agape. Imagining queerness present in that is easy enough when the light that shines from those who live honestly and without fear or apology extends beyond themselves, contagie their environments and the people around them. Moving past the reasons, living honestly was difficult. Coming to terms with what that has meant to the communities here, catching up with what it has opened and shifted in the journeys taken, hay mucho dolor y hay mucha necesidad de dejar el orgullo hacía a un lado.

It’s not easy.The extent to which how and who we love, we pursue shapes what we can contribute todavía existe. Hay costumbres que han cambiado radicalmente, hay verdades que han transformado el intento de estar en Chicago. Me mantengo más privada acerca de cómo y cuando rezo; guardo relaciones del trabajo para si mejor poseerlas. A pesar de lo individual que se ha cambiado con el tiempo y con la experencia, también he cambiado por como trabajar en food justice reshaped the strategies of solidarity and the possibilities of coalition building.

Whether it was gardening or creating a Latino food pantry, women and queer-centered work done in the Pacific Northwest has reconfigured love beyond law for me. Todo lo que me hacía falta, mas aun, la dedicación y la pasión que tenía encontraron ese reconocimiento, ese amor incondicional que me hacía falta en otros trabajos. Part of that was growing up, part of that was the people I had found, part of that was synchronicity. All of that era la evolución del amor propio nacido de ser honesta conmigo misma. So, to write about queerness and puertorriqueñidad is messy because I began living honestly. I no longer worried about the extent to which my work could be worthy of being affiliated with Puerto Ricans. The Puerto Ricans who put ‘Puerto Ricans’ above everything and anything else – because I still loved borinquen; I respect and honor the struggles of the Puerto Ricans displaced to the US because of the islands’ poverty. Pero ese amor se extiende más allá de la puertorriqueñidad. Ese amor nació y se basó en la solidaridad de la niñez tanto y como la adolescencia…

Todavía me acuerdo de la brown-skinned fourteen-year-old who evaded that internal conflict of multiple oppressions de ser lesbiana y boricua/mujer no blanca hasta que tenía la educación y los recursos para sobrevivir si todos me rechazaban. Poverty because of rejection – how slight or radical- es algo que the brown-skinned and the queer know all too well.

Aunque el amor más allá del ley me guía, tengo un pie aquí y otro allá.  The love living honestly allows gives the courage to be satisfied with what of our bodies we can reclaim. El terreno por cual el queer lucha es el terreno del cuerpo, más allá del deseo, más allá de la expresión, es el terreno de amarnos a pesar de lo que dicta la ley, el costumbre…lo que, Jesús y la Virgen Maria nos enseña.


Erika Gisela Abad Merced, Ph.D, a Queer Boricua-Dominicana born and raised in Chicago. Her poetry has been featured in outlets such as Mujeres de Maiz, Skin2Skin, and Depaul University’s Dialogo.

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